Def Leppard has achieved what only a very select number of rock bands ever do. More than 100 million albums sold, a career spanning more than 30 years and overcoming adversities that would have spelled the end of other bands. When you reach that level, what else is left? Well, if you are Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen, it turns out there is still a world of possibilities to explore.
We recently caught up with Rick to discuss his new visual art project, his Raven Drum Foundation, the upcoming summer tour with Poison and more.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Let’s start with the Electric Hand Project. This is a really unique project. Could you talk a little bit about exactly what it is we are seeing in the images?
Rick Allen (RA): What you are seeing in the imagery is basically me playing a whole performance; then, through long exposure photography, we were able to capture the entire performance in one frame. So, in effect, I’m using light sticks instead of paint brushes.
The interesting thing for me was how it revealed things about myself that I knew, but I hadn’t really brought those hidden realms or hidden worlds into this reality. So it was very interesting to see the finished result and realize there were a lot of other aspects about myself. For instance, naming the project and naming the individual pieces—it was so obvious because of the things I’m passionate about. The project reflected that; it was very profound.
BRB: Did the final result of each piece turn out like you envisioned it? Or was it quite different?
RA: They only showed me a few of the frames, so it was good to keep the mystery about what they were going to look like and just allow me to play and express myself. So, the end result is really a reflection of the individual. For instance, if you were to do this, you would create a completely unique footprint that only relates to you.
What I really want from all this is to inspire people to remember parts of themselves that they have forgotten—to realize that if you are artistic in one way, it can be interchangeable. You can move into different areas and express yourself in other ways as well.
BRB: How did the project come about? Was it your idea initially or were you approached by another artist?
RA: Scene Four came to me with the idea. They showed me some interesting examples and I just jumped at the chance. I keep hoarding all my pictures. One of these days, I’ll put some of them up on the walls. I literally have tens of thousands of pictures and have never done anything with them. So, for somebody to approach me and say, “We can help you take this from start to finish,” made me realize that this was a wonderful opportunity for me to express myself in different ways.
BRB: Is this something you can do on tour? Maybe as a way to commemorate live shows?
RA: Well, there’s quite a bit of setup. Initially, I invited them up to my studio. Fortunately, the live room doesn’t have any windows, because we needed a really dark room. Then we took it from there.
BRB: Do you think this willingness to step outside of your normal realm of being a drummer would have happened if not for the changes you had to make earlier in your career to re-imagine the way you have to play drums with one arm? In other words, did that challenge earlier in your career open you up to these possibilities of expressing yourself in different way that you might not have otherwise thought of?
RA: Actually, that’s a great question. I can use one of the pieces as an example of how we can be different from one day to the next. There is a piece called “Shapeshifter” and initially, I didn’t particularly like it. Then we tweaked the colors and, all of a sudden, the piece became one of my favorites. We had several different versions of the same image and it really struck me that we really are shapeshifters. The people we are today are not the same as the people we were yesterday because of the experience we went through yesterday. I like the idea that you can be in the moment and change at any moment.
So to answer your question, yes, it opens your eyes and horizons to other projects. I think this is a huge blessing that, as human beings, we have this ability to discover new things about ourselves in this way.
BRB: Speaking of which, I’d love to talk about the Raven Drum Foundation and what, exactly, it is.
RA: It’s a foundation I put together with my wife. We’ve worked with many parts of the population through art and drumming. More recently, we’ve been working with the Wounded Warrior Project using drums to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
BRB: It’s pretty well-known that different types of art forms can be very therapeutic. Are you finding that using drums and drumming in this way is proving beneficial?
RA: Yes, especially if the rhythms are trance-like. The drumming just creates a vehicle that lets you get into a zone while you are playing the rhythm, and it doesn’t have to be complex. If you are playing in a circle where you have quite a few drummers playing a dominant rhythm, then it’s easy for people to get into that zone and get their head out of the way, so to speak.
Then there is drumming with intention. You have to ask what your intention is. What are you trying to achieve? Then you can start to fill that space up with the things that matter to you. It’s a great process. I love being involved with it and seeing the help that it gives to people.
BRB: It sounds like that this is something that touches multiple layers of the psyche.
RA: Exactly. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a combination of modalities that helps, which is what we do. We facilitate a range of modalities of which drumming is a complementary type of modality. There are other modalities that are just as powerful, if not more powerful.
BRB: Okay, time for some Def Leppard questions. You guys have sold as many albums as anybody. You have played every corner of the planet that has electricity. You pretty much have creative freedom when it comes to making music these days. What does a band that has reached Def Leppard’s stature set for goals anymore?
RA: Playing new countries, meeting new people, and continuing to write good songs. And, having said that, I think the foundation of the band is friendship and doing what it takes to maintain that friendship after the things we have been through, such as losing Steve (Clark, guitarist) or me going through my accident.
At some point, you ask the question, “Why are we really doing this?” Sometimes, an unusual answer—especially within this band compared to other bands—is “Well, we’re friends.” That’s a huge motivation, especially this far into our career. There’s that and the ability to write good songs and make a valid contribution to music in general. We are still constantly striving to be better.
BRB: You just mentioned losing Steve. After that, of course, Vivian (Campbell, guitarist) joined the band. With regards to the group friendship, then, how did that dynamic change when you lost one friend and brought another one in?
RA: It wasn’t really difficult at all. Vivian grew up in a similar culture in Belfast. He was listening to all the same music we were listening to and hearing the same news. So, even though I didn’t meet him when he was a kid, it was a similar experience. It was lovely to meet somebody like Vivian. It was very refreshing. In its own way, it was also consoling to be able to lean on Vivian.
BRB: You guys have a big tour coming up with Poison this summer. What can fans expect from a tour that is marked by two bands known for the extravagant nature of their live shows?
RA: That’s right! And it’s really going to be in celebration of the Rock of Ages movie that’s going to be coming out. They’ve made a feature-length movie of the stage production for Rock of Ages. Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx and he sings his ass off. He actually sang all of the songs that are in the movie. It’s pretty amazing.
For the live show, though, we actually brought back a guy we met way back in 1979; he was our lighting designer back then. Since then, he went off and did his own thing and it’s great that we’ve been able to keep in touch with him over the years. Now, we brought him in as a production manager. The look of the stage setup is very exciting to say the least. You should come out to see it.