Def Leppard will hit the road this week for the start of their Summer Stadium Tour with Journey. They'll come armed with new music in the form of their latest single, "Just Like '73."

Guitarist Phil Collen says fans should expect further surprises: "We changed the whole set," he tells UCR. "The stage show is drastically different."

Def Leppard has been rehearsing this week in St. Louis in advance of the official start of the tour on Saturday night (July 6). "It's going to take a lot of energy. There's going to be a lot of running around," Collen explained. "So I'm working out, trying to get the stamina up. Vocally, too. I'm having to sing every single day."

In the conversation below, he spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock Nights host Matt Wardlaw about the new song, while also discussing David Bowie and memories of past encounters with Journey.

The band recently released a new song, "Just Like '73." How did that one come together?
It actually came about while we were doing Diamond Star Halos. We didn’t finish it off in time, or it would have been in there. I originally had the idea to make this drum loop, with a really aggressive chanting thing, like Slade, basically. I had the chorus and was writing with my friend Dave Bassett, who I wrote “Kick” with. [We thought] Joe [Elliott] would be perfect writing the lyrics for the verse, so I called him up and that same day, lyrics came in. We went back and forth, but just didn’t get it finished in time. So the album came out, we went on tour and then Drastic Symphonies also came out. We finally had a little break and that’s when we finished it off.

"Just Like '73" features a guitar solo from Tom Morello. I know there's mutual admiration there between him and the band.
You know, I love Rage [Against the Machine]. I love the hybrid thing. It was rap, it was metal. It had a really funky groove. That was the main thing about it. A lot of rock bands can’t do that. They had a real special thing to them, the Rage stuff. I was over the moon when I found out [he was doing the solo].

Watch Def Leppard's Video For 'Just Like '73'

I appreciate that you guys always try to have new music if you're going to go out on the road.
We absolutely do. We’re deathly afraid of – not that we’d ever do this – becoming a nostalgia act. That’s the thing that drives us. We still have brand new ideas and new blood, which is new music all of the time.

READ MORE: How a 'Drunken Rampage' Helped Def Leppard Score a Massive Hit

In the press materials regarding "Just Like '73," you talked about seeing David Bowie on TV in 1972 and 1973. What was it about Bowie's music for you?
I’d just been to my first concert, which was Deep Purple in 1972 on the Machine Head tour. So, “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” all of that. Literally, the next year, I saw Bowie on TV. It was just mind-blowing. I was a sponge, obviously. Being from London, you know, we get exposed to so much great stuff. A lot of American soul, reggae from Jamaica and stuff like that. All of this stuff really made a difference. By the time I saw Bowie, he was doing something very different. It wasn’t just the look of it, it was the songs. Wonderful songs. They were big guitar songs. Mick Ronson was amazing. All of it was just at the right time as I was getting into music. It was the right time, basically.

How did you finally get to see Bowie live?
It was cool, my mum and dad drove me and my friend, Martin Blackman. Aladdin Sane had just come out and they were still doing the Ziggy Stardust tour. I think they waited outside for like two and a half hours. We went in and it was mind-blowing. Mom and Dad drove us home. I was 15 at that point.

You grew up at the right time, being exposed to guitarists like Ritchie Blackmore and Mick Ronson.
Absolutely. Other stuff as well. I got to see Joe Pass at Ronnie Scott’s, which is about as big as this car – it’s a little club. I saw Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass at the Royal Festival Hall, where we ended up [later] doing a Q&A for the Def Leppard book [in 2023]. So yeah, it’s full circle. But you remember the moments that you kind of get exposed to this amazing stuff and how mind-blowing it actually is.

Later, you did the Cybernauts, the Bowie tribute project with Joe and actually got to play with Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey from Bowie's Ziggy Stardust era.
It was amazing, as you can imagine. When I saw the [Bowie] show at Earl’s Court, they were playing [with David]. I went and got my Aladdin Sane album and had them sign it, which I’ve never done in my life, so that was really cool. Playing them was incredible. We did a tour of Japan, England and everything. You know, Trevor, we lost him later to cancer, unfortunately. But it was a lovely experience [working with them].

Did you get a different perspective on any of the music playing it with them?
No, we just went with it. But the biggest thrill for me was “Moonage Daydream,” because it’s got a huge solo. I actually got to play that. I was Ian Hunter’s guitar player when he did the Hammersmith Odeon tribute to Mick Ronson. We all got together and played the Cybernauts stuff then for the first time. We didn’t know it [was going to be a band], but that’s when we got together. It was a total thrill.

Listen to the Cybernauts Perform 'Moonage Daydream'

You're about to launch the Summer Stadium Tour with Journey. What do you appreciate about Neal Schon as a guitar player?
It’s the melody thing, within the confines of a great song. That’s pretty much everything. Any musician can ruin a great song by not listening to the structure and the melody and the singer. The singer is narrating it. So back on those records, Steve Perry had this magical voice that’s just incredible. You want to highlight that and enhance it. Neal did that with his guitar playing. There’s parameters that you have to stay in and obviously, if you’re co-writing the song, you’re going to do that. I do it all of the time. You want to make the singer, the narrator, the king, basically – because that’s what’s putting you forward. You don’t want to trip up the rhythm or trip up the melody. You want to enhance it and make it sound even more beautiful. Neal does that and that’s the best compliment anyone could give, I think. But he absolutely does that with those songs.

READ MORE: Def Leppard, Journey and Steve Miller Band Announce Summer 2024 Tour

I always think about the early days when Journey toured with Steve Perry. They were sharing the bill with bands like Van Halen in 1978. Did you get to see Journey back then?
Unfortunately, I didn’t see them back then. I saw them in 1983. They were headlining and we went to see them in Lexington, Kentucky. We were on the Pyromania tour. Bryan Adams was the opening act and it was just insane. I did see Van Halen on their first British headlining tour. Again, it was just mind-blowing. I got to meet Eddie [Van Halen] and Dave [David Lee Roth]. I was in my band, Girl, back then. They were great. So cool. I was just hanging out with them backstage. No one knew our band, but they were just ultra-cool.

Girl got to play a few shows with Ozzy Osbourne. What's a good memory from that period?
We had this dinner, which ended up being an end of tour party. It was in this really swanky restaurant in London. It turned into a food fight. It was Ozzy and Randy Rhoads, all of the guys from Girl, everyone from Ozzy’s band. It was so much fun. It totally got out of hand. I remember Rudy Sarzo going, “Oh my God, this is so rock and roll!” [Laughs] But no one got hurt. There was no violence or weird things, but it did end up in a massive food fight that was pretty hilarious. Probably very expensive.

Tell me about the preparations for this new tour. I know the word is you're going to have some extra Pyromania songs in the set.
We changed the whole set. You know, there’s a whole screen [production] and we’ve been using pretty much the same stuff for like 12 years. So we’ve changed it completely. The stage show is drastically different. It’s going to take a lot of energy. There’s going to be a lot of running around. So I’m working out, trying to get the stamina up and all of that. Vocally, too. You know, I’m having to sing every single day. We did rehearse in L.A. for a two week period and finished with a SiriusXM gig. Production rehearsals in St. Louis will lead up to the first gig.

Watch Def Leppard Perform 'Rock of Ages' Live

2024 Summer Rock Tours

Many of rock’s biggest artists will hit the road for performances once more in 2024.

Gallery Credit: Corey Irwin

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