DEF LEPPARD's JOE ELLIOTT Says He Doesn't Care About Being Accused Of Using Backing Tracks During Live Shows

May 4, 2024

DEF LEPPARD's Joe Elliott has once again dismissed accusations that his band is using backing tracks during live performances, saying "we don't cheat."

The 64-year-old singer and founding member of the iconic British band made the comment while discussing DEF LEPPARD's reputation as a formidable live act in an interview with the "Life In The Stocks" podcast. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Yeah, the beginning bit of 'Love Bites', Sav [DEF LEPPARD bassist Rick Savage] just plays it on a keyboard, the way [RUSH's] Geddy Lee plays bass pedals. Rick [Allen, DEF LEPPARD drummer] uses a drum loop on 'Rocket'. I mean, Christ, a two-armed drummer couldn't play that. But every word is sung. Every guitar chord is played. We don't cheat. There's not one word on tape. There's nothing. We've got some keyboard sounds, but they're just keyboards that Sav plays with his foot. If we're doing 'Excitable', we use the 'Are you excitable?' thing, 'cause it's an intro tape. If we're doing — well, the beginning of the show, 'Take What You Want'. We play the beginning bit off the record and come in, because it's an intro tape intro, so, of course, we're gonna do that. But we've worked really to be able to sing live as well as we can. It's not perfect. It's not supposed to be. If we're running at 90 percent, we're doing good."

Joe continued: "Long may they keep accusing us [of using backing tracks]. I really don't care. Maybe everybody else's standards are less than ours. I don't know. Listen, when I've got a sore throat, I sound like shit. If somebody cuts their finger open slicing an orange, they're gonna play a bit bad if it's that hand that they've cut. It happens. Sometimes Phil [Collen, DEF LEPPARD guitarist] will come off stage, he goes, 'Bloody hell. I sound like I had boxing gloves on.' But it's like nobody else except him would notice that. Everybody has a bad day, but if the other four are on fire, one of us can be a bit under par, and it still works. [The criticism is] normally focused on the singer — 'He was terrible. The band were great.' But I've been good this last couple of years. I might've had the odd gig where just scheduling just wipes you out or you catch a cold. You can play the drums with COVID. You can't sing with it. So you have to do something to get yourself into that position you have to be in by nine o'clock, even if it means warming up for 10 hours to get on stage to do it. That's what I'm prepared to do. Maybe other people aren't prepared to do that."

Joe previously addressed the backing-tracks accusation that has been leveled against DEF LEPPARD while responding to a question about the band's "polished"-but-"loose" concerts in an interview with Stereogum. He said in part: "I don't normally comment on this kind of stuff, but a friend of mine just sent me some link to something on YouTube, a recent posting by, forgive me, I don't know his name, Chuck something from TESTAMENT, I think it is, and [ex-W.A.S.P. guitarist] Chris Holmes accusing us of using backing tracks. I don't get angry at this. I'm flattered because their standards must be very different to ours. For anybody that thinks we use backing tracks, it must mean that when they hear us, they can't believe how good it is for real.

"The fact is that if you rehearse the way we do and you're as talented as the band are as musicians, then maybe you would believe it. I'd be happy to invite any of those guys to come stand side stage with a pair of headphones on so they could actually hear what's coming out of the stage.

"We don't use backing tracks," he reiterated. "We use effects. God, who wouldn't? When there's four people singing, we use effects. There's no tapes of backing vocals. We use keyboards. We use a few drum loops because, in fairness, two-armed drummers use drum loops, but Rick Allen, to play a song like 'Rocket', it's a cacophony of toms that one arm couldn't play. So, yeah, we use a triggered loop, which is part of his drum kit, but [U2 drummer] Larry Mullen's been doing that for years. So have thousands of other drummers to enhance a sound. But backing tracks or playing along to a backing track — we've never done that, never. We've never mimed to the vocals, or we've never had multiples of stuff on tape. It's literally live.

"If we're running at about 90 percent, it's more than most people's 100 percent. Because we do play and sing, it does take a toll. You can, say, play Denver, where it's a mile above sea level, and if you've got a gig the next day, your voice is going to be pretty shot. We have to get to a level where if it's a little under last night, it's still acceptable to the audience because of the adrenaline and the fact that it is live and you can hear maybe a bit of hoarseness or somebody's fingers slip because it's so cold, they can't keep their fingers on the strings. Things like that happens to every single band, and that's what brings the humanity to it. But we're very proud of the fact that we play live, and we sing live, and we don't use tapes.

"So, sorry Chuck and Chris Holmes, but you've got that one completely wrong," he added. "But thanks for thinking that we need them. We don't. We're that good."

In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they're not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.

Back in November 2023, TESTAMENT frontman Chuck Billy weighed in on bands who rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances, telling the Syncin' Stanley YouTube channel: " That's not my thing. I definitely don't lip sync. I think the only time I've ever had to lIp sync is when you shoot videos for, like, MTV. Of course, those aren't live. Every band does it. You perform to the track and you lip sync it. So it's not the most fun, cause it's not real. So I'm sure I'm much uglier and nastier-looking when I'm singing live than in a video you see on MTV or somewhere out there. I guess there's bands out there that probably need help. I know there's bands like DEF LEPPARD that use a lot of backing tracks, but that's also backing tracks for that big sound, 'cause, obviously, you can't get all their voices live unless you brought in a choir. So, there's an exception to the rule."

The members of DEF LEPPARD have repeatedly denied that they use backing tracks for their vocals, with guitarist Phil Collen telling Ultimate Classic Rock in a 2019 interview: "We've always used keyboard things and parts of a drum loop, like on 'Rocket' — you couldn't really play that part live. So we've used stuff like that." But that's as far as it goes. "Our vocals are always live, and that's the big difference — we're like a live vocal band," he pointed out. "That's something that a lot of the other bands don't do. They kind of fake the vocals and it's not really them. But this is really us. … It's real."

In June 2023, former W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes also weighed in on bands who rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances, saying during a question-and-answer session in Northampton, England: "If people wanna pay for it and go see it, then do it. But I don't like it. I never did. When W.A.S.P. started doing it during the second album, during 'Wild Child' they'd have a tape machine… and I hated it. 'Cause if you're not on stage doing it, it's not live; it's not real. And then 'The Headless Children' came in, and that's where he started sampling. It's not called backing tracks; it's called sampling. That's what it actually is. And I hated it. It's not real.

"If you pay to see a real gig, it should be real, whether they sound good or like crap," he continued. "That's the way I look at it. I don't sample; I never will. I would rather play when I'm a little bit off, but it's for real. Some people would rather do it. I heard MÖTLEY CRÜE is doing it. DEF LEPPARDhas to sample. You can't do them eight-part harmonies on the vocals — unless you have other people singing in the background."

Holmes went on to say that relying on backing tapes is "not rock and roll," adding that aging rockers are using tracks "because they can't sound like they did 40 years ago."

According to Chris, a rock show is supposed to be raw, with all of its imperfections.

"It's rock and roll," he said. "It's what it is. You're out of tune here and there, who cares? As long as it sounds good."

W.A.S.P. has been criticized for the group's supposed use of backing tracks, including for Blackie Lawless's lead vocals, for at least several years, as Metal Sludge pointed out in 2019 after Lawless and his bandmates performed at the Helgeåfestivalen in Sweden.

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