Shamelessly referencing Def Leppard
American duo Sleigh Bells have built a reputation for themselves in the past couple of years as a brash noise-pop band with a predilection for big, crunchy guitars. Aggressively catchy, listening to them is like binging on sugar: hyperactivity and headaches are never far away.
We spoke to them last week following the release of their new album Reign Of Terror, and during the course of the interview guitarist and songwriter Derek E. Miller admitted that the band’s style owed a heavy debt of gratitude to old-school rockers Def Leppard, and in particular their guitarist Phil Collen:
The guitarist from Def Leppard was at our New York show. He’s one of my favourite guitarists, so to have him there was actually quite terrifying! The first thing I said to him when I met him was “are you flattered or are you angry?” Our friend says to him “you know he stole that guitar sound from you,” and Phil Collen says “I know!” But he’s like “that’s good, we steal all the time.”
Singer Alexis added: I think they were genuinely flattered to have a current band that was shamelessly referencing them.
A quick listen to Collen’s landmark album with Def Leppard – Hysteria – and it’s easy to see the influence on Sleigh Bells of both Collen’s guitar work and the sound of the band as a whole. From Rick Allen’s synthesized drum-kit to the glam rock-colliding-with-pop aesthetic of the band’s songs, it is easy to see the shameless references to which Alexis and Derek referred.
But as Collen admits, Def Leppard were just as prone to borrowing from other bands. While writing Hysteria, Collen and co. were obsessed with Queen; another group that Sleigh Bells namecheck as an important influence. Talking about Hysteria in 1999, Collen told Guitar World: We used the Queen thing as a blueprint. Big vocals, pop harmonies, good songs, tons of hooks - that's what it comes down to.
So, Sleigh Bells may have indulged in a little creative copycat-ing, but then so did Def Leppard before them, and no doubt Queen before them too. As Freddie himself once asked, “radio, what’s new?”