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Q&A with Def Leppard's Joe Elliott

Def Leppard will play Friday night at the Alerus Center (Credit: Maryanne Bilham-Knight)

Hard rock fans in Grand Forks will be hysterical Friday night when Def Leppard brings their World Tour to the Alerus Center.

With opening acts Tesla and Styx, the evening will feature chart-topping hits from the three bands from "Rock of Ages" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" to "Come Sail Away" and "Too Much Time on My Hands."

Tickets, ranging in price from $29.50 to $99.50, are still available and can be purchased at the Alerus Center box office, ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000.

Before his arrival in Grand Forks, Joe Elliott, lead singer of Def Leppard, spoke with the Herald about performing in the Upper Midwest, the future of Def Leppard and how bandmate Vivian Campbell's cancer treatment is going.

Q. North Dakota doesn't get a lot of major acts to come up here and play. What went into the band coming to Grand Forks? And have you always gotten a lot of fan support up here?

A. In the days when we first started out, we'd go anywhere that we were told to because that's what you do. You're an opening act and guests on somebody else's tour, so you don't have a say in where you go.

When we started headlining on the Pyromania Tour back in 1983, we were not just playing huge markets. We were wherever there was a demand.

There's a train of thought with certain artists who say "I'm not going any further west than Detroit because it's not cool," and all of that kind of stuff. And we were like, "Well, why wouldn't you do that?"

So we've been regular visitors to places like Battle Creek, Michigan. So for us to play North Dakota, it might not be something we do on every single tour, but it's certainly not something that's unusual. We don't look around and say "What are we doing here?" We like to go where the people are.

It's nearly a sold out show, so there's proof in the pudding that people want to see this kind of music, whether that's us or Motley Crue or U2 or Bon Jovi.

When they book the tour they ask if there's anywhere we don't want to go. Well no, there's nowhere we don't want to go. We were just in Sturgis, South Dakota a while ago, so it's not alien for us to be in that part of the world.

Q. Is it fun to play in an area or town that you haven't played before?

A. Actually, a lot of these gigs are a lot better than your major city gigs. There's a tendency in places like L.A. or New York where there can be an element of the audience who has their arm folded going "You've got to impress me because I could have been in three other different places tonight."

That doesn't happen so much when you're in Grand Forks because they might not get as many gigs. It works both ways because the audience appears to be way more appreciative because they're actually taking the effort to go and of course, the band responds to that. They're not just standing there staring at you like you're a movie. They actually get involved in the show and it makes for a great game of musical tennis. They bat the ball at us and we bat it back. We smash forth, and off you go. It can make for a really exciting evening.

Q. For fans who haven't seen you live, what can they expect to see and hear from the show?

A. I'll be honest. They may have never seen us live, but if they're coming and they don't know what to expect, they must be living under a rock. (Laughs)

It's a pretty well-documented story. It's been 35 years of doing this, and when you've been around as long as us or 15 years longer than us like The Stones or The Who, you go through all of the ups and downs of life in general. You look at The Stones, they lost Brian Jones early on in their career, The Who lost Keith Moon, but they both survived one way or another and carried on.

We lost Steve (Clark), Rick (Allen) lost his arm. We've had massive success. We disappeared. We came back. There's a movie there. In fact, there's already been one. (Laughs)

But we are a very, very, very good rock 'n' roll band. That's what we do. We've gone through every part of success and failure that most people ever do. And we've learned through every aspect of our career to where we are right now.

So when we take the stage, we're there to entertain people. If there's a certain part of the audience who wants us to play a three-hour long show with a bunch of B-sides, they're going to be terribly disappointed. (Laughs)

When I go see The Stones or (Paul) McCartney, I want "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Let It Be" and "Helter Skelter" and "Brown Sugar" and stuff like that. So we aren't going to not play the hits. When you go out live, it's a celebration of who you are. We aren't promoting a new record until after October, so we're not going to be forcing new material down people's throats. But at the same time, we like to vary it up. We can't play all of our greatest hits or we'd run out of time. Plus, we like to throw in some things that weren't hits but are popular songs.

I think people know what they can expect. We're just older than the last time they saw us on MTV, but everybody is. We're all surviving.

Q. What's it like to go on the road with other high profile bands such as Styx and Tesla?

A. It's much more fun than people who you haven't heard of. We've only done one tour with a band the world never knew and that was in 1996 with a band called Tripping Daisy. And as great as they were — and they were great — and fantastic people, it was a total mismatch. The audience didn't get them and didn't know them, so nobody watched them.

