Depending on the person, the band Def Leppard can muster up an interesting assortment of imagery, from visions of scantily clad women dancing to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” to the energetic live performances of one-armed drumming virtuoso, Rick Allen. But for me, the very mention of the band conjures up a different image altogether–one of the band’s ever-so-shirtless guitar player, Phil Collen.

Following the departure of Pete Willis in 1982, Collen took over the role of Def Leppard’s lead guitarist, while his glam band, Girl, eventually called it quits. In 2005, Collen reunited with former Girl bassist Simon Laffy, along with Sex Pistols drummer, Paul Cook, to form Man Raze, an experimental rock group out of London. After releasing an album back in 2008, the trio have returned with a new sound, a new single, and a new album to boot. Prior to the release of “Over My Dead Body,” I had the chance to speak with Collen on the band’s upcoming offering, Def Leppard’s live release, and how the rest of 2011 is shaping up.

Def Leppard are back from a brief hiatus with Mirrorball, the band’s first official live release. Why wait until now to put out a live offering?

We actually didn’t get the time up until now. It’s always been album-tour-album-tour, and believe it or not, this was the first real break we’ve had in thirty years. You get off tour, and it’s pretty much straight into recording another album. So it never really seemed valid or the right time, but now it’s absolutely perfect. We had a year off, and we record every show, so we were able to gather all the stuff up and there you go–choose the best stuff.

The album actually features a few new studio songs as well. How does this new material compare to the band’s past work?

You know, it’s really interesting. When you put any band’s greatest hits on, even if the stuff was recorded in a span of two decades or even longer, you can still tell that it’s the same band. So I think they sound obviously Def Leppard; they sound very much like classic Def Leppard, whatever that is, or whatever that may be. (LAUGHS) But you know, you listen to it for like ten seconds and you go, “Oh yeah, that’s Def Leppard.”

In addition to Def Leppard, you’ve been busy with Man Raze too. How has it been pulling double-duty between both projects?

It’s great! It’s such a completely different thing.

With Def Leppard, like I said, it obviously sounds like Def Leppard. We’ve been at it for years, and it is what it is. If you stray too far off of that, then people get upset, you know? They don’t really like you to change at all, so you have to be really careful to keep a common thread with Def Leppard stuff.

With Man Raze, it’s the complete opposite. You can have fun with it and experiment with it, and we do. It’s a lot of harder-edge stuff, lyrically and certainly sound-wise. It’s got a definite, different sonic thing about it. Some of it sounds like punk, some of it sounds like hard rock, some of it sounds like dub reggae–it’s all over the place, so it’s so much fun.

The band just put out the theme song for the movie I, Superbiker. How did that come about?

This guy Mark Stoper, who’s been a real champion of the band, is a friend of Paul Cook’s from London. He makes TV shows and films and actually has done a bunch of promo videos for Man Raze. He’s always really believed in us. He said, “I’m doing this documentary movie on super bike racing. Just four guys competing and we need a theme song.”

So that’s really how the song came about, and we wrote the song to order. It’s really high-octane and has all the crashes, so we wrote the song based on that and actually included some of the phases that the racing bikers use and everything, so that was really fun. I’ve never done anything like that before, so it was a blast.

Is the song going to be included on the Man Raze album as well?

Yes, it is, but a different mix of it. So, yes, for sure. We’re mixing all the stuff right now.

You’ll also be releasing the single “Over My Dead Body” at the end of May. What can fans expect with that?

It’s really hard edged. It sounds more like Guns ‘N Roses or Buckcherry or something like that than it does Def Leppard. (LAUGHS) You can really tell that Paul Cook is playing drums. He’s got a very unique, distinct style, you know? It’s like with the Sex Pistols album, it’s very obvious that he’s playing drums. So it’s got a real edge to it, and the song itself is really quite weird. It’s actually about death–being visited by death–and everyone in the world gets this visit at least once. (LAUGHS) Some twice, if they’re lucky. (LAUGHS) So yeah, it’s about that really.

From a songwriting standpoint, what is it like working on a Man Raze record versus Def Leppard?

You can go a lot deeper, lyrically, with Man Raze stuff: politically, spiritually, anything. With Def Leppard, like I said, there are restraints. You can’t go too far out of the box, otherwise you might lose people or it doesn’t really sound like Def Leppard.

We had actually done an album called Slang in the ’90s, and we kind of went left field on that and it was great fun, really cool, but no one got it. No one got it. They just wanted to hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and stuff like that. So really, when you’re trying to write stuff that has a bit more depth to it, you almost have to disguise it, which makes it hard. As a songwriter, it’s kind of nice to just be able to flow with it and not have those restrictions.

