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Interview:
Def Leppard and Styx pile on the hits for summer tour
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

» See more SOUND CHECK

Between them they have more than 30 Top 40 singles on the Billboard chart and 15 platinum or multi-platinum albums.

No wonder Def Leppard and Styx -- on the road this summer with Tesla -- make for good touring partners.

The tandem worked for the two rock acts back in 2007, and Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott says nothing has changed during the intervening years.

"I think it's a great package. It's exciting," Elliott, 55, says by phone from his home in Ireland. "We've always been keen on taking out bands that people know. It's done us a world of good to go out with a name on the poster that doesn't just say, 'Plus special guest...' We've tried it; We had Tripping Daisy in the 90s, who were great people to work with but nobody knew who they were, and it didn't make for a great evening of anticipation, if you like. People would go, 'Who's this lot onstage?'

"Nobody's going to go see us with Tesla and Styx this year and not know who they are. They're going to say, 'I know all those guys and all those songs. That's a show I want to see!'"

Def Leppard is, of course, a generation younger than Styx, defining 80s mainstream rock as much as Styx did the same during the 70s (and early 80s). Styx guitarist James "J.Y." Young says his band "had such a blast" with Def Leppard eight years ago, and also appreciated what touring with the group meant for Styx.

"It gave us a crack at a whole new group of fans," Young, 65, explains by phone from his home in Chicago, "so we're really looking forward to it. It was fun to be with those guys, and they responded in kind. It took eight years to get us back together, but here we are."

Elliott adds that he regards Styx as "obviously mom's American apple pie, aren't, they, all the way through." And he says Def Leppard's roots with Tesla run deep as well. "We had Tesla on board when we did the Hysteria Tour back in '87," Elliott notes. "They were out for at least six or seven months with us before they went off to do their own thing, so it's good to be out with them once again."

The tour comes at an eventful time for Def Leppard. The group's individual members have been making some news -- Elliott recording a pair of tracks for "The Art of McCartney" tribute album and guitarist Phil Collen launching his bluesy side band, Delta Deep. Fellow guitarist Vivian Campbell, meanwhile, has continued his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma; there were concerns he would miss some or even all of the summer tour, but doctors gave him a green light to go on the road at the last minute.

On a more positive tip, Def Leppard is planning to release a new album -- its first of original material since 2008's "Songs From the Sparkle Lounge" -- this year, most likely in October. The quintet has been writing and recording off and on during the past several years, and Elliott says the end result "sounds like Def Leppard but it sounds like Def Leppard stretching their wings a little bit. A couple of songs are tied to our DNA, if you like, instantly recognizable as us. Some of the stuff not so much and represents who we are now, a band that's in their early to mid 50s, the kind of music they should be making without it sounding old and farty, but just a little more, y'know, experience involved.

"We're not trying to write 24-hour party songs at our age. That would be silly."

For its part, Styx has also been taking its time with new material. The group released a covers album called "Big Bang Theory" in 2005 and the original set "Cyclorama" in 2003. "You can't really get arrested with an album of new music anymore," Young notes, explaining that Styx has preferred to release hit-filled concert videos -- including this year's "Live at the New Orleans Arena Las Vegas." But he says the group members have been writing fresh songs it plans to put out, even if it means just releasing individual tracks rather than complete albums.

"We're still collectively trying to figure this out," he explains. "We've got to be committed to playing (new songs) live on a nightly basis if we're really serious about it succeeding.

"I think we need to probably record two or three tracks in earnest, produce them in earnest, do a video for them in earnest and decide which one we want to commit to working for the next six to nine months while we're on the road and try to make a little noise out there. That's what it'll take to make it work."

Def Leppard, Styx and Tesla

7 p.m. Friday, July 17.

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

Tickets are $59.50-$125 pavilion, $25 lawn with a $75 lawn four pack.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com. -- Gary Graff



Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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