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Interview: Phil Collen on the Making of Def Leppard's 'Hysteria'

Interview: Phil Collen on the Making of Def Leppard's 'Hysteria'

It’s been said that, up until that point in time, Hysteria was the most expensive record ever produced in the U.K. Reportedly, you had to sell five million copies just to break even.

I believe that’s true. We spent so much money in the studio. And we worked on the record for more than three years. But when you’re recording you don’t even think about it, because the artistic thing outweighs the business thing. We all were thinking, It doesn’t really matter how much we spend, as long as we make this amazing record. And then I saw all the bills and went, “Shit!” Changed my mind real quick! One thing that sticks out is I remember seeing a line item that said, “Sundries: $20,000.” And I was thinking, What the fuck’s sundries? And that was just from sending out for food from the restaurant next to one of the studios. Because you have to eat, right? [laughs]

Supposedly the bill was also ratcheted up because you had to buy out producer Jim Steinman’s contract. [The band had begun work on the album with Steinman prior to Lange coming onboard.]

That’s true. Jim got a hell of a lot of money for not doing very much. But I’ll tell you, he would have gotten a lot more if he’d taken points on the album instead of the buyout.

Over the years, Jim hasn’t had kind words to say about his time working with the band. It seems like you didn’t get along well.

We just had completely different approaches. We had worked with Mutt for two albums, and then when he wasn’t available at the start of Hysteria [Lange was in the midst of producing the Cars’ Heartbeat City], we decided to try someone else. But Jim was very set in his ways as far as what he liked, whereas we wanted to evolve and do something different. So it was a bit disappointing after having worked with Mutt. Because to be quite honest, I don’t know anybody else who can do what Mutt does.

“What Mutt does” turned out to be a lot of things that weren’t being done at the time, particularly on rock records. From a guitar perspective, is it true that there are no traditional amps on Hysteria and that you and Steve Clark played all your parts through a Rockman unit, which is essentially a headphone amplifier?

Pretty much. I used a small Gallien-Krueger amp on the demo for “Love Bites,” which made it on to the record, and also on a bit of “Animal”—that little feedback thing in the intro is me leaning hard on the Krueger. But otherwise the sound is all Rockman. And the reason for that was there were so many layers of tracks, and the sound was so huge that if you had had a massive Marshall sound it wouldn’t have fit sonically. The guitars would have smothered the vocals and drums. They really had to fit in a specific slot. Plus, Steve and I weren’t playing straight power chords; we were doing all these inversions and partials and different things that required definition. That would have been lost with a big, overdriven-amp sound.

You and Steve came from the guitar-into-Marshall school of playing. Did the fact that there were no amps to crank up strike you as odd?

Yes and no. Because it became apparent early on that it was all about the song. So you had to step out of the “I’m the guitar player, check my shit out” way of thinking. The big amps are fine if you don’t do a lot of overdubs. But we were moving into something more nuanced, with a lot of depth. So the guitar playing in some ways really took a backseat. The band and the song and the production came before the guitars. What Steve and I were doing was really just an enhancement of the overall song. And we accepted that.

The fact that the Rockman was developed by Boston’s Tom Scholz is an interesting connection. Even though those first few Boston albums were recorded before he invented the unit, was the sound that Tom achieved with Boston a template for what you were doing on Hysteria?

Absolutely. Big time. You listen to “More Than a Feeling” and then some of the stuff we were doing, and it’s almost like part two of that, if you like. Boston had incredible vocal sounds and the guitars were great. A Boston record is so well recorded and it does everything it’s supposed to. At the end of the day it wins all around. That’s what we were trying to achieve.

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