Ghost frontman Tobias Forge and Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott have spoken to NME about working together on their collaboration ‘Spillways’, as well as their morning spent together in an Irish pub and why Måneskin are proof that the rock revival is real.
‘Spillways’ originally featured on Ghost’s 2022 album ‘Impera’ but earlier this year the theatrical rockers released a reworked version featuring the Def Leppard icon. Speaking to NME, Elliott described it as “this big love-in.”
He has been a fan of Ghost since the release of 2015’s ‘Meliora’ after being introduced to them by band Phil Collen and really loved ‘Impera’. “I played the shit out of Ghost’s music on my [Planet Rock] radio show, and then we saw that they had been bigging us up in the press,” said Elliott.
Forge then revealed that a lot of ‘Impera’ was actually inspired by Def Leppard.
“I’ve always been a fan but with this album, I really looked at their songwriting,” he said. “I have always been in awe of several Def Leppard records, but especially the big ones like ‘Pyromania’ and ‘Hysteria’. Not only are they great, but they achieved such commercial success that they’ve become a great example of how a lot of arguments in the pop world are wrong.”
Forge continued: “We’re constantly told we need to get to the chorus quickly, that songs need to be short and to the point but Def Leppard songs are often the complete opposite of that. I wanted to do something similar with ‘Impera’.”
With a lot of very public, very mutual respect, Ghost and Def Leppard’s respective teams started talking about possible collabs. “Out of nowhere, I got word Joe would love to collaborate,” said Forge.
However, those conversations were happening while Ghost were in the middle of an ambitious headline tour and while Def Leppard were playing sold-out stadiums with Mötley Crüe.
“I heard that it was on, but we kept missing each other because of how busy we both were,” said Elliott. “So I grabbed the bull by the horns and just went and sang the fucking thing. By the time we finally got to speak, I had already recorded ‘Spillways’ because I was chomping at the bit.”
Elliott continued: “I love that song so much. The keyboard intro blew me away the first time I heard it – with a band like Ghost having the balls to do something so unexpected like recording a hybrid of ‘Jane’ by Jefferson Starship and ‘Hold The Line’ by Toto. I really took a shine to it. It was the flagship moment for me, on what is a fantastic album. As soon as I knew a collab was probably going to happen, I just got on with it.”
Forge described to NME how he was “blown away” he first heard Elliott’s vocal on the reworked track.
“I instantly thought it was amazing and Joe’s vocals really add another layer to the song,” he said. “What he put on it was so different from what I had, but it still gelled. I was surprised by how similar we sounded though.”
Elliott agreed: “I think we do sound similar. I’m from Yorkshire but I don’t sound like it because [singing in that accent] wasn’t cool until Arctic Monkeys came along. Certain people have said they can’t tell Tobias and I apart – but I take that as a compliment. ’Spillways’ was never broken to begin with, so I wasn’t going to come in and change what he had originally done.
“If I was going to sing ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles, I wouldn’t be changing the melody because it’s already perfect. Same with ‘Spillways’. It didn’t need fixing.”
The recording was done, but the first phone call between Forge and Elliott still lasted nearly three hours. “We realised we had a lot of common ground,” explained Elliott. “So when Tobias pitched the idea of making a video, of course I said yes but I couldn’t actually go anywhere because I was looking after my kids. So he compromised, bless him.
Elliott added: “He came over to Dublin and we went to my local which is about a mile and a half from my house. Luckily the landlord knows me, so they were more than happy to accommodate, and Tobais directed it like Steven fucking Spielberg.”
The result replaces Ghost’s typically numbered webisodes with ‘Meanwhile In Dublin’.
“The fact we’ve got this great song and then we ham it up with a bit of karaoke was just hilarious,” said Elliott of the video. “We were there for about four hours but we were only filming for maybe an hour. The rest of the time, we were just hanging out and talking.”
“Everything for me is about vibing,” continued Forge. “You cannot just point at one beautiful boy and one beautiful girl and say, ‘You two should totally fuck’ to create a love child. It’s about meeting and hanging out. What happened with this is luck.”
Elliott agreed that the move to work with Ghost was “never a career thing”.
“It wasn’t about either of our bands needing a lift because there’s certainly nothing wrong with either of our careers right now,” he said. “This was two fans getting together and working on a song for the love of it. That’s always been my favourite kind of project.”
So, can fans expect more collaborations between Tobias Forge and Joe Elliott?
“It has come up in the last while, and I’d be more than happy to,” replied Elliott. “Next time though, when we’ve both got some time off, I want us to actually find some neutral place where we can get together in a room with a little recorder, a couple of guitars, pen, paper, our brains, a bottle of wine and see what we come up with.”
He went on: “I would love to sit down and write a song with the guy because it would be fun. That’s our morning word, ‘Fun’. I don’t want to do it for a job, I just want to write together to see what we’d get. I want to play around and see where it goes.”
Later this year, Ghost are set to head out on a mammoth US headline tour after a high-profile slot at Download festival while Def Leppard’s Stadium Tour finally arrives in the UK. At the same time, bands like Metallica and Bring Me The Horizon are blowing up on TikTok while newer acts like Spiritbox, Code Orange and Nova Twins are speaking to a fresh generation of fans. How do the pair feel about a so-called rock resurgence?
“I’m in Mexico City where Def Leppard just played to 56,000 people,” said Elliott. “Ghost are playing to huge crowds as well. Metal, pop rock, soft rock, hard rock, whatever-the-fuck-rock has never really gone away in the eyes of the fans. It comes and goes though. It wasn’t big in the ‘80s until us and Bon Jovi came along and kicked it up the arse. Then it went underground again, before it turned into grunge, then emo. Who knows what’s coming next.”
Comparing it the film world, Forge explained how “hard rock has always been similar to horror, but especially nowadays”.
“You have these blockbuster horror films that would never, ever be considered for an Oscar because it’s a horror film, so it’s automatically seen as not that good,” he said. “That might change in time, but that is the stigma that metal and rock still has. It’s seen as not being as sophisticated as other things. You can’t have an argument against that, but you can still sell records, you can become big on streaming, you can sell tickets. You don’t have to be on daytime radio to be successful.”
Forge continued: “Look at a band like Måneskin. That’s a sign people don’t shy away from organic music. When we speak about the well-being of rock, there’s a common misunderstanding that if there’s going to be a resurgence, the classic bands are going to come back around. I’m counting on bands we don’t know leading the way.”
“In the early 2000s, I was completely estranged from a lot of popular music until bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes and The Hives made it feel interesting again. That’s what we have ahead of us I think – a whole slew of 18-year-olds listening to [‘Spillways’] and feeling like they should go out and play music.”
Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe’s 2023 UK and Ireland tour kicks off in May. Visit here for tickets and information. Ghost meanwhile, perform alongside the likes of Slipknot, Bring Me The Horizon, Metallica, Placebo, Disturbed and Architects at Download 2023 this June. Visit here for tickets and more information.