Vivian Campbell | Talks 2Tickets
For more than thirty years, Vivian Campbell has been a well-established figure in the world of heavy metal and hard rock. Since cutting his teeth with the influential Sweet Savage in the late seventies, Vivian has continuously worked with some of the genre’s finest artists. Firstly with the iconic DIO, where he wrote and contributed to the band’s first three solo albums, before a falling out with Ronnie led to his departure from the group. However, Vivian quickly landed on his feet when he joined Whitesnake to play on their 1987/88 ‘Whitesnake’ tour. But it wasn’t until 1992 that he finally found his home with eighties goliaths, Def Leppard and for the past twenty two years he has enjoyed every, high, low, success and challenge that the music world and life can possibly dish out – and he still goes back asking for more. Aside from Def Leppard, Vivian has also found time to release a solo album, play in various side projects, reunite with the original DIO line-up and spend a year with his all-time heroes, Thin Lizzy.
Last year, Vivian was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma but still continued to play with Last In Line and tour with Leppard around the US and Europe without ever missing a show, despite having to travel back and forth between tour dates to Los Angeles for treatment.
With Def Leppard currently camped in Dublin to work on new material, Vivian was good enough to take time out of the studio to talk with Tickets There about their new material, the recent re-issue of their Slang album, ballads, touring, Last In Line and enjoying the experience of short hair for the first time in his life.
Tickets There: Vivian, let’s start with the most recent Leppard release. What made you decide to release Slang ahead of some of the band’s better received albums?
VC: We released Slang firstly because we were able to and more importantly perhaps, because we really didn’t feel it got a fair shake when it came out in 1996. In the middle of the grunge era, it was a really difficult time for bands that represented the eighties, like Def Leppard. So even though we made a record in Slang that sounded of the times, it still really fell on deaf ears (no pun intended). So we decided to re-master and repackage it with all the material from around those times, all the bonus tracks and demo versions..etc. and put it out there in the hope that people will give it a more objective hearing in 2014 than it got in 1996.
Tickets There: At the time Slang was extremely well received by critics, but that still didn’t help it repeat the success of it’s immediate predecessors with the general public. Why do you think that was?
VC: Well, a good example of that was the first single in America, a song called ‘Work It Out’ which was actually my first writing contribution with the band I remember I was very excited about that prospect that my first song with the band would be the leadoff single then. That enthusiasm was very quickly dampened a few weeks after, when someone from our management called me to say the radio stations, like rock stations in America had loved the track and said it would totally fit their format but they just can’t play it because they can’t go on air and announce that was Def Leppard. You know they were playing The Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and stuff like that – you know and they just couldn’t fit Def Leppard into that format – regardless of how good or how bad the music sounded.
So we were between a rock and a hard place you know, it was really a lose-lose situation for us so we really don’t feel that people outside of the really hard-core Leppard fans got a chance to hear this record the first time around.
VC: A little bit. It did tend to polarize our traditional fan base and we kind of knew that going into it and that was the chance we took at the time. You know we knew there were people that just hated the sound of the nineties and just wanted Def Leppard to be Def Leppard, but we felt that the onus was on us more to respond to the musical movements of the time and to be influenced more by that than our traditional sound. The most traditional sounding Leppard we’ve made since then was the one that immediately followed Slang, Euphoria – the title of the record has an ‘IA’ like Pyromania and Hysteria. Even the cover and the art-work – everything about it yells a traditional Leppard record. That came out in 1999 when we felt it was ok to be ourselves again. We really were a band in crisis in 1996.
Tickets There: When you started making Slang, what was the goal of the band?
VC: We didn’t really know what we were doing but we knew what we couldn’t do. So we collectively decided that it was best for us not to make a record that sounded too much like Def Leppard and we had to deal with the lyrical content of rock music at the time was very dark and that’s obviously a 180 from songs like ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and stuff like that. So we knew we had to adapt to that and write darker lyrical themes and stylistically make a record that sonically sounded of the times. We knew we’d step on somebody’s toes by doing it, but it just felt right at the time.
