With AC/DC breaking out all over the world with the Black Ice album this week, Undercover sat down with Angus Young to get the story of how they got to where they are today.Angus Young spent time with Undercover to talk about his favorite music, the origins of the band, the death of Bon Scott, the appointment of Brian Johnson and the gaps between albums.
PAUL CASHMERE: You’ve always had a bad boys or rock and roll image. Are you worthy?
ANGUS YOUNG: I always said AC/DC never had to look for trouble. It just walked up to us. I don’t think we really are bad boys. A German interviewer said to Malcolm “here is a TV, do you want to toss it out the window” and Malcolm answered “no, I’ll just take it home”.
PAUL CASHMERE: The irony about the bad boy image is that you really are all happily married family men.
ANGUS YOUNG: For the two hours I climb on stage, I become the school-boy. But as soon as it is over, I get off stage and go home. I don’t even get in the front door if I come home like that with the horns hanging out of my head. I get told to wipe my feet before I come home.
PAUL CASHMERE: So Mrs. Young doesn’t dress up in the school girl uniform to greet you?
ANGUS YOUNG: (laughs) He wishes
PAUL CASHMERE: I’ve read that you are very much into painting, that you do a lot of landscapes.
ANGUS YOUNG: Sure. I’ll have a crack at anything. I’ve even been given a paint brush and told to do a little bit of wall painting.
PAUL CASHMERE: What sort of lifestyle has the fame and wealth created?
ANGUS YOUNG: I’ve always been one for the simple things. I have never been one for the flashy lifestyle. I think that is the same for everyone in AC/DC. I think that is why we stand out as who we are. We are just one of those bands. I think if you said to someone to describe you a rock guitarist they wouldn’t picture somebody like myself, with the shorts and the school suit on. I think we have always been different from the rest.
PAUL CASHMERE: What about material things?
ANGUS YOUNG: Material things? I have never been a big lover of the flash life, the big house with the big swimming pool and the couple of bimbos on each arm. Throw in the two bimbos, maybe.
PAUL CASHMERE: So you still have the Holden panel-van lifestyle?
ANGUS YOUNG: A lot of people laugh at how we are as people. I’ve gone to AC/DC shows and I’ve just walked in with the crowd. It is rare they ever spot me. They are always looking for the guy in the school suit.
PAUL CASHMERE: Do you see yourself competitive with younger bands?
ANGUS YOUNG: Not really. We’ve been there, seen there, done it. As far as for us, there is always a new band out there, this year’s new thing. AC/DC is AC/DC and what the other guy does has never really bothered us. We have never had to have been in a competition. They always expect us to go for the number one thing and we always say when you get to number one there is only one way to go and that is down. We would rather be Top 5 for 20 years.
PAUL CASHMERE: In the early days, we were competing with Sherbet and Skyhooks.
ANGUS YOUNG: There has always been someone we’ve been packaged with but AC/DC, we have always looked at ourselves as a rock and roll band. From the moment we started, it was always a compliment that you could motivate somebody to part with his hard-earned money and walk into a record shop and buy your record.
PAUL CASHMERE: How exhausting is a live show?
ANGUS YOUNG: It can take its toll. When we toured once for 18 months, at the end of the 18 months you can be pretty fried. Put it this way, you always look like you need a good feed at the end of it.
PAUL CASHMERE: Angus, you’ve always looked like you’ve needed a good feed anyway.
ANGUS YOUNG: (laughs)
PAUL CASHMERE: Has the noise from your gigs affected your hearing?
ANGUS YOUNG: That’s another thing I have never had a problem with. It is also a very good reason that I am running around a lot.
PAUL CASHMERE: Are you still a follower of Australian music?
ANGUS YOUNG: If I am there, when I get into Australia I pick up about what is happening there. But a lot of the people are still around from when we were there at the beginning. Jimmy Barnes is still around churning out songs. There is still a lot of the old school still there but a lot of new things are happening.
PAUL CASHMERE: What do you listen to at home?
ANGUS YOUNG: I have a minimum record collection. I go into a record store and pick up an album but the problem is that I’ve already got it. I’ve got 8 copies of Muddy Waters, 4 copies of a BB King album.
PAUL CASHMERE: Do you still consider yourself an Australian band?
ANGUS YOUNG: Sure, that is where we started and where we were first recognized as coming from. For us, for sure. That is where our roots are. If it wasn’t for Australia we wouldn’t be here.
PAUL CASHMERE: Its funny how American’s often compliment Brian on his “Australian” accent.
ANGUS YOUNG: I think they are just trying to figure out where he is from. Brian does have a very strong accent and I think they just figure that because it doesn’t come from their part of the world, so it must be Australian.
PAUL CASHMERE: You guys all live in various parts of the planet. How do you keep in touch?
ANGUS YOUNG: The same way I am talking to you now.
