Five years have
passed since AC/DC released its last studio album
Ballbreaker. That's a long time, but it's
not nearly as long as it has been since AC/DC have
really, really rocked -- not just kicked some
guitar-blaring ass, but rocked in a way that left
you grittin' your teeth and balling up your fists,
waiting an jittery anticipation for the next
bluesy flurry of sound. Well, the wait is over. On
the newly released Stiff Upper Lip, AC/DC
are louder, dirtier and more swaggeringly
self-assured than they've been since 1981, when
they released the monumental Dirty Deeds Done
Dirt Cheap. Stiff Upper Lip starts with
the uncompromisingly repetitive title-cut, and
just gets stronger from there, storming through
the blistering chaos of "Safe in New York City,"
the anthemic grandeur of "Can't Stop Rock 'N'
Roll" and the smoky decadence of "Satellite
Blues." With the help of original producer George
Young, AC/DC have recaptured the power, energy and
liberation of their early days. Guitarist Angus
Young recently sat down with Guitar.com to talk
about his aversion to technology, his disdain for
mainstream pop and his band's 25 year obsession
with fast cars and faster women.
Stiff Upper Lip is much bluesier than your
past few records.
Angus Young: I think it's just part of what we are. Rock 'n' roll has always had that blues element, and we've always dabbled in blues. I don't think you could call us a purist band, but even from the first album, we've done tracks like "She's Got the Jack" that have had a blues smell about them.
Guitar.com: But your first four albums have much more in common with Stiff Upper Lip than your last four.
Young: Well, on this one we were wanting a hard rock 'n' roll album. Something that was toe-tapping with a swing feel, and that probably just shines through from how we were influenced in them early days.
Guitar.com: Do you look at this as a return to your roots?
Young: That's a bit like a woman with the hair dye, that sort of roots thing. Nah, I don't think so. We've always been a band that have believed in roots -- the roots are rock 'n' roll: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Stones -- and we'll always admit to being a rock 'n' roll band.
Guitar.com: Are you at all inspired by the new wave of technology that many musicians from Eric Clapton to Jeff Beck have embraced?
Young: Our thinking has always been less is best when you make a record. Over the years, as more and more technology has come into recording, there's always that temptation to dabble. But I've always looked at that as the quick fix. Instead of going in and getting your mikes set up and getting a great drum sound, these guys go, "Oh, you have to have X effects gadget number 52 wit the Austrian Alp drum sound." Even the names of some of these gadgets are hilarious. The famous one that I've always remembered is the old Big Bottom Exciter. And somebody told me that some guy actually came up with that name as a joke after a heavy night of drinking. And he panicked when he came out of his hangover and went running up the road yelling, "No, I didn't mean it!"
Guitar.com: Did you record most of Stiff Upper Lip live in the studio or do you use lots of overdubs?
Young: No, it's basically bare-bones live stuff. And if a guitar solo comes winging out of nowhere, and it's cooking, it adds to the atmosphere. There's not a lot of thinking before hand. We get into a track with a, "One, two, three, four," and we're off.
Guitar.com: Your brother George produced your first four albums, and then you stopped using him. Why did you decide to work with him again on Stiff Upper Lip?
Young: From the very early years he was instrumental to this band. Even with Malcolm and myself growing up as kids, George showed you what you could do in the studio. He showed us a lot of the basic stuff, and he was always great - helping you with the songs and explaining everything - like the difference between a verse and a chorus, the meaning of a drum break or a middle eight, how you can get the best out of the two guitars without having to resort to layered sounds. That kind of thing.
Guitar.com: Why did you stop working with George?
Young: He had done everything up to Powerage in the studio, and then he did this live thing, If you Want Blood. And then he said, "Look, it's good experience to work with other people because there are a lot of people out there who know rock 'n' roll, and have different ways of doing it."
Guitar.com: Was there something that led you to start working with him again?
Young: I think his time and availability. He was always busy, and he made a decision a few years ago that he was going to enjoy his life. [Rhythm guitarist] Malcolm [Young] asked George to help us with the Bonfire box set, so he helped out. And then Malcolm thought it would be great if we could get him in to work with us on a new record because we wanted to make just a great, classic rock 'n' roll album. We didn't want to be making something just to suit the latest whim of the time.
Guitar.com: Stiff Upper Lip sounds like a breath of fresh air compared to much of the what's out there today. Is rock 'n' roll in intensive care? Are you trying to save the genre?
Young: Well, we've deliberately done things in the past just to be against the grain. When people said, "This is happening," we went deliberately for something completely different. When they've said, "Oh, it's all about soft, clean things," we went for something dirty and sleazy. And it's the same with this one. Everything else is so slick and poppy now that we wanted to do something that really rocked, and would be really different.
Guitar.com: What's the best rumor you've heard about yourself?
Young: A lot of years, especially early years, I would get a lot of people thinking I was a smack addict or something. You get a lot of that. I think they'd see the nutty performance and they thought, "This guy's gotta be on crank. You can't just go out there like that."
Guitar.com: Why did four years
elapse between the release of Ballbreaker
and Stiff Upper Lip?
Young: We came off the road for Ballbreaker in '96. And we had been promising our record company for a few years that we would get a box set done. And they were expecting it within that time frame. But we didn't want to come out with just a bunch of songs that everyone's already got. And hardcore fans had always been coming up to us and asking us if there's anything that's unreleased or is a rare item. So we did Bonfire, [a mostly-live tribute to original vocalist Bon Scott]. But it took a bit of research. And some of the tracks that we found were very rare. In some cases, I didn't even know somebody had recorded them. And in other cases, we were depending on something that we knew was recorded, then we would find out a chunk had been destroyed. There was a fair bit of time spent on assembling those songs. Then it took a year and a half to get the material together for Stiff Upper Lip, and another three months to record it. Then it was mixed. So that's what took so long. I think if we hadn't had the box thing taking extra time, we would probably have done it a lot quicker.
Guitar.com: Even though you've aged considerably since the early days, you're still writing songs about fast cars, young girls and wild sex?
Young: Basically, from the period where you start, I think your head remains there. So, those are your subjects. When I would hear Berry singing, "Riding along in my automobile/ my baby beside me at the wheel," it was the same thing. Every band that I know that's done the rock and roll thing, there's been the cars, the women. The stones had "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Starfucker." They probably got away with a lot more than we did. Even the Beatles, they had songs like "Why Don't We do It in the Road" and "Lady Madonna."
Guitar.com: How come other bands get away with being sexually explicit and AC/DC gets accused of being sexist?
Young: It could be because we always admitted to being just a rock 'n' roll band. There are no extra tags, and the fact that we don't preach or appear at the latest rally for some celebrity cause maybe makes people think [we're sexist] because we're not at all political. But I've always found people like that very elitist and stupid.