Tickets There: And when you listen back on it now 18 years later, how do you think it’s held up over these two decades?
VC: To be honest I haven’t listened to it yet – well not the repackaged version. I have a tendency not to listen to Def Leppard music..
Tickets There: (Laughs) I don’t think I’ll print that
VC: Well you know whatever anyone does for a living, I doubt they go home and do it again. For me it’s the same with Leppard. I actually don’t listen to a lot of music in general.
What I remember about the original recording of Slang was that it always had a vibrancy about it. I do think it’s one of Leppard’s better sounding records, to use a word not commonly associated with Leppard, but it’s a more organic sounding record. Just in the way we recorded the drums, Rick (Allen) played acoustic drums and for the guitars we went old school – putting mics in front of cabinets instead of taking directs, which is mostly the way Leppard records. It does have a bit more air in the sonics which gives it a bit more depth as a result. I always remember it being my favourite record sonically from the band.
Tickets There: Looking back to those times, what was it like coming from bands like Whitesnake and DIO and coming into Leppard, one of the biggest bands of the nineteen eighties just at the beginning of this big change. Was it what you expected when you joined the band or were things very different than you’d imagined?
VC: Certainly by the time we got to Slang it was all off kilter. At the time, when I joined my biggest concern wasn’t the changing musical trends, because I don’t think any of us had registered that by early 92. My bigger concern was whether I really wanted to join another band and it didn’t matter who it was. I’d been in and out of so many bands at that stage and I didn’t have a good track record. So I’d basically given up on bands at that time and I was under contract to Sony records and I was writing with co-writers and cutting demos with an eye to make a solo record. So I was searching for a music direction of my own at the time and basically given up on trying to make a band, but obviously when the opportunity came to join Def Leppard it was different. I mean, there’s bands and then there’s bands and Leppard are a massive, massive band and a group that I’d always been a fan off. Furthermore I knew Joe (Elliott) socially and I knew the kind of guy he was and even if I didn’t know the other guys in the band, I kind of figured if they’re anything like Joe its probably a different kind of proposition to DIO or Whitesnake.
So both parties had to think long and hard whether it was the right arrangement. Joe felt I was perfect for the band but the guys in Leppard, who didn’t know me [personally] only knew me by reputation and that I could play guitar. The things they didn’t know was A, I could actually sing a bit too and B, that I’m actually not the guy who can’t keep a job (laughs). It’s possible they probably thought that, given my reputation of being hired and fired x2 in DIO and Whitesnake. So we basically went through a courtship that lasted a couple of months over this. It was nothing really to do with the music, it was all about the personalities and whether or not we can make it work. It’s been twenty two years so its definitely working out.
Tickets There: Yes, I don’t think you’re in much danger of losing this gig.
VC: No (laughs), you know people think ‘He must be an asshole to work with because he keeps getting fired’, but there’s a lot more to it than that. DIO and Whitesnake were never real bands and that’s the big difference between them and Leppard. I mean Leppard really is a democratic band. It’s five guys and creatively it is very open. And it’s not sunshine and roses all the time, but we respect each other and we do get along. Whereas DIO, no matter how Ronnie tried to portray it and despite the fact that Jimmy Bain wrote most of the music it was never a real band, it was always Ronnie’s call at the end of the day. Whitesnake as well, history has spoken on behalf of that. There’s been dozens of, and I’m not kidding, that’s not an exaggeration; different musicians through the doors of Whitesnake over the years and the only constant has been Coverdale, so it’s obviously his band you know.
VC: It’s actually going very well. We’ve got about nine things on the go currently, although most of them aren’t finished as, there’s a load of top melodies and lyrics to be written yet. The way the band works is very bizarre and I won’t even begin to try and explain that to you now, but for us this is great progress. especially considering we only started three weeks ago.
