Def Leppard’s Phil Collen Discusses “Rock Of Ages”: The Musical, The Movie and Playing In The House Band

Def Leppard's Phil Collen:
Jamming with Arsenal soon?
(Photo credit: Helen Collen.)

Def Leppard were one of the biggest rock bands of the Eighties. You couldn’t escape their hook-laden hard rock anthems, which dominated MTV and radio. The multi-million selling quintet is still going strong, co-headlining a U.S. tour with Poison this summer, and they have a new single, “It’s All About Believin’,” actively climbing classic rock radio. Further, the Broadway musical Rock Of Ages (the title of a Def Lep hit) has been turned into a movie musical co-starring Tom Cruise as self-absorbed rocker Stacee Jaxx. (And yes, Cruise does sing. Watch the trailer below.) Def Leppard’s music did not make it into the show, but two re-recorded songs, “Rock Of Ages” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” have made it into the retro ’80s film. In an interesting twist, the band’s music may make it into a potentially revised Broadway production.

Confused? Guitarist Phil Collen sorts it all out while also filling us in on what to expect from the film, which rocks theaters nationwide on June 15th.

I’ve seen the Rock Of Ages show on Broadway three times since it opened in the spring of 2009, but I know women who have seen it a dozen or more times. One woman I met had allegedly seen it 100 times within the first few months.
It’s like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

They just keep going back. It’s weird.
It is weird. [chuckles]

The intro to the musical has the voice of David Coverdale advising people not to sing the lyrics to Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” in case of fire because the show couldn’t get the rights to any of the band’s songs. Did the producers approach you about that originally? And if so, why did you change your mind for the movie?
I think the play is great, and I think we are going to be in the play. It went through the legal things, but they hadn’t got it sorted out in time [when] the play was going up, although it was the title of one of our songs. They didn’t get it ready in time, and with the movie it’s a whole different set of rules. They actually went through all the proper channels, and everything got sorted out. Payment got sorted out beforehand. I do believe they are going to revisit the play after the movie comes out. If it’s a success, they’ll add more stuff in it [the show], and we’re totally up for that. I’d even be up for actually being in the house band for awhile, which would be hilarious. I think it would be great fun.

So you guys wouldn’t have minded having your songs in the musical when it first opened up on Broadway?
We would have loved to have been in it. It’s called Rock Of Ages, so it’s a bit lame that we’re not in it. But like I said, it just didn’t get sorted out in time, and I’m sure it will [in the future].

This makes me think of the TV on DVD controversy, and how many old shows cannot use music from back in the day because contracts then did not cover future media and now the songs cost too much. So fans lose out on hearing the original songs used in the original shows. How much control do bands have over licensing music to various media?
It’s usually down to the labels, but it depends on what kind of deals and management you’ve got. Our management at the time, Q Prime, had some iron clad stuff on our behalf, which was fantastic and another reason why Def Leppard wasn’t on iTunes. We had a clause in there that said with any other medium of music that comes out – because we’d had vinyl, cassette, CD, DVD – you have to get our permission [for song licensing]. Just a simple thing like that didn’t allow a label to totally exploit a band, which it would have done. Don’t get me wrong. Our label [Mercury Records] did amazing stuff for us when we were releasing records, but after it all changed and went to digital, they shouldn’t be getting 70% of the whole thing or whatever it is. A band usually gets 15% or 20%, and the label takes the rest. That was the problem with Eminem and The Temptations. They went in and said, “Look, guys, you’re not actually promoting this stuff anymore, iTunes is, so we feel that it’s a bit of a sticky thing.” In Eminem’s case, he won. We were never on that [iTunes] because we had a loophole, but we have a live album and the Slang album going up and new versions of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”  and “Rock Of Ages” going up in about a week that sound identical to the originals.

What was the reason to re-record those songs for the Rock Of Ages movie?
So that we didn’t have to use the masters that belong to the record label. And honestly, you can’t tell the difference. It’s pretty amazing.

Have you seen the play and the movie?
We saw the play a few years ago and saw an advance screening of the movie about two weeks ago.

“I’d be up for actually being in the [Rock Of Ages] house band for awhile, which would be hilarious. I think it would be great fun.”

What did you think of both versions?
I love the tongue and cheekness of the play, and I think they went more extreme [with the movie]. [Director] Adam Shankman’s great, and it’s so tongue-in-cheek. There are so many hidden little jokes in there that go over some people’s heads, but it’s got this potential cult thing like the play or Rocky Horror. It’s all about the PMRC thing and is really funny, but it just happens to be an ‘80s backdrop. It’s a musical, but it’s not cheesy, and the music all sounds great. It’s all different versions except us. We’ve got two songs in there that are our own versions, not the record company versions anyway.

There is new Def Leppard music coming, correct?
Yes, we’ve got a single at the moment that’s doing well at classic rock called “It’s All About Believin’”. I think it’s at #4 this week, and we’re going to be writing stuff for a new album that will probably be out next year.

The film casting of Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx has proven to be controversial with many fans of the musical. How does he do?
I was amazed. He’s so focused and amazing and really nailed it. I was really impressed with the way he sung “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses. He did a great Axl. It was brilliant.

Does he do a good Joe Elliott?
He did a good version of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. It sounded more like Tom Cruise, but you wouldn’t know it was him. He sounds like a real rock singer. That’s a great complement. We got to meet him, and he was nervous about actually doing it justice and sounding like a rock singer, which he does. You would never know that he didn’t really sing before he went into that. He actually just learned how to sing for the role, which is very impressive.

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