Def Leppard made their Japanese debut the year after vocalist Joe Elliott and guitarist Phil Collen first visited Japan to promote their third album Pyromania (1983). At that time, Collen told us a bit about his background in an article titled “Soku Dan Oh [The King of Fast Strumming Fast]”, that appeared in the Young Guitar Archives, volume 2. In January 1984, we sat down with one of the original members of Def Leppard, Steve Clark, who plays an essential role in embodying the Def Leppard sound as the composer to cover the story of Def Leppard’s eagerly anticipated tour in Japan [see Young Guitar, April 1984 issue].
SC: No doubt! It’s a conscious decision to be different from those guys. They play like this right? [Plays and they both burst out laughing.] Or like this… We’re totally different. To make sure it’s not too metal, I do “Comin’ Under Fire” like this, [Plays]; I put this arpeggio in “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” and I finger pick the intro to “Foolin.’”
“Stagefright” really has a metal sound, and that’s fine; I just don’t want everything to sound like that.
And not only that, but the twin guitars add some warmth, don’t they?
SC: It creates an orchestral sound. Of course the twin guitars are the heart of it, but we want to have the other parts in the ensemble be important, too. Anyway, it’s kind of brainless to have the twin guitars play the same thing. So we combine the playing of two guitars into one. And when we do that, the sound that emerges is something tender, something deep. You know what I mean?
So you’re consciously trying to make something that sounds close to two guitars?
SC: It’s not that we’re conscious of it, maybe that’s a result of the effects. We’re both fans of Humbuckers, and use them on most solos…That might result in a pretty similar sound. To make sure the overall sound doesn’t wind up sounding monotonous, we use a Telecaster or a Stratocaster in the background.
Was it Steve who played slide guitar for “Action! Not Words”? You really work the open string and have a knack for the slide.
SC: Thanks. That was actually my first time. How did it go? [Tries to play it.] What the!? I can’t remember how to play it! It’s not a song we perform on stage…We came up with it in the recording studio, practiced it over and over again and then recorded it on the spot.
Was that also Steve on the solo in “Too Late For Love”?
SC: Yeah, it goes something like this. Uhh? I forgot that too, damn! [Laughs].
Although you might say the same thing about Phil, with your solos, it all comes down to the melody line, doesn’t it?
SC: Yes, I consciously work at playing solos that are melodic. Just as you said, we both approach it that way, but I especially don’t use a lot of the different techniques that Phil does. You could say that melody is my focus. But you know, a lot of guitarists have been going overboard on all that heavy playing and noise. A lot of that is really great, which is all good, but when that’s all they do from start to end, it’s unbearable. I’m bored stiff. If you ask me, too many of those guys have forgotten how important melody is. The melodic sound that we do in “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” just isn’t seen much these days.
I know what you mean. So you’re not really into high-tech, flashy playing are you?
SC: For sure, I don’t want to play that way, but it is interesting, and I think hard rock needs that element. So Phil joined the band, and gives us meticulously worked up solos with flash. That’s his area. I don’t think that these fast songs that some guys do are all that necessary, though we really do need people who can play the guitar fast enough to dazzle the fans. Especially up on stage. Like I just said, there are too many guys who are “always flashy.” If we had played that way in a song like “Too Late,” I think it would have ruined everything. What I want to say is that I think you should really take a close look at the elements of tempo, mood and theme in songs, and express them even better. Isn’t that what’s important? Ballads need a guitar that sings like a ballad, and in heavy metal, you need something that best suits metal.
Do you practice a lot?
SC: It’s not really practicing, I just love playing.
PC: I used to practice a lot before. [Steve grins while Phil talks…and hides the guitar as if he’s thinking “Oh, shit!”]
SC: With the shuffling back and forth between the tour and the studio right now, the truth is there is no time to practice. If we had the time, I think we’d both be hard at it!
PC: I’ve been a guitar junkie since I was a kid. I would play as much as I could, but I just don’t have the time these days.
We aren’t a band that sticks to the same perfected sound, we aim at doing something different for each album. If we continue along the same course as “Pyromania” just because it was a huge hit, that will mean we’ve reached our limit. I don’t think going in that direction is meaningful.
So not even a single song yet?
SC: Even though both Phil and I have a lot of ideas that come up, we’d like to take our time and think about it. And we aren’t going to jump into a studio and start rehearsing or doing sessions. It has to be something new.
On your last record, you had a lot of synthesizer added in a subtle way. Are you going to do that again?
SC: On that album, it wasn’t just the synth, we also added a lot of choral parts that was a change, and our sound-making was unique as well. Especially with the drums. We experimented quite a bit, and the fact that it was widely accepted was the most important result. It was all right for us to widen our approach. We increased our possibilities. Some bands just keep the sound that they gained success with, but we’re not like that. We try to continue to broaden our reach, so we’ll see how it goes with the synth. I’m sure we’ll use it again, but it won’t be in the same way. Take it to the hilt, or not at all.
But you guys will keep playing hard rock?
SC: Of course! We’re a hard rock band. I’m just saying that there are different ways to approach it. Wasn’t Led Zeppelin the same? They took a different approach to each album, keeping their listeners surprised. But they all have that Zeppelin sound, and that’s how we’d like to do it.
Are you really into Zeppelin?
SC: Yeah, I am. Not that I want to imitate their sound, though. Them and Queen. Two great bands whose approaches to music is something you have to learn from. That attitude that they’ll try anything. And they’re progressive about it, too.
Are there any American bands playing at the same level?
SC: I do hear some…there’s The Eagles, there’s Rick Springfield, there’s soul and there’s country. Phil loves Journey you know? We try to listen and get excited by all kinds of music, though they haven’t had the same impact as Led Zeppelin and Queen. I don’t think they are on the same level. Out of the American bands, Van Halen have really worked hard and are amazing, but you just can’t listen to them and get the same sensation. I do like them, but in a somewhat different way from how I like Led Zeppelin and Queen.
Do you think you’ll ever have an album produced by anyone other than Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange?
SC: No, although Jimmy Page would be great. His production of “Death Wish II” was really nice. Anyway, Robert is a fabulous producer, even though he’s so busy and a bit pricey [Laughter]. We tried to get him to produce our first album [In 1981 “On Through the Night” was produced by Tom Allom, familiar from his production of Judas Priest]. His engineering is perfect, he can play a variety of instruments and he is very enthusiastic. What else can you say!
Lastly, how about some advice for young guitar enthusiasts.
SC: First, practice is everything. And then, you have to believe you’ll be able to do it some day. And don’t copy other people! If you want to copy, don’t just choose one person, you should copy a lot of people. If you only imitate one style, its influence on you will be too strong. You won’t be able to find your own originality. Once you try a lot of different types of music, you’ll be able to mix together all of the good bits and will start to find your own style. Originality is everything!