The one-armed drummer out of Def Leppard has just offered to make me a cup of tea. He's making himself one anyway, but still. I've interviewed some top celebrities in my time - Keith Chegwin, Phil 'The Power' Taylor, the man who did the engine sounds for MotoGP 2006. All stars in their own right, but none of them belongs to an internationally famous rock band that has sold 65 million records over the course of its 30-year career. Unlike Rick Allen. And unlike Rick Allen, none of them has ever offered to make me a cup of tea.
Allen is in London to promote Def Leppard's new album, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge. The first single, Nine Lives, was initially available exclusively as a download for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. It's the first time a band has chosen to release a single via a videogame, and Allen's here to talk about that too. Read on to find out why he thinks Guitar Hero is great, even though he's never played it, what he reckons of GTA IV, and why that tea won't have any caffeine in it.
Eurogamer: Why did you decide to release Nine Lives via Guitar Hero first?
Rick Allen: I don't think it's ever been done before, but as the record companies continue to die - and it'll only be a matter of years before they're gone - the bands that are able to self-promote are the bands that are going to survive. That's the game these days; the goalposts keep moving. You have to make up your own rules for how you want to promote yourself.
Eurogamer: How did the deal come about? Did Activision approach you?
Rick Allen: Yeah. I guess a lot of people that work with the company are fans, which helps.
You know, I remember as a kid picking up a tennis racket and air-guitaring for a long time. I actually ended up playing drums because my brother was bigger than me, and he'd steal the tennis racket. But Guitar Hero just takes it to a whole new level; it's like high-tech air guitar.
Eurogamer: So you've been playing it?
Rick Allen: I refuse to, because my life is way too busy. I've seen people hopelessly addicted to this game to the point where entire weekends just disappear. I can't even go there, I'm serious.
Eurogamer: Have you seen the new rival to Guitar Hero, Rock Band?
Rick Allen: Yeah, it's pretty cool.
Eurogamer: Aren't you tempted to have a go on the drum kit?
Rick Allen: No. My life is so busy, all I need is another distraction. Knowing me I'll discover these videogames and become hopelessly addicted to all of them.
Eurogamer: Are any other members of Def Leppard into games?
Rick Allen: I think Joe [Elliott, lead singer] plays a couple of videogames, but I don't think anybody's a really big gamer. The game for us is the game of making music, and how that fits in with life. You know, the amount of computing power we've got in cellphones these days is just insane. I can entertain myself for hours just using an iPhone. [Allen pulls out his iPhone and boots up an application. A cowbell is displayed on-screen. He taps it and the relevant sound rings out.] For instance I've got my own cowbell, which is great. Whenever I need more cowbell, it's there. Then we've got Etch-A-Sketch, look...
Eurogamer: So is this about as close as you get to gaming?
Rick Allen: Yeah. It's fine for now, because there's always going to be distractions. That's the nature of man, to come up with new distractions. What the distractions do is take me away from myself. I think it's important to experience yourself. There's always room for recreation, there's always room for distraction, but right now I'm just so busy with so many other projects. I have a not-for-profit foundation, documentaries, soundtracks, Def Leppard of course...
Eurogamer: Are you saying you haven't even had time to play GTA IV?
Rick Allen: I've seen it, and it looks entertaining, but it looks a bit violent to me. Videogames today are becoming like you're in your own movie. It's so interactive and the graphics are fantastic. I can see the appeal.
I don't think Def Leppard would be associated with something that's incredibly violent. We've never really been into things for shock value's sake.
Eurogamer: You're not up for biting the heads off bats?
Rick Allen: No, no, we'll leave that to certain other individuals.
Eurogamer: How about something milder? Giving a hamster a light slap, perhaps?
Rick Allen: Haha, no, not at all. We're actually quite boring.
Eurogamer: More Sudoku than Grand Theft Auto?
Rick Allen: Yeah. More traditional.
