Fireworks Magazine Online 86: Interview with Last In Line

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Interview with Vivian Campbell by Mónica Castedo-López

What started as a fun project for three ex-Dio members to jam some songs by their old band has gradually transformed into a serious outfit that releases original songs and is now on its second album. Three years after conducting a phone interview with Vivian Campbell about the Last In Line debut album, 'Heavy Crown', Fireworks had the pleasure of meeting the guitarist in person right before the Def Leppard show at London's Wembley Arena to discuss the follow-up, 'II'. Like the debut, this record features drummer Vinny Appice and singer Andrew Freeman, but the sudden passing of bassist Jimmy Bain three years ago forced the band to recruit a new member in the form of the talented Phil Soussan. In great spirits, despite his fight with cancer, an extremely chatty Vivian was happy to talk both Def Leppard and Last In Line, two bands that he will play with at this year's Download Festival.

Fireworks 86 Last In Line Interview

Tonight is the last show of the Def Leppard tour. How has it been?

It's been a wonderful year for Def Leppard and we've had a hugely successful tour. We did sixty shows in North America doing a co-headline tour with Journey and we sold over a million tickets. Our audience consists of about 30-40% people young enough to be our children, so we crossed that generational thing. This has been happening for years, but 2018 just exploded for us exponentially. Our entire catalogue is now available online, which I think really helped us reach the younger audience. The majority of our catalogue wasn't online for many years because of a long-running dispute with the label but that's all been resolved and it's just been fantastic, and we've just been inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's been an epic year!
Even though the band has been successful for decades, we still want to get better and keep going and going and make it a better experience, playing better and singing better, and we do.

And you don't find it harder as the years go past?

The travel is the difficult part. We don't do as many shows now as we used to, to give ourselves a little bit more time. We spend a little bit more money on pampering ourselves; we'll decide we need to stay in a really nice hotel, get some rest for a couple of days ─ which is very different from Last In Line, because we can afford doing that. When I do touring with Last In Line we stay at a Holiday Inn Express, if we're lucky. We fly coach and we play clubs where your feet stick to the floor and we get a cheese sandwich for dinner. But I enjoy both.

Have you ever thought about having Last In Line as the support act for Def Leppard?

That would make no sense for a couple of reasons: in this day and age you really have to add value for the ticket price because tickets are not cheap anymore, so we have to have a name band, like here we had Cheap Trick, in Australia we had Scorpions and in America we toured with Journey. If Last In Line were to be on the bill with Def Leppard it would be mostly a lot of Def Leppard fans who already come to see Def Leppard, plus there would be a lot of Last In Line fans who don't care for Def Leppard because we are a much heavier band.

When we last spoke in 2015 it was to discuss the Last In Line debut album and you were very excited about it. Then over a month later...

Jimmy's death... that really took all of the momentum out of things. We had a tour booked for immediately after the album release and when Jimmy passed away we cancelled the tour. Then the response to the record was so strong that we talked amongst ourselves and decided that we owed it to ourselves and to Jimmy's memory to proceed. Jimmy died with one tattoo on his body that said 'Last In Line'; he was so invested in the band. A couple of years before he passed away it was very difficult for me. He was in trouble with the police for driving offences and he had to go to a halfway house. When we were making the album and he was allowed out between 4-10pm, I had to drive him to make sure he didn't miss his curfew. The only thing that was positive in his life at that time was the band, Last In Line, so he went out and got a tattoo. When the album was reviewed so favourably we felt we owed it to Jimmy and ourselves. We put a lot of work in to get to this stage, so we auditioned some very well-known musicians ─ I can't say names ─ but they didn't fit the band right.

Then Phil Soussan came in and we knew right away he was right because Phil was with Ozzy in the 80s and he had that sensibility that Jimmy had, that sense of what the band is about and what that music is about. Also he's English and that keeps the balance of the band. Jimmy was Scottish, I'm Irish ─ so we had two Americans and two Europeans, so it's nice to have that balance and that sense of humour. Obviously we cancelled the tour but we picked up some of the bigger shows that we were scheduled to play with Phil Soussan in the band over the last couple of years prior to making this new album. So Phil has had time to really get to know us, and vice versa, and I'm happy to say that when it came to song-writing, the dynamic really worked well. Phil really understands how the band works. We don't come in with songs. To me the flavour of the band comes from everyone participating; you bounce ideas off of people and that's how the early Dio albums were done. Jimmy, Vinny and I would play and get something together. Ronnie would come down in the evening, we would play it for him and he would make suggestions. He'd go through his lyric bits, he'd step up and sing and we'd have a song and it would happen very quickly and very organically. It'd grow amongst us all.