We've had some incredibly successful bands open for us over the years. We've had Heart, Cheap Trick, Poison, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Billy Idol, Joan Jett and we co-headlined with Kiss last year.

We have Tesla and Styx who we've worked with before. Tesla opened for us during the Hysteria Tour. We've worked with Styx before, and we really wanted to work with them again because we really like them as people and hanging out with them and they're really good to get the crowd warmed up.

There came a point where we were all well aware of the fact that the competition on the road is pretty fierce. If you put your tickets on sale and they say "Def Leppard with special guests" and it doesn't say who they are, it isn't as appealing as "Def Leppard with special guests Styx and Tesla."

Kids look at that and go, 'Whoa, that's a good night out.' It means if they do get in their seat at 7 p.m. when Tesla hits the stage, chances are a lot of people in that audience will know a majority of their songs because they've been on the radio for a long time. When they sit down and watch Styx, they're going to pretty much know all the Styx stuff people they've been around since the mid-70s and they've had dozens of hits.

By the time we get on stage, the audience isn't worn out, they're warmed up. And that makes for a better night.

Q. What does the future hold for Def Leppard? I know you have a new album coming out in October.

A. Yeah, it's finished. We're just doing simple, last-minute adjustments. The first song is going to go to radio next month. It's a 14-track, 55-minute album. It's just called "Def Leppard" because that's what it sounds like. It doesn't sounds like any one specific era of Def Leppard. It's got everything.

You'll listen and you go "Oh, that sounds like Def Leppard" or you'll go "That is Leppard, but sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin or Queen but you can hear the AC/DC or the Crosby, Stills and Nash coming through." We have not shied away from anything that's influenced us in our growing up periods of our life. Just because we've made the kind of music we've made doesn't mean to say we don't like all of this other stuff.

We made this record as an artistic statement that we'd be happy to play in 10 or 15 years in time and go "You know what? That is a great record. That was a great period in our career."

So the future for us is wide open. When you've been together for 35 years, we could split up in 20 minutes as soon as I finish this phone call because that could have happened in our last 20 years, but it didn't. We're realistic to realize that it all comes to a sticky end one day. Nothing ever ends well. When did you ever hear of a band who was having massive success and then saying goodbye to each other with a smile on their face?

We're lucky that's never happened to us. It will take a nature ending when it does, but right now, we're loving be out on the road. We're loving this new record that's about to come out. So the future is whatever it is. I cannot really predict it, but I'm not staring at some ugliness in the face, and we never really have.

The only times when it got a bit manky for us was when Rick lost his arm and when Steve died. I mean, shoot, we all just went "What's the point for about five seconds?" But then we said we were all musicians and we all enjoyed each other's company and we like what we do. You wouldn't quit being a plumber, why would you quit being a musician?

We're really lucky, four members of this five man group have been together for 32 years and this currently lineup has been together for 23.

You just have to wait for the stars to be aligned. For this new album, they seemed to have been for us, because we all played and sang great and wrote well. There's some great variety on there. Every single aspect of anything we've ever wanted to put out — acoustic, heavy, soft, slow, fast — it's there. That's why we call it "Def Leppard" because, just like Queen were, we're capable of coming up with vastly different kinds of songs.

Q. Finally, how's Vivian doing?

A. Vivian, as most people are aware, has been struggling with lymphoma on and off. He's had to develop a plan of how to deal with this, but he's been doing that for two or three years. He looks great. He was cancer-free for a little bit there, it came back, but it's going away again. At this time he's still taking treatment, and from what I can tell you, because I'm no doctor, he's more than happy to be out on the road with the band. He's having a great time out here. He's in a great frame of mind. He looks great and he's playing and singing really well, so the non-doctor in me says Viv is doing great. But, how long or short term that is? Jesus, I could go out and get hit by a car tomorrow and be gone before him. (Laughs)

Sometimes we can overthink these situations, but in a nutshell, he's great.

If you go

What: Def Leppard concert with special guests Tesla and Styx

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Alerus Center, 1200 42nd Street

Cost: $29.50-$99.50

Info: Tickets can be purchased at the Alerus Center box office, ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000.

Wade Rupard

Wade Rupard is a reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. Rupard is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is originally from Normal, Ill. 

(701) 780-1122
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