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Def Leppard’s Phil Collen Discusses Manraze, Performs Two Acoustic Songs

Phil Collen
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Phil Collen is best known as the guitarist for multi-platinum arena rockers Def Leppard, but these days he’s also rocking out in the band Manraze. The group also features Simon Laffy, his one-time bandmate in the group Girl, as well as Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook.

We recently welcomed Collen to the Ultimate Classic Rock offices, where not only did he treat us to an acoustic performance of Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria,’ but also to renditions of two incredibly catchy Manraze songs off their 2011 album ‘PunkFunkRootsRock.’

In part two of our interview with Collen, he talks about ‘PunkFunkRootsRock,’ his love of Jimi Hendrix and how playing with Manraze compares to performing in Def Leppard. You should also be sure to check out his performances of the Manraze tunes ‘All I Wanna Do’ and ‘Closer to Me’ at the end of this feature.

Manraze recently premiered a new video for ‘Take on the World,’ which was written for motorcycle racer Tommy Hill. Tell me about the song itself musically and also how it ties into his story.

It’s funny actually because when I got asked to write the song for the [new] movie ['The Showdown: I, Super Biker II'], Manraze had already done a song for the previous movie called ‘I SuperBiker’ so we were familiar with the whole culture and super bike racing. Tommy won in the new movie, he won the whole thing so it’s really about him and how he achieved that. When you’ve got a storyline, it’s really easy to write a song, it writes itself, just the vibe of it seemed like it should be up-tempo, kind of David Guetta, almost dance-electro so we just did that.

We got Debbi Blackwell-Cook, who is [my wife] Helen’s Godmother, who has got the most amazing gospel voice. The great thing about ‘Manraze’ is that there’s no rules, you can pretty much go anywhere hence the title ‘PunkFunkRootsRock.’ So with that, I felt like it should be a dance track with electric guitars and gospel kind of singing in it as well. It was so much fun. Like I said, the song wrote itself, we had a clear image of what the song should be about and it just went off on a tangent, a few tangents from there really.

Talk about the title of the album and how it applies to the music.

Paul Cook, our drummer, he was talking to Helen, he was like ‘it’s a bit punky, it’s a bit funky,’ and then he was like “wow PunkFunkRootsRock.’ The great thing about Manraze is that, being in Def Leppard for 30 years this year, obviously we have a style and you can’t really stray too far from it otherwise fans get very emotional, they get upset and so with Manraze it’s a great excuse to just go where you feel. There’s definitely rock stuff, there’s reggae stuff on there, we like blurring the lines. It’s like your iPod, if you have shuffle, you just don’t only listen to one type of music all day, hopefully, you’ve got to be a bit more diverse so that’s really what that’s about and the title sums it up.

The band is made up of your old bandmate from Girl, Simon Laffy, and Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. What does each of you bring to the table musically?

It’s not like the bands we were in. I think it’s so liberating being in Manraze, as we started recording and developing it, it was a few things that came in. The first thing was I had to learn (was) how to be a lead singer as opposed to a guitar player who sings backing vocals so that was a bit weird, getting over that. That opened up a different dimension, and then that whole three piece thing, very much like a Hendrix or the Police, Nirvana, there’s a big deal being a three piece band. We developed as we went along, but the energy that Paul brings to it is just unbelievable. I’ve always loved the Pistols, I just love the way he plays drums. And Simon really got into dance music as well. He used to be into jazz rock and fusion and stuff, again stuff that we all like. When you combine it all and you’re not being very specific (like) “oh we’re going to copy this, (and) you just let it flow and that’s what everyone loves about the band, in the band. You can just go wherever you want, everyone’s very much a band, everyone has suggestions and it’s really valid, it’s a real band.

You mentioned Hendrix; you have a cover of ‘Fire’ on the new album. What led the band to record that particular Hendrix track, and how has Hendrix influenced your guitar playing?

Hendrix is my biggest influence, he was my favorite guitar player. I think he was such a pioneer. Especially when he came out. You hear it now and there’s been so much that has been influenced by him, but when it came out in the ’60s it blew everyone’s minds, especially as he was really the first electric guitar player, it took the art somewhere else. It morphed into all these other things, metal bands and God knows what, but he was the first person to just totally express himself. And again, talk about a fusion of style. It was jazz, it was rhythm and blues and like I said the first real rock guitar player. We started doing ‘Fire’ because it’s an up-tempo Hendrix song. We just wanted to test out three piece-ness and it was like, “well, let’s do a Hendrix song” and we done it and it just clicked straight away so we’ve been doing it ever since that first gig we ever did, which was about seven years ago.

What are some of your favorite tracks on ‘PunkFunkRootsRock’?

I really like ‘Closer to Me,’ which is kind of a reggae song. We got Paul Cook’s daughter singing backing vocals on it, she’s a reggae artist in London, she’s got an album that’s doing really well, it’s very much an English sound. She was just in the studio singing harmonies in the corner and we were like, “whoa just go in and put that down” so she did that; that song is pretty special. All the songs are very diverse — the song ‘Lies, Lies, All Lies,’ (I) really like that, it’s got kind of a funk element to it. Lyrically it just talks about lies, that everyone tells lies at some point. Lyrically a lot of the stuff with Manraze is great, it’s like the music you can go off on any tangent, you can be political if you want, you want to get something off your chest you can just do that. It’s just brilliant, I love the album. It’s great, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.

You have a guest spot on the new Oedipus album; can you talk a little about that?

Oedipus, they’re a band from L.A. and again, it’s a fusion of styles, one minute it reminds you of 311 and then the next minute it’s a bit like My Chemical Romance, I love that. They’ve got this high energy thing so the track they wanted me to play on, it’s smokin,’ I just loved it. I’m honored to be part of it, it’s great.

You’re in the enormously popular band Def Leppard but you’re doing a real grassroots thing with Manraze and playing these smaller venues. Is there something about this that takes you back to your beginning days?

It does, but the most natural thing about it is that it’s pure expression. With Def Leppard, we have to think about it, we can’t go off and do whatever we wanted, which we used to be able to. With the Manraze thing, it’s more like that, it’s that spirit, with Def Leppard we’d love to go left field but you just can’t. I do love them both, like the last gig I played was Wembley Arena and that was sold out and it was killer, it was super cool and I’m sure we’ll be back in a club. It’s neat.

Watch Phil Collen Perform the Manraze song ‘All I Wanna Do’

Watch Phil Collen Perform the Manraze song ‘Closer to Me’

Part One of our Interview: Phil Collen Discusses Def Leppard

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