Thursday, 11 February 2010

Angus Young & Brian Johnson [AC/DC]

Angus Young & Brian Johnson

In February 2010, I "interviewed" the biggest rock band on the planet AC/DC by proxy. The way this works is quite simple. Rather than scheduling slots for individual journalists, the promoters collect questions from several journalists then send a proxy interviewrer to present these to the interviewees in one sitting. This saves the musicians lots of time, but leads to a lot of disjointed questioning, dropped points, and bland answers, as questions are not pressed and follow-up questions are lacking or lame. Four of the six questions I submitted were used: numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5. The interview took place at the Park Hyatt in Sydney on the 7th of February, 2010.

QUESTION ONE: The current music scene has CD sales falling and more and more people downloading rather than going to stores. AC/DC is not following that trend. What kind of reasons do you have for emphasizing physical releases in this current day and age?

ANGUS: For us it’s probably a different market. On the digital side they kind of concentrate more on the pop music, and pop music - it’s very fast. They kind of have a single every month or something, but, from our background, we were always a band that tried to make a good album. We concentrated on that. So, for us, it’s been two different things. But it’s been that way from the beginning. Where other bands made pop music or changed their direction, we always stuck to what we do best, which is rock music.

QUESTION TWO: What distinguishes Black Ice from all the other albums you’ve done over the last four decades?

ANGUS: I wouldn’t say you reinvent the wheel when you do something. You just try to get better song craft. You just to put a bit more craft in what you do, and hopefully you come up with something a little bit different than the album you did before.

BRIAN: I think it’s just a natural progression. It happens naturally with the band and the boys, and it’s just a different time and a different feeling.

ANGUS: And we’re lucky - over the years we’ve managed to get a lot of new fans to plug into us.

QUESTION THREE: In one interview you did the title of Black Ice was explained as a reference to a Scottish weather forecast. While AC/DC is typically seen as an Australian band, how important are those British and Scottish roots?

ANGUS: Well, black ice was always a term you heard a lot in that part of the world, Australia is always warm but other parts of the world, like Scotland, you get the four seasons, spring summer, autumn winter, and snow. So, when you got snow, for me it was always unusual. When you get out there in Britain, and they talk about Black Ice for me it was a whole new term.

BRIAN: It’s dangerous, y’know. On the radio if they announced “tonight there’s going to be black ice on the road,” you know it’s just lethal stuff, and Scotland and the North of England that’s where’s it’s prevalent. It was just a dangerous word, black ice. You know you took your life in your hands when you went out on the motor bike!

QUESTION FOUR: From your millionaire mansions, what do you think of impoverished music press hacks who consistently slag off every AC/DC album as being “unoriginal retreading of the same old rawk-and-roll cliches”?

ANGUS: Well, we’ve outlived a lot of them haven’t we!

BRIAN: Put a few in the ground too, didn’t we?

ANGUS: We outlived a few record deals as well… You’re not supposed to do that.

QUESTION FIVE: AC/DC’s international appeal has consistently grown over four decades. What do you think is the REAL reason so many people in so many places love this band?

ANGUS: I think it’s because we stick to what we do best, and probably every few years, there’s a change where people say “oh we like rap” or “we like indie”, but for us we always stick to what we do best, and it probably goes back to our roots. At the time, music was very soft and we wanted something that was more popular, y’know. When you’re in the bar, the music people liked most and would get up and dance and have a good time to was loud rock music. I always thought, there’s something going on here, because when they put on a love song people sat out, but when you put on a rock track people get off their feet. I think that our music was both the kind of stuff that we wanted to be playing, and also something that the people were looking for. I’m not a psychologist, but I think there’s something of a primal beat that sits inside us all, and the public seems to like music when it has more energy.

BRIAN: It just makes you want to move, basically.

QUESTION SIX: You were just nominated for the Grammy for “Best Hard Rock Performance.” Congratulations! What was your reaction when you first heard the news?

ANGUS: As you can see it was overnight for us! It was only for how long? Can’t even think, maybe 30 years?

BRIAN: A couple of ciggies and a cup of coffee!

QUESTION SIX (Follow-up): So the public support is what you pay attention to more?

ANGUS: Yeah, we get our reward every time we go on stage.

BRIAN: The punters know best.

ANGUS: And we were never a band looking for that stamp of approval.

QUESTION SEVEN: Standing on the stage looking at an audience is a perspective and feeling that few people in this world know, what particular sight or sound from the stage can you remember from the shows on this tour?

BRIAN: Going deaf is what I remember most! No, but I think that this show is so good, and what the boys have put together in the production of the show, seeing the reaction to that each night is great. There’re certain shows of course, to give an example, the Stade de France or Wembley, where you get on the stage and it still takes your breath away. It’s always exciting though. Just the other night in New Zealand, there was a stadium where there was a hill in the back just covered with people, and it was surrounded by trees. Nothing’s the same and each night is an adventure, and that’s what keeps you going.

ANGUS: And when the lights go out, all you see is a sea of devil horns.

BRIAN: That’s right. Those devil horns, never seen anything like it. It’s just amazing some nights.

QUESTION EIGHT: What kind of daily things do you do to ensure that you can give 100% every time you take the stage?

ANGUS: I lift a lot of cigarettes. That’s my weight lifting program.

