Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Joe Elliott is a very busy man,when he isn’t singing and touring with two bands he is producing in his home studio in Dublin. The recent release of the second album by the Down n Outz gave me an opportunity to catch up with him and discuss all manner of subjects.
Good afternoon Joe, I’m sure it makes a change for you to see and be outside the studio walls?
Joe”Well occasionally it does but in fairness, what I have I been doing the past week? Producing the Ricky Warwick solo album and working on new Def Leppard stuff. I got out this morning (laughs) but now the fog has come in. I can see outside the studio walls but I cant see further than about ten feet.”
The second Down n Outz album has just been released, has the popularity of the band come as a surprise to you?The origins of the band having come from a Mott reunion shows and a personal labor of love.
Joe”Well, surprised? Of course, because in this day and age with the music industry being what it is nobody is really sure what music means to people anymore. You cant be guaranteed any sort of record sales when you put a new album out now Even if you are Aerosmith or U2 you just don’t know how it is going to go. People just seem to be blasé about it all. I wasn’t expecting this to take off to the levels of Lady Gaga. I was very pleasantly surprised to the reaction that it has garnished so far. The majority of the reviews that I have seen have been very very positive. In America the song”Rock+Roll Queen”is currently number 2 on the classic rock airplay chart of the whole country. That is amazing really,we are only being kept off the top spot by the new Led Zeppelin live stuff. That is incredible and basically makes me feel very humble to be quite honest. To find also that we are getting quite a lot of airplay on the British rock radio stations like Planet Rock as well…It is flattering and at the same time is quite rewarding as well. We did believe in this project-the whole band did,that we had something good. We were getting towards the end of it and tweaking a few mixes looking at each other and thinking”This is really good”Not that we should be too surprised because they are phenomenal musicians. The Quireboys. Yes it was a labor of love but it is a proper record. I have heard and I own what you might call some kind of super-group type records and they are really just not very good. They record them quickly. People are too afraid to tell each other that they are not doing it as well as they could. It is like a sub level quality almost. With this I don’t think that exists it is true talent. I think that is coming out because the songs are so good. You can hear both-how good the song is and how the band is.”
Obviously as a long term Mott fan for many years you are personally very familiar with all those songs. Does it come down to just yourself picking which ones to do, or do the other members contribute?
Joe”They are familiar with them because its very fortunate for all of us really that they all are Mott fans. When Mott the Hoople got back together we have spoke of this many times since. They all said if we were not going to open for Mott then we all would have been going to buy tickets to see them. Guy and Paul Guerin specifically, but the same goes for Keith, the keyboard player. He has really connected with Morgan Fisher who was the keyboard player on songs like”Marionette”and stuff like that. His style of playing has really …Its like an education if you like, I was more aware of the hardcore stuff. They were obviously aware of “All The Young Dudes”,”All The Way From Memphis” and “Roll Away The Stone”etc. Paul and Griff really knew the albums so it wasn’t hard to pick the songs. They did leave it all to me because it was me that was asked to put this band together in the first place. They know that I have got a captains role there and are happy enough to let me have it”
You indicated earlier that you have a busy schedule-but are there any provisional plans for any live dates?
Joe”Yeah we were hoping to, in a perfect world we would be doing some right now. There was just nothing out there for us to jump on the way that we wanted to do it. I don’t want to just be playing clubs with this. I want to take it to a bigger stage, more as an outlet to open for somebody like I did with Paul Rodgers. That was a fantastic tour for us. We are looking into maybe doing a few shows in December. There was a small window of opportunity-that was the problem that we had. We thought of just letting it go and focus instead on doing physical promo like me going to radio stations, and talking to people like yourself on the phone. It gets more familiar that way and we can tour as I say hopefully December is what we are aiming at. Leppard are very busy up until then,and the Quireboys are going to be working as well. We have to get our little windows of opportunity in line and its not always very easy”
You had indicated that you are working currently with one of N. Irelands own sons Ricky Warwick. What is your role with that, producer, musical contributor or both?
