When it comes to the hard rock genre, few bands have accomplished close to what Def Leppard has. With over 100 million albums sold worldwide, Def Leppard is still playing on large stages around the world. As launched last week, the quintet from Sheffield, England is currently in the midst of a 60+ date tour alongside Journey. The two groups had previously hit the road together 12 years ago, only this time their run includes close to a dozen stadium dates, including Toronto’s Rogers Centre, Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Boston’s Fenway Park, and San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
Drummer Rick Allen has been part of Def Leppard since 1978 — 40 years and counting — but has also found success outside of the band. Allen is an acclaimed painter, and his work is currently on display at the Wentworth Gallery in King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Allen’s current exhibition is focused on his “Legend’s Series,” which includes portraits of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and former Def Leppard bandmate Steve Clark. In addition, the show also incorporates pieces from Allen’s “Art To Wear” jewellery line, hand-painted (and studio-used) bass and snare drums, and sculptures. Allen’s show will continue to be open through June 12th.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Allen, and highlights from our phone chat are posted below. More on Rick Allen and his various projects can be found online at www.rickallen.com, while exhibition info can be located on the Wentworth Gallery site.
A video clip of Rick Allen Artwork at Wentworth Gallery.
Speaking of recording, there’s lots of rumors about how you got your sounds on the Pyromania and Hysteria albums with Mutt Lange. Is it true that your drums were recorded last?
Rick Allen: Yeah, it was a nice way for me to punctuate the songs. Instead of guessing what the finished song is going to be like, and try to second guess what to play, before you hear any other instruments, I actually thought it was a great strategy to wait and let the songs develop. Let the songs become what they wanted to become before I got in there and laid in the drums. I really enjoy doing the drums that way. To me, it just complements the song, instead of overplaying or underplaying, I was able to — in my opinion — get the drums just right for what the song needed.
Another rumour I heard related to that is that you sampled your snare drum sound from the live show into the studio sound. Is that true?
Allen: Actually, what really happened was the sounds evolved in the studio. Because of the use of electronics and different samples, I was able to create blends of sounds. In actual fact, a lot of those sounds, I use today in a live setting. The nice thing about that is I’m not tethered to the sound of, say, just an acoustic drum set. I can create sounds that are larger than life and they suit Def Leppard. We have this huge sound, huge drums, huge guitars, huge vocal sounds, and I think if the drums were ordinary-sounding, it wouldn’t have the same impact, it wouldn’t have the same effect.
How long did you spend getting drums sounds on those albums? Did you have the initial sounds coming into it?
Allen: Not the finished sounds, a lot of the sounds actually evolved during the mix. We’d have a basic drum sound that we liked, that was a basic sort of sound, and then with the use of different electronics, 4AX, ddrum, these different sound-producing modules… What I was able to do, along with Mutt [Lange] and the engineer, we could create unique sounds that were multi-layered. For instance, a snare drum just wasn’t one single sound, it had a multitude of different samples that would make up a single sound.
Moving forward to present day, Def Leppard is one of the biggest touring bands today in the States. Is there something you haven’t yet accomplished as a band that you are still hoping to do?
Allen: We went back to South America after many years of not being down there. We got a wonderful opportunity to play alongside Aerosmith, we also got to play alongside The Who. We just had a blast, it was so much fun. Unfortunately for Aerosmith, Steven Tyler got sick, so they had to pull out. We ended up headlining some of the shows that they were supposed to headline, one in particular in Chile that was just phenomenal. There were are, we’re supposed to be helping Aerosmith out, we end up headlining in front of 30,000 people in a football stadium. I don’t know what happened, the planets must have lined up on that particular outing, it really helped propel us into the idea that we can go back to South America anytime we want, whether that’s Brazil or anywhere else down there and enjoy the kind of success that we have enjoyed in North America.
Rick appeared on CNBC speaking about his art collection tour to benefit veterans.
Along those lines, I’ve always found it intriguing how universally-accessible the music of Def Leppard is, yet your popularity has mainly been in North America. Does that bother you, or do you tend to not think about those kinds of things?
