New music and new versions of its old hits are marking Def Leppard's recording plans these days.
With newly recorded "forgeries" of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Rock of Ages" now available, the quintet has begun a series of re-recordings of its catalog material and "wrestled control of our career back" from the Universal Music Group, which frontman Joe Elliott says the band refuses to deal with "until we come up with some kind of arrangement" over compensation, especially for digital downloads.
"When you're at loggerheads with an ex-record label who...is not prepared to pay you a fair amount of money and we have the right to say, 'Well, you're not doing it,' that's the way it's going to be," Elliott tells Billboard.com. "Our contract is such that they can't do anything with our music without our permission, not a thing. So we just sent them a letter saying, 'No matter what you want, you are going to get "no" as an answer, so don't ask.' That's the way we've left it. We'll just replace our back catalog with brand new, exact same versions of what we did."
While the business side seems cut and dried, Elliott says the creative part of recreating songs that date back 25 years or more is not. "You just don't go in and say, 'Hey guys, let's record it,' and it's done in three minutes," Elliott notes. "We had to study those songs, I mean down to the umpteenth degree of detail, and make complete forgeries of them. Time-wise it probably took as long to do as the originals, but because of the technology it actually got done quicker as we got going. But trying to find all those sounds...like where am I gonna find a 22-year-old voice? I had to sing myself into a certain throat shape to be able to sing that way again. It was really hard work, but it was challenging, and we did have a good laugh over it here and there."
The two new versions, meanwhile, got a "total thumbs-up" from one important quarter -- original producer Mutt Lange, via guitarist Phil Collen. "Phil sees Mutt a lot," Elliott says, "and he played him the re-records and (Lange) couldn't believe how brilliant they were. He was like, 'Wow guys, incredible job!' Phil was just raving about how much Mutt was raving about them."
The veteran band is one of the few mega-selling acts without the bulk of their catalog for sale digitally. None of its albums studio albums are currently available as downloads -- and haven't been in years.
So far, the 2012 re-recording of "Pour Some Sugar On Me" has sold 21,000 downloads in the U.S. according to Nielsen SoundScan. The "Rock of Ages" redux has moved 5,000.
Elliott says Def Leppard plans to re-record more of its older material after finishing its just-started Rock Of Ages tour with Poison and Lita Ford, which wraps in mid-September. The group hasn't decided what it will take on next, but Elliott predicts that "someone will pull a song out of the ether and the five of us will stand looking at each other and go, 'Yeah, why not?' If we're gonna do them, it really doesn't matter what order we do them in. It'll be something you've heard of, no doubt."
Meanwhile, Elliott promises that doing the "forgeries" hasn't dampened Def Leppard's desire to get some fresh music together. "We're constantly thinking about it," he says. "We're going to write on the road, and it'll likely be, 'Hey, I've got this idea for a song' and we'll play it around in the dressing room, and then when the tour's over we'll get together in short bursts and record a song or two, and then we'll start piecing stuff together." The group's last new music was three studio tracks on the live "Mirrorball" album, and Elliott says Def Leppard might also consider "just releasing a song or two and then put an album out when we've got 10 or 11 songs we've been releasing over time. But we'll see; we come from that old school that follows in the paths of the Eltons and McCartneys and Beatles and Stones and etc. You have this built-in thing that you should be making another album, but the world's moving on and going, 'You don't really need to.'"