Tickets There: These sessions took everyone a little by surprise. Did you intend on coming out with a new album?
VC: When we came here we weren’t sure if we were going to make a full album or try and get a few songs to put out this year, but as things progressed, and they progressed rapidly and very well so we decided to do a full length album. Our goal is to have it done by this time next year and get it released by spring 2015 and to tour extensively on that next year. This year we will be doing a summer tour but it’ll only be the states most likely. We’ll also be coming back to Dublin in May, I wouldn’t say to finish up the record but to do a second instalment. There will need to be a third, possibly fourth instalment to get it finished, but it is progressing very well.
Tickets There: And has the re-issue of Slang changed the way the band is setting up this time at all?
VC: We did set up for the first time since the Slang record to record together, the five of us in real time because we don’t normally do that. We generally build a track up bit by bit and it’s always one guy working and its thoroughly, thoroughly tedious. So it was exciting to actually get in there and play and try to capture some of the dynamics we have as a live band. In the first week we actually got four rock tracks together and that was also a concern of ours coming into this. We wanted to make sure, even though we want to make a very comprehensive, modern Leppard sounding record, we did want to make sure we had the rock element covered and we actually for that out of the way like it was no-one’s business in the first week. This is what happens when you play together as a band, you tend to write rock songs as opposed to when you do it individually and you tend to get drawn into doing mid-tempo, little dirgy ballady type stuff. So it’s good that we got to play together and somewhat collaborate with each other on the stuff. Still a lot of it has to be determined, but so far we’ve got the rock element covered and we’re getting into some more studio crafted songs here at the moment and we’ll be wrapping up here in the next couple of days and pick it up again in May.
Tickets There: You’ve made references in the past to your lack of enthusiasm towards ballads. Would you prefer to make an all rock Leppard album?
VC:I’m not against the ballad side of it, but I’ve seen how we get drawn into that a little bit too much at the expense of our rock tracks. If you think that first and foremost the band was a rock band we all come from that rock element and it’s something we needed to address. I don’t think it would be right for the band to go out and make a High ‘N’ Dry style album where every song is pretty much hard rock. I don’t think that’s where we are and I don’t think that’s representative of us as fifty year old men. Having said that, we’re a great, great live band and we can certainly still rock so it was important that a considerable percentage of any album we’re doing is leaning towards rock.
Tickets There: Def Leppard is sometimes seen by fans as a band that’s split on the issue of social media. How do you feel about the changes in the music over the past few years and the move towards releasing music online and moving away from traditional formats?
VC:I personally have done that 100% and have felt that way for several years, but that’s just my personal opinion, that’s not the opinion of the band necessarily. Again it depends who you ask in the band. I think a couple of the guys would be with me on that and a couple of others might be vehemently against it. It is what it is. I’m not saying I embrace it because I think it’s the better thing, but you can’t ignore the facts when they’re staring you in the face. We live in a very rapidly changing world. I’m not personally a fan of social media, I don’t use it for my personal life, but I do enjoy the ability it’s given me to connect to Def Leppard fans and I found it a useful tool to gauge what people are thinking and what [Def Leppard] fans are thinking with regard to us. Like I say I don’t have a personal Facebook page where I go back and forth with my family, I still believe in more traditional means of communication, but the record business and the whole music business has changed dramatically and anyone who denies it is beyond a luddite (laughs). Its Darwin’s theory, you evolve or you die.
Tickets There: You mentioned Leppard are going to tour this year and there’s a tasty rumour going around that it may involve KISS and Poison. Can you shed any light on what’s going to be announced?
VC: I’d say you’d be half right there, but only half right and half wrong (laughs). There will be an announcement of our tour imminently, we’re talking a matter of days. It has to be announced because we’re almost at summertime.
Tickets There: Do you think fans outside America will see you in 2014?
