An album with a title like “Songs From the Sparkle Lounge” begs the question: what’s a Sparkle Lounge?
According to Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott, it was a special room with recording equipment set up backstage at each of the group’s 2007 shows. He says as time went on, “the crew started having a bit of fun with it, putting in sparkly lights, candles, incense — you name it. It turned into this very atmospheric little work space.”
The Sparkle Lounge was the incubator for the songs on the group’s new album — its 14th studio effort and first of all-new material since 2002’s “X.” Final recording was done at Elliott’s Joe’s Garage studio in Dublin.
Most of the 11 tracks — including first single “Nine Lives,” a collaboration with Tim McGraw that is being played on NBA telecasts — recall a vintage Def Leppard sound, which Elliott says was not an accident.
“Sparkle Lounge” sounds like a kind of default Def Leppard album, something that’s almost “easy” for the band to make.
Joe Elliott: Well, yeah, I suppose that’s one way of putting it. There was a thought process behind it that we wanted to deliver a specific kind of record, but that specific kind of record was, if you like, a non-specific kind of record. We weren’t going to try to theme it to the point of “Pyromania,” where it’s got a drum sound that was definitive in 1983 … [or] “Hysteria,” when we had a definite, like, overall ’80s sound.
With this one it was a case of, “Let’s just hone in on the songwriting and we’ll use 2008 production techniques, if you like, to make it sound more like a ’70s record.” It sounds very complicated, but it actually wasn’t.
Did doing a covers album [2005’s “Yeah”] before this have any impact on “Sparkle Lounge?”
I think a lot of it [i]is[/i] overspill from the “Yeah” album. When we went in to do the covers record we didn’t have to worry at all about one word or one note from a writing point of view; all we did was … record these songs that made us all, [at] the age of 10 or 11 or 12, plead for our first guitar.
So then when it came to this one it was a case of, “Alright, let’s try to sit down and write some songs that, if we were out buying records, they would be the kinds of songs we [would] want to buy.” So we all just sat down and wrote what we thought were meaningful songs.
Was the Sparkle Lounge on the road a place where songs were written or did you already have the ideas?
Well, we’re notoriously terrible at writing on the road. We just can’t do it. You can’t write a song like you can build a cabinet; the best idea is you lock yourself away in a room and you just do it, and it might take three or four days until it comes to a natural ending. What we did with [the Sparkle Lounge] was we took a lot of songs that were already half-written and it was a lot easier. We’d go in and really work on these songs, and by the time we started recording them we knew them really well and there was not that much of a learning process because…. So it was probably the best recording situation for new music we’ve ever had.
How did the Tim McGraw collaboration happen on “Nine Lives?”
I’ll try to make a long story short. (laughs) Sav’s [bassist Rick Savage’s] brother Robert is Tim’s tour manager. We’ve kind of known Tim and Faith Hill are huge Leppard fans and have been for many years. When we played the Hollywood Bowl in 2006, Tim happened to be in L.A., so we invited him down; it was one of those, “Hey, man, you want to get up and do something?” So we did “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” which went down really well.
We had a good laugh that night and lo and behold, when we came through Nashville just a short while later, he came down to soundcheck and we ended up in the Sparkle Lounge, and that’s where the song was conceived.
And now everybody thinks Def Leppard is going country!
(laughs) People have been bringing that question up: “You guys have gone country?” “No! Tim went rock!” And truth be known, that’s really what he did. If you listen to the record, he goes off on his own kind of twangy tangent for the beginning part, but after that, even me and him could barely distinguish one from another…. So he really stepped up to the plate in the rock sense.
What kind of commercial pressure do you feel when you put out a new Def Leppard album now?
The commercial pressure actually comes after we’ve delivered a record. The fact of the matter is we don’t allow anybody anywhere near us when we’re making records — it’s what I call the Roger Waters syndrome; nobody’s going to tell Roger Waters how to make a Pink Floyd album, and rightfully so. Same thing with us…. I know some people might think that someone shoved Tim McGraw in our face, but it wasn’t like that at all. That was something we chose to do, and it caused a certain ripple in the media.
Who is the Def Leppard audience these days?
I think logic would say it’s a continuation of the audience we’ve always had. But having said that, and without wanting to extend a cliche ’cause I’m sure you hear from every band our age that “our audience seems to be getting younger” — it really is in our case! (laughs) At the last few shows, even the casino gig we did, there were, like, 10-year-old kids, albeit with their parents.
I just think anybody that likes a great commercial pop-rock song, or a rock song, is potentially a Leppard fan.
We just have to get them on board, and in this day and age it’s very hard. There’s no MTV anymore. There’s none of that kind of stuff. So getting the NBA to play our song for [telecasts] is great for a band like us. It’s a little bit like the Who being on the “CSI” shows or when [Led] Zeppelin got the Cadillac ads. It’s an extra bit that helps get the point across that we’re still around and still good at doing it.