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DailyBoom Your Old School Music Authority

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Exclusive Interview: Vivian Campbell on Revisiting His Youth Via the Dio-Inspired 'Last In Line' & Enjoying the Evolution of 'Def Leppard'

Photo: Ross Halfin

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Vivian Campbell is arguably one of the busiest men on the rock landscape right now. He just wrapped up playing a string of dates with his Dio-inspired bandmates from Last in Line and he will barely have a chance to catch his breath before joining Def Leppard for the European leg of their current tour. His year is booked solid and at least for right now, the iconic guitarist would have it no other way.  It seems that he is quite content to be literally revisiting and honoring his early years with Dio while embracing younger generations of fans that show up night after night to hear the Def Leppard classics.

I caught up with Vivian the other day for a quick chat and discovered a man whose search for inner acceptance seems to have made his current joy that much more palpable.

Last In Line Promo Shot

Vivian on making the juggling of Def Leppard and Last In Line look easy:

"It's not easy I've got to say that, but I've always enjoyed my work and I think now I'm enjoying it more than ever. Over the last couple of years, and for the first time in my career, I'm happy with my guitar playing (laughing). It has always been a struggle for me because I've never really been content with what I did and finally after all of these years I realized that it's okay. We're all individuals and we all bring something to the table and while I may not be the worlds greatest guitar player, nobody sounds like me. We all have a unique voice and I'm happy with mine so I'm really enjoying my work.

I've also realized that while the Last In Line project is a side project, it's a very serious one to me. Especially in this day and age, you can't just phone it in. You really have to manifest it and do live shows to make it a real thing, so I've been committed to doing their tour. I am quite literally working all the time- I'm either working with Def Leppard or working with Last In Line. It's work that I really enjoy but it has also taught me another life lesson (laughing) and that is that I do finally see the importance of scheduling time off. I am intending to do that next year (laughing) because this year is already booked with both bands but next year I will plan a vacation."

Vivian on the differences between playing in both bands:

"I really enjoy both Last In Line and Def Leppard because they are two incredible bands filled with incredible musicians that I get to play with. I also get to exercise different muscles because, with the Leppard thing, it's the vocals that we're really known for. It's a high production show and very well oiled machine with two guitarists and Phil Collen really does all the heavy lifting. It's the vocal aspect there for me and being a rhythm guitar player, something that a lot of guitar players don't focus as much on, so I'm very proud of my ability in that. In Last In Line I'm not just the only guitar player but I'm the only melodic instrument in the band, we're not even touring with a keyboard player. That puts a lot of pressure on me as a guitarist but it's also very rewarding and it challenges me.

It brings me back to the origins of Last In Line, which goes back to the original Dio band. We took the name from Dio's second album and so this band is a great way for me to reconnect with that part of my life and that band. It's a challenge to play like that and I take pride in trying to nuance my performance night after night. Some of those guitar solos from those early Dio albums, in my mind I still haven't played right (laughing). I've played them 96 or 98 percent right but I'm still looking to get to a hundred percent. It's not even big things, it's tiny little things (laughing) but I need to challenge myself. I think that if you're not moving forward then you're standing still in life so I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel but I am always trying to make things better.

The same is true with Def Leppard. Joe (Elliott) and I talk about it some nights right when we come off stage. I really do think that sometimes it's only us guys in the band that notice the details. As professionals, we all do have that desire and goal to make things better rather than just phoning it in and taking the easy road. I think that is the difference between bands that are successful and bands that maybe aren't doing well. It's a matter of professional pride."

Vivian on the creativity that still is running through his veins:

"A lot of people ask why Def Leppard even bothers making new records in this day and age when people just want to hear hits from the '80s. It's important to us. We make them for that percentage of our fan base that is really excited about new Def Leppard music but more importantly, we do it for selfish reasons. We do it because there is a creative element to what we do. We want to get better at the songs that are decades old but at the same time we have a creative muscle that we all need to exercise and so we still strive to make great new records too.

It's a strange time because back when Def Leppard or even the old Dio band were first starting out we had the ecosystem of MTV and of FM radio that actually programmed their own music nationwide and even worldwide. The digital age is so different and even with all of the media, it's actually very difficult to get new music out there. There's a percentage of fans of any band that really want that new music but struggle to find it."

Def Leppard Promo Shot

Vivian on watching the Def Leppard audience evolve over the years:

 It's interesting and also a good situation for a band like Def Leppard that has been growing our audience for years now. There's a strong percentage of that audience that is like our children's age now and they come to the shows all excited to hear the hits of the '80s (laughing). It's so nice to reach beyond your own generation and see your audience grow. It's such an exciting thing and it has been happening for us for the last decade or so. We really feel the energy and as our audiences get younger they also are more energetic and we feed off of that and it makes our performance more energized.

Def Leppard was obviously very big in the '80s and then the '90s were rough because the musical landscape changed so much that we were playing live just for our core fans. The late '90s brought a change in the wind and more people started showing up and we noticed that a lot of them were younger. Last year we did 60 dates in North America on a co-headlining tour with Journey and probably 40% of that audience was younger. The energy that young people bring to the show is very palpable and we really feed off of that. Especially when your playing songs that are thirty years old (laughing), we are playing them for the audience and their excitement fuels us to make things even better. It's such a good thing and it makes us really happy."

Vivian on The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction:

 "It's a great honor to be in the hall of fame and I definitely think Def Leppard deserves it. I'm happy because now I get to vote and have a say from the inside (laughing), but personally, I've never put a lot of stock in the industry awards. Being the new guy in the band (laughing) and it has been 27 years for me, but as a fan first, I remember buying the Hysteria album. I wore it out on cassette and then I bought it on cd, and I can remember being amazed that this landmark rock record wasn't even nominated for a Grammy. It had seven hit singles on it! That kind of framed my whole reference point for industry awards and I just don't think that they're totally reflective of merit. I will say that the thing that resonates with us is the fact that we got the biggest ever popular vote. The fans are very loyal and they made that happen. The people who have been with Def Leppard since day one are really the ones who put us here. I believe they're the ones who brought us to the attention of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Vivian on the fans:

"The audience is vital. If there's no audience then there is no band and so that means there's no show. They are like an extra member of the band and if they aren't excited about the show then we're not so excited about playing it. We're kind of like vampires now, we feed off of that energy and if they're giving us a lot when we're giving even more back. There are certain cities all around the world that I really love to play because of their energy. There's really no such thing as a bad audience it's just a matter of how excited they can get, and then in turn how the can excite us."

Check out both Def Leppard's official site and Last In Line's official site for tour dates, merch and more! Also, keep an eye on Vivian's official Facebook page for updates.