So “Rock of Ages” wasn’t quite the blockbuster some had hoped.
But despite its lackluster box office showing – it made just under $20 million its first five days and has a long way to go to recoup its $75 million production budget – the movie boosted the profile of Def Leppard.
Along with sharing a title with the band’s song from its 1983 “Pyromania” album, the film resurrected the profile of the English quintet (though guitarist Vivian Campbell is an Irishman) among those who hadn’t given Def Leppard much thought in recent years.
The band even took the opportunity to re-record two of its hits, “Rock of Ages” and the strip-club anthem “Pour Some Sugar on Me” for the soundtrack and made them available on digital platforms – a first for them.
The added publicity certainly won’t hurt ticket sales, as Def Leppard kicked off its summer “Rock of Ages” tour on Wednesday with a set list packed with sing-along hits such as “Love Bites,” “Foolin’,” “Animal” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” as well as some lesser-played songs including “Switch 625” and “Undefeated,” from the band’s 2011 mostly-live album, “Mirrorball.”
Recently, guitarist Campbell phoned in to talk about his plans with the rest of the guys – singer Joe Elliott, bassist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen and guitarist Phil Collen – and explain all of those “Rock of Ages” connections.
Q. Last summer you toured with Heart and you were also with Poison in 2009. Why bring Poison back and how did Lita Ford get involved?
A. Poison was really the ‘Rock of Ages’ connection. We wanted to tour with someone else featured in the movie to make it more valid and Poison was available. The promoters wanted a third act, and our agency came back with a shortlist of people and she was on it. Lita is not featured in the movie, so we’re just gonna pretend she has something to do with it!
Q. What is the production of the show like this time out?
A. It’s a bit of a challenge to come up with something new every tour. We do have a new video director and a new stage set. We bought Phil Collins’ old staging from a tour he did five or six years ago. It’s like building blocks. We took and added to every existing stage set we already own and we’ve got some new stuff. It will look very different from the last tour.
Q. It must be challenging to keep the set list fresh, but still play all of those hits that fans expect.
A. We realize we play a lot of the same songs, but we try to make it as different as possible. You’re kind of a prisoner of your own success. If I go see an act, I would be disappointed if they didn’t play their hits. We would rather play something more obscure or more recent, but we have all of these Top 20 hits we have to play. But we’re going to rehearse seven or eight [different] songs and rotate them in and out. We’re also taking time from Poison’s set so we can play longer.
Q. So you re-recorded two of your classic songs [“Rock of Ages” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me”] for the “Rock of Ages” soundtrack and this is the first time your material will be available digitally. Why now?
A. We’re shamelessly exploiting the connection to the movie [laughs].It’s a long story, but Def Leppard’s existing recording contract predates the digital industry, so they were selling our songs on iTunes and we weren’t getting paid. Our music isn’t available on iTunes for that reason. But we assumed there would be a renewed interest in those songs. We’re not planning to re-record the entire catalog, but it’s a good first step.
Q. You didn’t play on the original versions (guitarist Steve Clark, who died in 1991, did), but you’ve been playing those songs live for 20 years. Was it odd to play them in the studio?
A. I let [other guitarist] Phil [Collen] handle the majority of the guitar for the sake of authenticity since he was there on the originals. There are so many background vocals on those songs that I got handed the role of Mutt Lange [who produced “Pyromania” and “Hysteria,” the albums bearing the songs] because our voices are similar.
Q. What’s next for the band after this tour? Any plans for a new record?
A. We’re so overdue for a new one, and as soon as this tour is done, we will be recording. The last three years have been tough for me – I got divorced and both my parents died – and I haven’t written a song since then. I feel very barren. I sit around watching football and strumming a guitar and record 20-second nuggets on my iPhone. It’s a long way from that to a song. But definitely by 2013 there will be something. I’m not sure if it will be a new album. A lot of Lep fans might disagree, but it takes us so long to make a record, it would behoove us to focus on the good songs and put four or five out when they’re completed.
Def Leppard with Poison and Lita Ford
7 p.m. June 29. $31-$131. Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood, 2002 Lakewood Way, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene