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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Phil Collen, Manraze debut new song

By Roger Lotring
Special to ESPN.com

For Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, Manraze is much more than recreation during downtime. It's a creative release that allows the guitarist to experiment as a musician.

Manraze -- Collen, his pre-Leppard bassist Simon Laffy, and Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook -- have been together since 2004. Their second album, "PunkFunkRootsRock," was released last year, highlighting a wide range of surprising styles.

"Musically, it's really diverse," Collen said. "We go dub reggae one minute, and we've actually got a new song coming out that's a pure dance song."

Sidestepping the familiarity of their better-known bands might put off some fans, Collen admits. "We played a show at the Roxy in Los Angeles, and Lemmy from Motorhead didn't want to come down and see Cooky play reggae for an hour and a half," he laughs.

But stretching himself sharpens Collen, in turn reinvigorating Def Leppard. "I think I actually put a little more fire in what I do with Def Leppard because of the Manraze stuff."

And performing with Leppard is something of an action sport, Collen says. "There's a real adrenaline, physical thing attached to it. The energy is actually related, musically and physically. Even the way we sing, you get a sweat on just singing like that."

Phil Collen

Phil Collen wrote the Manraze song "Take On The World" for the movie "I, Superbiker -- The Showdown." The song is available on iTunes here.

Lately, Collen has been in the business of creating music for action sports. That's his guitar solo on Poison singer Bret Michaels' "Get Your Ride On" for the Speed Channel.

And "Take On The World" by Manraze was written specifically for "I, Superbiker -- The Showdown," a Mark Sloper film that follows six riders through the British superbike season.

Collen says his appreciation for the sport goes back to his days as a motorcycle courier in London.

"I totally respect what these guys do. They break a leg and get it fixed up, just so they can finish the season. In any other sport that would be a definite no-no. With superbike riding, it almost seems like these guys sneak around the back and go, 'OK, just put some bolts in there and I'll be good to go.'"

The video for "Take On The World," also directed by Sloper, was filmed at Brands Hatch, a motor-racing circuit Collen remembers from his youth.

"I'd see all this racing going off there as a kid. Standing on the track and everything, it's great because I finally got to take another thing off the bucket list."

His love of soccer, particularly West Ham United, also comes from childhood. But another passion, Muay Thai kickboxing, was not so accessible to an East London kid aspiring to be Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore. Collen was well into his thirties before discovering Kenpo karate, followed by kickboxing and four years training with legendary karate and kickboxing star Benny Urquidez. ultimately studying with Jean Carrillo.

"I've been fascinated with actually feeling the difference when you experience different styles, going from karate to kickboxing to Muay Thai kickboxing. It's three very different ways to do one thing."

Maintaining a training regimen is easy, especially because Carillo, one of his best friends, joins him on the road. "Prior to a Def Leppard tour, I usually get a 12-week run-up. We end up working out three times a day toward the end. He lives half an hour from my house, so we work out all the time."

But Collen doesn't compete, and despite the extensive training, he no longer spars. "Even the light sparring, I've cracked ribs. You get your nose busted, all these things, so I avoid that. I just do the training."

The training and nutritional expertise that Carrillo used to sculpt Mr. Olympia contender Francis Benfatto has given Collen, 54, a shirtless physique that he proudly displays during Def Leppard concerts, usually with quite the sheen.

Is that bodybuilder posing oil?

"No," he laughs. "I've got this coconut oil that I rub all over me."

He is an avid fight spectator, especially with Muay Thai elements becoming more prevalent in the UFC, along with elements of boxing.

"I'm such a huge fan of high-end boxing, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. My favorite fighter of all time was Mike Tyson," Collen said. "The UFC is incorporating a lot of these different methods. None of the guys can box like a real pro yet, but it's getting there. At some point you're going to get someone who strikes like a really great boxer, does Muay Thai like a Thai guy, and can grapple."

Roger Lotring is an author, freelance writer and radio show host based in Connecticut.