On any other day, Joe Elliott would be exhausted. He flew to Los Angeles from Dublin overnight, participated in a press conference where he announced the Stadium Tour — a supersized summit of Def Leppard, Poison, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and the newly reunited Mötley Crüe that will hit 22 U.S. cities next summer — and he’s got to get on a plane back home in four hours.
But his voice still alights with excitement at the tour’s potential. “My God,” he says, “the energy in that room was insane. I haven’t seen [Mötley Crüe bassist] Nikki Sixx for a few years, and I’d spoken to him just a couple of times recently, so it was great to catch up with him and the rest of the guys as well.” By Elliott’s account, “It has been a very energetic few hours.”
Of course, Elliott ought to reserve his verve for July, when the trek kicks off in Miami. But there is no rest for the weary. After all, Def Leppard will have to go toe-to-toe with the Crüe, which has had a few years off after their “final tour” — a claim they believed in so strongly they said they signed a contract/PR stunt ostensibly banning them from touring together again. But now that they’ve gotten some time off, they’re ready to co-headline stadiums with Def Leppard.
After a short break for Christmas, Def Leppard will get down to planning what Elliott promises will feel like a mini-festival. “Now the hard work begins, now that we’ve signed the contract,” he tells Rolling Stone shortly after the press conference. “And that contract won’t get torn up, I promise you. Now we’re off to design a production that will be as mind-blowing as the whole idea is.”
How did the Stadium Tour come together from Def Leppard’s perspective?
Well, the grownups talk, and then they come to us with an offer that we can’t refuse or can. This is one we didn’t want to refuse. Our bookers are Live Nation and they’re always looking for something that’s gonna rear its head higher than everyone else, I suppose. It’s like Whack-a-Mole; you hit them and see which one comes up the highest. They wanted to do something that puts us back into stadiums, because it did work really well when we went out with Journey two years ago. And other than the Vegas residency, we took a year away from America, so we wanted to come back with a bit of a bang.
The touring thing has really become our main focus. The industry has changed so much since we started out, but there isn’t that need, if you don’t want to, to be putting out a new album every time you go out on the road. We’re a long way off from the Stones, McCartney, everything like that that are real legacy acts, and we’re hoping to be one of them one day, but they can tour forever. Look at the Who: They’re just about to release their second album since 1982 [laughs]. We had just started then. And they have been touring pretty much every year since then. You look at these bands, and you don’t see any negatives in it. And playing live is something that we love and thrive on. So it was always going to be, “What are they going to come up with that is something that we all agree to do?” We were always going to tour, but we were just waiting to hear who was available and wanted to do it with us.
Why tour stadiums?
To be in stadiums, you really need to pair up. We’re trying to turn these shows into a mini-festival. When you think about Joan Jett opening up the night, and then Poison going on and then us and Mötley following them, it’s an event. It really is. And we’re all from the same genre. Most people that like that kind of thing saw us day after day on MTV in the Eighties. Our journeys have gone in different directions since then, but synchronicity pulls us back together once again. It’s a celebration of that whole kind of vibe.
You don’t get out of the building alive if you don’t play ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and ‘Photograph.'”
What should Def Leppard fans expect from the outing?
We’re a very consistent band. I’ve heard people say things about the Stones, Van Morrison, or specifically Bob Dylan, like, “You don’t know what you’re gonna get,” but with us, it’s more like a machine. We go out there and we leave everything on the stage, unless one of us is deathly ill. We don’t want it to be distinguishable from one show to the next, because if we were, one of them would be letting the side down. We just try to thrive on that consistency.
This kind of tour is a celebration, so we’re not going to be digging into deep tracks, album cuts, and obscure B-sides like we tended to do when we did the Vegas residencies. When you’re on the one stage 12 times, you can pull out [the 1980 B-side] “Good Morning Freedom” or you can pull out really strange, obscure songs. But when you’re playing for 90 minutes, as opposed to two hours, you have to cut away some of the fat.
It’s six months away, so we’ve got loads of time to solidify any set lists, but we are actively saying there are certain bits we did in Vegas that should survive. It shouldn’t be just a straightforward “greatest hits tour,” but we are gonna play the hits. You don’t get out of the building alive if you don’t play “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Photograph” and stuff like that. But there is a little bit of room for movement in the middle that will set it apart from your average gig.
You’ve always shied away from the whole “hair metal” thing. Does it feel weird to be touring with Poison and Mötley Crüe?
Not at all. We never felt we were part of it, but we were part of that generation. It’s the same way that the Who are in the same generation as Gerry and the Pacemakers, but it doesn’t mean that they have anything sonically in common, other than the sounds.
The thing is, it all comes under the banner of rock. Mötley have got their fans, and some of their fans will like us and some of them won’t. And some of our fans will like Mötley and some of them won’t. I think it’s like, just give people a chance. When we toured with Kiss five years ago, I was forever being asked, “What do you think Kiss fans are gonna think?” I would say, “I would imagine, if they were open-minded, they’ll get into it if they’ve never heard of us.” But I was thinking, “Really? Surely, Kiss fans know who we are.” I don’t think there’s going to be anybody in that stadium that doesn’t know some music from every band. They might not know every Joan Jett song or Mötley Crüe song, or Poison or even us, but I think there is an overlap. It’s the fact that they’re all bands that were very successful at different periods of the Eighties.
Were any other bands approached for the tour that said no or couldn’t make it?
Not that I’m aware of. Again, that’s the kind of thing that would get as far as the grownups. The main thing was our agent and Live Nation wanting us and Mötley Crüe together once they realized that they were gonna tear up their contract. Once us and Crüe signed off on it, I don’t know who turned us down, but the phone never stopped from people who wanted in.