Like I said, it’s so different for me, writing for both bands as well. It’s great. It’s so perfect as an artist because I really get to experience and express myself in many different ways. It’s a lot of fun, and also being a guitar player in one band and a singer and guitar player in another, that’s totally different.

Something on this Man Raze album that I was shocked about is that a lot of vocals were one take, and actually a lot of the album was one-take stuff. It just had a flow about it that was, again, very different from a Def Leppard album, where we actually are very particular.

It’s really cool doing both, because I get to experience both sides of it.

Do you plan to take Man Raze out on the road?

Yeah, we do. We’re just waiting to see where it’s going to be popular, but yeah, we’d love to. Obviously, it’s going to be smaller places, like clubs and maybe an opening slot here and there, but yeah, we actually can’t wait. So whenever and wherever that pops up, we’ll be ready!

You’re launching a new signature guitar from Jackson–can you tell me a little about that?

I’ve been with Jackson Guitars for twenty-six years or something like that. I love them. They customize all my stuff. I’ve been using a PC1, which is the model I’ve had for about fifteen years, and I just wanted a different look more than anything else, so I have a new model called a PC Supreme.

I got a bunch of guitars that I really liked, and Pablo Santana, who actually works at Jackson, I said to him it’d be great if we could have a totally different look, and look a little like these guitars, but nothing like these guitars, and gave him a list of about five. He drew the thing up, and I swear, came in like a week later and literally said, “Hang on a minute, I’ve got something to show you,” and there it was.

It was perfect. All the wood–it was mahogany with maple–just great, so I’m really excited about that. I’m using it in the “I, Superbiker” video. If you want to see it, it’s on that, and I’ll be taking it out on tour as well.

You’ve been in the industry since the mid-70s. Any chance of slowing down?

No, because physically, I feel better than I did when I was twenty. (LAUGHS) It’s amazing, the whole myth about slowing down–people ask “How do you do it?” and it’s consistency. I’m really physically active, working out and doing everything, and that just keeps you really young.

I know guys ten years younger than me that can’t walk properly because they’ve adopted a lifestyle where they drive everywhere, they’re sitting on their computer, and they don’t even walk anywhere. It’s the complete opposite for me. I can actually wake up at six in the morning and do a head kick, which is six-foot-five, without stretching, and that’s just the consistency. (LAUGHS) It’s not that I’m a freak or anything. It really is a matter of just being consistent about it, and I just love the way it feels. And the other part is that it kind of looks cool as well. (LAUGHS)

So the main thing is that. Like I said, I know guys–guys I went to school with, or even younger than that–and they can’t get up. They’ve got back problems, and their legs hurt, and this and that, and I have nothing like that at all. So as long as I keep doing this, then I should keep doing that. (LAUGHS)

How are you able to maintain consistency on the road?

Oh, that’s easy. You get so much down time. It’s the same as singing or playing guitar, you know? That’s something I do all the time. I always have a guitar floating around, or I’m working out all the time, and that could be anything, you know, running up a flight of stairs and doing push ups. You get bored in the day, and instead of just sitting there eating or something, I’ll go and exercise.

On tour, it’s even more consistency. I’ll work out three times a day when our trainer’s out. He gets us in the morning, we’ll do stuff in the afternoon, and just before we go on stage, I’ll do some more. The more you do it, the better you seem to feel, but you can overdo it, so you’ve got to know what your own personal line is.

Def Leppard is hitting the road with Heart this summer in the States. Is there anything else that you have planned for the rest of the year?

Yeah, we actually kick off the whole thing in Donington. We’re doing the Download Festival, which is a big rock festival in England. I think we’re headlining that on the 10th of June, right before we come to the US. That’s always fun. We did it a few years ago, and it’s thrilling, actually. It’s huge, 85,000 people I believe last time. It’s a blast.

So we’ll kick off with that, and typically what happens with a Def Leppard tour is that you add dates on, you know? You start the tour, and all of a sudden a promoter from Japan or Australia will phone up and go, “Do you want to play here?” and it’s like, “Yeah, sure,” so that’s really how that works.

Also, in the breaks–we typically take two weeks off every six weeks–everyone goes home and sees their families or things like that. In those two weeks, I’ll be getting the Man Raze thing going, and hopefully we can play some club shows or things like that. I’m really looking forward to that as well.

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