Written by Katherine Turman • June 22, 2016
Earlier this year, doctors ordered Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott to take a break from touring and go on extended vocal rest. Jarring as the news was, it's not surprising to hear that Elliott's pipes needed a break: since forming Def Leppard in 1977 when he was just 18 years-old, Elliott and the band have toured the world relentlessly. They've also released 11 studio albums, scored more than a dozen Top 40 hits (including "Love Bites," "Armageddon It," and "Photograph"), and sold more than 35 million albums in the U.S. alone.
That kind of success can take a toll. This week, Def Leppard returns to road healthy and well-rested—with REO Speedwagon and Tesla—for the second leg of their lengthy US tour. The shows, which kick off June 22 in Boston, come in support of last year's self-titled studio album, a 14-song collection filled with classic, catchy, radio-ready rock anthems like the band's latest single, "Man Enough." The song's ripping guitars and hooky bass line are signature Def Leppard, while the lyrics—and its video, which we're premiering below—mess with gender roles and an age old expression in a fun, slightly twisted way. Leading up to the band's tour, we chatted with the articulate and perpetually easygoing Elliott from his home in Dublin, Ireland about early influences, fan requests, and the story behind "Man Enough."
Reading the lyrics for "Man Enough"—"I got your invitation so show me what you got... Are you man enough?"—it sounds like you're singing to a woman.
Yes, but it's nothing to do with being sexist. It's my warped humor, taking the English language and twisting it. I love what the English language can do, how wrong it can be, and how most words have double meanings. If you get it wrong it can become very funny, and questions can get misconstrued. There's a great phrase I love from this very annoyed English teacher who was screaming at his students about punctuation and capitalization. He said that not using capital letters and correct punctuation is the a difference between "helping your uncle jack-off a horse" or "helping your Uncle Jack off a horse." It's a fun lyric and a hooky song that's way less sexist than anything Sly Stone ever wrote, or James Brown. It's an homage to that bravado that those guys had. ... We've always written metaphorically. People can discover the real meanings when they're reached puberty. [Laughs] You watch any kid's movies, there are bits that go right over kids' heads, while mom and dad look at each other and snicker.
We've lost so many greats lately: Bowie, Lemmy, and Prince. Whose passing hit you the hardest?
Bowie. Absolutely. He's been the guy I looked up to since I was 12. I've recorded, in my career, nearly 30 Bowie songs with the Cybernauts project—and Leppard have done "Rebel Rebel." The first song we ever learned to play as Def Leppard in 1977 was "Suffragette City." I sang "Heroes" on stage with the [all-star project] Kings of Chaos. He's so embedded in my DNA. I'm looking at one of my CD racks right now and I have a shelf four-feet-wide and it's all Bowie bootlegs—maybe 120 of them. And that's just bootlegs! People might think there's no Bowie in what we do because I didn't try to be like David Bowie, but I use my inspiration in a different way. I was such an admirer. You don't have to mimic people you admire. I admire Tom Waits and Kate Bush, but I'm not going to try to sound like them. It's very unlikely Bowie had any Def Leppard records in his collection, but that's not the point. Each generation moves up one.
Did you hear about the fan who yelled out "Freebird" at a Bob Dylan concert recently and he played it?
God bless him, he's just gone up in my estimation. When that happens to us I say, "You're at the wrong gig, mate," and make a joke out of it. I don't think they mean harm, it just becomes verbal diarrhea, especial after people have had a few beers. I've never seen Dylan live and I don't plan to. I respect him, but I've always preferred other people's versions of his songs. I think Ian Hunter does Dylan better than Dylan does. There's a guy who went through Dylan's trash and made a book out of it.
I've got friends who tell me he was playing "All Along The Watchtower" and it took them 15 minutes to figure out what song it was. It kind of cracks me up. I'd rather see McCartney, because when Paul Mc Cartney does "Eleanor Rigby" it will sound like "Eleanor Rigby." Or Springsteen, he plays "Born to Run" and you know what it is.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I don't really have a pre-show ritual. I warm up. I pace up and down and get myself in a mood. I go through my wardrobe like some kind of diva. I just want to get myself warmed up and stretched because it's very athletic what we do. When we go on stage, it's almost like a sport, a game, and we have to get ourselves into that Super Bowl mentality—big crowd, big moment. We want to go on thinking we've won. I don't juggle cats or anything like that. I've always just been... I don't know what the world is, not normal, but not weird. A lot people throw up because the nerves get at them. That never really happened to me. I have an absolute routine but I don't have a ritual.
You have a new video for "Man Enough." How important are videos now versus back in the heyday of MTV?
It's not as important as it was in 1983 to 1993, when we made videos because there was a channel that would broadcast them to a million people who would sit down and watch them. That kind of disappeared. There is a percentage of our audience who is glad we're still making videos, though. It's sticking to your guns; it's doing what we're always done. It's not keeping up with the Joneses. Now a video will get 20 million hits, or even a couple hundred thousand, and you'll see the thumbs up or thumbs down. We never really cared about a response like that [previously]—you just hoped they liked the video and song. Now you get actual feedback that can delight you or destroy your soul. [Laughs] We also don't spend an entire fortune on them like we used to. We probably spent on "Man Enough" what we used to spend on the food budget for some of our other videos!
Watch "Man Enough" below.
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