From the Archive: AC/DC's Angus Young and Brian Johnson Discuss the 'Stiff Upper Lip' Album
Here's an interview with Angus Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC from the May 2000 issue of Guitar World
In a world filled with change, there's something profoundly reassuring about AC/DC. They're like a James Bond film -- a winning formula, unvarying, but packed with loud noises, big explosions and stuff about busty lasses. You go in knowing what to expect and you're never disappointed. The boys are as ribald and rockin' as ever on their newest album, AC/DC's 17th to date. Never ones to pass up an opportunity for an oblique phallic reference, they've called it Stiff Upper Lip.
AC/DC's recipe for timeless rock is based on the fraternally tight guitar work and hookwise song craft of the brothers Angus and Malcolm Young. Angus' little schoolboy suit may be one of the oldest gags in rock, but there's nothing gimmicky about his straight-down-the-middle lead playing, or Malcolm's Rock of Gibraltar rhythms for that matter.
"There's more to playing the guitar than being able to split your legs," observes Angus in that cryptic, non-sequitur style of his that makes what he's saying seem nastier than it really is.
AC/DC came blasting out of Australia in 1976 and have shown no signs of slowing down ever since. Early recordings like Powerage and Highway to Hell, produced by Angus and Malcolm's older brother George and his partner Harry Yanda (both veterans of Sixties hitmakers the Easybeats), established AC/DC as a force to be reckoned with in the late Seventies. The band suffered a grave setback in 1980, with the alcohol-related death of their original singer, Bon Scott. But AC/DC soldiered on valiantly, drafting flinty-voiced singer Brian Johnson, who joined the band in time to make the all-time classic Back in Black album with legendary rock producer Mutt Lange. Johnson's bawdy workingman's style and malicious magpie vocal range have become an indispensable part of AC/DC.
The world would be a duller place without AC/DC anthems like "Whole Lotta Rosie," "Highway to Hell," "You Shook Me," "Dirty Deeds" "For Those About to Rock," "Thunderstruck," "Moneytalks" and "Hard as a Rock." Within days of its release, Stiff Upper Lip's title track jumped into the upper reaches of Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart. Sessions for the album, at Vancouver's Warehouse Studio, brought the band together once again with George Young, who was in the producer's seat for Stiff Upper Lip.
"With the three brothers working together again," says Brian Johnson, "it's just the climax of many years of doing the right thing with music."
GUITAR WORLD: Angus, how do you and Malcolm work together when you're writing songs? Who writes the lyrics?
ANGUS YOUNG: Well, Malcolm and me both. We bounce a lot of ideas between ourselves.
Who comes up with the double entendres? You've done "Stiff Upper Lip," "Big Balls," "Hard as a Rock"...
YOUNG: Some of them are staring you in the face. I think, with AC/DC, sometimes the most innocent thing can sound that way too. Somebody once said, "Thank goodness they never wrote Cats. Think what they would have called it."
So what’s "Stiff Upper Lip" really about, then?
YOUNG: It's an idea that sprung into my head when I was stuck in a traffic jam once. I was thinking that one of the earliest images of rock and roll that I'd ever seen was Elvis Presley, who always had that big old lip sticking straight up in the air -- that sneer, you know? And that's something that's carried straight through rock and roll. Hendrix, Jagger... they all had that thing with the lip. It carried over to the fashion world, too. Nowadays, models gotta get collagen injections in if they ain't got it.
When writing songs, do you or Malcolm ever try to sing in a high voice like Brian?
YOUNG: You mean try to imitate Brain? No. At that point we usually just ring up Brian and say, "Hey, we need you to come and yodel."
BRIAN JOHNSON: If they try to imitate me, they might end up looking like me. They wouldn't want that to happen.