VC: Not at this point, but never say never. Something might come up at the last moment where we get a great offer to do a European show and upon that we could add a few others, but I would be very surprised. Most likely if we get this record finished for next spring that would see us doing a world tour of sorts, whatever that means nowadays. Certainty Europe, Australia and Japan would be our hope.
Tickets There: Last year, Def Leppard played a massive successful residency in Las Vegas that focused on the Hysteria Album. Does it look likely we’ll see a Viva Pyromania residency soon?
VC: We have a standing invitation to do that again whenever it suits us. It’s just a question of how long we end up touring this summer versus our desire to get this record finished. Personally I’d be surprised if that happened in 2014, but I wouldn’t be shocked it happened in early 2015.
Tickets There: That sounds better, I think I could afford it by then.
Tickets There: I just want to talk a little bit, if you have time about your work with Last In Line
VC: Absolutely, I’ve always got time to talk about that (laughs). I’m really passionate about (L.I.L.). I really enjoy playing with Vinny Appice and Jimmy Bain again.
Tickets There: Can you tell us how you started playing with the guys after so many years apart?
VC: I blame Thin Lizzy for it. That’s where it happened again that I got a few months touring Europe and the States with Lizzy in 2011 as a stunt guitar player and that really reignited my passion for the instrument. Thin Lizzy were such an influential band to me growing up and playing those songs, playing ‘Black Rose’, ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Emerald’ and ‘Don’t Believe a Word’, playing all those great songs that I knew inside out onstage with Brian Downey and Scott Gorham, it brought me back to being fifteen again and reminded me of why it is I love playing Guitar.
As soon as I came of that tour I called Vinny and I called Jimmy and we just got together, into a rehearsal room and that’s all it was. I just wanted to play with them again, play some rock and it just sounded so great. We hadn’t played together in twenty seven years and it literally sounded like it had only been twenty seven minutes. The chemistry was just there, it had never gone away and it’s so tight just to play with those guys.
Then one thing led to another. Vinny said he knew this singer called Andrew Freeman so he invited Andy down that day. Andy came down and knew the songs so started singing. Then we talked, jokingly that we should do a gig or two. One thing led to another and we ended up doing a handful of shows last year despite a lot of setbacks and we managed to get the ball rolling on it. We started with a few local shows in Southern California, Las Vegas and what not. Now we’re actually going in to record some new music, even though that was never our intention. It just seemed the next logical step after we’d done some shows, it just seemed right to take it a stage further and try to create a sound that’s ours, not just trying to recreate the DIO sound.
Tickets There: You mentioned earlier that the DIO was such a major factor of the original band, how is the new music sounding and how can you avoid DIO’s legacy hanging over it?
VC: It’s obviously always going to sound a bit like DIO, We’re playing those songs that we wrote and recorded. The difference is that Andy doesn’t sound anything like Ronnie and that’s actually what motivated me to go out and do some gigs. If he’d come in there being a Ronnie clone I’d have been very disinclined to go any further with it because I don’t want it to just be a tribute to Ronnie’s voice. Furthermore I think that Ronnie is a really, really tough act to try and duplicate. He had such a unique sounding voice. So the fact that Andy didn’t sound anything like him really appealed to me. The reason for that was that it put the focus on the songs and the original band. The focus goes to the guitar, the bass and the drums and therefore the guys that made the records. Not only did we make those records, but what a lot of people don’t even realize is that we wrote the songs [...] obviously including Ronnie’s input which was monumental but there was a real sound that we had, the fact that Andy didn’t sound like Ronnie somehow resonated with me that it was ok to go out and play those songs and have the focus somewhere else.