Joe”Both-he is doing two solo albums, an electric one and an acoustic. At the moment we are working on the acoustic album. It is called”Hearts on Trees”,and he has ten songs written. There is a cover on there but basically with a friend of his from Northern Ireland who is basically a poet. Amazing lyrics,which is a strange situation for me listening to this because Ricky Warwick himself is a great lyricist. He is more than happy to let this guy take the lead on the lyrics which is great. Ricky’s singing on this record is very cool. It is a very laid back acoustic thing, but it is a bit more hard-hitting in the lyrical department than the performance if you like. Its not wishy washy acoustic its more in your face. There is one song called”Psycho”which is actually quite scary. The album is starting to come together nicely now. As I talk to you Ronin our engineer is down in the studio chopping bits and bobs of it so its just an ongoing thing. We split our days between doing Ricky’s thing and doing the new Def Leppard record.”
From one N. Ireland man to another-and Vivian Campbell. I noticed that you had travelled up to support his Last In Line project at their Belfast show.
Joe”Yes I did travel up to Belfast for the gig because being in Dublin it would have been very rude for me not to have jumped in a car and travelled ninety minutes up to the show to see him. I never saw him play in Dio at the time in 83/84. I thought I wanted to just support him basically and hang out with him for an hour or two. It was a great gig as well, I really really liked it. The way that they were shouting his name out I felt quite proud for him.”
How is he keeping these days-health-wise?
Joe”He is a continuum that’s what Vivian is right now. He is doing all right, he is in remission, it’s not gone altogether. He is working on that and he is in great spirits. Last time I spoke to him he was giggling and joking and having a good time. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago and he was in great form. I have been chatting in emails to him. He is looking forward to these dates and doing them. So it is not actually hindering him and his ability to perform. He is still having ongoing treatment. It is just positive thoughts from here on in really.”
I read a recent interview with yourself in Classic Rock which indicated your general dissatisfaction with the current state of the music business as a whole. You stated with the release of the next Def Leppard album it will be as the band operating like a cottage industry?
Joe”Well we have been a cottage industry for five years. As soon as we were out of our deal with Universal, we have done everything in-house-everything. We do our own artwork, our own distribution deals. We write and record our own songs, we record our own live stuff, we organised it all. With even Bludgeon Riffola is actually physically operating as a record label now; because of the Down n Outz album was released on that. Its not that difficult to do, all you need to do is have a bit of knowledge. When you sign to a record label you get assigned somebody to organize all your press for you. They are not necessarily any good they just work for the label. Doing it this way we can pick and choose people that are really good at finding people like yourself to go to. People that are as equally as good as the record label but they don’t take a huge chunk of your money. They pay you a miserly little fee for delivering this record because supposedly they have the infrastructure and promo and all that kind of stuff. If you actually just think about it, you can actually do it yourself. Its not hard, you get people to work for you. You pay them to do it, and paying them to do a good job is a lot less money than paying the record company to do it for the small amount of royalties that they will give you. We will try and bury as much of that as possible, so we have been operating as a cottage industry for the last five or six years. In that time we have headlined Download twice. On the 35th anniversary of the bands existence we played in front of 82,000 people in Quebec. Its not like we are suffering because of this. We are ticking along, and any mistakes that get made are ours. We don’t like finger pointing and we hate getting angry at people and”You have messed up our career”We are more than happy to mess our own career up. If it is going to go down the tubes I want to be responsible for it not somebody else. At least it is our choice, and that is what it should be. Artists should be in charge of their own career and that is all that we are doing. We are just wrestling back control.”
What about that new Def Leppard album, how is it shaping up?
Joe”Well we got together in February to write what we thought would be a few songs and we ended up with twelve cooking in the pot. They are in various degrees of being finished. Three of them we could actually release them tomorrow if I am being honest. We won’t, but we could. We had tinkered with the idea of an EP but then when the music kept coming out we went”No, this is going to be an album”We are getting back together in two weeks time to do another few weeks work on it. Then we are taking a break to start rehearsals and production rehearsals for this big tour of America with Kiss. So it is cooking along very nicely. I added some vocals on one of the tracks last night and will be doing some more this evening. We kind of do Ricky’s stuff during the day and I like to sing after dinner-I don’t like to sing too early in the day. Again like I said its the beauty of being in control. Most people go”You cant do that”well yeah I can because its my studio, I will do what I like (laughs) which is brilliant you know. I mean I have earned the right after thirty odd years of doing it to own my own studio and dictate how it gets done. We are a team all that means is when I do the vocals it is not like some a+r man telling me that I have got to do this and that. They are by nature failed musicians mostly, why would you take any notice of somebody that never had any success? How can they possibly judge when they don’t know what it is? We trust each other a lot more than we trust the outside world if you like. The guys will be here, and we shall write some more, beat our heads against each other and try to get this thing into the right shape. That’s the only people that I really want to be hassled with is ourselves. We don’t really fight but we have different ideas creativity-wise as to how it should go and that’s really it.”
