December 8, 2005, 11 years ago

By Mitch Lafon

vivian campbell feature

Longtime Def Leppard guitarist, Vivian Campbell, recently released a solo album, Two Sides Of If, via Sanctuary music. BW&BK; caught up with the guitarist on the last leg of the band’s summer/fall tour to get his thoughts.

BW&BK;: Tell me about Two Sides Of If.

Vivian Campbell: “It was exciting to do. Hopefully, it won’t be buried by the record company.”

BW&BK;: You had another side-project called Clock. How is this different and will both projects co-exist?

VC: “Well, Clock was never pursued because we never had record deal. We recorded some demos, but it was just for the fun of it. It’s on the net and sort of exists as a peer-to-peer fan thing, but it’s not currently an active project and never really was. It was just something to do and it was great fun. As much as I’d like to, I don’t think we’ll do that again. Musically, it was totally different. It was power pop and I managed to fuse my guitar into it somehow. In the Clock thing, I was singing maybe 30 or 40% of the material. I wasn’t the only singer and this (Two Sides Of If) is obviously a more straight forward blues thing.”

BW&BK;: How did you get around to the blues? Dio, Whitesnake, Def Leppard – none are blues bands...

VC: “That’s where I trace the origins of my playing. You can argue that every rock guitarist owes an allegiance to Muddy Waters. I absolutely believe that’s true. The first album I ever had was Live In Europe by Rory Gallagher and my first concert in Belfast was Rory. He was more the rock side of blues, but he’s a blues man. I sat down with all his records and that’s where I learnt my first real lead guitar licks. So, my playing is a lot more blues-based than technical. A lot of my contemporaries in the ‘80s played from a technical point of view. They learnt the technique, but I taught myself.”

BW&BK;: No lessons ever?

VC: “Well, when I was a kid a couple of people showed me a D chord or whatever, but every lick I play I had to learn by listening to a record and figuring it out. Consequently, I play with a lot of bad habits. Technically, I’ve never really advanced and it got very frustrating for me in the ‘80s ‘cause I was in the hard rock/metal genre where technique was glorified. I was frustrated that I couldn’t play like Paul Gilbert and Yngwie Malmsteen... to articulate and alternate pick. I was spinning my wheels. In hindsight, I’m very glad that I couldn’t because as a guitar player it’s much more of an interest to me to make something out of less than out of more. That’s why with the blues it’s been a good experiment to look backwards. As a guitar player with the blues, you’re looking for an economy of notes. You’re looking for that one great note that expresses a feeling as opposed to being a guitar player in the hard rock genre where you just go to your standard licks. It’s like here’s a solo in A so play all your widdly licks in A. It works, but next time out what do you do? Do them backwards or what? It’s been very educational for me to go back to find where my guitar heroes learnt their trade from. Listening to Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers from the Chicago blues era of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and you hear note for note – Eric Clapton guitar licks, Jeff Beck licks, Jimmy Page licks and where they came from. Muddy and Jimmy were the first two guys to really make it electric. The real guitar aspect of it started in Chicago when they electrified it and we, as electric rock guitar players, take it all from. Clapton, Page and whatnot in the ‘60s and ‘70s made it something we would learn, but they learnt from those guys. Vocally, for me, the blues fits that gravel I have to my voice. When I met my wife 20 years ago, she was really into the blues and she told me all those years ago that I should make a blues record, but I never listened to her. As a guitar player and a singer it’s a good genre for me. It’s a good vehicle that suits my voice and it suits my playing and the two can co-exist. I don’t have the pipes to sing rock and I couldn’t sing on top of a big hairy band like Def Leppard. I’ve always loved pop which is why I got into the Clock thing. I love melody and I love the structure and simplicity of pop music, but as a guitar player it’s really awkward. It’s like a square peg in a round hole. It’s hard for me to fit what I do as a guitar player into the pop genre, so the blues genre was perfect for me. Having said that, it’s not the only kind of music I listen to, but it’s certainly what I listened to for a year before making this record.”

BW&BK;: Is the record a one-off?

VC: “Yeah, as far as I’m concerned. I have no plans to take it further.”

BW&BK;: Will you do other solo albums?

