Def Leppard's Phil Collen shows low-key side off stage
Rocker stereotype has him partying and playing till 2 a.m., staying up all night and sleeping all day — in Phil Collen's case, it's only partly right.
The longtime guitarist for Def Leppard parties (in the gym, working out) and plays till 2 o'clock with one of the world's all-time great bands, but he'll often find himself waking up at 6:30 in the morning and leaving the hotel to visit sites with his wife, Helen.
Collen enjoyed his wilder days, but admits to living the clean life for more than three decades. So, arriving in Portland next week to play at the Moda Center, Saturday, June 10, and staying in a local hotel, his things-to-do list includes a visit to Powell's City of Books.
"I got their sticker on my flight case," says Collen, 59. "It's my favorite book store in the world. You can get any book."
Of Portland, where he has played many times throughout the years of mega-hit albums "High and Dry" and "Pyromania" and "Hysteria," Collen says "it's charming." Remember, Def Leppard has played in many big cities in the world.
One time he awoke and went to a spiritual meeting in India. Another time he awoke and visited pyramids in Mexico.
He adds: "Every city has a pulse. I like going places, soaking up the local culture. Every place has a different vibe. Portland has a good vibe, especially downtown."
The Def Leppard members — lead singer Joe Elliott, bass guitarist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen, guitarist Vivian Campbell and Collen, a quintet since 1992 — have their own side projects, and the legendary British band hasn't produced new music in some time (although it's working on new music). But they can't pass up opportunities to tour and play before big crowds singing along to "Bringing on the Heartbreak," "Photograph," "Rock of Ages," "Love Bites" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me."
Playing for Def Leppard, even after all these years, is a labor of love.
"It's like a dream job," Collen says. "People say it must be tough. When I left school and worked in a factory, that was hard.
"The travel can wear on you ... But what's the alternative for us? We don't want to go back to work in factories."
To be together so long, albeit with breaks, speaks to the harmony in the band. It's like family.
"We've spent longer together than any blood relatives," Collen says. "I've spent more time with Joe than with my mum. We've been through births, deaths, divorces, parents dying, children being born. It strengthens you. You become unique. The intellect sharpens as you get older."
The band is playing as tightly as ever, not resting on laurels, he says. Elliott is singing well. Audiences are aging, too, but it never gets old bringing back memories with big hits.
What era does Collen remember fondly?
"With 'Hysteria,' we actually nailed the hybrid between rock and top 40, that was our biggest achievement," he says. "It sold 25 million albums. It was the peak of our career, artistically as well. (Producer) Mutt Lange made that happen."
Not heavy metal, but not soft rock, Def Leppard unfairly earned the label of glam metal, which the members never liked.
"Our big thing was making records and songs and music that we'd try to make last," Collen says. "All our substance and energy went into that.
"A bunch of bands copied us."
A lot of mature rockers change their ways, because hard living doesn't last. Collen is a vegan who trains in kick boxing and does many other active things. He proudly plays guitar with his shirt off these days, showing off an impressive physique.
As for side projects, he recently produced Tesla's new album — Def Leppard is touring with Tesla and Poison, both also sporting original members — and his side band Delta Deep has a new song coming out this week.
He also says new Def Leppard material is in the works, and they'll continue to tour.
"We'll be doing a big South America tour at the end of the year," he says. "We got so much going on. We're starting to write new stuff.
"There'll be new music next year; might not be a full album's worth, but it'll be new."
That's music to the ears of Def Leppard fans.
Def Leppard, along with Poison and Tesla, play the Moda Center, 7 p.m. Saturday, June 10. Tickets are $29-$345; parking is $20. For more: www.rosequarter.com.