Def Leppard, Rick Allen Interview – Bringing ‘Wings of Hope’

2021-05-20

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen performing live, wearing a Def Leppard shirt.

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Carol Fisher Photography

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen joins Anne Erickson to discuss his “Wings of Hope” art exhibition and more in this extensive interview

Def Leppard fans know of Rick Allen as the fearless, longtime drummer for the ’80s arena rock band, but Allen also has a penchant for art. He has been drawn to art since he was a child, and today, he creates large-scale paintings that depict everything from rock stars, such as Eddie Van Halen and Kurt Cobain, to vibrant flowers.

Allen will be in South Florida this Thursday through Saturday (May 20 to 22) to celebrate his “Wings of Hope” artwork collection on display at the Wentworth Galleries in Boca Raton, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. For more information on the appearances, visit WentworthGallery.com and RickAllen.com.

Allen spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about his love for art, what inspired him to paint Eddie Van Halen and Kurt Cobain, what’s new with Def Leppard, what it was like getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more. Read the Rick Allen interview below, listen via the YouTube player and hear it via the Audio Ink Radio show on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Rick, it’s great to chat with you. It’s great that you have your appearances since the pandemic shutdown with your art showing, “Wings of Hope 2021.” Tell me about the collection and meaning behind it.

The whole idea of “Wings of Hope” is that we need that right now. We need something to look forward to- to just be able to realize that this is all going to be behind us at some point. Within that collection, I’ve been busy with the Legends series, which is musicians that inspired me growing up. I ended up doing a really cool Johnny Cash, the original bad boy. And, I did a Kurt Cobain. He basically changed the face of music forever. I did two Eddie Van Halens, which I think sold before I even finished them. The response I got from those was just on fantastic. Then, I’ve been busy with Stars and Stripes, Union Jack and all kinds of stuff. So it’s, there’s something there for everybody to see.

You mentioned Eddie van Halen. What made you want to immortalize him with your art?

Back to 1978, a good friend of mine, Mark, lived up the street from me where I grew up. He called me up, and he said, “You’ve got to come and listen to this record.” So, I went over there, and he played me the first Van Halen record, and I was just completely blown away. I had never heard anybody play guitar like that before or a band like that before. Then, a couple of months later, it just so happened that Van Halen were coming through town, and they were opening up for Black Sabbath. Quite honestly, Van Halen owned that show. You could tell they were so hungry, and the combination of that band, that lineup was just insane. It was just so cool.

Fast-forward to 1991, and I moved to the States, and I settled in Studio City in the in Los Angeles area. Then, one of my best- one of my neighbors was actually Steve Lukather from Toto. We got to know each other. One night, he called me and he said, “We’re having to get together. You know, we’re meeting at such and such a place. Are you going to come?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’d love to come and sit.” He said, “I want to introduce you to Eddie Van Halen. He’s a really good friend of mine. So, I went down there to the restaurant and met with Eddie. I was super, super star-struck, because I’d been looking out to him for all those years. He was very humble. Very unassuming. You wouldn’t realize that he played guitar like he did. I didn’t know Eddie well, but I met him a few times, and there was always a mutual respect. I thought the best way I could pay homage to him and his family and his fans was to do a painting, and the response I got was just amazing.

One of the other pieces in the Legends collection that really struck me was your Kurt Cobain piece. It’s so beautiful and really shows off his eyes. Do you remember the first time that you heard “Sounds Like Teen Spirit” and “Nevermind?”

I was just- it was akin to when I heard the Sex Pistols for the first time. It just completely turned the music industry on its head. And, yeah, it had a great effect in the music industry for the most part, but I think for a lot of bands – a lot of rock bands, particularly – it was a real struggle, because it was just bringing that raw element back. And, you know, the record we made after that, a record called, “Slang,” was actually really paying homage to that moment in time. We didn’t necessarily have all the big harmonies and everything. It was more stripped down and kind of sounded like we did when we first started out as kids.

When did you fall in love with art?

When I was a kid, really. There was more paint on the ceiling and the floor than on the paper, but there was something really cool about doing that- just full contact. Paint everywhere. Then, I discovered photography. My grandfather bought me my first camera. Then, really discovered music, or playing music, right around 9 or 10. And then, when my youngest daughter was born 10 years ago, we started painting together, and I kind of got the bug again, and I learned a few really cool techniques. And, here we are. I’ve been doing it for the last, I don’t know, 12 years or whatever,

You’re really good at making art, by the way. I think a lot of people who know you from Def Leppard would be surprised that you have this talent.

