6 Questions With Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen

Def Leppard
Def Leppard

English rockers Def Leppard are celebrating 40 years as a band this year, making them one of the longest touring music acts in the world. To mark the occasion, the band is embarking on their 2017 North American Tour, hitting 38 cities with Poison and Tesla. They’ll surely be playing their hits, such as “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Rock Of Ages” and “Love Bites” along the way, including when they make their fifth stop on the tour, on Saturday, April 15, at NYCB Live Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

In advance of that show, the Press spoke with Def Leppard lead guitarist Phil Collen, who shared the secrets of his longevity, memories of Long Island concerts past, along with the true meaning of being a music artist:

Long Island Press: Have you played Nassau Coliseum before?

Phil Collen: Oh yeah, we played there in the ’80s and in ’93, I believe. On the Hysteria and Pyromania tours. We’re really looking forward to it. We love playing Long Island, they are a rabid fan base. Maybe the biggest in America. We rarely play in New York City, we play Jones Beach. I’m looking forward to playing indoors this time, with the lights and the screens. It always rains when we play Jones Beach!

LIP: Def Leppard turns 40 this year. What do you owe your longevity to?

PC: In a nutshell, it comes from our parents and our backgrounds. Our parents were in World War II. That generation gave us our value system, they passed that down to us. We always joke about Monty Python and The Holy Grail, that joke where he says, “Oh, it’s just a flesh wound.” They instilled that in us. When Rick Allen lost his arm, he quoted that. But they taught us to just work hard. If we wanted to be an okay band, that’s fine. But if we were going to be a great band, we all knew we had to work very hard.

LIP: The fact that you never considered another drummer for the band after Rick Allen lost his arm in a car accident and waited for him to heal and learn how to play with his single arm and both feet speaks to that kind of loyalty and brotherhood, that same value system. Do you agree?

PC: Well, I think anyone would have done the same. We were in the middle of recording an album, so we were able to go on without him for a while. Then we went on tour and he missed the first show. But you’re right, it was never a business for us. We were a gang. We were friends first. We slept on each other’s couches.

LIP: How has the music industry changed?

PC: If you would have told me there would be a way to stream music through Wi-Fi on your phone, I would never have believed it. It’s like some kind of black magic. Vinyl is now a billion-dollar industry. There’s been a resurgence. But the business has changed dramatically. It was an art form, and then it became a business. If you can do both, you’ve got it. But you’ve got to change with the business. It’s like when you get older, you have to change your diet. You have to start eating healthier to keep going. It’s the same with music. It can be a vicious and cruel business with narcissistic people.

LIP: What’s it like to tour with Tesla and Poison?

PC: I love Tesla! We’ve known them for 30 years. I’m producing their new album; we just wrapped it, actually. This tour is like a celebration of integrity. We almost [still have] all the original members. It’s not some karaoke experience with one or two founding members. Poison is the original four guys. We all have that integrity. We’ve been around a long time. We have that value system.

LIP: What advice would you give a young aspiring rock star who wants to be the next Phil Collen?

PC: Just roll with it. Don’t expect anything. You can be an artist and a musician, but not everyone is both. One doesn’t equal another. We’re very fortunate to get paid, but that’s not why we do it. I would be playing small clubs, just making music. If you put your soul into your art, that’s the true reward. Most artists died penniless, but their creation was their reward.

Legendary rockers Def Leppard play the newly renovated NYCB Live Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, located at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale, NY on Saturday, April 15, at 6 p.m.! For more information and tickets, visit nassaucoliseum.com