Phil Collen of Man Raze and Def Leppard: The Hard Rock Hideout Interview
PHIL COLLEN - Most famous for his career with Def Leppard and the English Glam Metal band Girl, guitarist and vocalist Phil Collen has quietly carved out a legendary Hard Rock career for himself and he’s not about to slow down. Debuting his diverse Rock outfit Man Raze back in 2005, with lifetime friend and bassist Simon Laffy (Girl) and legendary (Hall Of Famer) Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, Phil has fulfilled a lifelong dream of being in a three piece. The energy that Man Raze exhibits through their brand of Rock and Roll is stuff of old school and Phil Collen isn’t making any excuses about it.
With the sophomore release from Man Raze upon us, the excitement that Phil Collen speaks about “punkfunkrootsrock” is outright contagious. This second offering from Man Raze sets into motion that this is a band and not just a one-off project. With the Def Leppard engine still firing on all cylinders, Phil Collen is on the move and ready to Rock at a moments notice. Hard Rock Hideout was very fortunate recently, to catch Phil sitting down and willing to answer whatever question was thrown at him. Just as the music he’s played all through his stellar career, Phil was up-tempo and thoroughly genuine. Here is what Phil had to say:
HRH: Man Raze has a strong Punk Rock backbone, yet that isn’t everything about this band. How do the three of you agree on playing so many different styles of Rock?
PHIL: Agreeing on different styles is one of the things that has drawn the three of us together. We’re all around the same age, from the same town, listen to the same records and are inspired by them. We share this West London “thing” with the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Everyone in the band has that open channel to express themselves. When we got together and started playing, we expressed our influences. Paul (Cook) and I love Reggae, the Trojan Reggae stuff. It took thirty something years for natural inspiration to happen like this. I’ve felt a flash of inspiration like when you were a kid, it makes you feel like a child again, wanting to pick up a guitar and start playing!
HRH: Phil, you sound so excited about Man Raze and what you guys are creating here! Do you have a feeling of new found freedom with Man Raze?
PHIL: Always! The whole thing feels magical, it’s just there. It’s such an amazing thing, playing with Paul. I never thought it would happen, it’s a dream! Even lyrically, some songs reference things, it’s not obvious stuff, just enough to make an impression. Our song “Lies” references all the lies through history. We just tried to develop “that sound” with no restrictions, not genre specific and just really enjoy the multi-genre influences and let it all happen! I see so many artists my age that are jaded and can’t find where they are. Not us, we have this boatload of energy! To express art through words and music is so rewarding.
HRH: What can you tell the fans about this new and forthcoming Man Raze album?
PHIL: My wife had asked what’s it all about? So Paul said it kind of has some Punk, Funk and Rock. (laughs). So we named the album “punkfunkrootsrock”. It’s all one word! I’m totally pumped and excited about this new record! Some of the songs we’ve never played live together, so they are brand new to us too. This new album has Funk, Sixties and Seventies Rock and Soul inspired by Sly and the Family Stone, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye.
HRH: That’s very diverse and downright cool, Phil!
PHIL: Making this new album has been a liberating experience! This new album is artistically a representation that I’m extremely proud of. As an artist, you can’t describe how good it feels to have no restrictions. Each song is different. That’s the great thing about it, when you write a song and it becomes it’s own. “All I Wanna Do” is a song on the album that reminds me of Hendrix and Otis Redding doing a song! That’s the vibe I get from it!
HRH: You guys can utilize improvisation.
PHIL: Yes we can! No one song ever ends the same when we are playing live!
HRH: Each time the Rock and Roll of Man Raze hits me, the vibes and feeling of “real” sets right in. How do you guys capture such a raw and real Rockin’ sound like you do?
PHIL: I approach it very differently than from, let’s say, Def Leppard. We do one take for start offs and put no restrictions on what we do. It’s Punk, Rock and Funk. When we do one or at most two takes, the energy is captured on the songs. If you’re too meticulous and precise and spend too much time on it, then you lose the realness of it. We get goose bumps and excited about what we play among the group. You know, it took us three years to record “Animal” for “Hysteria”.
HRH: Whoa! It took three years to record just “Animal”?
PHIL: This was a magical and best time while we recorded “Hysteria”. We had the great vocal, only “Mutt” Lange said the backing tracks did not sound good! So, Joe (Elliott) and I went back and re-recorded not only the backing tracks, we re-recorded the vocals too! (laughs).
HRH: (laughs). That’s a fun story to know Phil. So that energy I hear and feel from Man Raze is real after all!
PHIL: Totally! You know, Paul has the same cymbal as he used on that great Sex Pistols album! (laughs). I’m like, wow! (laughs).
HRH: That’s unreal and very cool! (laughs).
PHIL: “Mutt” (Lange) and I would talk about Paul Cook’s drumming and the sound of his cymbals when we recorded “Hysteria”. We wanted to capture Paul’s cymbal sound on the Hysteria album. I think we did.
HRH: “Surreal” is as dynamic and quality strewn as any debut album can be. How and what was your approach to creating the new album like?
