Def Leppard defiant over Download date

Def Leppard at Download Festival 2009 by Shirlaine Forrest
Def Leppard at Download Festival 2009 by Shirlaine Forrest

A few disgruntled Download Festival Facebook fans? Pah! Def Leppard have faced far more drama than that during their career. Alison Kerry finds frontman Joe Elliott in fine spirits ahead of their Donington appearance.

They’re still rocking after 30 years despite one life changing car crash and one accidental fatal overdose. Still one of only a handful of bands who have not one, but two albums registering diamond sales (10-plus million sold). A new album – their first official live album – is released in June only days before they headline the Download Festival, an appearance which is only days before they embark on a massive 48-date US arena tour. It’s official: Def Leppard shall not be burning out or fading away anytime soon.

Returning to their spiritual home of Donington in Derbyshire to headline Download for the second time in three years sparked mild controversy on the Download messageboards and other social network sites. These comments have been quickly dismissed by promoter and band alike. “If you do the research, the comments on us coming back to Download are 94% positive,” lead singer Joe Elliott tells VF. “That’s better than when we played in 2009. I don’t normally bother with facts and figures, because I’m not David Cameron, but [Download Festival Promoter] Andy Copping thrust some down my throat the other night when I was in London. I thought, fair enough if that’s the way it is. I mean 6% negative – so what? There was more than that two years ago. It’s a festival! You don’t expect everybody to like every band. You can’t please everybody. That would be no fun.”

It does make you wonder what all the fuss is about. A 6% negative reaction hardly seems worth a mention. Elliott seems undeterred and rightly so.

Def Leppard have a very loyal fan base – both here and abroad – and are known for their big live shows, yet surprising the new album ‘Mirrorball’ is their first live LP. VF wonders why they waited so long. Elliot explains: “This is the first kind of ‘soundtrack of our lives’ live album. It covers everything from 1981 to ‘The Sparkle Lounge’ album. We’ve had DVDs of live material but never what you can call an official live album. It’s a much-asked question these days: why now? Why not before now? It’s quite simple: most people put out a live album to give them time to come up with a fourth record. We always had four or five year gaps between our records anyway so we didn’t have that luxury. Plus, whenever we finished a tour, on whatever album it was, we were just dying to get back in the studio and write new stuff. Just being the kind of band we were, we were like we’ve got all these new songs so why do [a live album]?”

The process of compiling ‘Mirrorball’ indeed saw the band unable to stop themselves writing new songs, three of which have made it onto the album. Can we consider this a preview for a new studio album? “We were going to put one track on, then that turned to two, then three and almost turned to four”, says Elliott. “We had to stop ourselves or we were going to miss our release date! But yeah, they are previews of what’s going to go on the next album. We just gave them away rather than wait five years, as [the next album] might not come out until 2012/2013 and the last one was 2008. It was ‘well there’s three songs so you what direction we’re going in’, which again, is going to be tricky because all three songs sound pretty different from each other.”

During The Sparkle Lounge tour in 2008/09, Def Leppard made a triumphant return to Donington to finish their long tour at Download and they’re picking up right where they left off but Elliott insists this is an entirely new show. “We’re certainly not going to play the same set as we played two years ago. I suppose the surprises are going to come in the first 45 minutes because we like to hit the ‘home straight’. We’ve got new material to play as well. Plus, there’s a back catalogue of music. We couldn’t put every single song on ‘Mirrorball’. There’s a load of songs that were top 20 hits for us that aren’t on that record. So we’ll pull all sorts of stuff out.”

As their US tour begins the following week, Download will certainly be a warm up gig of epic proportions. When can we expect them back on these shores? Elliott explains the scenario Def Leppard hopes to achieve over the next year: “This time around, we’re just starting at Download with a new album. Then we’re going to come back [to the UK] and do the arenas at the end of the year. It’s not written in stone but that’s the plan. If I were to say to you, excitedly and not really knowing what I’m talking about, the chances are is we’re going to do Canada after America in September/October then back to Britain, then next year South America, then Australia/Japan. Then next summer maybe do a bunch of European festivals as there’s no European tour as such. We prefer to do the festivals [in Europe] anyway. You can’t beat it. You get on the Festival circuit and you get to play in front of loads of people in one go, as opposed to going into twenty different towns [in each country]. You’d be touring Europe for nine months! The different reactions you get from European audiences are pretty cool.”
As Def Leppard work tirelessly year after year with unwavering ambition, leaving bands half their age in their wake, one has to wonder – as Elliott sings in ‘Rock Of Ages’ from the 1983’ Pyromania’ album: is it ‘better to burn out than fade away?’ A very good-natured Joe Elliott answers graciously: “Well you know, it’s like Roger Daltery said, ‘I wished I’d died ‘before I got old’! You can’t be held responsible for everything you sing or do all your life. The only reason I sang it was because it was on the front of a t-shirt I had. Then three years later, we found out apparently Neil Young sang it once and he wrote the original 10 years before me. I wasn’t that deep into Neil Young’s lyrics to know that. None of us thought we’d still be around after 30 years, but neither did Neil Young I suppose. If I’m going to burn out there’s no reason I can’t burn out when I’m 70. I don’t have to burn out yet. There’s plenty of time. I’m not fading away. It’s too much fun.”

Def Leppard, System Of A Down and Linkin Park will headline the Download Festival 2011 which takes place at Donington Park in Castle Donington from 10-12 June.

Click here to see the latest Download Festival line-up.

Download Festival 2011 tickets are on sale now priced at £180 for a weekend ticket with five days camping, £170 for a weekend ticket with three days camping and £145 for a weekend-only ticket.

Click here to buy Download Festival tickets.