Band rehearsals are the common denominator between arena rockers and basement beginners. Whether you’re starting a group or riding high on the charts, rehearsing is the first step toward getting your ideas out to the public. For the band just starting out, rehearsing is a ritual as social in nature as it is musical. With spirits riding high and everyone pushing toward a common goal, band rehearsals take on as much significance to a musician as team practice does to an athlete.

Rehearsing can also play a large part in the creative process. It acts as both the forum for new ideas and a weeding process for arrangements and material. To find out more about effective rehearsing, Circus Magazine spoke to Def Leppard guitarists Pete Willis and Steve Clark.

“It’s difficult in the beginning,” recalls Willis, who three years ago held a day job and only dreamt of being up there with heroes of his like Thin Lizzy. “You want to do something constructive, but it’s easy to just jam on ‘Freebird.’ If you want to be in a band and do cover versions, then just get a load of beer in there and do it. If you want to do something of your own, then there are some things you should do. The best thing we’ve found is to turn everything down so you can talk over the sound.”

“It’s best to keep everything real quiet,” Clark breaks in. “If everybody’s loud and you’re jamming away, you can’t hear if there are any mistakes being made. If you play quietly, you can hear everything that’s going on, and the band will get tighter. Don’t worry about the sound when you’re getting the songs together. I might use a Pignose or some other practice amp; it doesn’t matter what you play through. But to get it tight, you’ve got to hear every note that’s being played. If you get it tight at a low volume, then everybody is playing together as a band rather than as individuals. It’s gonna be so tight that when you do turn it up, you’ll have more than just a full sound; you’ll have it right as well.”

When musical friends get together, it’s only natural that a player who wants to tune up will find himself at odds with the rest of the room. Visual tuners have made it easier, but Def Leppard have found an even better solution. “We do it in such a way that everybody arrives in ten-minute intervals,” Steve explains. “That way you get your own time to sort it out. As soon as you tune up and get your sound, you put down your instrument and get out of the room. We plan our soundchecks the same way. Everybody has ten minutes alone to get their sound together.

One important thing about rehearsing when you’re starting off is to tape everything you do. Start the tape at the beginning of the rehearsal and let it run straight through till the finish. Then when you play it back you can hear things you want to keep and faults you may have made. If you just keep jamming, you can be doing something wrong and you’ll never notice. If you want to be a good band and get to the top, you’ve got to have a professional attitude. You’ve got to go for it from the beginning and get into a set routine where you know it’s gonna be the same every time you do it.”

Pete Willis remembers Leppard’s early days. “When we first started off we had day jobs. We’d go to work at seven in the morning, come home about five, grab something to eat and go straight to rehearsal.”

“We rehearsed from six till eleven every night,” adds Clark. “On weekends we’d probably stay there until four in the morning. We were lucky because we didn’t have to rehearse in somebody’s house or garage. We had a small rehearsal room. Everybody had a key so that whenever you felt like it you could go down and make as much noise as you wanted. Of course we would tape that too.”

“We didn’t have a four-track in there like we do now,” Pete says. “We just had a little tape recorder and a couple of amplifiers. We started doing gigs after a while, and things got more difficult. We’d get home from work and go down to the rehearsal room and have to load all the gear into a little transit van. We all pulled in to do whatever needed to be done.”

“When it started,” Steve goes on to say, “one of the main things we found in putting our sound together was that it didn’t matter how much equipment we had as long as it was good. I used to use one Marshall Combo and got a great sound. When we were starting out we found it easier just to keep it simple.”

Dedication, planning, simplicity of sound and that tape recorder have paid off amply for Def Leppard. With two albums out on Mercury and headliner status in England, it seems only a matter of time before they join AC/DC and Van Halen in the Stateside heavyweight ring. But without good rehearsal habits, they would be back in Sheffield, England, having rock & roll dreams instead of being the stuff they’re made of.

Pete Willis and Steve Clark in 1981 on High ‘n’ Dry tour – Photo: Paul Natkin