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Fight fire with ‘Pyromania’: Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell dishes on upcoming tour with Kiss

By Doug Fox - | Jun 18, 2014


Def Leppard kicks off a national co-headlining tour with Kiss on Monday in Salt Lake City.

When it comes to sheer spectacles, British rockers Def Leppard recognize that trying to outdo Kiss on their national co-headlining tour — which kicks off Monday at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City — would be about as wise as taking a Bic lighter to a flamethrower fight.

Kiss recently made news with an acrimonious induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the makeup-clad rockers have made headlines throughout their career for over-the-top live theatrics, costumes and pyrotechnics that have certainly overshadowed the band’s music to some degree.

“We proudly spit fire,” said Kiss bassist Gene Simmons in a press conference that announced this summer’s tour pairing with Def Leppard. “We proudly fly through the air. We proudly blow stuff up.”

So when the lads in Def Leppard agreed to join forces and tour with Kiss, they recognized right off that trying to match their American compatriots fireball with fireball would be futile.

“I mean our show is, you know, pretty high-energy music and we’ve always had a bit of a production value to our show,” said Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home on Friday, “but even at our strongest, we couldn’t compete with that so we’ve decided not to bother.”

Campbell — who before joining Def Leppard in 1992 was well known for his work with Ronnie James Dio and Whitesnake — was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year. He is still battling the disease with a new high-tech chemo treatment, and plans to receive a stem-cell transplant after the tour ends in September.

Through it all, Campbell has maintained his sense of humor — “At least I have health insurance,” he joked — and said he considers being on stage the best form of therapy he could imagine.

“There’s nothing worse than sitting around the house concentrating on the negative,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed my work, and I’ve always felt very fortunate to be able to do what I love. I am well up for the summer tour indeed.”

Monday’s show is set to begin at 7 p.m. with an opening set by Kobra and the Lotus. Def Leppard and then Kiss will close out the evening.

This story and a portion of my interview with Campbell is running today in the Daily Herald — but here is the full interview.


Vivian Campbell, left, and Phil Collen are responsible for Def Leppard’s layered two-guitar sound.

VIVIAN CAMPBELL: Hey, Doug, how’s it going?

DOUG FOX: Hey, Vivian, how are you doing today?

CAMPBELL: I am very well thank you.

DF: It’s a pleasure to talk with you again. … Where are you calling from today, where am I reaching you?

CAMPBELL: I am at home in Los Angeles.

DF: What part of L.A. do you live? I grew up in La Crescenta. Anywhere around there.

CAMPBELL: I’m kind of familiar with the La Canada area because one of my daughters went to school out there for a couple years. La Crescenta not so much. I actually live in the Hollywood/Los Feliz area. I hate this city. I can’t wait to leave it. The only reason I’m here now is because of my kids, you know? I never intended to stay in L.A. It’s one of those things you kind of just fall into it and before you know it you’re married and have children — then you’re screwed, you can’t leave.

DF: Well, how long have you lived there?

CAMPBELL: I came over here in 1982, late 1982 with Ronnie Dio to do the album “Holy Diver.” I auditioned in London for Dio, they flew me here, and I came over in October of ’82, and we started writing and recording that record. I was sort of homeless for a few years during the Dio years. I lived in various L.A. apartments and such, but mostly we were on the road. And I kind of still consider my parental home outside of Belfast to be the main base, and eventually I met my wife here, and she’s from L.A. — we’re divorced now, but at the time, her family was here and born and raised in L.A., so I ended up just kind of living here, you know? So from about ’85 or ’86 onwards I was a resident. I’ve had more than enough, and I can’t wait to leave. I do like California, though, but L.A. …

DF: No, I fully understand the feeling. I really love when I get the chance to go back and visit, but I’m always reminded about how I probably wouldn’t like to live there right now.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, ultimately I’d love to go up to Santa Barbara or something like that. Have the best of California, but leave L.A. behind.

DF: Well, I understand that. Hey, well allow me to extend an early Utah welcome to you. This will be like the sixth time in eight years that you’ll be playing at USANA Amphitheatre …

Joe Elliott performs at USANA Amphitheatre in 2012.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, and it’s not the first time we’ve started there either. When we toured with Poison I remember we flew out there and we had a couple days in Salt Lake rehearsing before the first show.

DF: I was thinking, any more appearances in the years to come, they should just grant you some timeshare rights to that place.

CAMPBELL: They probably should’ve. They should name it after us. Def Leppard Stadium or Arena, whatever it’s called.

DF: On your live album (“Mirrorball: Live and More”), didn’t you record part of it there.

CAMPBELL: We did. Yeah, a fair amount of it was from USANA.

DF: Well this tour is just 10 days away now, are you into full rehearsals yet or anything?

