BIG BOYS NOW: Def Leppard’s Steve Clark talks to Steve Gett

Sounds Guitar Heroes magazine | No. 11 | July 1983.

Def Leppard’s recent success in America has been truly phenomenal. When their ‘Pyromania’ LP was released there in February, it rocketed into the Top Ten, where it’s since maintained a steady position. As I write this it stands at the number two slot and has every chance of knocking Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ off the top of the charts within the next few weeks. The Leppards are currently on the road in the States and their videos of ‘Photograph’ and ‘Rock of Ages’ are getting shown four or five times a day on the music channel MTV.

Mind you, ’Pyromania’ took one hell of a long time to record and also during their marathon stint in the studios, the band lost guitarist Pete Willis, who was then replaced by former Girl axeman Phil Collen. However Phil has proved to be an excellent replacement and, although I thought Pete was extremely competent, young Mr Collen seems far better suited to the group.

When I spoke to Def Leppard’s other strummer Steve Clark I asked him how he felt now that Phil is a member of the outfit. “When Phil turned up it was a great kick up the arse for me,” Steve declared, “and it provided me with some really good competition. I probably got into a bit of a rut before and tended to let things go by, whereas when Phil joined it was a completely fresh attitude. He was very excited about working and I think his drive and enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone else. Like I say, I’d personally been getting into a rut and it could have got a lot worse if I hadn’t done anything about it.”

Did it become frustrating having to spend so long in the studios recording ‘Pyromania’?

“Oh it definitely became frustrating, but then again we knew we were going to have to spend that amount of time on it to get it sounding anything like we wanted it to.”

Mutt Lange (Leppard’s producer) seems to have taken quite a strong hold on things – is he a dominating person to work with?

“I wouldn’t say he’s dominating, it’s just that he knows exactly how to get the best out of you as a musician. He would probably suggest to me a way of doing a solo with a totally different attitude to the way I’d normally approach it. Sometimes he’d ask for something and you’d think to yourself ‘I’m not capable of doing that’ and he’d say ‘Yeah, of course you are’ and eventually you’d end up doing it.”

Steve Clark with Les Pauls

How much of your lead work is spontaneous?

“On the whole I’d say that about fifty per cent of it is down to spontaneity but some things like ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’ need a bit more thought behind them because of the nature of the song.”

What guitars did you use on ‘Pyromania’?

“Three Les Paul’s, a Fender Strat, a Telecaster and a couple of Hamers, one of which they brought in especially for me.”

Have you actually got a deal with Hamer?

“Well I made a deal to get a guitar every year, but I haven’t really needed it yet.”

Do you get pestered a lot when you’re in the States by people who want you to endorse their guitars?

“Yeah, a lot of people ask us to try out guitars, but once you’ve signed to one company you can’t really sign to anybody else. So you have to be really careful to make the right decision.”

Are you surprised with the success you’re having in America?

“No, I wouldn’t say that we’re surprised by the success because we all expected this album to do really well. But we were all really thrown for six when it had got so high in the first month and we hadn’t even been over there on tour. We thought we might get to the top end of the chart after we’d been touring for a couple of months but we hardly expected things to happen as quickly as they have.”

Has this put a lot of pressure on you?

“It always puts pressure on you when you get success because you have to follow it. But we’re all reasonably confident that we are going to be able to. We expect better things for the future now that Phil’s in the group because he’s going to be contributing a lot more. No disrespect to Pete Willis, but he was shying away from things and I think Phil’s got a lot of energy.”

How well do you think the British tour went?

“Very well indeed, although everyone was ill. Joe had acute laryngitis, which everyone else got at different times, and there was always two out of the five in the group that weren’t well. But as far as the crowd reaction at the gigs is concerned, it’s probably the best we’ve ever played.”

Do you reckon people in Britain are finally coming to terms with the fact that you haven’t ‘sold out’ to America?

“Yes, I think a lot of people are just putting the past behind them. Mind you, we did have a pretty bad time in the past.”

Do you think that the press was responsible for a lot of that?

“It was partly our fault and partly the press. We were very young and inexperienced at the time and it was probably a case of too much too soon. But now the people who come to see us are genuine Def Leppard fans.”

What other guitarists do you listen to these days?

“Oh there’s a lot. My three all-time favourites are Jimmy Page, Zal Cleminson and Brian Robertson, but there are a lot of new guitarists coming up now who are really good. I really like Alex Lifeson and Gary Moore as well.”

Do you find it tough to stake your own identity as a guitarist?

“I’ve never gone out of my way to try and do so. I’ve always tended to play whatever I feel is required for the number we’re doing. People like Eddie Van Halen are amazing and I’d like to be thought of as a guitarist who sounds like Steve Clark, as opposed to hearing people say ‘Oh he’s good but he sounds like Van Halen’. You’re limiting your own future if you do that.”

It strikes me that Steve Clark and Def Leppard’s  future is assured.