I think creativity is interchangeable. I think if you can play music, I think somewhere in you, if you develop the muscle memory and technique, I think you can express yourself in different ways.

What do you have lined up for the three different showings?

I’m just hoping a bunch of people show up. I’m obviously being cautious. I’ve had my vaccination, but I’ll probably still be wearing a mask, but you’ll be able to tell who I am because my earrings will poke out from underneath the glasses! But, yeah, meeting people, in that sort of setting, in a gallery, is way more intimate. I can talk to people on a different level as opposed to meeting people at a meet-and-greet with Def Leppard. It’s so brief. It’s just a handshake. You know, pleasantries. How’s the weather? That kind of thing. But, with this, I can actually spend a bit of time with people and talk.

You’re also in a band called Def Leppard, of course! (Laughs) Is there anything new with new music from Def Leppard because people are really excited to get it?

Yes! I mean, we’ve always got new music on the go, and I’m just excited for people to hear new music in the not too distant future.

That sounds promising. Do you think we might get something new from Def Leppard by the end of the year?

I hope so. I mean, that would be fantastic.

The big Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison, Joan Jett tour got postponed into 2022. Were you surprised or did you have a feeling the tour would be on hold?

I didn’t know what that decision was going to be- what Live Nation’s decision was going to be. I think that is something that- any promoter, whether that be sports or music or any larger gatherings, I would hope that there’s intelligent conversation going on around how to do this. It was always going to be their call. I mean, obviously, we’re bummed, because our fans are just so loyal to this band. We wanted to get out there. But, if that’s the decision that Live Nation made, I think, first and foremost, people need to need to be safe. So, it was a bummer, but it’s their decision, and I’m just going to occupy myself for the next year and probably do a lot more painting.

What do you miss most about being on the road?

Just playing in front of the crowds. That’s always the gift. That’s always the blessing. It’s indescribable, the feeling of being out there and the energy you feel off a crowd. I’m not sure it’s something that you can emulate. It’s just such a unique experience.

Def Leppard is now officially in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What was the experience of getting inducted like?

To be honest, when I first heard it, we just got off the road. So, it was a bit of an inconvenience, because I just really wanted to be at home. I was just really tired. We’d been out on the road. But, then we went to New York about four or five days before the ceremony, and I just realized how much of a big deal it was, doing all the press and everything. Then, I think the realization that it was the largest fan vote in history for the Hall of Fame, I think that was one of the things that really registered with us, because we always felt as though we didn’t get enough love from the industry, anyway, but we always did from our fans. So, it was nice that they influenced the decision for us to be inducted. But, it was cool. Brian May and Ian Hunter being there and finally standing up on the stage and looking out and seeing the whole industry just really rooting for us. And then, seeing all the fans. It was actually pretty overwhelming. I shed a few tears, because it was just a long time coming. I just really got how important that was.

What do you think of the Rock Hall class for this year? I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Foo fighters, Tina Turner, the Go-Go’s.

Oh, wow. Yeah. That’s, that’s cool. That’s great. That’s a great lineup. They all deserve it. You know, people that have been around this business for as long as they have, we all deserve it. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. Sometimes it feels like a real uphill struggle, and it’s not as glamorous as people would imagine it is. But, I think it’s cool. It’s a great honor to be inducted.

The fans were so happy when Def Leppard got inducted into the Rock Hall, and two other bands with strong fanbases that haven’t been inducted, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, haven’t. I can’t figure out why.

I know; I know! And, it was like that for us for many, many years. And, I could never understand why we weren’t brought in sooner. But, hey, that’s how it goes. I don’t understand that process, but as you say, there are some bands that you would think would be a given or really obvious, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t work like that.

What’s next for you and Def Leppard?

Really just being here at home, and then I guess sometime a year from now, we’ll start rehearsing and get ready for the tour. I’ve been busy with music. I was very fortunate to be involved with my wife’s record, with Loren Monroe’s record. It was cool getting to work with Steve Ferrone. He ended up playing drums on her record, which I was a little bit jealous, but I got to play some songs, as well. She just released a record called “Under the Wolf Moon.” So, if anybody’s interested in Lauren’s new record, LaurenMonroe.com. For me, they can go to RickAllen.com.

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