By: Rob Cavuoto
On June 7th, Def Leppard will release their first ever live CD, Mirrorball-Live & More exclusively at Wal-Mart. It will contain live performances and an intimate 50 minute DVD that contains live backstage footage of the band on the road. Mirror Ball was recorded across the world over the course of many of the band’s sold out shows, and features all the classic songs that have made them one of the most respected rock bands of the last 30 years. The CD captures the group’s legendary concert experience at their best. The CD also contains three new studio tracks, “Undefeated,” “It’s All About Believin” and “Kings of the World.”
The band also announced that they would be touring the states with a 48 city summer tour kicking off in Florida on June 15th. With more than 65 million albums sold worldwide and two prestigious Diamond Awards, Def Leppard continue to be one of the most important forces in rock music. I had a chance to catch up with Vivian Campbell to talk about the new CD and upcoming tour before he headed to Dublin for a series of festival shows.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about how Mirror Ball came to be and about doing a live CD versus a studio album?
Vivian Campbell: We never really made a conscious decision to do a live record. It’s just that in the past doing a live album was very involved. You had to get a truck and you had to record basically one or two shows. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of performance anxiety. The technology is cheap now, so we basically just started recording every show over the last two tours.
As such, there was never any, “Oh, my god. We’re making a live album. We better not screw up.” You really forgot you were recording. It took a lot of the pressure off. I don’t even think that we started to do it with the viewpoint of making a live CD. We just wanted to archive our performances. So this was recorded over multiple shows in 2008 and 2009 and we just cherry-picked the best performances.
We decided to take some time off at the end of the last tour. Joe Elliott became a daddy for the first time and Rick Allen’s wife was expecting. So it was a whole thing and we just wanted some personal time. The idea of doing a live album freed us up a lot more and there was less pressure than doing a studio album. Other than that, Def Leppard’s basically been inactive other than Joe Elliott sitting in the studio sorting through this stuff, which basically was the biggest chore.
Robert: Tell me about the three new studio tracks on Mirror Ball and who wrote them?
Vivian Campbell: The idea of doing the three songs came late in the project. Our management said it would add more value to the package if we had some new studio tracks. So it was kind of a scramble, particularly on my end. I actually wrote a song for it but didn’t have it ready in time. Hopefully it will make it on our next studio album. Joe wrote the song, “Undefeated,” really, really quick. In my opinion, that’s the most Leppard-sounding of the three. It’s a great song. Joe just has a knack for writing Def Leppard songs.
The other two songs I guess had been in the works. Phil Collen had written “It’s All About Believing” with a producer/writer friend of his called C.J. Vanston. They had written it over a year ago. And Rick Savage had been working for quite some time on “The Kings of the World,” which is very, very complex. It’s basically Sav paying homage to his favorite band ever, Queen, but that all came about at the 11th hour.
Robert: I understand that the CD will be a Walmart exclusive. That can really have its pros and its cons, like with AC/DC, it worked out very well, whereas with KISS, it didn’t work well and maybe prevented them from going Top 10. What was the decision to do this Walmart exclusive and was there any apprehension involved?
Vivian Campbell: We had done deals in the past where we sold a certain amount of records through Walmart. So we had a little bit of experience with it. Our manager had a lot of experience with having dealt with big box retailers with the other acts he manages. So we basically followed the advice of our management. We were no longer working with a major label, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge was our last record for our label which the band had been with for 30 years and we needed to find some outlets.
Like it or dislike it, it kind of is the nature of the beast now. There is no bricks and mortar industry for music anymore. It’s Walmart and Best Buy and Target and places like that. Those are the places where people are most likely to buy physical CDs. The business has just been in a tremendous amount of flux and you’ve got to adapt. What’s working this year is not necessarily gonna be do-able in a year or two from now. It is what it is.
Robert: I saw that Mirror Ball would also be released on iTunes. Def Leppard, like AC/DC, were holdouts on iTunes –what is the story behind that?
Vivian Campbell: We weren’t on iTunes because there were some reporting discrepancies with the aforementioned record label. The band’s original contract from that late ‘70s predates the technology. There was never a provision in the contract for digital royalties. Our label was not accounting to us.
They were selling on iTunes, so we had to pull down most of our catalog off iTunes while we audited the label and went through the whole legal hassle of that. Now I’m glad to say we’ve got that all resolved. We eventually want to make our entire catalog available on iTunes.
Robert: Def Leppard has such an extensive catalog of songs to choose from, when you are heading out on tour this summer how do you pick the set list?
