Q&A with Rick Savage
Rick Savage: Hello! How are you?
Sheila Rene': How about you?
RS: I'm great, thanks.
SR: Has this been the most fun you've had on tour in years?
RS: It's been great for me. You know we were saying the other day that we've been touring for a long, long time, as you know, but we're having more fun out on the road than we've ever had.
SR: It's been a very quick 16 years for me following your music. I'll never forget that first interview in 1980 at the Cow Palace. You were all so excited, young and eager.
RS: A lot of things have happened in that time, but when you look back it just seems like a flash.
SR: Upon first listen I thought Slang was wimpy. After one or two more listens, it kicked in to be your most adventurous album to date. Very much like Tom Petty's album Wildflower to me on first listen. I thought it was really wimpy until I listened a couple of times. It holds some of his best songs ever.
SR: It's so powerful in its stripped down-ness.
RS: That's the thing about the new album. We tend to think that to really understand it and really get into it; that it's going to take a lot longer than our previous records. Once you give it the time, you find there's a lot more facets on this one as compared to our previous records. There are a lot more interesting things going on than a first listen might suggest.
SR: Collen, in some interviews has said that Rick Allen, who showed up early and set up his old acoustic drum kit for the first time in 11 years, really set the tone for this album.
RS: Right. That was the starting point. Just the actual sound the drums created set a tone on the rest of the album.
SR: Is it frustrating to have to constantly reinvent yourselves as a band?
RS: No, it's more fun than anything else. It's good that one has to still be aware of change and evolution; because if you don't, you just get bored playing the same thing. We got bored with the recording process we had been using on the previous records. We just wanted a fresher start and we needed to do something new to keep ourselves interested. We still think the songs sound like Def Leppard, but the way we went about recording them, was from a different angle.
SR: You've got many voices coming from Joe this time. He's singing in different octaves.
RS: Again, it's not very fashionable right now to have a lead singer that's singing rock music that's really high octaves all the time. There's always a place for it; but there needs to more variation. It's just a question of moving with the times.
SR: "Turn To Dust" has become one of my favorite tunes. I love the Eastern influence on this one.
RS: The majority of that song was not so much samples as it was a fully-blown 24 piece Indian orchestra. A guy named Greg Prewitt specializes in scoring Indian music. Phil (Collen) went over and played him a few guitar parts to show him how we thought it should go; and they worked it out right there on the spot. The only sample on this record is right at the beginning of "Truth." We never intended keeping it on the record. We put it on just as we were putting the song together just to create a mood of how the guitars should be. Then, we got so used to it that we didn't like it at all when we took it out. It's the sarangi at the very start.
SR: I'm loving some of the industrial tinge on this one. I've become less of a snob about instruments actually being played live.
RS: Well, it does take time. I tend to agree with you. I've always been of the old-fashioned school of thought that the main basis of playing music and being in a group is get out there and play it live. Everything else is secondary. To a point that's still the case. There are many outlets of music nowadays and it's not just in a live environment.
SR: What was a typical day of recording like at the villa in Marbella, Spain?
RS: A typical day--we'd probably get to the actual villa where we were recording around 11 or 12 o'clock. It was very easy, sitting around with some coffee and a bite of lunch. Then we'd begin recording whatever needed to be done on that particular day. We'd work through until 8:00 o'clock in the evening and then our tour manager, Malvin Mortimer, who's a pretty good chef, would cook dinner. We normally ate dinner between 8:00 and 9:00 o'clock and then carry on recording again. We wouldn't go much past 1:00 a.m. Even at 1:00 o'clock in Marbella there's still time to go out and have a few drinks or socialize. It's a big holiday community and the place stayed open until 6:00 a.m. every morning. You had the opportunity to wind down if you wanted to or if you were tired you could just go straight to bed. Either way, it worked out right.
SR: What happened when you moved to Dublin?
RS: We did a few vocal overdubs and a few guitar parts. We did the drum samples on "Truth." It was just little bits and bobs really. Most of it was done in Spain.
SR: You even trimmed down the equipment.
RS: It was ADAT which is our own home recording studio. It worked really great because they use a VHS video and you pop it in almost like a video machine and they supply you with eight tracks to record on, but, of course, you can slave all the machines up so you can have as big a recording system that you could possibly want. Everything times eight, so you can have eight, sixteen, twenty-four or thirty two and onwards. I have four machines at home, Phil Collen has four machines at home, Joe has four and Vivian had two. We just brought it all to Spain and linked them together. It was great.
SR: We have a new writer in the group with Vivian Campbell providing his first song, the first U.S. single, "Work It Out" on his first recording project with you. I've been into this guy all the way back to DIO.
RS: That's right. It's the first real album with Vivian on board. He's fantastic and simply a very nice person to be around. We wanted to surround ourselves with people like Vivian. His guitar playing was unquestioned anyway, and he really enhanced the vocals on this one. He can really sing and those were important attributes, don't get me wrong. The main reason we wanted him in the group is because he's genuinely a nice guy and the chemistry is more important than any individual technical qualities one might have as a musician.