Allen: It’s interesting. When we went out with KISS, I think there were a lot of KISS fans that knew our music from maybe listening to the radio or wherever else they hear the music, but they never really experienced Def Leppard in a live setting. When people see Def Leppard in a live setting, in a very sort of physical environment where you feel the music, you hear the music and you see the production, I think we ended up winning a lot of KISS fans over. When we went back through a lot of those towns and cities, our attendance went up. I think people’s perception of Def Leppard is different when you listen to the songs on the radio versus actually getting out there and actually getting to see a full Def Leppard production.
When do you remember first becoming a “classic rock band?” I ask because when you were making an album like Slang, you were aiming to make a modern rock album, but within 10 years of that, your music was all over classic rock radio. Do you have a distinct memory of that transition happening?
Allen: I don’t necessarily see ourselves as “classic rock.” Yes, I guess it’s true to say that in many years, but when we’re creating new songs and creating new music, I feel as though we’re appealing to a broader and broader demographic to the point where I see more and more young people at our concerts. I remember sitting in my daughter’s car, and she’s listening to all these classic rock stations and I went and asked, “Do you listen to our music because you know me?” She said, “No, all my friends are into it.” They think music from that time period is real and they really love it. I think as we continue to create new music, we can appeal to more and more people. We all think along the lines of world domination. (laughs) We just want to go everywhere.
Going back to the question you asked before, I’d like to go and be able to play in China. We’ve sort of conquered other parts of the world, like Japan, Australia and New Zealand, but I’d love to be able to go everywhere and play our music and appeal to as broad of a demographic as possible, from young to old, you know?
Thirsty? You’ll be happy to hear that Def Leppard Pale is available this summer!
Outside of Def Leppard, I know you have played on recordings by your wife Lauren [Monroe] and Krishna Das, and you had a side project with a member of Dramarama. Do you find yourself writing a lot of music when not busy with Def Leppard?
Allen: I like to help out with my wife and help arrange songs. She’s really the writer. I’ve written a few songs with Def Leppard, I’ve written a few songs with her. But I kind of prefer the role of producer and, as you can imagine, I had the best teacher on the planet working with Mutt Lange. I feel as though I’ve developed those skills really well.
Do you think we’d ever see a Rick Allen solo album, though?
Allen: Man, with home life and painting and my day job being in Def Leppard, I’m not sure I could spread myself any more thinly than I already do. I have so much to do. I thought as I got older that life was going to get more simple, but it would appear that more and more responsibilities and more and more things come my way that really I can’t just let go, I can’t just put down. I have kids, I have a wonderful home life, a beautiful wife, there’s a lot to do. When I’m at home, I’m taking kids to school and I’m dad. To me, being dad and husband is probably the most rewarding thing that I’ll ever do.
Check out this video covering how Rick uses electronic drums.
And I realize that I didn’t mention your drum company or charitable foundation, so there are other things that keep you busy.
Allen: Yeah, I’m busy with Raven Drums and Project Resiliency — with our Wounded Warriors — because of my own trauma. I did a lot of work on myself, I spent a lot of soul-searching and I was able to share a lot of that experience with some of our Wounded Warriors, and that’s something that’s become very rewarding. It’s nice for me to give back because going through extreme trauma is no fun. It’s not combat-related, but the brain doesn’t know that. I meet many traumatized people, they may be from alcoholic backgrounds or an abusive relationship or a car accident or a sports injury, you name it. There’s tons of ways we can traumatize ourselves and I just feel as though after meeting our warriors, after my first visit to Walter Reed Medical Center in 2006, I just realized that they spoke the same language. With my wife, I broke down in tears after my first visit, and I told my wife, “We really have to focus on this. It’s affecting the whole country and I’d love to pursue this.” I’ve never looked back. I love the word that I do with them. We’re all human beings and there’s a fragility, I love to help, that’s part of who I am.
So in closing, Rick, any last words for the kids?
Allen: Yeah, we just played our first show [on the tour with Journey] last night, and it’s like I never I went away. Playing onstage in front of people, that’s the gift, that’s the reward. I spend a lot of time waiting around to do stuff when I’m on the road, time that I could spend doing things with my family. But when I’m onstage in front of people, and I see the joy on people’s faces, it makes it all worth it.