JOE ELLIOTT Pushes Back Against CHUCK BILLY's And CHRIS HOLMES's DEF LEPPARD 'Backing Tracks' Claim: They've Got It 'Completely Wrong'

April 11, 2024

DEF LEPPARD's Joe Elliott has dismissed accusations that his band is using backing tracks during live performances, saying "we've never done that."

The 64-year-old singer and founding member of the iconic British band made the comment while responding to a question about DEF LEPPARD'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%, it's more than most people's 100%. 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.

During a May 2023 appearance on SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk", Blackie was once again asked about complaints from some of the band's fans about the use of backing tracks during W.A.S.P.'s live performances. He responded: "About 10, 12 years ago, we did 'The Crimson Idol' the first time in its entirety with orchestration. Now, prior to that, we had just done — I call it the 'Live At Leeds' version… Because if you look at what THE WHO did with the 'Live At Leeds', which we all thought was live at the time, and we now realize there are overdubs on those as well, like most live records. We would take the bare-bones approach to doing it. Well, we decided to take an approach where we tried to make it sound exactly like the record. And we had never used orchestration or anything like that. So we went in the studio, we took all the tracks off the record as far as the orchestration, we took the background vocal tracks, we took doubles on leads — we did everything. And we took it and we tried to make it sound as much like the record as we could. I stood in the middle of the room that first night in rehearsal, and I swear to you it was like an out-of-body experience. I had never heard anything sound like that before. I had never played with a live orchestra before. And so this was the closest thing you would get to doing something like that.

"Listen, I understand both sides of the argument on it," he continued. "For me personally, when I'm up there, I'm singing my ass off. But what's wrong with having enhancement to make something sound exactly like the record? Because you're not gonna get a band like QUEEN or any other band that does big productions like that… Four guys cannot go out there and reproduce that record. It's impossible. It won't happen. So do you want it to sound like the record or do you want it to be just a general live performance? And that's a question of taste.

"If you're gonna start making records where you have a lot of orchestration and things like that going, it is impossible to make it sound like that record unless you have that," Lawless added. "And you can also make the argument, which has been going on Broadway for the last 20 years, the musicians' union has been fighting this fiercely but technology rolls on and it's not gonna stop, where they no longer have live music in Broadway productions. And the musicians' union has had a fit over that. Well, even before that happened, when you had keyboards introduced that had entire orchestras in them, you've got one guy now replacing a hundred and twenty different people. So where do you draw the line?

"Like I said, I understand if somebody wants a true, organic experience, but from my perspective, I looked at it and I said… Once I heard it sound exactly like the record, I thought, 'I cannot go back to this again.' I mentioned THE WHO a second ago, the 'Live At Leeds' approach. THE WHO used tapes for years until they started hiring all these other guys to go out with them. But even still, a lot of the keyboard stuff — 'Won't Get Fooled Again', things like that — that's all on tape."

"When I go out on that stage, I take a lot of pride in this gift that God's given me," Blackie added. "And I like to show it off; I'll just be flat-out honest with you. But I think people wanna see that or they wanna hear it. So I don't think there's anything wrong with it. If you've got a guitar player that is really, really good, people are going there to see that. But again, when I went into rehearsals that one night and I heard what it sounded like when it sounded like the record, I thought, 'I can never go back.' Like I said, it was a flat-out out-of-body experience."

