AC / DC returns with POWER UP: Alan Cross interview Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams – National


The future looked bleak for AC / DC. Singer Brian Johnson’s severe hearing problems forced him off the road, which resulted in Axl Rose being drafted to complete some touring engagements. Rhythm guitarist, co-founder and brother of Angus, Malcolm Young died of dementia. Drummer Phil Rudd was in the wilderness facing serious legal charges leading to house arrest. Had we seen the last Thunder from Down Under?Hopefully not. Six years after the last album, AC / DC returns on Friday, November 13 with POWER ON, with their 17th album and first since Rock or bust in 2014. How did they turn the tide? I had the chance to zoom in with singer Brian Johnson from his home in Florida and bassist Cliff Williams in North Carolina.

Alan Cross: First of all, Brian, I’m glad you can hear me. What miracles have the doctors performed?

Brian Johnson: It was technology. He’s an amazing man who tried to contact me to tell me what he was working on. He came and worked with me for a few years – Steven Ambrose is his name – and we worked with him for two years going down every two months trying to make this device that he had miniaturized. We worked on it so as not to lose the sound quality. Honestly, I’m very lucky he came.

AC: Heard it all started after you played an outdoor show in Winnipeg. (The date was at Investors Group grounds on September 17, 2015.) It was damp, cold and damp, and then you got on a plane and something went wrong.

READ MORE: (April 2015) Australian rockers AC / DC to perform at IGF in Winnipeg on September 17th

BJ: It was horrible there the weather. I remember that night. I think Angus already had a little virus. I got a bad chill and we ran to the plane after the show for a two and a half hour flight to Vancouver. After that my ears will not come out anymore. After about two months, they still hadn’t jumped. There was a good doctor there (in Australia) and he said, “Well, we’re going to have to operate immediately. And I said, “It’s fun. And we’re back to playing in about eight days. (Turns out) the stuff crystallized behind my eardrums and it was just gnawing at it and caused massive damage. It was steadily going down from there, so it was almost impossible to function and do my job.

AC: With it all – your hearing problems, Malcolm’s death, everyone was scattered – have you ever sat down over a beer and said, “Okay guys, that’s it? ”

BJ: We don’t talk like that. It is not in our language to say that everything is done. We pretty much knew, you know, that was it. But we all felt we had a pretty good race, a very good trip. You couldn’t ask for much more. I was 68, for God’s sake. It’s past my time. I just thought you shouldn’t be complaining. It is nothing terminal. But about a year later, Angus reached out, didn’t he, Cliff?

Cliff Williams: We never had a “that’s it” conversation. I was done, but Ang reached out and said we should do something with Malcolm in mind. We obviously all wanted to do that, so we all went with it and went to Vancouver to do the album. A studio is a controlled sound environment, so for Brian it was very doable. And then we moved it to the next step to see how it would play live and it went really well.

AC / DC Co-Founder Malcolm Young Dies Aged 64

AC / DC Co-Founder Malcolm Young Dies Aged 64 – November 18, 2017

AC: Where did you play live?

CW: In Amsterdam. We went there to shoot a video for (the new single), A bullet in the dark. That was the whole backline and the original band and we’re going to try some rehearsals. We spent about three weeks rehearsing and it gave Brian an opportunity. It was combat conditions (full AP and lights) to see what it was like. And it worked really well for him.

AC: When did this Rock or Bust lineup end up? Because there were rumors that you were working at Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, but no one could really confirm that except for a guy who had a window facing the studio and said he saw you, Brian and Phil , go and come.

CW: He didn’t see me. The boys were out smoking on the balcony and I had quit smoking by then, so I never got caught.

AC: What was it like working with producer Brendon O’Brien again? What works so well about him with AC / DC?