PHIL: A very natural flow was the way it all went together. It reminds me of Iggy and the Stooges and Bowie, we just go with it! Like a production line, we never got stuck on anything, it really flowed. We had about twenty songs or parts of twenty songs to start. We have a record label, let’s scramble together! We recorded the album in two weeks in London. It was an enjoyable experience in the studio, plus we were budget minded about it.
HRH: When you guys are writing songs, do you aim for equality when it comes to representing respective styles or does it just flow and go?
PHIL: It absolutely flows and goes! These new songs are more closer to me than the last album we did. We maybe went too commercial and could not get it right. On this second record we have it right. Some things work out better the second time around. We just captured that flow and played these songs.
HRH: Your new single “Over My Dead Body” will be released on iTunes may 31, (2011), with both an electric and acoustic version. (Doubleheader). How difficult is it to choose the lead single for the forthcoming album?
PHIL: Everyone was involved in choosing the first track. “Over My Dead Body” is about death. It’s a cross between the Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones. This song comes across very raw with loud vocals. There is a uniqueness to it, it’s very Rock and Roll. I’ve been waiting to hear something like that for years.
HRH: How rewarding is it to have your music of Man Raze included in the soundtrack for “I, Superbiker”?
PHIL: It’s such a compliment to us. Mark (Sloper) is a champion of the band and has a t.v. show in London. (Mark Sloper is the writer, director and producer of I, Superbiker). It’s a documentary movie on super biking, real guy stuff!
HRH: How often do the three of you agree to disagree?
PHIL: Actually, we don’t. All three of us have valid and amazing insight to stuff. We are three grown men with massive experience. There was one thing brought up. The Def Leppard backing vocals is not what we wanted to be incorporating into our music. In Def Leppard, the backing vocals are like an instrument. The guys say it gets away from the essence of what is us (Man Raze). Vivian (Campbell) and I can do so many things together in Def Leppard, I will say that.
HRH: Do you ever step back and marvel at the profound Rock sound that is created by a classic power trio such as Man Raze?
PHIL: I do actually. With all the experiences I’ve had, playing all around the world and being on t.v. and all that, being a lead guitarist and lead singer of a three piece is so liberating. With Def Leppard, it’s a totally different format with two guitarists. With Man Raze, we can end songs with different lengths. We never play a song twice the same. With other bands, we rehearse over everything and play the same bars. In Man Raze, we experiment and if it doesn’t work, you then take the song somewhere else. This all takes you on a journey, one I’ve never experienced until Man Raze. I’m bummed I never experienced this before.
HRH: It’s so great that Def Leppard and Journey are still around!
PHIL: It’s magic that makes it all happen after all these years. Journey, on stage they go off on a tangent and listen to each other!
HRH: There’s nothing like improvisation with Rock and Roll.
PHIL: Jazz musicians have always done this. Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell! Mitch would be going somewhere and Jimi would go somewhere with what Mitch was doing. Journey is a great band with that! They can take it to a different place, if they wanted to with their music.
HRH: What can fans expect from Def Leppard’s first live album “Mirrorball”, which releases this Summer?
PHIL: It’s such a long time coming! We’ve done the live DVD and all that. There’s twenty one tracks with three new studio tracks on “Mirrorball”. Rick, Joe and I wrote a song each. It was recorded during the last two tours. We record every show and I asked our producer to catch the audience reaction for this live album. I love all that kind of stuff! For thirty years Def Leppard was in a cycle of album, tour, album and tour. We never had that time set aside for doing a live album. We finally took our first year off in 2010, worked on “Mirrorball” and I got married!
HRH: You got married? Congratulations Phil!
HRH: Will Man Raze be playing some festivals this Summer?
PHIL: I’m not sure. In August, in the States, it would be just L.A.. It would be super cool to do some festivals though!
HRH: Going back to influences, anymore you want to share?
PHIL: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Nirvana and The Police. The Police being my favorite band ever! When I first heard Steve Jones (Sex Pistols guitarist) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol and countless other recordings) I could not believe what I was hearing! The attitude and involvement with their playing just blew me away!
HRH: Is Man Raze a lifelong dream of yours that has come to pass?
PHIL: It is actually. I always wanted to be in a three piece band! I’ve known Simon (Laffy) all my life, we were in Girl together. Five years ago, my Dad was in the hospital, I was visiting him quite a bit. One day I saw Paul Cook literally on a London street. I asked him to check out my music, to see if he’s interested and what he thought.
HRH: That’s such an incredible story, how you just actually bumped into Paul Cook on a London street and exchanged an invitation to him like that!
PHIL: In the super big cities like New York, London and Paris, they each have a scene going on. You bump into people of all Rock genres. I knew Billy Idol back in the 70′s! (laughs). What I love about London is I can walk from my house to Paul Cooks house in ten minutes, with my guitar under my arm and a studio in-between. All these years I never realized Paul Cook lived so close by! I asked Paul Cook on that street one day to check out my music and to come down… and click!