Asked what percentage of the vocals during W.A.S.P.'s live concerts are on tape, Blackie said: "You mean from my lead vocals? For my lead vocals, I would encourage people to go… We did five shows where I was sitting. Go look at those last couple. You're gonna hear it loud and clear. 'Cause when we were in Sofia, I cracked a couple of times, which I normally don't do. But it was getting towards the end of the tour. I mean, it wasn't anything catastrophic, but for me, I don't normally crack. But it happens. It's part of the live experience. But when we start doing the choruses and things like that, myself and Mike Duda and Doug Blair, we're all out there singing, but we're using backups behind that too. Because when we did it in the studio, we were using three and four tracks at a time to create that. You cannot make those choruses sound huge like that with just individual vocals creating that, because when you're doing it in the studio, you double and triple tracks. I mentioned QUEEN a while ago — they were using 24 tracks of vocals to create those sounds. You cannot create those chorus sounds by two or three guys doing that. It is impossible… Unless there's 20 guys in that room doing that, it ain't gonna sound like that… If you're doing 24 tracks of vocals to create that chorus effect, a handful of guys cannot do that, even with electronic doublers. And then you can get into that argument — okay, you're using mechanical effects to enhance one guy out there. I mean, where do we draw the line with this now?"

KISS frontman Paul Stanley, who had been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band's classic songs for a number of years, was accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS's recently completed "End Of The Road" tour.

Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.

"I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks," Simmons said. "It's like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that's at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you're paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they'll sing sometimes, sometimes they'll lip sync. At least be honest. It's not about backing tracks, it's about dishonesty.

"There's nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there's no samples on the drums, there's nothing," Gene continued. "There's very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can't even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There's very few bands who don't use [backing] tracks."

In March 2023, KISS's longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley's vocal performance on "End Of The Road", explaining that the "Star Child" "fully sings to every song" at every concert. He explained: It's enhanced. It's just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that's not real, that's not what they came to hear."

When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was "actually saying there [were] backing tracks that [Paul was] singing to," Doc said: "He'll sing to tracks. It's all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song."

In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that "90 percent" of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: "It bothers me that it bothers people. I'm, like, 'Why does this bother you?' It's the way it is. People have been doing this since the '80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that's not how we wanna do it."

Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is "one of the last people" who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. "I don't know how much longer I can say to you that I don't use tapes onstage, because I don't, and I never have," he told Consequence Of Sound. "And I still don't. When I have opening bands, and they're using tapes, and then I come out and I don't use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I'm like, 'What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don't have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?' Sometimes, I'm like, 'Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?' It's becoming very rare to come see a good band that's actually a real band — that's not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on."

In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn't "agree" with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. "I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don't think it's a good thing at all," he told the New York Post. "I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We've toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it's not real. You're supposed to play live; it should be live. I don't agree with using tapes … I think it's a real shame."

One musician who has been open about his band's use of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: "We've used technology since '87." He added the group employed "sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can't tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc.... We love it and don't hide it. It's a great tool to fill out the sound."

In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn't comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. "I don't like it," he said. "I think a band like ours… I have to say '60s bands were my favorite — '60s and '70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It's the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that's what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don't wanna do that."

Find more on Def leppard
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • reddit
  • email

Comments Disclaimer And Information

BLABBERMOUTH.NET uses the Facebook Comments plugin to let people comment on content on the site using their Facebook account. The comments reside on Facebook servers and are not stored on BLABBERMOUTH.NET. To comment on a BLABBERMOUTH.NET story or review, you must be logged in to an active personal account on Facebook. Once you're logged in, you will be able to comment. User comments or postings do not reflect the viewpoint of BLABBERMOUTH.NET and BLABBERMOUTH.NET does not endorse, or guarantee the accuracy of, any user comment. To report spam or any abusive, obscene, defamatory, racist, homophobic or threatening comments, or anything that may violate any applicable laws, use the "Report to Facebook" and "Mark as spam" links that appear next to the comments themselves. To do so, click the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the Facebook comment (the arrow is invisible until you roll over it) and select the appropriate action. You can also send an e-mail to blabbermouthinbox(@) with pertinent details. BLABBERMOUTH.NET reserves the right to "hide" comments that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate and to "ban" users that violate the site's Terms Of Service. Hidden comments will still appear to the user and to the user's Facebook friends. If a new comment is published from a "banned" user or contains a blacklisted word, this comment will automatically have limited visibility (the "banned" user's comments will only be visible to the user and the user's Facebook friends).