Taylor Swift may have been born two years after Def Leppard released its best-selling album, 1987’s massively successful Hysteria, but don’t you dare question her fan credibility. She’s been listening to the band since birth — even earlier, in fact. Needless to say, the 18-year-old country star, whose self-titled debut has sold more than 3 million copies since its release in October 2006, is as excited as anyone that she’ll be sharing a stage with her hard-rock heroes during CMT Crossroads: Def Leppard and Taylor Swift, premiering Nov. 7 on CMT. We spoke with Swift, as well as Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott and guitarist Phil Collen about their upcoming collaboration.
How did this episode of “Crossroads” materialize? Was it really as simple as you saying in the press, “I want to do this thing with Def Leppard,” and then they called and said, “Let’s do it”?
Taylor Swift: Oh, it was a little bit more interesting than that. I went on tour with Tim [McGraw] and Faith [Hill] last summer, and I found out through the grapevine that Tim and Faith’s tour manager was [Def Leppard drummer] Rick Allen’s brother. … So I started totally geeking out. … I walked up to Robert Allen, the tour manager, and said, “Is there any way that I could have your brother’s number?” And he said, “Um, no. But I could maybe arrange a phone call.”
So one day I was just sitting on my bus hanging out and Robert Allen brings his phone on the bus and says, “Here, I’ve got someone on the phone for you.” I get on the phone, and it’s this guy with a British accent named Rick Allen. I was like, “Hi, you don’t know who I am at all. You don’t know me or my music, probably, but I’m a new country artist, my name is Taylor and there’s this thing on CMT, which is Country Music Television, where they pair up rock acts with country acts and it’s a concert called Crossroads. My dream Crossroads partner is you guys, and I would really like it if you would do that with me — could you do that with me?” And he was probably thinking, “Who is this kid?” And I said, “So, do you think that you could think about that?” and he was like, “Well, uh, maybe I could ask the guys about it. Good talking to you.” So, I basically threw it out there that I really wanted to do a Crossroads with them, and then I didn’t hear anything for, like, six months. I was like, “Eh, yeah, that probably didn’t work. I probably freaked him out, like, in stalker mode.”
I got a call from my record label like maybe six or seven months after that phone call, and they said, “Def Leppard just called. You’re on their radar, they know who you are, they’ve heard your music and they’re interested in the Crossroads.” And I was really excited about it.
Since then, have you met the band in person?
I have never met the band in person. My whole band has met their band — and they’re absolutely so in love with them it’s not even funny — but I had a previous obligation when they were in Nashville so I wasn’t able to go.
So what is it going to be like for you when you actually walk into a room with these guys for the first time?
It’s going to be amazing to walk in and see these people and meet them. I’ve listened to their music since I was a little kid. My mom listened to Def Leppard when she was pregnant with me. It’s pretty much ingrained into my genetics that I am to love Def Leppard, so it’s really cool to get to do this with them.
How do you prepare for something like this? I mean, it’s not just a normal show — you have to learn some of their songs, they have to learn your songs. How’s that going to work?
Well, I think we’re going to pick five songs out of their enormous catalog of smash hits and pick five songs of mine, work them up and have the Def Leppard versions of my songs and, I guess, countrify some of their songs. It’ll be kind of fun.
Are there any songs that you’re going to push for?
I need to do “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Photograph.”
What’s going to be more exciting — to hear them do one of your songs or to be able to do one of their songs with them?
To be able to play one of their songs with them is going to be awesome.
Do you see some common ground between what you do and what they do?
I think we both like to write songs about relationships and love and how people make other people feel. That’s why I’ve always been able to relate to their songs and maybe be influenced by their songs.
Your music blurs the line between country and pop/rock. Where does that sound come from, and what other artists have influenced you?
I was very influenced by Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain, and the things that they did with their music, where it was very relatable to everybody. That’s not my goal — I don’t sit down and say, “Let’s write a song that’s relatable to everybody, with a melody that could be played on both pop and country radio.” That’s not at all my thought process. My thought process is just, “Let’s write a song about what just happened yesterday with this guy.” When I sit down and write a song, I’m writing the song for the person that I’m writing the song about. I’m only thinking about what they’re going to hear when they hear the song. The fact that everybody else is going to hear it is just sort of an added bonus.
You’ve got a new album called “Fearless” coming out Nov. 11. What should you fans expect from this one?
I like to write songs about boys and love and relationships, and that’s what I’ve got on this album just like I did on the first album. So it’s more of that, except with two more years of maturing, I guess. I don’t like to sit down and have a game plan for how an album’s going to turn out. I just like to put the best songs that I’ve written on an album, and put as many songs on it as I can possibly put it, and release as many songs as I can possibly release, and hope for the best. That’s what we did for the first album and hopefully we get similar results with the second album. I’m really excited about it. I coproduced this album, as well as wrote every song on it, so it’ll be really fun.
Are there any songs in particular that you can’t wait for people to hear?
There’s a song called “You Belong With Me.” It’s about being in love with someone who doesn’t even know it, and they’ve got a really snobby, annoying, mean girlfriend who always brings them down. And, you’re like, “Come on, you belong with me. You should be with me, not her” — which was a really fun concept for me to sing about. Also, there’s a song called “15” that is probably the most personal song I’ve written, and a song called “Fearless,” which is about the best first date I’ve ever had.
You’re sort of in a unique position in that you’re still young but you’re already sort of a veteran in the music business. What have you learned over the past four of five years that has helped you get to where you are right now?
That life lessons count on a really grand scale when you’re in the music industry. It’s the things that you’re taught when you’re a little kid, like “Treat people the way that you would want to be treated.” You never know who you’re talking to. And that advice goes with the music industry or it goes with life. Treat people the way you want to be treated. … Also, be competitive but never be jealous.
Have you had some negative experiences in the business?
You always play shows where you feel like you didn’t “bring it” to the stage or the sound was terrible or the crowd wasn’t really that fun. Or you have nights where you feel like nobody likes you and you have mornings where you just roll out of bed and you’re not a fun person to deal with for a couple of hours. Everybody does that. I think the most amazing thing about being in the music industry is that I kind of thought that all my heroes were like these superheroes that wore capes and were a little superhuman, but you realize that they all have bad days and they all have days where they’re really cranky and they don’t want to get out of bed. They just want to lay in bed and watch TV, and I think it’s really fun to allow yourself to have a few days like that, but the rest of the time be really thankful that you are where you are.
Just to use Def Leppard as a frame of reference — they’ve been around for 30 years and they just debuted at No. 5 on the charts with their latest album. Do you want to be in this business 30 years from now?
I would love to make music for the next 30 years. I don’t know if I want to be walking red carpets in 30 years. In 30 years, I’ll be 48 and I’ll have wrinkles — because we’re probably not going to get rid of wrinkles surgically — and I’m probably going to have some gray hairs. I think [one of] the people that I’ve seen gracefully do this [has] been Emmylou Harris — she’s so beautiful. I think people like that — I really aspire to be like them because I think she’s so very elegantly continued to make music. It’s not about fame for her, it’s about music.
There has been a lot of focus recently on who you may or may not be dating. Is it weird for you that people seem to care so much about your personal life or is that just something that comes with the job?
I think I pay more attention when people write articles about my music. My personal life is something that people have been loving to write about lately. You know, I have a great life. I didn’t think I was going to get to do this. I didn’t think people were going to care who I go to dinner with and hang out with. The whole personal life thing, I look at it like I didn’t expect to be in this position and every day is a bonus day. I can take that with all the good stuff that I’ve been given. It’s not my favorite part, that people have a microscope on who I’m dating, but hey, whatever.