SR: That's what I'm reading that you're saying the same thing about the album.
RS: It mirrors how we are, yeah.
SR: I think it's not only smart to know what's happening with music and to adapt it to your sound. I've become a real hardcore fanatic.
RS: There is a place for any kind of music provided that it's good. People talk about alternative and hard rock, R&B, call it what you will. At the end of the day there's two types of music, good and bad. In fairness, people have said we are brave to go with the changes, but it's not really. When you look at it logically, it's just something we wanted to do. It would have been sillier to not follow your own instincts and we were completely comfortable doing it.
SR: What did your old buddy Pete Woodroff bring with him?
RS: We worked with him on the Adrenalize record and the Retro-Active albums. What he brought to the table was more in the line of being a great engineer. He really knows and has an ear for specific sounds. He was still very fresh when it came to being a strict producer. From that point of view, he didn't already have any perceived ideas about how he should work. That was very important, because between the six of us, we molded a fashion of working and it worked for everybody. It wasn't like working with an established producer that said 'no, this is how we do it. We do it this way.' He was very malleable to actually work with plus he had some really great ideas along the way. He was the one guy who could effectively be a referee for the other five guys as well. With the right amount of intelligence and also he had a voice of his own which was very constructive. The marriage between the band and Woodroff was absolutely perfect.
SR: Would "Breathe A Sigh" be the song that you worked the most on. I read somewhere that you ended up doing seven different versions on that one. It sounds like everyone is singing on that one.
RS: In terms of trying to do things different ways, it was one of the songs we worked the most on. In terms of recording hours every version was done quickly. Everybody sings on that cut in different stages. The whole vibe of that particular song was to make it very vocal oriented. We've always loved harmonies and lots of people singing. We thought that the best avenue that's still current and up-to-date is less so in any ballad rock song, but more an R&B-type song.
SR: When I got to "Blood Runs Cold" I shed a tear or two.
RS: It's the first time that we've had the space between losing Steve Clark and living without him. I think because of that it was more justifiable to have a song which was dedicated to Steve. It's about the good and the bad. "White Lightning" was a tribute to Steve off the Adrenalize record, but it was too close to the tragedy to even to begin to understand it all. This song does far better justice to him.
SR: With the words..."you've got to save yourself" which is true of us all.
RS: Indeed, by the end of the day we're all responsible for ourselves as much as we need loved ones around us, at the end of the day we can only be responsible for ourselves. If we are, then we enhance other people's lives afterwards.
SR: Talk about "Pearl Of Euphoria" which you had a hand in crafting.
RS: Joe initially came up with the original song on a demo which we actually kept. It actually made it to the final mix. We wanted to do a song that didn't really go anywhere. Where in the past it had always been a very structured bit of verse that lasted a certain amount of bars, then we go into the bridge and then to the chorus. The specific chord changes. We wanted to do a song that started and lopped its way wherever it decided to go and to finish. That song was the song we felt did that. Joe and Phil wanted to make it into a very sleazy-type, drug-oriented lyric that almost puts you in the middle of a drug atmosphere where you're hallucinating and nothing is quite real. You don't know what reality is anymore and you're right in the middle of all these feelings. It just seemed to fit because of the nature of the groove of the song. It drew you in and there was no where else to go...just stuck in this dreamlike sequence. We love it, we really do. I mean if the album was really, really more popular than it is, we'd love to play that song live. It's the type of song you can really experiment with and just build upon night after night until it approaches a "Kashmir" that Led Zeppelin did. Maybe we'll do it live but it's a little too unknown for the general Def Leppard audience.
SR: Yeah, but people are going to get into it as the tour comes their way. I'm so excited you're coming to my new town, Austin, TX. I saw you last in San Francisco.
RS: There are certainly a few changes between Austin and Frisco.
SR: Quite a few changes, but the kind of stuff I do I can do from anywhere in the world.
RS: Of course. That's great. We really appreciate your support, Sheila. It's been great over the years.
SR: You started in Bombay this time?
RS: Yeah, all around Southeast Asia. We actually started in Bangkok. The Bombay show never happened because of the political upheaval at the time. It was considered correct not to go there. It was a shame, because none of us has played in India. Phil (Collen) has been there three or four times on vacation.
SR: When you go to a new country are you prepped as to what's cool and what's not. I read in Collen's diary on the web that you couldn't take off you shirts at one show because it was culturally incorrect.
RS: In certain places you have to be very strict. You can't show bodily parts in a stage environment. It's pretty rare as you go around the world, but every so often you do meet local rules and we get briefed on what we should and shouldn't do. You've a guest in their country and you're better off just towing the line. It's not worth creating a hassle because someone's telling you can or can't so something. We just follow the rules.
SR: You're calling from Virginia?
RS: Indeed we have a show in Virginia tonight. I'm in Washington, D.C. at the moment. It's a short trip.
SR: Are you all in Washington now?
RS: We're all scheduled to do interviews and a few radio visits in the afternoon. Finally, we'll get to soundcheck and then we're ready to go.
