Interview: Rick Allen, Def Leppard


For Def Leppard, Retro Active seals the lid on 'The Steve Clark era' and eagerly ushers in their next chapter. Joe Mackett waxes lyrical with Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen.


A mere 18 months after Adrenalise, a new Def Leppard album has hit the racks. I use the term 'new' lightly. It's title Retro Active pertains directly to the contents. All the cuts are tunes that the band have had lying dormant, rare b-sides or, as in the case of Two Steps Behind, a track used for a sound track.

Upon the release of Adrenalise, I spoke to vocalist Joe Elliot, who during the course of our conversation stated that there was an intention to compile a selection of rarities and live material to release along the same lines as Aerosmith's Pandora's Box. Why then have the band scaled down this idea to just a single album?

"We felt that this is an ideal time to close the chapter on the Steve Clark era, and by doing that it gives everyone more of an equal start when we come to making the next record especially now that Vivian is involved," states drummer Rick Allen.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

One track on their last album Tear It Down, was included after the band dredged it up from the past to play at the MTV Awards. The track subsequently became a huge radio hit in the States. So was this success an inspiration for the full album?

"We've wanted to put out this record for a while but have never really had the opportunity," says Allen. "The thing that started it off was being asked to contribute to The Last Action Hero soundtrack, which bagan the thinking that we could finish a whole album out on the road, which is a first for us. In between bouts of the tour each of us would go off and work on our pieces for the record."

It must be a relief to the band to get a record out without any delays for a change.

"There was a time when people preferred quality rathen than quantity but I think the record climate is slightly changing, and people are tending to go for basics. That was another reason for really trying to put the record together the way we did 'cos it meant that Def Leppard could explore other avenues of making a record."

Rick was faced with the dilemma of overdubbing his parts which were, in the main, originally executed before before he lost his arm in a car accident.

"In a way it was my chance to pat myself on the back 'cos I listened to what I'd done before when I first list my arm and most of it wasn't very good. When I went in and redid the stuff it was a breath of fresh air to actually realise that I'd actually improved quite a bit."

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

To the band's credit many of the tracks surfacing on Retro Active prompt the question of just why they haven't seen the light of day thus far. Most prominent in this field is Desert Song, a track steeped in a swirling Indian style Led Zep hook.

"That was originally called Into the Light," explains Rick. "Steve first came up with that when Hysteria was being put together but Joe didn't come up with the lyrics for it until earlier this year when it became Desert Song."

A peculiar choice is the cover of Action, a tune originally made famous by those glamsters Sweet. Leppard have revamped their version of the song which appeared on the b-side of Make Love Like A Man.

"We just thought it was one of the most exciting covers we'd ever done. It came out with a really live feeling, and we spent so much time getting it to sound as much like the original as we could  there was no way we could leave it off."

Ride Into The Sun originally appeared on the Getcha Rocks Off EP, but added to the new revamped version is a piano intro supplied by the Honky Tonk Messiah! Who is he?

"It's actually Ian Hunter," laughs Allen. "He was messing around with a piano on an acoustic version of Heartbeat and right at the end he did that honky tonk as a bit of a joke. We just thought it would be fun to put it on."

PARRALLEL LINES

To any person not versed in all things Leppard Retro Active may, on the face of it, seem a new record. That is until they see that there are both acoustic and electric versions of Miss You In A Heartbeat and Two Steps Behind.

"We didn't think that we really had anything else that would fit in the line up of songs," reasons Allen before defending the inclusions. "They really give the songs a completely different feel, not just drums or guitar but it gives the vocals room to breathe in a different way."

Normally with a new Def Leppard LP, you'd quite rightly expect the corporate machine to rev into overdrive. With Retro Active are the marketing monsters being held at bay?

Rick ponders for a while.

"To be honest the project started out lightheartedly. The record company didn't know anything about it. When we mentioned to them that we were thinking of putting a collection together they were totally behind it, and everyone we've played it to very much like it. But that isn't to say that it's a legitimate next album."

On a final note, Rick turns his attentions to the future.

"Obviously, our thoughts are on getting together with Vivian and doing some writing with him. We're looking forward to it 'cos doing Retro Active has proved that making a record doesn't have to be a painful experience. Getting Retro Active together has been so exciting. It's one of the things that we never thought we'd do. And it's great to see it come to fruition."


Joe Mackett
Riff Raff
December 1993
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