Get those Def Leppard T-shirts out of storage — the '80s rock band is hot again. The British quintet's latest studio release, Live from the Sparkle Lounge, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 list after its release last year, and "Nine Lives," the group's collaboration with country artist Tim McGraw, became a crossover hit. The band also appeared with teen country sensation Taylor Swift on the Country Music Television series Crossroads and snared a trio of first-round CMT award nominations for its collaborations with her and McGraw. This summer, Def Leppard hits the road with Poison and Cheap Trick. We recently talked to Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen about the genesis of "Nine Lives," those award nominations and how to stay relevant in an ever-changing musical world.
Q&A with Phil Collen
The "Nine Lives" collaboration happened after Tim McGraw joined you guys on stage during a 2006 show at the Hollywood Bowl. How did he end up there in the first place?
Actually, Tim McGraw's tour manager was [Def Leppard drummer] Rick Allen's brother. Rick had played with Tim a bunch of times before — he'd actually been on stage with Tim and [his wife], Faith [Hill]. Tim had said, "Oh, I'd love to do a song with you guys one day." He's a bit of a fan. When we came to the Hollywood Bowl show, I had the idea kicking around for this song. So I just hummed him this idea in a corridor with a million people around.
Were you surprised by the CMT Nominations?
That was actually a real honor, I've got to say. I can't remember the last time we got nominated for anything, but it felt even nicer because it was something out of our genre.
What's the secret to remaining vital and musically relevant?
In the '90s, that wasn't the case. We were still working as hard, but nobody was actually paying any attention. We put a lot into the show. We keep writing new music, we keep coming up with ideas. The creative juices have to keep flowing. Otherwise, you stagnate and you disappear.