VC: “I might, but it depends on how this one is accepted. It cost me a lot of money to do this one. It’s really a labour of love.”

BW&BK;: The album was recorded over three days last April and you mentioned that the blues was about ‘less is more’ – How was it as a recording experience. After all, Def Leppard’s philosophy seems to be ‘more is more’...

VC: “Well, that was another reason for doing it. It was the total opposite of how Leppard makes a record and as such it was very refreshing. Ask any guy in Def Leppard, I’m the one that hates being in the studio making Def Leppard records. I believe in the magic of the first take and that really doesn’t gel with the Def Leppard philosophy. We, as a band (Def Leppard), are getting more towards that and we’re becoming more open to accepting the possibility that the first two or three takes might actually be the best as opposed to trying to beat it out.”

BW&BK;: As a Def Leppard fan, I hope that you go with that philosophy. I like the rawness of... an early Sabbath – where they set up in a studio and nine hours later an album is done.

VC: “Absolutely! That’s absolutely the way to make records.”

BW&BK;: Rock is supposed to be about warts and mistakes and edginess...

VC: “Obviously, that’s where every band starts. You don’t all go into the studio with Mutt Lange producing your first demo, but Mutt pioneered this way of recording that Def Leppard took to its zenith. It was OK and appropriate then, but it’s not always appropriate. We’re a great great live band and I think the guys in the band finally realize that and realize that’s there’s a great dynamic when we play the songs live. We’re actually trying to write songs now while we’re on the road for our next studio album and we can cut some of the tracks, at least, in a live environment and capture some of that energy. I’m not saying that Joe will do a live lead vocal... we’ll still go in and tinker and I don’t think Def Leppard will ever make a live-in-the-studio record, but we’re definitely heading towards that. Each successive record that we’ve made has been a little bit more like that especially the Slang record where we actually cut some of the tracks live with acoustic drums. That was a real departure from the traditional ‘Leppard thing.’ Def Leppard also has a covers record coming out next spring (April 2006)...”

BW&BK;: Don’t you think the covers record lends itself to a more live-on-the-floor recording?

VC: “Well, it did and that’s how we made that record. Making the covers record was the quickest record the band has ever made. We actually put a bunch of the stuff together in real time in the studio. We were inspired by the energy that translated into the recording by doing that. We were not only inspired by the method of recording, but also by the songs and the style of music – short, don’t bore us, get to the chorus three minute pop songs. We’ll probably bear a lot of that in mind for the next studio record and get away from the bombast and ballads and shit. It was us going back to the roots of when we were literally children and that first turned us onto music which was the glam rock era. Before I had my Rory Gallagher album, I had a Marc Bolan single. Bolan was my first real exposure to music. That’s what made me know that I wanted to play guitar.”

BW&BK;: Joe, in a previous interview, mentioned that everybody had recorded a vocal track for the covers album – as b-sides or bonus tracks and that you had done two tracks, but weren’t sure if you were going to sing lead or not...

VC: “Well, yeah, but Joe is the singer in Def Leppard. I do a certain thing when it comes to my vocals and rock isn’t it.”

BW&BK;: I have to say I like your way of thinking. I like three minute raw pop songs – you should speak up more in the studio...

VC: “It’s been a long time coming and when a band has been successful with a certain formula it’s hard to change that, but I think everyone’s coming around. When Leppard were making those records with Mutt, computer recording technology didn’t exist and it was very labour-intensive to do that, but now it’s so fucking easy to make a record with ProTools. Anyone can apply that method of putting down 72 tracks of backing vocals and time correcting everything. So, I think that’s another good reason to look backwards and try that old school method of the sound of a band playing in a room and the energy that captures. On the blues record (Two Sides Of If), we did that. All we were looking for was the right take and the right take was not the technically perfect take, but it was the one where nobody flubbed up too bad and I remembered all the words. There’s an energy to that and Leppard’s not about to do that, but we can head in that direction. We can cut some of the tracks live and put Rick (Allen) back on acoustic drums for the most part and capture the sound of a room.”

BW&BK;: Let’s go back to your blues album and the recording process. Was it recorded in three days to catch a vibe?

