AC/DC: Video Interview
CDNOW Editorial Director
Death and taxes: the only two things in life you can count on, right? Wrong. Make it three: AC/DC.
The Australian-cum-Scottish band has been playing the exact same brand of raunchy guitar rock for the past 27 years, selling millions of albums worldwide, never changing, never altering its sound one iota to fit into any momentary trend. So the band's legions of fans will have no trouble blasting its latest album, Stiff Upper Lip, and annoying the neighbors.
"For us, the big thing was to define your own sound, your own style. We wanted to be able to make a record, put it on, and [have] you know instantly it was AC/DC -- our own distinctive thing." -- Young
The one thing that is different this time is the delay. The fact that it's been five years since AC/DC's last original album -- 1995's Ballbreaker -- caused a recent spate of rumors -- a particularly persistent one had singer Brian Johnson suffering from throat cancer. So are they all OK? What was the problem?
We recently sat down with both Johnson and guitarist-founder Angus Young to catch up.
CDNOW: First of all, it's been five years since your last album of new material -- and there have been a lot of rumors about the reasons for the delay. Can you explain why it took so long?
Angus Young: Well, we came off the road in, what was it …?
Brian Johnson: November '96 or something -- it was pretty late.
Young: We came off the road -- we'd been out there for nearly two years. So that was a lot of touring. We had a bit of a break, like a month or so. Then it was back to the grindstone, coming up with ideas. Also, during that time we had promised a box set, which became the Bonfire set. So we spent a fair amount researching that, tracking down records from here or from Europe, trying to find lots of older tapes and rare recordings.
It took a bit of tracking down and a lot more time than what we thought. And then it was back to writing for this album. But all in all, we probably spent about two years [on Stiff Upper Lip] -- about a year and a bit putting the ideas in, and the rest of it, I think we recorded it quite quickly, like three months.
You recorded Stiff Upper Lip in Bryan Adams' studio in Vancouver, the Warehouse. Are you friends with him? How did that work out?
Johnson: We met him a few times. Our paths cross a lot. Nice enough lad.
Young: But I didn't know at the time [it was his studio]. You tend not to ask, I suppose. You don't even think of it -- who owns something. The literature came via a business manager, and me, [brother/guitarist] Malcolm [Young], and my other brother [producer] George [Young], we flew out there and saw the studio and tried it out -- took the guitars and drum kit and sort of messed around in there to see if we'd get the sounds we like. So that basically determined the setup we used.
You guys have stayed true to your sound all these years, despite changing times, trends, and styles -- and that's become increasingly rare. Were you ever challenged in any way by some producer or record company guy to alter your sound or style?
Young: Well, we started as a rock-and-roll band. For us, the big thing was to define your own sound, your own style. We wanted to be able to make a record, put it on, and [have] you know instantly it was AC/DC -- our own distinctive thing. So I always found it strange when somebody would say, "Oh look, we can do this type of [music]." I always found that they'd want to smooth you out and make you a bit more [mainstream]. But we never wanted to be in the mainstream thing. We always just viewed ourselves as a good rock-and-roll band. We were never interested in top 40. It always seemed so full of quick novelty.
So we always went the total opposite of that. When we started, the music that was of its time was very soft, very quiet, very clean. And we wanted something that was a bit more rougher and tougher -- that's what we've always strived for. Sometimes when you're working with producers, they want you to have a commercial success. I always thought, "Well, if they knew, they'd be doing it all the time." I mean, if anyone can say to you honestly, "I know exactly what's gonna be a commercial success," hell, they'd be running a lot of things. So I don't think you can say what's commercial and what's not commercial. But our thing was, just make a good rock-and-roll record and stick to that. And it's what we do best. I could never see us wanting to be something else.
And what's wrong with being a rock-and-roll band? I've always viewed it as, well, jeez, if you made one record that was great or one song that was great … Look at the Kinks -- "You Really Got Me," great song. The Who, "My Generation." Did the rest of their career live up to it? Who knows? But hell, for that one song, you put it on and you can rock the house down. And for me, hell, that was enough.
I always thought we were lucky. We would come up with tracks like "Back in Black" or "Highway to Hell" that you could put on and stamp your feet, and maybe chase away a few neighbors on a good Saturday night.
You must love that feeling -- when you're onstage and that energy is happening, and you have that dynamic going on. Is that what keeps you going? The love of that feeling?
Young: Yeah, I think people come along; they see you; they know what they're gonna get. And I think that's good in itself, too. They can sort of go, "Hey, if I go see these guys I know I'm gonna get a shot of rock and roll."
Speaking of which, your songs are often used to rev up crowds at sporting events. "Hell's Bells" is played at some NFL football games, for instance. Have you experienced this?
Johnson: I've seen it at a hockey match. My local hockey team down in Tampa -- the Tampa [Bay Lightning] -- uses it, when they're skating out on the ice at the start. It's a thrill every time.
Brian, you have two daughters. If they were to choose rock and roll as a career, would you support them?
Johnson: Yeah, sure I would. Nothing wrong with it. I'd be proud of 'em if they did. But it's a tough business. They'd have to be ready … They're not getting any help from their dad.
Angus, your school-boy uniform was recently enshrined as part of the "Rock Style" show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Have you seen it? Here you are in a museum piece now. How do you feel about that?
Young: I don't know. They might view me as a fossil. And it's funny you mention that, too. I know there were two rocks named after Malcolm and myself in Australia. Some, what do you call it? Prehistoric?
Johnson: Prehistoric fossils, aye.
Young: Some archaeological thing. I'm not very scientific, and I'm not very educated either … It was a couple of old things. Pre-Frank Sinatra, you know?