Eurogamer: So just how rock and roll is Def Leppard these days? On a scale of one to ten, do you go up to 11?
Rick Allen: Oh man, about once a year. That's about all the body can stand these days. We're really boring. But really funny - when you get the five of us in a room together, it's off the scale. Any kind of excess has fallen by the wayside and been replaced by intense humour, open-minded to the point of obscenity. It's very funny to be part of this organisation and there's always something to be thankful for and something to laugh at, and there are always people to appreciate.
Eurogamer: More nice cups of tea than champagne and hookers?
Rick Allen: Yeah, that's about it. Peppermint tea as well. I'm off the caffeine at the moment.
Eurogamer: That's not very rock and roll, is it?
Rick Allen: No, it's not. It's sad really. I've been off the caffeine for about three or four months. I go to sleep when I should be going to sleep, and I don't feel like I need coffee when I wake up. Cos that was starting to get me, too much coffee. Although at least it's not too much heroin, you know? Hahaha.
Eurogamer: Um, yep, haha.
Rick Allen: I guess addictive crutches come in many different flavours.
Eurogamer: Some in syringes, some in coffee cups.
Rick Allen: Absolutely. So I'm doing pretty good at the moment. Peppermint tea, nice fruit-topped croissants [gestures at coffee table full of nice fruit-topped croissants].
Eurogamer: Never mind all that, when was the last time you booted a telly out of a hotel window?
Rick Allen: I don't think I ever did. But we did trash a couple of hotel rooms back in the day with fire extinguishers, which was quite fun. The dry powder ones especially. It coats everything in the room with a very fine powder, and it looks like you haven't been in the room for about 10,000 years.
Eurogamer: Not that you'd be advising our readers to start trashing hotel rooms with fire extinguishers...
Rick Allen: Oh no no no no. No, no, no, no. No. We did get into trouble. Once we set a fire extinguisher off while someone was in the room. It just happened to be my brother. He was in there with a girl.
Eurogamer: She must have thought she was giving him the best night of his life.
Rick Allen: I'm sure.
Eurogamer: According to my extensive research on Wikipedia, Def Leppard has now sold 65 million albums worldwide. What's the secret to your success?
Rick Allen: I think we've written some really decent songs, but I think the real secret to our success is being able to stay together for 30 years. The life expectancy for most bands today is four or five minutes. It's sad, in a way; they don't get to really experience what it's like to have history.
Eurogamer: Steps didn't quite make it to 30 years, did they? I miss them.
Rick Allen: Yeah. It's scary that people can just disappear by the wayside. But we're very blessed, we've been given the foresight to realise why we're together, and really it's the friendship.
Eurogamer: What would you say to people who fancy following in your footsteps? Do you think Guitar Hero might help them learn to play, or should they stick to the real thing?
Rick Allen: It's a bit of both, I think. I've heard sometimes it's difficult for a real guitar player to play the game, because you're missing out so many notes. But I think a combination, when you're starting out, is good for dexterity. Then you can move on to the real thing.
Guitar Hero is way less mindless than just sitting down in front of the TV. At least there's interactivity and a sort of educational curve. I saw a YouTube video the other day of somebody on Expert level doing Nine Lives, and that was fantastic. I think if you're a fan, it's a great way to really tear these songs apart and get inside them.
Eurogamer: Have you heard about the new Guitar Hero game that's based almost exclusively around Aerosmith songs?
Rick Allen: Really? That's fantastic.
Eurogamer: It follows the progression of their career, so you join the band when they're just starting out and see how they made it big.
Rick Allen: That's brilliant. Now that sounds more appealing to me. Then there's rhyme to the reason, and the fact it follows their history is clever. I'd love to introduce my own daughter to something like that, a Def Leppard game where she could follow the history of the band. That would be really cool.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is out now along with the Def Leppard track pack, which includes Rock of Ages and Photograph as well as Nine Lives. The track pack costs GBP 3.99 / EUR 4.99. Def Leppard's latest album, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, is also out now.