SR: Do you still do your own soundcheck..all members? A lot of bands phone it in these day.
RS: Of course, yeah. I know a lot of bands that don't, but at the end of the day, there's nothing better than actually getting a feel for the show. Whether you've played at the same venue 1,000 or 2,000 times, it's always different in one way or another. You should never take it for granted.
SR: How do you and the band judge success as a group? Sales, touring or the T-shirts sold, or none of the above?
RS: Well, I think that can possible change as you go through your career. Initially when you start out you'd automatically assess success by record sales or general popularity. Once you've sold a lot of albums and we've been there more than once you have a different angle about what success really means. Only because you've gone through one avenue and really right now, success to us is having put out an album that we really, really like and we're really, really proud of. Actually, we enjoying what we're doing. It's no longer about record sales. It would be nice always to sell millions and millions and millions. It's very easy to get caught up in that ballgame and eventually you could lose your objective. The biggest recent success is just getting this record out and in a way we always perceived it would be over the last 18 months. Whether it goes on to sell is icing on the cake or not. It can't change our feelings of pride for what we've done. That backed by the fact that we're on tour and we're better musicians than we've ever been and we get a kick out of that after all these years. Nobody is just going through the motions; everybody still loves touring to death in fact more so than ever. The thing about success if it translates into ticket sales, record sales and everything else it's even nicer.
SR: Any new goodies we should look out for at the T-shirt booth? You know that's the first place I visit inside the venue. I look for buttons, scarves, stickers before hats and T-shirts.
RS: One thing I'm personally impressed with, and I never really am, is the tour book. They've been designed really nicely and the best we've ever put out there. They're definitely worth checking out. Again, it's mainly all photographs but just the way they've been laid out is great.
SR: You'll be at South Park Meadows in Austin on August 3. I'll be there with bells on.
RS: It's a great spot. I remember it since we've played there. It's an outside venue.
SR: You can't smoke at concerts any more. At least, outside they can't complain too much.
RS: I agree. That's crazy.
SR: There are a couple of songs that address split-ups such as "All I Want Is Everything" and "Where Does Love Go When It Dies."
RS: It's always tough. If breaking up makes people realize that they have to make changes in their live and that some change is for the better. Then if we can take positive aspects from it then there's a reason and a cause for it.
SR: Joe wrote "All I Want Is Everything" and I wonder if he's addressing the divorce here?
RS: Strangely enough it wasn't. It's actually about a man dying of AIDS. I can understand the interruption of broken relationships. The connotation is much wider than that. He knows he's going to die and wanting to change everything that got him into that situation.
SR: "Where Does Love Go When It Dies" could also fit.
RS: I've talked to a lot of people and although they think it has a fantastic lyric, they find it a very sad song. I must be ridiculously out of step with everyone because I find it the most uplifting lyric I've ever heard. It think it all depends on your perception. Personally, I don't believe that love dies. I think it's almost like a reincarnation and the song hints at that and that's why I find it uplifting to me.
SR: Great harmonies on "Where Does Love Go..."
RS: That's mainly Phil and Viv.
SR: What kind of bass are you playing on the record ..and live performance?
RS: I'm still with the old Hamer five-string. They got me a good one and it's really hung in there. It sounds as good as ever.
SR: Tripping Daisy is out on tour with you. What are they like?
RS: They're wacky. They're out there and really good. Don't get me wrong, but their angle is a little psychedelic. It might take more than one listen to get into them but they're a good band. And, most importantly, they're just nice kids. I don't think it's anything you'll immediately warm to, but there are some great qualities to it.
SR: I listen to all CDs more than once. To really understand the mood, the groove and the lyrics it takes time.
RS: I totally agree with that. Some of the greatest songs you don't get the first time around anyway.
SR: One thing about this album is that the lyrics are up front. Joe is many voices on this one.
RS: I think it's a question on every single song. It's indicative on this album. We tracked every song individually. On previous records what we tended to do whether good or bad, was to get a guitar sound, a drum sound, a bass sound and just use it all the way through the record on every song. On this particular album, we tracked each individual song. What does this song really mean? Regardless if we've just invented the best guitar sound. Is it going to be appropriate? And we would bend it to whatever the song needed rather than just blindly wade through every song doing the same thing. It's apparent with Joe as well. What we tended to do was to sit Joe down and work on a character that we saw that would be great for that particular song. We got Joe to imagine he was a cross between Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Billy Idol and Elvis Presley. Somehow out of that combination came the character that maybe wasn't even Joe, but the fact is, it was right for the song. Through that it becomes Joe because it's his voice.
SR: We all know that it's the song that makes it great or not.
RS: Of course, you live and die by the songs. What Nirvina had to say and what they did in the early '90s was fantastic. They couldn't have made such an impression if the songs weren't very good. You need great songs to get ideas across to people. The songs always count.
SR: It's been another great moment or two with you. Thanks as always for your time and your music.
RS: I look forward to seeing you in Austin. The great thing about being backstage with us is that nobody cares if you have a cigarette or not. You can smoke until your heart is content. Your continued support is important to us, Sheila.