AC/DC - Malcolm Young Remembered With Classic BW&BK Interview From 2000
November 23, 2017, a year ago
It’s not that often that heavy rock royalty arrives in Toronto, but in the spring of 2000, AC/DC legends Malcolm and Angus Young were in town to talk about about their new album, Stiff Upper Lip, a classic interview which can be found in BW&BK issues #39 and #40 (Entombed and Pantera covers, respectively). So it was one of those surreal moments to be in the presence of greatness, both men chain smoking and drinking tea. And with the beyond tragic passing of Malcolm Young on November 18th, we thought we’d dig up this extensive interview up from the archives. And I must say looking back at the incredible chat, we covered some deep territory dating way back to the origins of the band and plenty of fodder for Bon Scott fans! For most, this will be the first time reading such a historic piece.
Ride on Malcolm, ride on… arguably the greatest rhythm guitar player the rock world has known.
AC/DC - "New Album Out...Fine And Fit"
Guitarist Angus Young reassures the masses that AC/DC are in it for the long haul. And sure as the coming of spring, 'DC deliver the goods as expected, no holds-barred, riffs aplenty, soaked in tales of liquor and lick-her. Seventeen albums into their career, the mastery behind an AC/DC record is down to a fine science, wee mascot Angus and brother Malcolm constructing the sturdy foundation with the simplest of tools, all gauged by a toe-tap.
And the world gets a rare glance every three or four years at the inner-workings of this five piece, completed by raspy frontman Brian Johnson and the ol' standby rhythm section, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd.
The last time AC/DC landed with a studio record was way back in '95 with Ballbreaker, although the Bonfire boxset struck a chord in 1997, which was Angus' last press challenge. While most major world cities may get the chance to view 'DC live every five years or so, the downtime isn't spent counting the immense fortune the band has accrued since their incarnation in 1973. "Actually by the time we got off the road, we more or less started writing. We came off the road at the end of '96 actually. During the first year you start writing and then we had the box set Bonfire, and that took a bit of time, researching it and getting tapes from all over the world. But after that it was back to the grindstone, doing more ideas and getting ready. Once we had those done and we felt happy with all the material, it was a case of just getting in the studio and getting them down on tape."
And most of the process took place in BW&BK's home country, Vancouver, B.C. to be exact, at Warehouse Studio (with producer/brother George Young, engineered and mixed by Mike Fraser), with the mastering process done at Sterling Sound in New York City.
"It was probably the best time we've ever had recording," Angus says about the Western Canada stint that took about three months from start to finish. "It was a lot of fun, a lot of laughs. Malcolm, myself, George, Brian, Cliff and Phil, you know, we all like to have a laugh. We're always on the lookout for a good studio. Mike Fraser has worked with us on a number of albums and he had sent up some literature to our offices that got passed on to us. So Malcolm, myself, and George went to check out the studio. We went in and we felt that we could get the AC/DC sound in there. It had a good rock and roll sound and that's what we were looking for and it was just from that point we said 'OK, right, we know what it all sounds like' and then we booked it for three months and in we went."
"I think something good is worth spending the time on," he says about the long process. "We're probably lucky that we've had all this time. I think over the years when you do that much touring, that much recording, and everything else that comes into the rock and roll life, at this moment it gets a little bit easier."
"And this time we felt we wouldn't commit to anything else. Normally if you're recording and stuff, there's all these other commitments, like touring and everything that goes along with touring, videos, etc., and we just put a hold on everything and just said we'll get this album done and when we're happy and satisfied that we've got a good album then we'll release it and take the next step after that. Once you peg yourself into a tour, then you're shooting for time lines." Although rumours run rampant about AC/DC co-headlining Ozzfest or festivals in London, Germany, France or their Australian home base, which all have been uttered in one form or another, Angus says that the band "haven't penciled in any touring dates as of yet. We'll definitely tour at some point but we haven't made the hard sort of choices, where to start, and in what countries."
And when AC/DC decide when and where to salute rockers around the world, they'll be carrying 12 blues-drenched tales of juvenile exploits and tomfoolery. Blues being the key word, young Angus' axelife from the get-go nurtured along by the masters of the Mississippi Delta and rock legends like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
"Well we were always a band that started as a rock 'n roll band and you know, blues runs right through good rock and roll. Even in the early days on our first album we had songs like 'The Jack' and that was all blues-based, and on Dirty Deeds we had 'Ride On' and it was also blues and then even on Ballbreaker we did 'The Boogie Man'. But I think it's part of us. I mean myself as a guitarist when I pick up a guitar, the first thing I'm playing is a lick. But we've always been a harder-edged rock 'n roll band. We do come on with the tough, rough sound, but I think that's part of our style and our nature."
The backbone being this tight-knit family connection, spearheaded by the two brothers, nearly thirty years (Angus turns 41 on March 31, Malcolm turned 47 on January 6) of writing, jamming and carousing together with guitars in hand.