VC: “I couldn’t afford anymore. Ideally, I would have had a week. It’s my first record and I was singing and playing in real time. There are moments on the record that are cringe-worthy where I bent a note too sharp here or sang flat there, but it was three days because the first day was set-up and nobody was rehearsed. The second day is where the bulk of the album comes from and the third day we only had till 7:30PM because another band was loading in. It was a mad panic, but I literally couldn’t afford any more. The only reason Terry Bozzio is on the record is because he’s a friend of mine. I certainly couldn’t afford to pay him.”

BW&BK;: Will you be touring in support of this album (Two Sides Of If)?

VC: “I have no plans, because it’s not financially viable. To take four or five guys on the road is expensive and it’s the blues... and I don’t want to pay for the privilege. Plus, I’ve been on the road most of this year with Leppard to go home for a week and go out on my own would be bus man’s holiday.”

BW&BK;: I’d like to ask you about comments I read that supposedly came from you – where you talked about Dio and Whitesnake and mentioned that heavy metal guitaring was over rated and that you don’t like the records you played on...

VC: “When I was a teenager, I was really only motivated by the guitar, the guitar lick, the guitar solo and the guitar sound. You get into playing rock and heavy metal because those are the genres that glorify the instrument. My first original band, Sweet Savage, sounded a lot like Metallica, but when I started playing with Dio I found Ronnie’s method... he was really into old school metal. This was the early ‘80s and there were a lot of younger bands coming up that actually had a sense of humour about themselves and Ronnie didn’t. He was very serious about his genre and stuff. I felt it was very constricting and because of having to work in the confines of that tightly defined genre; I became aware of music outside of the rock genre. That’s when I really started to appreciate singers. I remember being on Dio tours and going out and buying cassettes of Elvis, Aretha Franklin and Peter Gabriel, and just listening to a lot of vocal music, pop music, soul music and just getting my head out of the whole guitar thing. Plus, being in L.A. and all that was going on then, I was getting frustrated with the whole emphasis being solely on technique. Having said that I go back and listen to the early Dio records and it’s only now that I can appreciate what I was doing then. I didn’t have a lot of technique, but I had a lot of fire and I was willing to be inventive. I do believe what I did then is valid, but if you asked me at the time I didn’t believe it. Now that I’ve come through that, I’m glad to be working within my limitations as a player. It forces me to be more creative. But it was very frustrating because of the tight confines of the hard rock/heavy metal genre. The guitar was becoming like an Olympic sport. It was about cramming in the notes and it was losing that passion. For me, discovering other kinds of music and wanting to sing... Ronnie didn’t want me to sing. I wanted to do BVs (backing vocals) and he said Ritchie Blackmore didn’t sing and Tony Iommi didn’t sing and that guitar heroes don’t sing. They play guitar, so he didn’t encourage me at all. When I was with Whitesnake, David Coverdale taught me a lot and that’s when I started taking vocal lessons. But it was a situation I never really was at home with. It wasn’t a band, Whitesnake was as it still is today – a revolving door of musicians. We had a successful couple of years, but I didn’t have a future with that band. So, I got edged out and that was OK. I recorded one guitar solo on a track that I had nothing to do with, so it’s not like I got creatively involved and it’s when I realized that I couldn’t... That door was firmly shut and that’s when I decided I had to leave. People can’t look at me and say I was part of Whitesnake; I was never part of Whitesnake. I was the guitar player in a touring band playing songs I had nothing to do with.”

BW&BK;: Any idea when the next Leppard studio (not covers) album will be out?

VC: “I don’t know. We won’t even be able to start recording that until probably this time next year (fall 2006). So, I don’t see it before ’07. It’s determined by the songwriting process because we write and re-write and it’s constantly morphing. It’s not the actual recording that takes time. We’ve never tried to write and demo on the road, but we realized we have to because it’s been so long since our last studio record.”

BW&BK;: Is it hard to write on the road?

VC: “Yeah, because it’s hard to be motivated. We do soundchecks and interviews and there’s a lot of travel. It’s very tiring and it’s hard to get into that creative space. When you get a day off, you want to go to the gym or sleep, so it definitely requires an effort, but it’s not impossible.”

BW&BK;: My time is up... anything we need to plug?

VC: “I launched my record and I launched my website: . I keep it fresh and updated as much as I can.”

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