It’s been eight years since Vivian Campbell and Vinny Appice formed the group Last In Line in tribute to their onetime bandmate, the late Ronnie James Dio. But now, Campbell says with a laugh, “If I had known back then we’d still be around and talking about our second album of original music, I’d never have named the band Last In Line.”
Last In Line is indeed coming with a new album, II — whose video for the opening track “Blackout The Sun” is premiering exclusively below — on Feb. 22. The follow-up to 2016’s Heavy Crown features a new bass player, Phil Soussan, in place of the late Jimmy Bain, and Campbell hopes it has an evolved sound from its predecessor.
“It really sounds like a band’s second album — one of the reasons why I elected to just simply call it II,” Campbell — who was part of the original Dio band with Appice and Bain from 1982-86 and played on its first three studio albums — tells Billboard. “It really sounds like a developing band. That Dio component is still there; We still have that crunch that Vinny and I have when we play together. But on (II) we’ve really created our own sound with the influence from Andrew (Freeman, singer) and now Phil, who’s a more ambitious bass player than Jimmy. We’ve created something that’s a little more unique and sounds more ambitious and adventurous than the Heavy Crown album.
“I’m well chuffed with it, I’ve got to say. There’s nothing about the record I would re-do. It came out great.”
Campbell says the first couple of songs that came along helped define the broader dynamic attack of II, which was again produced by Foreigner/Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson. “Blackout The Sun” was one; “It’s a very simple song, a very simple riff,” the guitarist notes. “It harkens back more to the classic Dio sound. It’s definitely a song I could’ve heard Ronnie doing.” “Landslide,” meanwhile, has a more contemporary flavor — still heavy but with an edgy riff and smoother dynamic.
“We pretty much added an extra dimension to every song on the album that I don’t think we dared to think about when we were doing Heavy Crown,” Campbell acknowledges. “I feel like we’re musically more adventurous, and a lot of that has to do with just the natural passage of time and that we’ve had a few years with Phil in the band and a bunch of live shows to really get to know each other musically and stretch out. We’ve kind of come into our own, which is what you want a band to do.”
Last In Line will be playing more of those shows, starting this week in Texas and going into the spring, in and out of Campbell’s schedule with Def Leppard. Last In Line will also be on the same bill as Leppard on June 14 at this year’s Download Festival in the U.K. “There’s still a bit of confusion, ’cause the band is named after a Dio album,” notes Campbell, who’s hoping to use graphics and other tools to re-brand Last In Line with its own identity, perhaps as LiL. “Obviously we’ve got two albums of original material, so we’ll be able to fit more of our own originals into the show and there’ll be less Dio classics — though that’s still very, very much the heritage of Vinny and I, and where the band grew from. We’ll still be playing Dio classics, but now we have more of our original material to fit in around it.”
Campbell says the relationship between Last In Line and the Dio camp is still frosty. “I saw Wendy Dio at (Bain’s) funeral and she kind of blanked me, and that’s to be expected,” Campbell notes. “There isn’t a lot there between us.” But the guitarist does voice support for the Dio hologram that’s being trotted out with the Dio Disciples band of subsequent alumni. “I’m not knocking that,” Campbell says. “It’s all entertainment. I understand there’s many, many people who never got to see Ronnie perform while he was alive, so that’s, I guess, as close as they’re gonna get. What they’re doing is keeping the legacy of Dio and the Dio band alive, and that’s a benefit to us in Last In Line. And what we’re doing is a benefit to them. It’s all part and parcel of the same thing.”
As for his “day job” with Def Leppard, Campbell plans to be busy with live performances in Europe and Canada, though a lighter schedule, certainly from 2018, will give him more time to focus on Last In Line. A red-letter day, however, comes March 29, when the group is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Brooklyn. Though not a fan of the Rock Hall before this, Campbell, who joined Def Leppard during 1992 to replace the late Steve Clark, says he’s excited about the prospect.
“I’m the ‘new guy’ — I’ve been in the band 27 years, and we’ve had some very, very lean years in those 27,” he says. “But we’ve worked really hard, and I’d say 30 or 40 percent of our audiences are now young enough to be our children, so we’ve really crossed that generational thing. That, and being in the Hall of Fame, sort of feels validating. It’s a good time to be in Def Leppard.”