"When Malcolm asked me to join when I was young, it was always the case that the music is what we were there for," says Angus, explaining the relationship. "We have the brothers thing but between the two of us it's always the music that you look at and that's your end game. As kids we would scrap a lot I suppose, but as we joined together in playing and making music it was more professional."
"When we were working out all our ideas," offers Angus, dissecting Stiff Upper Lip, "the thing that we wanted the most was to make a good rock and roll record and something that was toe-tapping all the way through and that's what we aimed for. We weren't thinking of anything like top 40 hits or anything; we were just aiming to make a good rock and roll record. That's why we also brought in our other brother George because he made a lot of the early rock and roll with AC/DC, and it just seems so natural - the three of us. And if Malcolm's sitting between the two of us he makes a good referee too," he laughs!
"We all get along together," he reassures. "We are a family that grew up very bonded, very tight and we're all in agreement - we all love what's good in rock and roll, especially George. He's a big fan of rock and roll, especially the past; he knows a lot of the history of it. When he's got his two brothers there really belting it out, he loves it."
In BW&BK #40, AC/DC's car-jammin', plus Angus Young's Bon Scott memories!
AC/DC - Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be!
It's been one month since we unveiled the first part of AC/DC's Stiff Upper Lip saga, and in that short time, the record vaulted into the charts worldwide, they shook hands with the gutter at their first in-store appearance ever in New York City, joined WWF lunatics on Saturday Night Live (helping cook up Saturday Night Live's highest ratings of the season with an estimated 20 million viewers on March 18) and performed at the ultra-exclusive Warner Music Juno Awards party on March 12. In short (no pun intended), these Aussie lads have taken the spotlight in their own hands and shone it on themselves. In the past, AC/DC have chosen to shy away from such exposure, but the mood in the camp these days is full of tomfoolery and pent-up juvenile antics. Axe-wielding brothers Angus and Malcolm Young conclude the tale...
The AC/DC philosophy:
Malcolm: "We just try hard to please ourselves really. You gotta do what you do best. You get lots of people saying, 'Oh, when are they gonna change?' and plenty say, 'Don't change.' We couldn't change cause we only know the stuff we like - straight ahead rock and roll, no frills and good performances. The music really is the important thing, that's the bottom line, personally that's all I'm interested in, I'm not even much up for the rest of the thrills of it. Even the press - I'm not a big mover and shaker in those areas and never wanted to be. If I were out of a job I'd be back at the factory, I think. We were all fitters and turners. That's what they called 'em back then in the metal trade, steel work. It was like apprenticeships, four of the guys were fitters and turners and Angus worked with lead."
Success and the meaning of the dollar:
Malcolm: "You don't forget. I get amazed a bit sometimes when you see a lot of young bands who've come up from tough parts of town, especially the rap guys. You see them just buying everything straight away and then six months later they've no more hits, no more money. 'Scots are thrifty!', you know. We're not tight, but we do know what the value of a dollar is."
27 years on:
Malcolm: "Yeah, I'll be gettin' a gold watch soon, uh? I don't think there is any retirement in the music industry. I don't really know anyone that's retired. If they have it means nobody wanted them anyway. With most musicians it's like the Titanic, they go down with the ship. You feel a part of that responsibility, even with the kids. But you do feel a responsibility that if the kids keep wantin' it, and I'm talkin' kids now that are 40, 45, we'll keep doin' it for them. As long as we believe that we've got the right thing to put out, and that's what we always strive towards - the great song. We're still lookin' for it, like everyone is. We would love to get something, somewhere near what the guys in the '50s were doing. Not sound-wise, but the quality of the rock and roll. You know back then they had it all, the swing and all that stuff that gets kids up these days. AC/DC play basically what was going on with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis - trying to create the excitement and get the mood. We want to keep the flag flyin'. I think we're the only guys except for the exception of the Rolling Stones. They're about ten years, fifteen years older than us guys so we've still got a long way to go and we like to learn from their mistakes. Once you move you're confusing the kids - they'd say 'These guys have gone off rock and roll'. We want to keep that around for another millennium."
Malcolm: "I think it gets back to our starting days again. Working for a couple of bucks a week. Working our butts off getting covered in oil and all the shit that goes with it, and when we got to play club gigs, luckily enough, we thought 'This is IT!, don't have to work. Angus, we can make 50 bucks a week each here, we can survive, without a day job'. That was our big plan (laughs). So everything outside of a club gig is a bonus to us. We made it 25 years ago, as far as we're concerned."
Bon Scott - Full Of Life!
On February 19, 1980 we lost one of rock's most distinct and charismatic frontmen. Bon Scott (born Ronald Belford Scott) died in the wee hours of the night in the back seat of a friend's car following a typical alcoholic binge in London. His death comes just months after the band scores its first big American success with the album, Highway To Hell. He was 33 years old. Angus and Malcolm Young tell the tale of a rocker and a dearly missed older brother...
