Def Leppard continues to rock ‘n’ roar

Still going strong since '80s, band preps new album

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If You Go

• What: Def Leppard in concert with Styx and Tesla.

• When: 7 p.m. Sept. 17.

• Where: Amphitheater Northwest, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

• Cost: $25 to $99.

• Information: 360-816-7000 or www.ampnw.com

Def Leppard is on track to have a new studio album out this fall. That’s fairly big news, considering even when the band was at its commercial peak, four or five years passed between 1983’s “Pyromania,” 1987’s “Hysteria” and 1992’s “Adrenalize.”

What is more notable, according to guitarist Phil Collen, is the new album may be the purest representation ever of the kind of sound and music Def Leppard wants to create.

“The great thing about this is we weren’t after a sound,” Collen said in an early July phone interview. “So there’s a freedom in that that just allows you to be a true artist. It’s the first time we’ve ever done that, in the 30-odd years I’ve been in the band. Probably when the band first got together and was doing demos, that was a (true) representation. But after that, you get kind of, the fans want to hear a certain thing or management or the record company wants it to sound a certain way. Then you set yourself, you use it as a brief. We’ve done that before. We’ve said this album should sound like this and this and that. For this one, we didn’t.”

Collen, in fact, said the band didn’t even realize it was making an album until the project was taking shape. The five band members — singer Joe Elliott, Collen, guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen — went into the studio in February 2014 thinking it might want to record a song — perhaps an EP — to have something new for the live show.

“I think were just trying to come up with a song. We should do something,” Collen said. “We were just playing each other ideas. Instead of putting them into a bracket or a box, we just did the songs that sounded most exciting to us straight off of the bat and all of a sudden everything kind of had a fresh kind of vigor about it.”

Fired up

Two more recording sessions followed — one in May 2014 and a third session in January and February of this year. Now the album is getting some finishing touches and getting mixed on the road (using a mobile studio setup) as Def Leppard heads up a summer amphitheater bill that also features Styx and Tesla.

Collen is fired up about Def Leppard’s latest work, saying it’s “the best thing we’ve done since ‘Hysteria.’ ”

That’s no small statement. That 1987 album, which was the follow-up to Def Leppard’s breakthrough release, the seven-times platinum 1983 album “Pyromania,” was a blockbuster. Boasting hits such as “Animal” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” sales of “Hysteria” eventually topped 15 million and pushed Def Leppard to the very top among rock acts at the time.

The group had one more huge hit with the next CD, “Adrenalize,” but then grunge became the big rock trend and this helped push Def Leppard and other ’80s hard rock/metal acts out of the spotlight. While Def Leppard continued to turn out new CDs on a regular basis, its album sales declined. Nevertheless, the band has remained a popular live act.

In fact, Collen reports that the group has been drawing some of its biggest stateside crowds in years on this summer’s tour.

“There seems to be a lot of excitement about us, which is great,” he said.

The band even has guitarist Vivian Campbell back on tour. For a time it looked likely he would have to sit out the summer tour.

In June 2013, Campbell announced that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He went through treatments and doctors advised him his cancer was in remission in July 2014. But in June, he found that his cancer had returned.

Campbell, though, is able to go through his latest treatment regimen on tour, and he rejoined Def Leppard a week into this summer’s tour. So far, Collen said, Campbell seems to be doing fine.

According to Collen, the current show features new video content and a set list that’s packed with hits, plus a couple of album tracks that haven’t been part of Def Leppard’s show for some time. The set, though, doesn’t include any of the new songs.

“We’re not going to play any of the new stuff until the record comes out,” he said.

In addition to his touring duties, Collen is also spending this summer helping get the word out about his new side group, Delta Deep. The band, which includes Collen, singer Debbi Blackwell-Cook, bassist Robert DeLeo (also of Stone Temple Pilots) and drummer Forrest Robinson, takes Collen in a very different musical direction from the melodic hard rock of Def Leppard.

The group’s self-titled debut album was released in June, and it’s a powerhouse. It encompasses deep blues, hard rock, funk, soul and a bit of jazz, with Blackwell-Cook’s vocals a highlight over 11 songs, eight of which were written by Collen, his wife, Helen, and Blackwell-Cook.

“I’ve said this and other people have said this, it’s like Aretha Franklin singing over Led Zeppelin,” Collen said. “It really has got that vibe.”