BJ: He’s just an “up” guy. He loves AC / DC. He loves music, he loves boys. We had a good relationship with him. He’s a man you can respect because he can play just about any instrument. He understands music and brings positivity to the ensemble. It’s just wonderful, get up and let’s go, let’s do it, nothing is impossible, man. It’s just this urgency but it’s relaxed. He knows what he wants and he knows what the band should be playing. And he also loved Malcolm and understood that this album was for Malcolm, a tribute to Malcolm. And he, like us, wanted it to be something special. He’s one of those special guys.

READ MORE: (November 18, 2017) Malcolm Young, guitarist and founder of AC / DC, dies at 64

AC: Are there any parts of Malcolm on this album?

CW: No, not that he played. Stevie (Young, Malcolm’s nephew and longtime touring member of the band) played the roles Malcolm would have played.

AC: If you look at the liner’s notes, Malcolm is credited as the co-author of each song.

CW: It’s because Angus and Malcolm were writing whenever we were off the road and were together every day to brainstorm. So they had a huge stash of things to shoot, which Angus did. So when we got together for this album, he had looked at everything and picked out 12 ideas that he thought would make a good album and brought them to us. So these are essentially the ideas of Malcolm and Angus.

AC: No wonder then that the album is dedicated to Malcolm.

CW: Not just that. We had been together for over 40 years. When you’ve been with someone for so long and you lose them, you want to do something.

AC: How does an AC / DC song come together? Is it the first riff or the lyrics?

BJ: This is usually the riff. But it is very important in an AC / DC recording that the chorus is loud – like Stunned. Any of them, in fact. I can not explain it. It just works. We will try to see where the lyrics can beat like a drum. If you listen to a lot of AC / DC songs, the vocals are basically part of the rhythm section. Each row kicking. It is not magic. It’s just five guys making this fabulous sound.

AC: I have this theory that the world needs a new AC / DC album more than ever because things are so weird that you actually perform a few functions. First of all (a) you are a reminder of how things were in the old days. And (b) you’re a lot like comfort food. Whatever happens, wherever on the planet, we can count on AC / DC like AC / DC. I think you are doing a very important public service just by being yourself.

BJ: It’s nice to say it, my son. I tried to figure it out myself. We often talk about the wonderful fans who follow us – they’ve been with us for 40 years and beyond – and they’re still here. And they bring other fans with them. I think what makes people happy is the music itself. It is so honest. There is no theme behind it. There is no science in this. There are no hidden messages. There is no directive. It’s just honest. And these days honesty is a scarce commodity. I think people are just saying, “Keep me away from politicians and viruses!”

AC: It’s a really weird time to release an album considering that we have absolutely no idea when we’ll be coming back to live performances. How do you see things moving in the short and long term for the AC / DC we are dealing with?

CW: Well, we don’t know. It is regrettable. We would love to play concerts but we can’t. Hope next year we can get some live stuff. But at the moment we can’t even try to plan anything.

AC: Things have changed so much with the music industry compared to the way things were. You used a Dodge ad to spread the word about the album. And if you dig into the backing notes, you’ll see there’s a 30 second clip for A bullet in the dark.

CW: You have to do it the way you can. Sony has been fantastic with the whole approach to the release, especially with the little song clips.

BJ: Even my friends would ask me, “What happens next? Do you have the next track? It’s just exciting. It gives you something else to think about.

AC: I loved it when the album posters started popping up in weird places. “It’s a clue! Something is happening! ”

BJ: I was in the back of a taxi in London and looked at St Paul’s Cathedral. And on top of that was the AC / DC lightning bolt! From all places! Holy shit! And then we approached Marble Arch and it was there again! I am in the group and I did not know this was happening! If I didn’t know what was going on I would feel a little scared, thinking that maybe it had to do with the virus and “Ha-ha-ha! The end is near! ”

AC: I am very glad to see you again. Like I said, if the world is going to hell, at least there is an AC / DC disc for us to play.

BJ: It’s brilliant. Thank you.

POWER ON will be released on Friday, November 13. Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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