CAMPBELL: We actually now, I mean, when I first joined Def Leppard 22 years ago, we rehearsed for two months. I kid you not. Like five days a week, six days a week and intense long days for two months. It was mind-numbing. And ever since then, we’re like, “OK, we don’t need to rehearse quite as long” and cut it back to a few weeks. And in recent years it’s been, “Well, how much rehearsal do we really need?” Now we’re down to a few days. And then part of that also is ’cause we’re touring with Kiss this summer so we’re up against a big, big show, and we’re very fortunate that we have a lot of hits. So we’re concentrating on the hits, we’re not going too obscure on this tour, you know? We’ll have a couple of floaters in the set each night to mix it up here and there, but for the most part we’ve got to focus on the big songs. And, you know, we’ve been playing those songs for so long now, it’s like, “Why do we even need to rehearse?” So we actually start next Monday and we’re going to rehearse about four days here in L.A. and we’ll get the night before the show, I guess, or something like that, we’re flying out to Salt Lake a couple days early. We’ll get a run-through on the stage with the full production.

DF: On the night before?


DF: I’ll have to camp around the arena then and see what I can hear. (laughs)

CAMPBELL: Indeed. You may not like it. (laughs)

DF: I think I will. You guys have had these pairings before, and it’s certainly the nature of the summer touring season, but I don’t believe you’ve ever been the band scheduled to go on first in these packages …

CAMPBELL: That’s a first for us. It kind of made sense, though, it is a co-billing thing and both bands are playing about 75 minutes each. But, you know, Kiss are such a spectacle, there’s no way that we would be able to out-do that spectacle in terms of production. I mean, I’ve never seen so much pyro and circus tricks in my life as in a Kiss show. You know, they fly through the air and there’s flames going off like every eight bars or something, I don’t know. We don’t do that kind of thing. I mean our show is, you know, pretty high-energy music and we’ve always had a bit of a production value to our show — but even at our strongest, we couldn’t compete with that so we’ve decided not to bother. The other thing we realized is, when we actually go on it’s gonna be dusk, it’s not going to be quite dark when we start our show. So when you look at both bands, I couldn’t imagine seeing Kiss in daylight.

DF: That makes sense.

Vivian Campbell joined Def Leppard in 1992.

CAMPBELL: So it kind of made sense for us to be the band to be on first. And it will be a different experience for us because we’ll actually get to bed earlier. So we’ll be able to do our show and roll on to the next city while Kiss is on stage.

DF: So the way the show is set up like that, does it offer a different kind of challenge for you going in, any kind of a different mindset?

CAMPBELL: Well, only because of what I said earlier, a lot of these shows are going to be going on in dusk, it’s not going to be full darkness, so we’ve had to think about how we’re going to present the start of our show, and still make it look like somewhat of a spectacle. So we’ve got a little something planned. I haven’t seen it yet, I hope it’s going to work. We’ve got to, obviously, rely a lot on our music. I mean, I know that kind of sounds redundant, we’re musicians and we should be relying on our music, but a live show is usually a spectacle, you know? And like I said, there’s no way we can outdo Kiss when it comes to the spectacular. Our real strength of the band is our music, it always has been. We’ve got great songs, and we’re a great, great live band. I’ve said this before and a lot of people always take it the wrong way, like I’m blowing smoke up my own (butt), but we’re actually a really exceptionally good live band. People actually think that we mime, we’re that good. Especially in the vocal department, we do pride ourselves in the fact that we’re very precise about that, being able to replicate this big, big, big studio production in a live environment. So that’s our strength, and that’s what we’ll rely upon. We actually do perform the songs. There’s nothing canned about our performance. It’s all real.

DF: Yeah, I think you’re hitting that right on the head because of all the times I’ve seen you, that actual aspect of it really stands out. It’s fantastic live.

CAMPBELL: It’s a bit of a back-handed compliment when people ask me, “C’mon, you’re running vocals, hard-drives and such,” and I go, “No, that’s us, we’re singing live.” That fact that people would think that, we’ve got to take it as a compliment, even though it is frustrating after the years to keep on having to say, “Nope, nope, that’s us. We’re really live.”

DF: It’s kind of a product of a day where a lot of bands, you know, the younger bands that do go out and incorporate all those aspects you’re talking about.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, it’s kind of frightening. I mean, I’m actually hard-pressed to think of a band that doesn’t do that nowadays. Not just younger bands, but a lot of our contemporaries as well. It’s just an easy way to take a lot of the load off. “You know the singer doesn’t feel so good tonight, just push up the Pro Tools.” But once you go there it’s a slippery slope. So we’ve made a pact between the five of us to never do that.

DF: That’s awesome, that’s good to know. So, do you know, in past tours you’ve made really good use of your stage design, and you have the ramp that goes out into the front rows that you’ve used really well for solos and acoustic sets and things like that. Are you able to keep something like that on a tour like this?

CAMPBELL: No ego ramp on this tour. We’ve actually done that for the last five or six tours, so it was time to try and shake it up a little bit. We were relying, like a lot of bands, I mean, we’ve relied heavily on video content to keep the show interesting as well. We’ve always tried to come up with some different content for each tour that we’ve done and this tour is no different. I’ve yet to actually see the stage. We did discuss with our production crew about how we were going to present this year’s show and how we were going to start the show — I’ve got a picture in my mind of how it’s going to be, but I haven’t seen it, and I actually won’t see it until the 21st when we fly out to Salt Lake.

