You wouldn’t think that Joe Elliott’s band has sold over 100 million albums. Sheffield born and bred, Elliott, 63, is affable, good-humoured and great value for a chinwag – your typical Yorkshireman in every respect. His vast successes as the singer and co-founder of Sheffield hard-rock legends Def Leppard seemingly having no adverse effect on his salt-of-the-earth nature.

Leppard made their start in the late seventies sandwiched between the punk and New Wave of British Heavy Metal movements. Their sound identifiable by surging guitar riffs, chest-beating choruses and a keen sense of melody; way too much Steel City oomph for the hair metal label either.

It was the one-two of Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987) that catapulted them from British hopefuls to Transatlantic superstars. The latter has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, going 2x Platinum in the UK and a staggering 12x Platinum in the States. They released their 12th album Diamond Star Halos in 2022 and are set to tour the UK and Europe with Mötley Crüe from next month.

First up on the itinerary? Just the small matter of a blockbuster hometown show at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane stadium on May 22nd. Ahead of the tour – and the band’s upcoming orchestral album, Drastic Symphonies – Joe speaks to us from sunny Santiago, Chile (alright for some…) about his weekend habits, growing up in Sheffield, football, rock’s future and more.

What are your ties with Sheffield like these days? Do you get back much?

No, not at all. Sheffield is always gonna be my birth town, but we look back at this as part of the journey. With hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else because of the grounding of being in an industrial place post-WW2 that was moving into punk rock. All my mates are still there, I’m in touch with them every day. When I go back it’s mostly for weddings, christenings, funerals or gigs, and I still support Sheffield United. We got given Keys to the City and a star outside the town hall, so you embrace the love of the place you were born. I really wouldn’t have wanted to go to all those gigs at the Top Rank or the City Hall without my mates, and we talk about it all the time. I mean, Jesus Christ, Thin Lizzy for 60p!

The last time you spoke to us you said that Def Leppard don’t get enough respect from the press. Do you still feel that way?

Oh, no. That was then. And when I say the press, it depends what it is. We were getting love in all the wrong places, like 5-star reviews in the Mirror, the Mail and the Telegraph. We weren’t getting it in the rock mags. It’s like who did we piss off? But it seems to have turned around. I think there was a certain generation of journalists that thought we’d sold out to the American market, which is absolute bollocks. We weren’t the first band from the movement we got lobbed in to go to America, and we’d just finished a 47-date tour of England that went from Aberdeen all the way down to friggin’ Exeter. There was nowhere left to play. I didn’t see the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or even the Sex Pistols receive the same treatment, but for some reason we did.

You’re an avid footie fan and you recently did a TikTok video with Wrexham AFC owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney ahead of the FA Cup match with Sheffield United. Have you ever considered investing in the game yourself?

Absolutely not. If you’re a trillionaire or a billionaire, which I’m not by a long way, you can do it. They kind of hung the carrot in front of me when Dave Bassett was manager around ’89. It was talked about in the corridors when I was at a game, but it never really got any further than that. The closest I got to adding to their coffers is spending three grand on a stretching table that got Brian Deane [former Sheffield United striker] back on the pitch six weeks sooner! They couldn’t afford to buy it, so I did, and I think they named a room after me for a couple of seasons. But no, not now. I’m not a big enough fish. There’s nothing I could give them that wouldn’t ruin my life. It would be a drop in the ocean.

It’s quite common for bands of Leppard’s vintage to do away with new music in favour of residencies and greatest hits tours. Not only have you recently put out another album, but it was also very well received. Is there still a thirst for creativity in the band?

There’s always a thirst for creativity but we’ve done both. We’ve done greatest hits tours when we haven’t had a new record out, but it was never gonna be that for the rest of our lives. For the new album, we’d dabbled with remote recording in the past, but it was challenging to do an entire record that way. We were due to get together in my studio in Dublin in March 2020 but went into lockdown the day we were supposed to fly.

In our own little bubble, we just got on and made the best of it. Everyone got to do their parts whenever and wherever they wanted. We were spending time with our families, watching Netflix or putting on a Hazmat suit to go to Tesco, but we were also creating music. It helps immensely to have five guys on the same page. We didn’t have to deliver the record in six weeks’ time, which most bands have always had to. Unless they have a big fight with the record company and say ‘f**k off, you’ll get the record when it’s done!’ That’s when you get Rumours, Hotel California or A Night at the Opera.