People then started asking me, ‘are you going to start making new music’. At first I said no because it was never on my field of thought, but then it became more apparent that for Last In Line to move forward and to be taken to that next level, that’s what we needed to do. Furthermore we got into the studio just a few weeks ago, in early January and started writing. Just Jimmy, Vinnie and myself and it was so effortless that way we came across new music it just fell out of us like it did on the first record, on Holy Diver. It was so easy for us to come up with musical ideas. We act as great springboards for each other. Like when I play something for the guys, they instinctively know where to go and vice versa. We came up with a half a dozen song ideas in a matter of days. Then Andy came in and we exchanged vocal and melody ideas and we’re kind of kicking around in the middle stage between now and April 20th when we’re going into the studio to start recording. Hopefully it’ll finally gel and that final 5/10% will come into place. It really is an exciting thing for me, but it’s a very different way to the way Def Leppard writes and records which is also equally invigorating.
Tickets There: And will you be letting any ballads through on the Last In Line album?
VC: Fuck no (laughs)
Tickets There: As if Def Leppard and Last In Line wasn’t enough, there’s also reports that you’re planning a second solo album. Have you found time to work on that at all?
VC: That’s kind of open ended for me. There’s no actual agenda for it. Obviously the Leppard thing is what it is and I’ve told you the schedule or the proposed schedule for that. With Last In Line I would hope to have a record done at some point this year. As regards my record I’ve already gone in and started on six tracks. I’ve six backing tracks completed and I’ve got the songs written, I’ve got the lyrics and melodies or them. I will at some point this summer get those six finished. My only real concerns with regards to that is if I can physically sing all of them. There might be one or two of them that are out of my range and out of my comfort zone as a singer.
I won’t really know till I try how it happens, but I may have to bring in a guest singer. At this stage it’s my intention to do it all on my own and it’s going to be very much be rock record. That’s not to say there might not be a ballad on that (laughs), but my focus is on making a rock record. There’ll be a lot of guitar, riff oriented songs. On the tracks I’ve cut so far I used some of the guys from a bar band I play with back in Los Angeles occasionally, all stellar musicians.
Tickets There: Moving back to last year, you went through a very traumatizing experience and I believe you were forced to cut your hair for the first time since you were eleven?
VC: (Laughs) That was actually one of the benefits. Long hair, I let that identify me. It becomes so much part of your identity when you have your hair long your whole adult life. Then there’s this fear of letting go of it. I would never, or at least very, very reluctantly ever have had my hair cut. Of course then when you have chemo you don’t have a choice, it just falls out. I was kind of forced into the issue and I’m actually very thankful for it because I’m enjoying life with short hair and the convenience of it. A lot of people have actually said it makes me look younger so I’m fine with it (laughs).
Tickets There: And how has recovery been going?
VC: I completed around six months of chemo and so far so good. Although truth be told I have to go in and do another biopsy when I get back to LA in two weeks as my last scan wasn’t very clean. It might be nothing or it might be that it hasn’t all gone away yet, in which case I’m really not that concerned about it. It’s a process that you just have to go through and it’s one of the most curable forms of cancer and I’m very fortunate that mine was caught very, very early in its progression. I’m not very worried about it, but it’s an inconvenience to go through the process.
Tickets There: Rather than back down or let it affect you, you went out last year and did a massive amount of work and touring with Leppard and Last In Line. How were you able to put yourself though all that and still deliver every day?
VC: Well actually I was very thankful that I could. I think it would have been physically and mentally more difficult to go through for me if I didn’t have my work to do. I actually wished that Leppard had some more shows last summer. I’m not tooting my own horn here, but I was physically very strong going into it all. Even before I was diagnosed I was relatively fit, being vegetarian for thirty years or so. I work out a lot, play football a lot and run a lot and I’ve been working with a trainer regularly for years. Then when I was diagnosed I ramped up my training and built up a lot of muscle mass as I knew I was going to lose a lot through chemo. With cancer there’s all sorts of different levels and of course people personal pain management threshold and tolerance levels so either my chemo wasn’t as severe as I have just enough stubborn Irish tolerance that I was able to keep going (laughs).
Tickets There would like to wish Vivian many, many thanks for participating in this interview and we wish you well with your treatment, the Last In Line album and of course the next sessions with Leppard.