Def Leppard

We Talked With Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen Before the Band Plays Summerfest

Def Leppard will perform at Summerfest July 4 as part of a co-bill with Journey. Guitarist Phil Collen talked about his life in and out of Def Leppard.

Phil Collen has been very busy the past year, to say the least. He already visited Milwaukee once earlier this year with his band Delta Deep as part of Joe Satriani’s G3 Tour. Now, he’s ready to go back to his main gig as guitarist for Def Leppard, the band he’s been part of for nearly 40 years. His guitar licks can be found all over many of the band’s hits, such as “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Prior to Def Leppard’s July 4 Summerfest performance at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, Collen caught up with Milwaukee Magazine to discuss the bond he has with his bandmates and how his side projects help him to grow musically.

Read our interview with Jonathan Cain of Journey here.

You’ve had a very busy year leading up to this tour.

[Joe Satriani’s G3 Tour] was an amazing experience for me. I was in Milwaukee earlier this year for G3 [with my band Delta Deep]. That was great. The river was frozen over, so it’ll be a lot different when we get out there for the [Summerfest] show.

Joe Satriani and John Petrucci are amazing guitar players and musicians. I had the best time on that tour. We each did a set and we’d get together at the end and have a big jam together. We would do three songs. We did “Highway Star” and “Superstition.

How does that experience with G3 and Delta Deep translate to Def Leppard?

The more experience you get from playing and more diverse the experiences are, the better you are in your regular life. You just get more ideas all the time. You’re constantly getting more inspired. It’s a great way to live life. The more you bring in, the more you put out, basically. If you’re a songwriter and writing different styles of music because you appreciate all these different kinds of things, you won’t get writer’s block or anything. You’ll just be more inspired all the time, really.

What’s your favorite pre-show ritual?

I just work out for about ten minutes, like hardcore pushups and stuff like that. And we all do vocal warmups. In Def Leppard we probably do that for an hour. It just makes the singing so much better when you get to the show. You find if you don’t do that you find that, you struggle a little bit.

How did this tour with Journey come about?

We toured with them in 2006 and we had such a great time that we promised we’d do it again. This is the first opportunity that we had to do this and get both bands together. We’re thrilled. It’s going amazing.

What do you enjoy about getting to tour with Journey so far?

They have so many hits that are such great songs. They’re so amazing as a band. You’re leaving the arena and singing the songs still. And we have lots of hits as well.  And both bands do the songs really well. You don’t get a bad version.

Last year the band celebrated the 30th anniversary of Hysteria. What song has taken on the most meaning for you?

“Poor Some Sugar on Me.” Everyone in the world knows that song whenever you play that. I walked into a sneaker store recently and it came on the radio. It’s just all over the place. That one has a life of its own, really.

The band’s music is now on streaming services after a long delay. What does that mean to you that the music is out there in that form?

It just means that there’s a whole new audience that we weren’t reaching before. They can access it on their telephones or iPads or whatever they’ve got. It’s getting our music to even more people. That’s a really good thing for us.

After this tour, are there any plans in the works, like new music?

Yeah, we already started that last year. We’re constantly writing songs and already started recording them as well. I bring my laptop on tour and we can record straight onto that. That’s how we’ve been doing music the past few years. So, we’ve started the new album. We do it as we go along.

How do you think the band keeps things interesting after all these years?

We’re real big fans of what we do. We’re excited and appreciate everyone still likes us. And we work really hard. If you’ve got all those elements in place, you keep working and keep getting all these new opportunities. We’ve got great people around us in management and crew and the whole tour. It’s like a family, as I said. Everyone works really well together and that’s really important.

Do you have any plans for your Milwaukee visit besides the show?

I usually like strolling down by the river there. That’s really nice. If I get a bit of time I’m sure I’ll do that.

Go See It: Def Leppard with Journey at Summerfest: American Family Insurance Amphitheater, July 4, 7:30 p.m.



Joshua Miller covers music and culture for Milwaukee Magazine. He also writes for various other outlets in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago. You can follow him at @JoshuaMMillerWI.