Who will be closing out each night?
That depends on where we are. We keep adding shows. Originally, I think we were closing out 12 and Mötley were closing out 10 or something like that. But I think we’ve added some shows. So we’re gonna do it the way we did with Journey. It will be one show for them, one show for us.
“I told Nikki that when he signed [the cessation contract], ‘You guys are just Bowie, Sinatra, Cher all rolled into one.’ It’s theater.”
Did you ever worry that stadiums would be too ambitious for a tour like this?
No. Not really. We know that we can handle it. Funnily enough, the first ever stadium we played as a headliner was in San Diego in ’83 with Mötley Crüe fourth on the bill. So we did one back then. And we’ve done stadiums all over Europe and South America. Playing in front of 60, 70, 80,000 people is something we crave to do. I’ve never had a doubt in my mind that we were more than capable of putting on a show in a stadium. People are always calling us “stadium rock,” and that sounds much better than “pub rock” to my ears.
I’ve never had a doubt, but we just had to wait our time. It’s been a turbulent career with this band. We’ve had great success. We’ve had some traumatic personal experiences to deal with. And we also had traumatic professional stuff, like the Nineties and the early [2000s] were tough for us. But we never stopped believing in what we were doing. We knew they just had to come around. We watched other artists; we learned from seeing Willie Nelson team up with Bob Dylan and Billy Joel and Elton John went out together, and now they can do these size venues on their own. So we watched these guys and said, “If Elton is OK doing this, why wouldn’t we be?” So we just ride the wave and take it as it comes. But we’re 42 years since this band was born. And if someone said to me in 1988, you’ll be playing stadiums in 2020, I might have looked at them as if they had three heads.
Five years ago, Mötley Crüe made a big deal of signing a “contract” promising never to tour again after their farewell trek. What did you make of that at the time?
Five years ago, I kind of sniggered into my cup of coffee like, “Yeah, right.” [Laughs.] I told Nikki that when he signed it, “You guys are just Bowie, Sinatra, Cher, all rolled into one.” It’s theater. And those guys are theatrical. Contracts are there to be torn up. That’s what they are. People break them all the time in sports. Why can’t you break one in music?
Look, they weren’t getting on. They didn’t like each other. They were on the road too much. They were going through personal issues with each other. They have come to realize, after five years apart, that if they had just paced it differently, like we do, maybe things would have been a bit different for them. But we all get to the end game different ways. We got to ours by sticking together and pacing it a certain way. They got to their end game – if it is even the end – by going away and coming back with a big bang. We never had the benefit of a big bang because we never went away. Everybody has their own different story, but unless you go down in a plane crash, nothing is ever that final.
Would Def Leppard ever do a farewell tour the way Mötley Crüe did?
Yeah. Listen, the key phrase that was popping up at the press conference was Mick Mars saying, “You never say never.” One day, something will end up being our last tour. Will we announce it, or will it just actually be our last tour because we just decide not to do it anymore and after the fact it turns into the farewell tour? I don’t know. Those are the kinds of things we’re not making any plans for. And even if we did, we’d probably end up tearing up the contract just like Mötley Crüe did [laughs].
I’m a bit more pragmatic when it comes to that kind of thing. I’m a realist and I know that sooner or later, it will come to an end. Whether it comes to an end as planned, a year and a half before the first tour, sounds a little far-fetched to me at the moment. But things happen. And nobody knows that more than we do. We didn’t plan on firing [guitarist] Pete Willis. We didn’t plan on Rick [Allen] losing his arm. And we didn’t plan on Steve [Clark] losing his life. But it happened. And we had to adjust to those situations and move on the best we could.
Did any part of you think it was wrong of Mötley Crüe to go back on that contract?
No. This is not a divorce where you’re cheating on your wife. That, to me, would be wrong. If the president of a country or the ruling government of a democracy said one thing and then did another, that’s wrong, because it’s real and affects people’s lives. This is rock & roll. Lighten up. It’s four guys that had enough of each other for a while and after five years, they’ve fallen back in love again. Fucking get on with it. I’m happy for them. It’s great for them — and us as well.
So with all these big bands and artists together on this tour, will you be doing a super jam at the end of the night with everyone? You had gotten Ian Hunter on stage with you at the Rock Hall induction earlier this year.
No. No. No. No. Never happening. Didn’t happen with Kiss. Didn’t happen with Journey. Won’t happen with Crüe.
With Ian Hunter, it was planned. What we didn’t want to do was the all-star jam, because we knew it wasn’t gonna work. Just imagine if you can: Us, Trent Reznor, somebody from the Cure and Radiohead came up to do “Hard Day’s Night”? No. That had an effect and it worked when it was the late Eighties and it was that boys’ club of Clapton, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, whoever, and they’d get up and do “I Saw Her Standing There,” and it worked. It wasn’t gonna work. So I said, let’s do our own all-star jam, and once I suggested to the guys that Ian was rehearsing with Mott just over the Brooklyn Bridge, that we do it with Brian May, it made sense. It was our favorite song, two of our favorite artists, our night, and all that extravaganza — we do “All the Young Dudes” with Ian Hunter and Brian May, that is our all-star jam, and it was totally planned out. It was great fun.
The problem with this tour is we haven’t got enough time. Because it’s a festival within a stadium, you’ve got to be out of there by 11 p.m. or the fire marshal sets fire to our trucks to get us out [laughs]. We’re already going to be playing about 25 minutes shy of what we did in Vegas. So to rule out another two songs just so we can do “Born to Be Wild” or something, no, not gonna happen. They’ve got their shit, and we’ve got ours, and we’ll do that kind of shit in the hotel.