BRIAN: Well, if you’re on tour, I just stay in me room, and try not to talk! Angus is always fiddling on his guitar. I guess you just get yourself ready for the next gig. You could be traveling, but try to go to the gym to stay fit, but basically you just have to get ready. The gig bit is fine. It’s just the bits in between that takes years!

QUESTION NINE: We are now about one month away from your Japan tour. What are your thoughts and feeling s heading back to Japan?

ANGUS: It’ll be real good to be back to play in Japan. It’s always good, if you’ve not been in a while, to go back.

QUESTION TEN: What kind of places in Japan have stayed in your memory? Where would you like to go this time?

BRIAN: Yeah, well what I remember the first time I went to Japan, somebody said to us, “the Japanese audience will be very polite”, y’know. What a load of twaddle! It was fantastic. And I remember the shabu-shabu, that meat stuff. That was good. But it was just fun, a fun time. A very exuberant audience. It’s not that way for every band, so that really says something about what kind of band AC/DC is.

ANGUS: Yeah, savage! Here they come!

QUESTION ELEVEN: You have played at arenas and domes around the world, including the Budokan and Yokohama Arena in Japan. Now you will be playing at the Saitama Super Arena and Osaka Dome for the first time. Is there any kind of particular excitement or anxiety playing at a venue for the first time?

BRIAN: You try to channel.

ANGUS: I suppose over the years you try to bring that everywhere. You know for us it was even if you went from a small place to a big stage, you always tried to keep the same. I never felt the difference depending on where we were.

BRIAN: Everywhere we go we try to make it feel like a club.

ANGUS: If you can make everyone in the place feel one, tapping their feet in time.

QUESTION ELEVEN (follow-up 1): And are there any venues around the world that particularly stand out in your memories?

ANGUS: There’s lots of great venues.

BRIAN: That’s a hard one, that.

ANGUS: Usually the first show in a place you haven’t been for a while. Like Brian says we came on the other night in New Zealand and for us and the people there it’s almost as if you’ve jumped time. They’re right there in front of you and, it’s like the feeling that you were all there yesterday.

QUESTION ELEVEN (follow-up 2): So, this is obvious, but for you it seems like the people in the venue are the key.

ANGUS: They’re the sixth member of the band.

QUESTION TWELVE: When big acts come to Japan, one universal concern for the fans is whether the show will be full scale, same as the USA or Europe, which they often cannot do because of transportation issues and the like. So, is AC/DC coming with the whole set up? Hearing it from you will be very exciting for the fans.

ANGUS: Everything’s with us. We’ve got the whole production.

BRIAN: Otherwise what’s the point?

ANGUS: They’ve got the whole production, they’ve got us, and we don’t come cheap!

QUESTION THIRTEEN: Your last Japan tour was 2001, and before that seems like ages ago. This leads many to speculate that this could be your final Japan tour. Is that something you have given thought to yourselves?

BRIAN: I’ve never thought about that.

ANGUS: I think it’s the same as when we started. People always ask us “did you realize you would be a big band when you started?” and you don’t. You just play and you go along and take each day as it comes along. And as I said before, we are after all just an overnight sensation! You too can be someone after 40 years!

QUESTION FOURTEEN: What are your upcoming plans?

ANGUS: Probably try and get in and start to get new tracks, get another good studio album. It never really stops, y’know. You get off the road and then you’re back doing what you do, writing tracks, so that never stops.

QUESTION FIFTEEN: You had to cancel some shows during the USA tour last year, and you have rescheduled them for this year. Is everything ok now?

BRIAN: Yeah that was me. I’ll put me hand up. I just had this cancer scare in my esophagus and had to have lots of tests and CAT scans and stuff like that. And the doctor wouldn’t really let us go until we were sure I didn’t have any of the nasty stuff. Thank god I didn’t, but a few sleepless nights, let’s just say that!

ANGUS: I thought my diagnosis was the best. “Lack of nicotine” I thought!

BRIAN: Yeah, they stopped me fags!

QUESTION SIXTEEN: Who is a person you particularly respect and why?

ANGUS: There’s a lot of people. One in particular I think of is Chuck Berry. He basically wrote the book on Rock N Roll. He was a great guitarist and a great entertainer, and I think everyone borrowed from his book. If you look at the Beatles , the Stones, even Elvis Presley, they all borrowed and took a leaf from Chuck Berry. Of rock n roll, he’s probably the Shakespeare.

BRIAN: For me I always liked, I still do, Eddie Cochrane. And then Jerry Lee Lewis, I used to get all excited and girly watching him because he was just…

ANGUS: The killer!

BRIAN: Crazy. With big shock of hair, y’know. He was real. He wasn’t kidding!

QUESTION SEVENTEEN: What would you say to your Japanese fans who have supported you for years who have been eagerly waiting for your return ?

ANGUS: Yeah, we’ll get along there when we come, and we’ll certainly show them that if you liked us last time you’ll love it again this time.

BRIAN: Tell them that we’ll be ready, so come on in.

QUESTION EIGHTEEN: What would you say to your new Japanese fans who are going to be seeing you for the first time?

ANGUS: Just be ready to rock.

BRIAN: We can’t give all our secrets away, y’know!

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