To me that's how you really capture the sound and the spirit of a band. We did that with Jimmy on the 'Heavy Crown' album and we did it with Phil on the 'II' album. And I think that possibly as a result of having done so many shows with Phil prior to this record, and also because Phil is maybe a more ambitious bass player than Jimmy was, these songs are more developed, they have more parts to them and are a little bit more complicated than a lot of the songs on the 'Heavy Crown' album, and that's part of the reason why we wanted to call the album 'II'. I know it's not the first time anyone has ever done this but I have several reasons for it: number one, it really sounds like a band's second album to me, so I just wanted to make no mistake and call it 'II'. Secondly, and perhaps equally as important, I realised there's a certain amount of confusion about the band's name because we are named after an album, 'Last In Line'. Maybe people didn't know which one was the name of the album and which the name of the band. This was back in 2011 when we first started doing this project, and we had no ambition, it grew out of a jam; I just wanted to play guitar with Jimmy and Vinny. When Andrew came and started singing, that's when I thought this sounds great, the sound of the Dio band playing the Dio music and a singer who is powerful but doesn't sound anything like Ronnie. And I thought this is interesting. Right then I said, "Let's go and do some shows, let's call it Last In Line." I didn't give it any thought but also didn't think it was going to be as serious a project as it's become.

This is the side band for all of us, but it's a very serious side project. When I'm not working with Def Leppard I devote all of my time to Last In Line because I'm invested in it and want it to be taken seriously. If I had known back then I would never have very casually suggested the band to be called Last In Line. It made sense when we were just going out and playing Dio songs because Ronnie had passed away and Jimmy, Vinny and I were the last in line, but I didn't think that here we'd be seven years later with a second album of original music. Also people were confused by the name of the band. I think the initials LIL is how I think the band should try and reference ourselves and I thought LIL and the Roman numerals II was a very clean look, so not only does it serve to reinforce that this is very much a second album of the band but it also takes it away from the Last In Line.

That also shows your dedication to music because you could just easily rest at home, go on holidays, whatever, because with Def Leppard you make a comfortable living, right? So you don't have to go out and play small venues.

I absolutely do not, no. I believe that you are what you do and I always wanted to be a musician, so I consider it to be a great privilege to not only be in one of the biggest and greatest Rock bands in the world, Def Leppard, but I get to go out and play this music with LIL and with these incredible musicians. Vinny Appice is the most inspiring drummer on the planet in my opinion. Phil Soussan is an exceptional musician. Andrew Freeman, in particular on this album, it is the great showcase album for Andrew; people should take note of Andrew's name after hearing this album. As a song writer and as a singer, he's really stepped up his game from 'Heavy Crown'. For me to go out and be able to play with these musicians is an honour and a privilege. I've never been motivated to do it by money but I still find it kind of funny that a lot of people think I make money doing this and that's my motivation. It's not. People think that I should also frame it in the fact that I've been doing all this whilst I had cancer. I'm doing a lot better now but back when the 'Heavy Crown' album came out I was still doing chemo, and that was also the case when we were recording the album. That's how much it means to me. I've never been so busy in my life as I've been in the last five or six years since I got my cancer diagnosis because that also reminds you that life doesn't last forever and you really have to pursue your dreams and passions.

I'm very passionate about this music and I'm very passionate about playing guitar. I sort of had a rebirth back around 2011, when I went to play with Thin Lizzy for a few months as a stand-up player and it was after that when I came back that I called Jimmy and Vinny, and that's what lead to having that jam, which lead to this band, which led us to sitting here seven years later to talk about our second album. It's a muscle that I want to keep exercising. I realised that for many years I hadn't worked it as much as I should have; it was always there and it was dormant. I just feel incredibly fortunate that I get to play with Def Leppard and with LIL. It takes up all of my time and I have to forego a lot of my personal life; I don't take vacations and stuff like that but it fulfils me, it makes me feel alive and I exercise different muscles than I exercise with Def Leppard. Def Leppard is very vocal, the guitar parts are intricate but they're not as challenging as being in LIL because I'm the only guitar player in LIL and it's a very guitar-centric band, there are a lot of solos and people expect that of me. It's really fun to go back and do that. I love it. My playing on the album is much better even than the 'Heavy Crown'. I feel a lot more confident about my guitar playing as a result of doing all the shows when we were promoting the 'Heavy Crown' album, so I really feel like I'm at the top of my game as a musician and guitar player. I'm very happy.

Is the lymphoma clear or under control now?

I've been very fortunate for the last three and a half years, as I was part of a clinical trial for the first two years of that for a new drug, the same drug that Jimmy Carter took for his melanoma years ago. They call it immunotherapy. I was on the trial for two years and I responded very well to it. The drug is now available and it's called Keytruda. It's the first cancer drug that is given to anyone with any kind of cancer. It's determined by a genetic marker that you carry and about one in three of the population have this genetic marker called PD-L1. I happen to be one of those, so I'm very fortunate. I have PD-L1, therefore I can take this drug for lymphoma. They also give it for melanoma, for lung cancer, etc. So I still have tumours but they haven't grown in three and a half years. I've got hair, there are no side effects, I get a little fatigue when I do the infusions for a couple of days but that's it for me. Other people get more side effects but I'm very robust.

You're playing some shows with LIL.

Other than Download in June and a London show a couple of nights before that, Europe will not be until October-November.

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