Interview: Joe Elliott (Def Leppard / Down ‘N Outz)
Published on June 17th, 2010 | Jonny Abrams
Def Leppard main man Joe Elliott loves Mott the Hoople. In fact, he loves Mott the Hoople so much that he formed a band with The Quireboys – calling themselves the Down ‘N Outz – in order to first perform and then record a set of Mott-related curios for an album, ‘My Re Generation’. Among the songs covered was an Ian Hunter solo effort by the name of ‘England Rocks’ and we’re sure we don’t need to tell you why that song took on an extra, unplanned significance in the summer of 2010.
Rocksucker caught up with Joe to discuss the the wonderful labour of love that is his Down ‘N Outz project and, of course, the legendary, decades-spanning British rock group of which he just so happens to be the front man…
Is ‘England Rocks’ in any way a World Cup song?
It is now but only by accident. This whole thing started about a year ago when Mott the Hoople announced that they were going to reform and do some shows at Hammersmith. Having been their cultural ambassador for twenty-five years, they asked me to be involved one way or another and, when it transpired that I’d be opening for them on the last night, I made a decision that what I wanted to do was to really entertain the hardcore Mott fans by playing a bunch of songs that were Mott-related but not actual Mott songs – because any Mott songs we’d have played would have been a nod to the fact that they weren’t going to play it themselves later. So I chose a bunch of songs that they did after they split in ’74, so [they were culled from] Ian Hunter, Mott – because they carried on with Nigel Benjamin singing and dropped ‘the Hoople’ from their name, and then when they got rid of Benjamin and got John Fiddler again they became British Lions. So I chose a setlist of songs from those three artists and of course ‘England Rocks’ was one of them.
I remember back in the summer of ’77, it was one of those good summers where it was sunny a lot, the Sex Pistols were kicking arse and there was a lot of rock and roll positivity going on and that was really exciting when you were 17. I was never going to be one of those people that abandons the old guard so, when Ian Hunter released ‘England Rocks’ off the back of touring his Overnight Angels album, I thought it was the best thing in the world and I thought the entire rock world was mental for ignoring. I was writing angry letters to music press and DJs saying, “What’s wrong with you people?” This is a bona fide classic. It’s up there with anything that’s ever charted. Why won’t you play it on the radio? Anyway, after we played the gig, we thought, “Four months work for 45 minutes? That’s insane.” So we decided to record all the songs while they were still in our DNA. By the time we’d finished the album, in February or March, World Cup fever was starting to kick in and it just struck me that ‘England Rocks’ would be the perfect song for the World Cup because it doesn’t have all the usual clichés . It’s actually not a football song but I thought I’d throw it in the hat with all the other unofficial World Cup songs for a giggle. I know the BBC have used it a couple of times already so it’s getting some airplay. I think it’s a good rallying cry song rather than a football song.
Have you had much feedback from Mott the Hoople themselves?
I don’t think any of them have heard it except Ian Hunter. He thinks ‘England Rocks’ is “very spiffy”. Secretly I’m sure he loves the fact that we’ve done this. I sent John Fiddler ‘One More Chance to Run’ and he said something like, “Wow, it sounds like you had more fun recording it than when we did it!” I haven’t heard anything from Overend Watts but when I saw him after we played our set at Hammersmith he came up and said, “I almost cried. I can’t believe those songs mean that much to you. I didn’t think they meant that much to anybody.” Ian’s comment was, “Get ’em off, they’re going down too well!” (Laughs)
The worst that’s going to happen is that somebody who’s a big Mott fan will say, “I prefer the originals.” The opposite of that is that a lot of people – maybe Def Leppard fans or Quireboys fans or whatever – might say, “Wow, I’ve never heard these songs before.” You only have to look at the comments under the ‘England Rocks’ video on YouTube to see the vastly different interpretations of what we’re doing, from “they should just go back to being Def Leppard” to “this is brilliant and Leppard fans will love this because it shows where their roots were” and all that kind of stuff. From the actual Mott camp, I’ve had nothing but good wishes and good advice, really.
Finally, where does Def Leppard stand now?
We’re having a year off the road. After 32 years’ unbroken service to this band and five years of non-stop touring, I was the first of us to say, “I’m not doing it next year.” I can’t be wheeled out to sing those songs every night for no reason. Unless we’ve got a new album out, what’s the point? I don’t need the money that badly so if I don’t get any artistic satisfaction from it then there’s no point. So we’re taking a year off to recharge our batteries individually so that, when we come back together, there’s a new, refreshed energy for us to exploit, if you like. We’re all relaxed, doing what we want to do, and we don’t have to report in every day. If somebody wants to go and climb Mount Everest and I don’t find out about it until they get back down then good for them! I don’t need a daily update or a Twitter, thank you very much. But we are doing stuff to prepare for next year. Literally this week we’re going to be ploughing through live recordings because we’re going to release a live album, so we’ve basically got to listen to all of them, decide which nights we were on fire and use those versions. There’s talk of a box set and we’re writing some new stuff. We can be at home writing and emailing bits and bobs to each other – “here, I’ve got this song, it needs lyrics” – so we don’t have to be in the same room to do that. So we’re doing bits and bobs under the radar that, by the end of this year, will become a nice, big lumpy mess that needs sorting out, if you like! But we are going to be back out next year, for sure.