DF: You talked about this earlier about it being the tour-opening show, I wonder if there’s any extra juice or adrenaline to the fact that it’s the tour opener?

CAMPBELL: There is, yeah. It’s always nervy for us that first show, you know? And that never changes. After about a week or so, it becomes so routine and it gets such a different feeling. But the first night is always really edgy. Even though we’ve been doing it for decades that never, ever changes. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I guess we’ll let the audience decide. But there’s definitely a lot more tension with the band, and even with the crew. There’s a lot of fingers crossed and a lot of trying to remember, I think. Even though we’re playing familiar songs, you know, they may not be in the same order — but after about a week of doing it, it’s kind of ingrained. You know what 90, 95 percent of the set is. I know in my mind what the next song coming up is. You know, you feel kind of mentally prepared. Whereas I find the first two or three shows on a tour, I’m always kind of looking at the set list, and I’m thinking, “OK, what do I need to remember about that song?”

DF: Speaking as an audience member, I can say that we love it when the band is a little bit on edge because you get the feeling that you never know what you’re going to see and what’s going to happen.

CAMPBELL: What catastrophe’s about to happen? (laughs)

DF: Not in a catastrophe sense even, but just you don’t know what’s going to happen.

CAMPBELL: Well that’ll definitely be, on the 23rd, the case for sure.

DF: I know that you’ve been through a health scare over the past year, and I understand that you’re in remission, I’m just wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me an update on how everything is going?

CAMPBELL: Actually, the remission was a little bit premature. It came right back. I don’t know if the cancer came back or it never totally went away, you know, but the initial scan I did last fall after doing my chemo, the scan came back clean. But there was something about it the oncologist was unclear about and didn’t feel good about, so I was referred to another specialist. I suppose one of the advantages about being in this city that I dislike so much is that there’s a lot of great medical facilities here. There’s a place called City of Hope just outside of L.A., and there’s a specific oncologist there who’s probably the leading oncologist with regards to Hodgkins in the U.S., and he sent me to him. He had a look at my scans and, you know, everyone was a little bit apprehensive, and he said, ‘Well, for now you appear to be in remission.” I kind of took that ball and I ran with it, and unfortunately it turned out to be premature. So the followup scan that I did a couple months later showed that there was definitely some growth coming back. I ended up having a couple of biopsies — I did a needle biopsy in January and that showed that I was fine, but my oncologist said, and he was right, that needle biopsies are notoriously uncertain, and he suggested I do a surgical biopsy. So I went to Dublin and started to record with the band, we started work on a new record, and as soon as I got back from that, I did another surgical biopsy and that showed that the cancer had definitely come back. I’m actually doing this new high-tech chemo treatment, I’m about halfway through it already, and it’s really kind of easy going. It’s the first new drug that’s been discovered for Hodgkin’s since 1977 and they made this discovery in 2011, and it’s actually being pioneered here at City of Hope, so I’m part of this research clinical trial that’s going on. It’s very, very benign chemo, actually it just targets — I don’t know how it works, obviously I’m not a medical person, but somehow or other it just manages to target the cancer cells. It’s not like old-school, carpet-bomb chemo where it kills all the fast-growing cells, so I haven’t experienced any hair loss or any issues with my skin or nails or anything this time around, which is good. And assuming that works, I’m going to have to continue a couple of treatments, actually, over the course of the tour, so that’s awkward to work around, but not impossible. Assuming that it all works and I actually get to a perceived remission stage by August, then as soon as the tour is over in early September I’m going to get a stem-cell transplant, which I can’t say I’m looking forward to, but I’ve been told if I don’t do that, the cancer’s going to just keep coming back every couple years. And every time it’s a little bit more resistant. It is what it is. It could be worse — but at least I have health insurance. (laughs)



DF: Well I certainly wish you the best and I hope that being on stage might be the best therapy.

CAMPBELL: It absolutely is. And when I was going through the chemo last year and the band said to me, “We’ve been offered these shows, can you do them? Do you want to do them? Or we can get someone to cover for you?” I said, “(Bleep) that (bleep)! I’m not having someone else do my job. It actually was very, very therapeutic for me to go and get on stage and do that. And the same is true this year. There’s nothing worse than sitting around the house concentrating on the negative. I’ve always enjoyed my work, and I’ve always felt very fortunate to be able to do what I love. I am well up for the summer tour indeed.

DF: And I was going to ask you about the World Cup since I know you’re a big soccer fan.

CAMPBELL: I actually just started Tivo-ing it. I just paused the Mexico-Cameroon game, so I’ve got it all set to record. It’s going to be hard to actually rehearse next week because we’re all going to be wanting to watch futbol.

DF: Thank you very much for your time. I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to seeing you in Salt Lake.

CAMPBELL: Nice to talk again, Doug. Good luck, Doug. Goodbye.



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