How is it sounding ? Raw and heavy like those early releases such as “High n dry”or more like the polish of releases like”Hysteria”and”Pyromania”
Joe”Its a bit of everything really. The one thing that Leppard will probably never ever do again is an album that sounds like”High n Dry”all the way through. That was 1981, it was thirty two years ago people have to get over it. Its gone. Robert Plant is never going to sing like he did on Zeppelin 1 because he doesn’t want to. There will still be the odd song that you will hear it and go”That could have been on High n Dry”or “Pyromania”What we are really doing is trying not to sound like anything, just writing songs that we feel are good songs and not anchor them to some past glory. Its much more important that the songs are good and it doesn’t really matter if they have any reference to our back catalog or not. It is a rock and roll record for sure.”
You discussed the forthcoming Us dates with Kiss, any plans to bring that package over to Europe?
Joe”I wouldn’t have thought so, specifically not this year anyway because for the infrastructure to put that together we would have to be doing the shows now. The tour doesn’t finish until September, by then I have to be back here because I am producing the Black Star Riders album a couple of weeks after that. That will be for a month or so, and then after that we are going in to finish the Leppard record. So its like non stop work. There will not be any British or Irish dates even European dates with Kiss as far as I am aware. There is always a possibility of of something that maybe something may happen for next summer. That is a discussion that we will have to have once we have done the USA tour out of the way.”
With such a busy schedule, I assume that you will not have much time to follow your football passion these days?
Joe”Well yeah, last night when I was doing the vocals-I have a lyric stand I’m sure that you know what that is like. It’s just a square sheet of metal on a slope on a long stick. I had a lyric sheet on one side and an Ipad with the Chelsea game on the other.(laughing) You have to kind of double task, you cant watch football or sing-you watch football And sing.”
Do you still get over to watch Sheffield United?
Joe”Well I was at Wembley for the game against Hull. I am proud of them. When you consider that we are a third division team -league three against a first division. We were winning at half-time and took them nearly all the way. We didn’t shame ourselves and it was a really good day out.”
Just a couple of questions to finish up Joe. How have you changed as a person since you first started out with Def Leppard?
Joe”Well I know what I am doing, when I first started out I was full of wind, piss and vinegar. Just like every kid is at 18/19. You think that you can rule the universe, and in fairness you have to think like that or you can’t. Whether you be Thor or Robert Plant you have got to believe that you can top the charts if that’s what your intention is or you might as well not bother trying to make a record. Back in those days we thought all that but we didn’t have the backup for it.We didn’t really have a serious amount of ability. I think that the first album shows a lot of good promise. When we started working with Mutt Lange he opened our eyes as to how much hard work that you really had to do.We had way too much fun making that first record, which is why sometimes it is difficult for me to listen to it. With “High n Dry”we didn’t really enjoy the recording process but we don’t half enjoy listening to the finished product. We tried a lot harder to make things sound better than they would have done under our own steam.Working with Mutt for eleven years has put us into a position where we know how to make records. As much as most of the records that we have made haven’t sold anything way close to the records that we made with Mutt. It doesn’t mean that they are not good, i’s like ACDC .Up to “Black Ice”none of theirs did either. You have got to go through your apprenticeship, and Mutts not always there to make a record. We would possibly have worked with Mutt for more than the 3 songs that we did in 1999 had there been more availability but there wasn’t. Working with him musically and professionally he showed us the way to make records.We became better people and better musicians through working with him. I have changed purely the same way that everybody else has .Your entire body changes its metabolic build up every seven years so I have changed probably five times since I started. I am just more confident about what we do. I am more realistic about what we can achieve. I am realistic enough to realize that the majority of our career is behind us not in front. It doesn’t mean that for the next ten or fifteen years that we cant do what the Rolling Stones have done. I mean it is doable, it’s just a case of we can believe it and just have to convince the rest of the world to believe it. That’s the hard bit…I just think that with life different things hit different times and that you have to learn to deal with them. We don’t really argue about petty things anymore because they don’t really interfere with what you are doing as a band. I just think that I am a more level person.
Joe its been great chatting to you today, thanks for making time in your schedule to talk to me.”
Joe”You are welcome, any time. Always a pleasure. Talk to you soon, cheers man. Bye!