Vivian Campbell: The set list kind of picks itself. There’s a bit of a double-edged sword, having a really strong catalog. People expect the hits, particularly in America and particularly with the nature of the concert industry nowadays, insofar as when we package with other acts. There’s gonna be a certain percentage of the audience that is there primarily for Heart, and they’re only gonna respond to the big Leppard hits. So it’s not like we’re going and playing to 100% Def Leppard audience.
If that was the case, we would definitely dig deeper into our catalog and play more obscure songs. We are very fortunate that we actually could play an hour and a half of bona fide Top 20 songs. The hardest thing for us is what songs not to play, and make it a little different from year to year. We try different arrangements of songs. Like with “Rocket,” sometimes we do a real guitar extravaganza in the middle between Phil and I. Sometimes we do the more concise single version. We’ll try and do a different album cut, like maybe “Gods of War,” which we haven’t played in a few years. Last tour we played “Mirror, Mirror.”
The set list for America hasn’t been formulated yet. I’m actually flying into Dublin tonight and we start rehearsal. We’ll get to it, but my point being that the majority of the set is always gonna be the same. There are certain songs that when people come to see Def Leppard they’re gonna want to hear “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” “Sugar,” “Animal” and “Hysteria”. All those songs are gonna be present.
Robert: When I saw you a couple of years ago, you came out on the catwalk and did a few acoustic songs. Are you going do that this tour?
Vivian Campbell: Yeah, that’s a nice break. It’s a good dynamic to bring it down. We really have only one acoustic song, “Two Steps Behind” so we did a hybrid version of “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which then turns into an electric version. That always works very well. I’m sure we’ll probably revisit that.
Robert: How long does it take Def Leppard to ramp up for a major tour like this?
Vivian Campbell: Not long, actually. Certainly not in terms of the band playing the songs. We’re gonna play “Undefeated” this year. That’ll probably consume most of our time in rehearsal working it up. We find that every successive tour, we rehearse less and less, because we’re playing a lot of the same songs. Even though it’s been a year and a half since we’ve played them, it all comes back. It’s like riding a bike.
The biggest part of our tour preparation is actually the technical side for our crew. We have some different crew and some different equipment and you want to get familiar with. I know Rick Allen has a whole new drum kit for this tour, so that is the single most technical aspect of our setup is Rick’s kit.
Robert: The last couple of tours you had a very similar stage setup. Is it a different looking stage this time around?
Vivian Campbell: It’s not entirely dissimilar but it will be a little different. We’re doing a very different video thing this time around. We’re having multiple screens instead of one big one. We’re hanging seven screens at different depths on the stage. Plus we have a bunch of new video content that we try to refresh each year. We don’t recycle the MTV videos from the ’80s or things like that.
Robert: Does the band have any pre-show rituals?
Vivian Campbell: Different people do different things. Rick Allen’s a very Zen guy. You always see him meditating and burning incense. He follows a lot of Eastern philosophies, so he has his own rituals. Phil Collen’s usually doing pushups. In fact, he’s always doing pushups before the show. My ritual is to open a beer and sit with my guitar. Joe and Sav are still talking about football right until they hit the stage
Robert: What’s your favorite aspect of touring?
Vivian Campbell: I think I can speak for us all; we consider it a real privilege to be able to do this still and it’s the most exciting part of what we do. When I first picked up an instrument, it was to play live in front of people and get that instant feedback. It’s much better doing that than sitting in the studio making a record.
When you’re trying to write a song and you hit on something that’s equally exciting, but it’s a very, very different thing. The instant gratification you get from playing in front of an audience is the whole reason why we all started and that doesn’t diminish over the years. With each passing year we have a greater appreciation of it, because we realize how lucky we are to be able to do this.
Robert: How did you guys get hooked up with the Celebrity Apprentice?
Vivian Campbell: I don’t really know how it came about. We got a request. I guess it must have come from 7-UP or the TV show. I had never even watched it, but now, of course, I’ve had to watch this entire season [Laughing]. The way they edit it is so disingenuous, shall we say. They’re looking for dramatic effects, but it’s funny that reality television is actually not reality.
Robert: Was that whole thing where you guys were 20 minutes late hitting the stage, part of the dramatic effect?
Vivian Campbell: They told us we were onstage at 7:00 and that’s when we went onstage, so I have no idea what happened in the interim, whether John Rich engineered that for TV drama or somebody else did. I really don’t know. Like I say, we were totally removed from them. We just went in and did our gig. We didn’t actually interact with the celebs.