From the Archive: AC/DC's Angus Young and Brian Johnson Discuss the 'Stiff Upper Lip' Album
Was your choice of guitars and amps on this album the same as always?
YOUNG: Absolutely. Mal still has his Gretsch Firebird, and I played my '68 [Gibson] SG -- the one I've always had, ever since I was young. I've got to look after it more these days.
GW: You played a '64 SG on Ballbreaker.
YOUNG: Yeah, I've got a few different ones. For the bulk of it, though, I do try to use the '68 ones.
What about amps?
YOUNG: Marshalls. The old ones. Mal likes a big, clean sound. He doesn't like it if distortion starts creeping in. He likes to get as big and fat as possible without that.
And you're a little grittier.
YOUNG: Yeah, well, I've always viewed myself as that. Even when I was younger, working with Mutt Lange, I'd say, "Maybe I should clean it up." And Mutt would say, "No. Actually if we can drive it a little bit more, it'll smooth out."
AC/DC is one of the ballsiest bands Mutt Lange ever produced.
YOUNG: Well, his first big mainstream success in America was Highway to Hell. I think he was a little shocked himself. He said, ''All these years I've been working on all that nice stuff, and here come these colonials."
JOHNSON: Him being a colonial himself, the cheeky twat. He's from Zimbabwe, you know.
Well, you guys are certainly ballsier than Shania Twain.
JOHNSON: Oohh, I don't know...
YOUNG: He's talking from the waist down.
JOHNSON: Yes, absolutely. My mind's always in my scrotum.
And that's why we love you guys.
YOUNG: I remember Mutt saying that, of all the many albums we'd done with my brother George and his partner, Harry Vanda, the one Mutt wished he would have done, where he was envious of George, was Let There Be Rock.
Stiff Upper Lip is your first time working with George since Who Made Who in '86, right?
YOUNG: Pretty much so. But every album we've ever made, whether George was producing or not, we've always sat down with him and played him the material, either before or during the recording. He gives us a good idea of where we're at.
JOHNSON: But this is the first time George has produced one of our albums by himself. In the past he's always worked with Harry. Not detracting from Harry, but it was kinda streamlined this time. You had no one to answer to or discuss things with except Malcolm or Angus. We were working pretty hard this time actually, from about 11 in the morning until one the next morning sometimes. Saturdays as well. It was good, though. George always had a game plan. I hate it when you're hanging around waiting for the next decision. George always had it all worked out.
In a lot of groups, it's a tense situation if you have even two brothers in a band -- like the Gallagher boys in Oasis.
YOUNG: I wouldn't call them a band. [laughs] I suppose maybe in the modern sense. You look at the two Kinks, Ray and Dave Davies. I think they're a better example.
So how do you and Malcolm and George get on?
YOUNG: Just fine, really. I've actually got more brothers. All together there were seven boys in the family.
What do you say, Brian? Is there a lot of sibling rivalry?
JOHNSON: Not really. What I love is sometimes Mal or Ang will look at George and just go "ummm," and George will go "hmm." And they've just had a conversation. Words don't get in the way of their communicating. I think the boys believe in George more than anybody else in the world. They trust him. Shit, I do. When it comes to rock and roll, the guy really knows what he's talking about.
Let's talk about the song "Safe in New York City" from the new album. Do you really feel safe in New York City?
YOUNG: I suppose that song is a little tongue in cheek. Last time I was in New York, that's all people were talking about: how safe it was, how it was gonna be such a great place to live. For me, New York has always been a city of unpredictability. You can never guess what's going to happen next.
JOHNSON: The lads had a bit of fun with that song, 'cause in the end they stuck in that little line, "I'd feel safe in a cage in New York City." Just in case people start fuckin' believing it.
A lot of people wonder where some of those AC/DC songs come from. Like "Whole Lotta Rosie." Was there really a Rosie?
YOUNG: There was, actually. I remember we were playing in Tasmania. And the capitol of Tasmania is Dar Es Salaam. Bon had gone out one night after we'd been playing. He'd just been wandering the streets around the little club areas. And he was walking past this street and this girl grabbed him from a doorway. She pulled him in and said, "Hey, Bon, in here." And he thought "Hey, why not?" The girl was there with her girlfriend, and he spent the night. This girl who was with Bon, she was a fair size girl. I mean they didn't have Weight Watchers then. She said, "Bon, these last few months I've been with 28 famous people." And she was giving him the lowdown of politicians and different people she'd been out with and whatever. Anyhow, the next morning Bon woke up sort of pinned to the wall. The girl thought Bon was still sleeping. She leaned across to her girlfriend, who was sharing the room, and she said, "twenty-nine." Her name being Rosie, Bon thought it was a great title for a song. He said this girl was worthy of being put into a piece of poetry.
Was there ever any thought of packing it in when Bon died?
YOUNG: We didn't really know what we were going to do. We had been writing material, and my brother said the best thing to do, to take our minds off of everything, would be just to keep working on the song ideas that we had. Then we could at least say we'd finished what we started. And at some point we knew that we would need somebody strong to sing these songs. And we were lucky. When Brian came in, he had big shoes to fill, and he's given it his own unique character. So we've gone forward. It was a tragedy, but a whole new thing came out of that.
Does one have to summon up a bit of nerve to write a song like "Can't Stop Rock and Roll," from the new album? Do the words "rock and roll" mean anything anymore?
YOUNG: That song is our little statement on that. Over the years, you start seeing more and more pundits in the world. I mean, they've got experts for everything now. Everywhere I went, I would see these commentaries. And it would always be these sweeping statements like [fatuous American accent], "Well, rock music's dead, and dance music's saving the industry... "
JOHNSON: And so the song opens, "Don't you give me no line..." It's true.
YOUNG: Rock music has been around since the days when Chuck Berry put it all together. He combined the blues and the country and rockabilly and put his own poetry on top, and that became rock and roll. And it's been hanging in. Our whole career has been playing rock and roll. And I'm sure you still get a lot of people tuning in to bands like us and the Stones. And younger bands will be plugging into it and taking it into the next realm. There's always going to be another generation that will take it and give it to a new, younger audience. So I think it will just keep going on.
Considering that we now have bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, is there any place where the Bible thumpers are still scared of AC/DC?
YOUNG: Oh, you still see a few people quiver.
JOHNSON: I'm sure they think we started it off. I'm sure they think it was our fault.
YOUNG: But I think that's been around since rock and roll first turned up.
JOHNSON: "Don't let Elvis show his hips on the television, 'cause it will drive everyone mad."
YOUNG: The English did that to me the first time I was on one of their shows. The producer said, "Don't put the camera on his hips. We know what he does with them."
When AC/DC is on the road, is it more like an army on the march, a traveling circus or a roving band of pirates?
YOUNG: You mean do we come to rape and pillage?
JOHNSON: A roving band of pilots?
Yeah, that's it. Aviators run amok.
YOUNG: Well, when we finished making our record, we left Vancouver exactly as we found it.
JOHNSON: We got our deposit back. We're not too bad, really. We made more friends than enemies. Put it that way.