Among others, Queen, Elton John and your current tourmates Mötley Crüe have all been the subject of big screen biopics in recent years. Is there a Def Leppard story to be told in that format?

There’s always something being discussed, but let’s not forget there was an MTV movie in 1999 that was f**king awful! It was low-budget, badly researched, and I had to intervene at one stage to say ‘you can’t put Phil in the band while we’re doing High ‘n’ Dry’. We’d get slaughtered by our fans. Anything that happens from here on will be a hell of a lot more accurate. There is a story to tell, but the only problem is from a media perspective it’s just about two big things: Rick’s arm and Steve’s death. After that, there isn’t much that would surprise anyone.

I can walk down the street in a Def Leppard shirt on show day and no one knows who I am! We’d have to pull out a lot of truths that were never told to make it interesting.

You recently collaborated with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on new, re-imagined versions of the band’s most popular songs. What was it like working on Drastic Symphonies?

It wasn’t ever on my bucket list, and I know we’re far from the first band to do it, but it was special. We’ve done so many things outside of the norm, like working with Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Alison Krauss. This felt like the logical next step, but we wanted to get involved. Not just hand over the tapes and say ‘go on, slap some strings on this’. We’d done a lot of work for this before the orchestra was done. I rerecorded some of the vocals and we changed things. We went down to Abbey Road to watch the orchestra recording from the balcony, and it felt really good seeing what they did to our art.

Is it a project that live audiences might see?

Not anytime soon, but we’ve never done a gig with an orchestra. And if you’re gonna do it, you don’t wanna just do it once. A tour or a residency is something we could be looking at in 2024. But one thing at a time!

To add to the ongoing discourse about rock’s future, where do you see the genre’s next household names coming from?

Rock was always dead until it came back. But bands like us, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, we had MTV. Nowadays kids just shove their headphones on, not talking to their parents or their mates. It’s a very insular world. Which is why I think playing live has become very important because people have to rub shoulders.

These days you get a top 10 album and the next week it’s gone, there’s no build. Hysteria took 49 weeks to reach number 1 in America. That will never happen again because the industry has changed, but our streaming figures are up there with the Beatles and the Stones.

There’s something about familiarity or a respect for our generation. Some of these new bands write great songs and they’re going about it the right way, but they aren’t getting the chance. I don’t think it’s their fault, and that’s the scary bit. Even scarier is that Def Leppard started in ’77 and we’re still talking about us in 2023. Are we still gonna be talking about these newer bands in 2065?

But at the end of the day, without sounding like a selfish t**t, I’m all about us. The only thing I’m really concerned about is furthering our band. We’re a team and we’re doing well. Just have a sense of humour and don’t be afraid to sell yourself!

Def Leppard tour the UK and Europe with Mötley Crüe from May 22 – July 6.
The band’s new album Drastic Symphonies is released on May 19 via Mercury Records.

Joe Elliott’s weekend

Are you an early riser or do you prefer a lie-in?

Both! I’m forced to be an early riser when I’m not on the road because I’ve got three kids. I can be up anywhere between 7:30 and 8, but should I not be needed, it’s closer to 9, 9:30 for my cup of tea.

What’s on your weekend menu? Do you cook or dine out?

I do neither at the weekend. Most of the time I don’t go out – as I said, three kids! But we tend to go out for lunch and take them with us. Otherwise, my wife does all the cooking, because I’m useless in the kitchen.

On a Saturday, where will we find you?

To be honest, mostly sat watching Jeff [Stelling] and the panel on Sky Sports News. Following the football or watching a game. If there’s no football on, I don’t know what I’d do. Tear my hair out?

What are you watching/reading/listening to at the moment?

I’m listening to the audiobook of Surrender by Bono, which is a fascinating read. He’s such a fantastic narrator. This is gonna sound a bit pretentious, but there are a lot of similarities between what U2 and Def Leppard did, purely because of the time. Growing up through punk, signing our first record deals in the late seventies, hitting success in the mid-eighties, and still around doing it now. Obviously, their story is insanely different to ours, but in the same sense, there are parallels. It’s a fantastic book.

With regards to what I’m watching, I’ve just finished the third and final season of Designated Survivor. And I’m currently watching Tehran for the second time, which is like Homeland on steroids. It’s brilliant. I like this kind of espionage drama.

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