Bon's influence today:
Angus: "I think it's just something that is part of you. It's like you lost someone close to you, in your family or a very close friend. You've always got that feeling they're there but you just, I suppose, miss them in the physical sense. There's always memories that keep coming back to you, and it doesn't matter what the situation is. You could be traveling, you could be relaxing somewhere, or going to play or being in the studio, there's always something that reminds you."
Angus: "I remember the first time I had ever heard Brian's name was from Bon. Bon had mentioned that he had been in England once touring with a band and he had mentioned that Brian had been in a band called Geordie and Bon had said 'Brian Johnson, he was a great rock and roll singer in the style of Little Richard.' And that was Bon's big idol, Little Richard. I think when he saw Brian at that time, to Bon it was 'Well he's a guy that knows what rock and roll is all about.' He mentioned that to us in Australia. I suppose when we decided to continue, Brian was the first name that Malcolm and myself came up with, so we said we should see if we can find him."
Bon and Brian:
Angus: "Well, as a band the musical side of AC/DC is how I always relate for myself. I never really compare them because they're both unique characters. Brian, at the time, had big shoes to fill. He's certainly done that and more so they've both got their own unique characters but they both have similarities which in AC/DC we all share. All of our backgrounds are pretty much the same, we all come from working class families, we all have the wit that seems to sustain us when things are a bit tough."
Early North American releases out of order:
Angus: "It was because we had played most of Europe, we had played most of Britain and a lot of other countries around that area. We came to America the first time in mid- '77, and at the time they had released our first album, High Voltage, and what they had done was taken our first two Australian releases (High Voltage - 1974 and TNT - 1975) and put them together. They had signed us in '76, so our record company felt if they put a combination of those two records together it would be a good introduction. That's how that came about. Then we released the album Dirty Deeds for the European side of the world. We had just finished recording Let There Be Rock so the North Americans said 'We want what's current, so we'll have Let There Be Rock.' It was a bit strange, but they felt that they wanted the current thing and they felt it would be great because they knew we were going to be touring in the summer for the first time so they wanted a good strong introduction. And for us it was a good thing too because we were very proud of the Let There Be Rock album, especially Malcolm and myself because for the first time we could really feature the guitars."
Angus: "Well with Mutt it was the first time he had ever worked with us, and I don't even think at that point that he had even had a big album, a big success. I think he'd had a few single successes in this part of the world but he hadn't had a major album and for us it was our first time really working with someone else as a producer. But we felt it was a good combination because we had wanted to try a few different things. Up until that point we had made a lot more in your face rock and roll and we wanted to try a couple of medium style rock tracks."
Angus: "Well you stuck to your guns. There was a bit of a worry, especially the title, Highway To Hell. They were a bit worried, especially from the American south as to whether it would be played. But we had said 'You know this is what we called it and this is what we like' and so we stuck to our guns. And it's funny enough, all those southern states were the first ones to play it!"
The peak of Bon's career:
Angus: "Yeah, I suppose for Bon it was probably. The guy was full of life, and then he had the tragedy. When I think back in hindsight, he was a guy that I always knew was full of life."
After Bon's death:
Malcolm: "Should you carry on with the name? All sorts of thoughts went through our minds. We were just sittin' around not doing anything because of respect too, you know, and not knowing and not caring. We just got a hold of each other one day and just said 'Look, we've come up with lots of music before Bon died, so why don't we just get together and sit down and at least... at least we can do something, we can play guitar.' So we did that and a lot of good music came from that period because something kicked in there. We didn't have to do it, but inside there was stuff coming out that probably wouldn't have ever appeared. It made us grow up really quick I think."
Angus: "Even Bon himself, just before he died, he'd come down with me and Mal, he got behind the kit and Mal said to him 'Ah Bon!, get on the drums, we need a drummer', and that's what he loved. Bon wanted to be the drummer in the band. It was kind of funny, the first time we ever sat down, here's this guy saying, 'I'm your new drummer.' Mal convinced him to sing, to get up to the front of the stage. Then he was there at the end again. The last you saw him, there he was behind the kit. He played the intro to one of the tracks. It turned out it wasn't one of the greatest songs but the intro was great - 'Let Me Put My Love Into You' - just the intro of it before it goes into Mutt Lang territory. It was fuckin' good before then (laughs)!"
Back In Black:
Angus: "We had a lot of ideas even from touring on Highway To Hell that we felt we should finish off what we had been working on. You never know, we could have said 'This is it.' We may have stopped, but we still felt that we should have finished off, hence even the cover of Back In Black. You can see it, we made it in black for the colour, called it Back In Black, and even put the bell on the front. Obviously it was different after Bon death. I suppose to some people they would have probably viewed you as a whole new act, and in one way it was like starting again because you don't know what's coming, you don't know how it's going to be received. You think, 'Is this ethical?' This was our tribute to Bon."