Interview: Def Leppard's Joe Elliott Talks Guitar, the Down 'n' Outz
It's a little-known fact that Joe Elliott originally auditioned to be the guitarist of the band that would ultimately become Def Leppard.
Legend has it that Elliott met guitarist Pete Willis by chance after missing a bus, and upon auditioning it became apparent that Elliott had a pretty special set of pipes on him, and that's why you've raised a glass to "Pour Some Sugar On Me," gazed forlornly out of the bus window to "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad" and banged your head to "Rock Of Ages."
But Elliott never abandoned his guitaristic ways: both in Def Leppard and his other band, the Down 'n' Outz, he's been known to hoist an axe when the mood takes him. So Joe, why don't you tell us about it?
So what does a singer in one of the highest-selling bands in the world play when it's time to pick up a guitar?
I've got a Normandy Union Jack made out of steel, which is what I use for the Down 'n' Outz. It's a beautiful guitar. They're a company based in Seattle. I said I wanted the Union Jack so I could use it in the Down 'n' Outz, and they sent me the guitar, which is brilliant. When I play guitar with the Leps, I play acoustic, and at this moment I'm using a Taylor. I swap between Taylor and Gibsons, depending on what mood my guitar tech's in (laughs).
To me it's like, look, if it's in tune I don't care if it's a banjo, to be quite honest. It's like people ask me about my microphone. They say. "What mic do you use?" I say "The big black one in the middle," which this year is actually covered in sequins. I don't know anything about mics. I sing in whichever mic the sound engineer tells me is the mic of the day. Fine! I don't care! It's not a priority for me. Priority is remembering the words and trying to sing them in tune! But yes, I use Normandy guitars. Jim Normandy's the guy and you should really check him out. Beautiful stuff.
It makes total sense that you have the Down 'n' Outz play Mott The Hoople stuff. I remember hearing "Rocket" by Def Leppard as a kid and it made me go back and find out who all the bands were that you namechecked.
Oh, good! So we do have a purpose in life! That's great! Well the Down 'n' Outz are in a holding pattern at the moment over Planet Rock. We've got the one album out, which did very well for us - we had a No. 4 and a No. 1 in America with "England Rocks" and "Overnight Angels," respectively, and we got to be second on the bill to ELP at the inaugural High Voltage festival in 2010, which was a lot of fun, including a proper full-on fistfight backstage with road crew which was brilliant. Very '70s.
Are you working on anything with the band at the moment?
We're about six songs into a second album, which hopefully I'll get to finish off when this tour's done. But at this moment in time, and rightfully so, Leppard is priority, as are Quireboys for the rest of the guys. When there's a hole in their schedule and a hole in mine we'll get together and do some work. Then when we get the album finished there may be the odd opportunity to do the occasional gig. It's just one of those things where there isn't enough time in between Def Leppard tours to go proper gung-ho. There'd just never be enough time and your family starts to suffer. It is a side project - I'm not going to say it's a hobby, because we take it seriously in the same way a comedian takes his job seriously. It's fun and it's always got to be fun. The reason we do it is because it's sidestepping your real job, which has got more pressure.
That would definitely be a change of pace.
I said to Ronan McHugh, who produced Def Leppard's Mirrorball as well as the Down 'n' Outz album, "I wish I could make a Leppard record with as little pressure on me as I have on this one." There were no expectations on it. Nobody was ever going to compare the Down 'n' Outz record to Hysteria, whereas anything Def Leppard puts out is going to be compared to Hysteria. When that particular albatross had been removed, it was like making your first album after 30 years. It's just something you don't get to do very often. We did it in maybe just a little over a month. It's like a painting: It's finished when it's finished. And that's how we approached the new songs on Mirrorball. For my contributions, I didn't want to rush the songs. If there was a piece of it missing, I wasn't going to try to rush it by 9 o'clock. It comes when it comes. I'll have my eureka moment when I have it.
Peter Hodgson is a journalist, an award-winning shredder, an instructional columnist, a guitar teacher, a guitar repair guy, a dad and an extremely amateur barista. In his spare time he runs a blog, I Heart Guitar, which allows him to publicly geek out over his obsessions. Peter is from Melbourne, Australia, where he writes for various magazines as well as for Gibson.com.