PAUL CASHMERE: Band rehearsals over the phone, hey.
ANGUS YOUNG: (laughs) Yeah.
PAUL CASHMERE: Do you all go your own separate ways after a tour?
ANGUS YOUNG: After a tour we all like to get home and feed the cat and dog. There are some points during the year that we get together and decide what we are going to do. If I haven’t seen Brian for a while, the first thing I see when I walk into a hotel is Brian leaning against the bar, where he was when I left him.
PAUL CASHMERE: At least you always know where to find him.
ANGUS YOUNG: That’s right.
PAUL CASHMERE: When critics do polls for the world’s best guitarist, names like Eddie Van Halen always come up, but rarely you. The fans say it but the critics don’t. How do you feel about that?
ANGUS YOUNG: We started life as a band. AC/DC was a band first and foremost. We never looked at ourselves as individual pieces. That has always been the way we have looked at it. I have never said AC/DC is one guitar solo and here is your drum solo. AC/DC is a combination of five guys who all play with the same intent in mind. We go out there to play a bit of rock and roll. We aren’t five individual guys displaying their technique.
PAUL CASHMERE: You have knocked out some pretty impressive lead breaks over the years but people like Jimmy Page seem to get all the accolades.
ANGUS YOUNG: We get our things. I am quite lucky. There are a lot of people out there who will say AC/DC inspired them to pick up a guitar. I think that is a compliment in itself too.
PAUL CASHMERE: What is your favourite AC/DC cover?
ANGUS YOUNG: I heard a French band once do a track off ‘Dirty Deeds’, the song ‘Right On’. I was in Paris and the guy played it to us. It was certainly strange hearing it sung in a foreign language.
PAUL CASHMERE: What has kept AC/DC going after all these years? There must have been times where you wanted to call it a day.
ANGUS YOUNG: Not really. The only time we thought about it was when Bon died. That was a big decision whether we would go on or stop. Ever since that time we kept going. I think that was the hardest thing to decide but ever since then we have only ever gone forward. We have never said “okay now it stops”. We have gone forward with a positive attitude.
PAUL CASHMERE: How did Bon’s death affect you?
ANGUS YOUNG: For me it was like losing someone probably more than even in your family. We were very close as people. We were very, very tight. In a band like AC/DC it is like a childhood gang. We think the same. You spend so much time together that it is a very tough thing for you to go through.
PAUL CASHMERE: How hard was Bon to replace?
ANGUS YOUNG: That was difficult too. We really didn’t know. At the time people were saying “go on” and others were saying “you should stop”. At the time we didn’t even want to look for a singer. All I know is that Malcolm called me up one day and said we should get together and keep writing songs because we were just moping around at the time. He said this will just keep our minds away from it and then we can decide when we felt more what we should do. As far as replacing someone like Bon Scott, you can never replace someone like him. We were lucky we met Brian Johnson. Brian has his own character too. He has a unique character like Bon. I always looked at someone in music doing something different as unique people. That is what I did with Brian Johnson. He is a unique character.
PAUL CASHMERE: He is the longest serving singer? Does he still feel like the new boy for you?
ANGUS YOUNG: It’s true. I can imagine sometimes he still feels like the new guy. When I joined I felt like the new guy. Malcolm got me in a week after it started and I felt the same thing.
PAUL CASHMERE: How did it start?
ANGUS YOUNG: Malcolm was putting together a band. He found a condemned building in Newtown and said he could get it for a couple of bucks. He was just auditioning guys and telling people to come down and try-out. A week later he said to me, why don’t you bring your guitar down and try out. I thought great, anything but a day job.
PAUL CASHMERE: Where did the school uniform come from?
ANGUS YOUNG: That came from my sister. She used to always say “Angus would be running home and grabbing his guitar and he had his school suit and he was out the door” or I’d be locked in my room banging away on the guitar. My sister always remembered me in a school uniform when I had my guitar. She said “why don’t you keep the uniform on”. It will give people something to look at.
PAUL CASHMERE: Was it from any specific school?
ANGUS YOUNG: The first one I was wearing was from my original high school (Ashfield Boys High). It was good because I could get back at them.
PAUL CASHMERE: Does Ashfield Boys High School have a monument to you out the front now?
ANGUS YOUNG: No, actually I think they have hung up garlic gloves to keep me out.
PAUL CASHMERE: How funny that now then there must be hundred of kids going to school every day dressed exactly as Angus Young.
ANGUS YOUNG: That’s true.
PAUL CASHMERE: What about growing up. Is it safe to assume that your brother George would have been a major influence on you? (George Young of The Easybeats and Flash & the Pan)
ANGUS YOUNG: Sure, we admired what he was doing but we never really saw him a lot because he was always on the road. But when he was around, sure we were heavily influenced by him.
PAUL CASHMERE: Wasn’t it his wife Sandra who came up with the name AC/DC?
ANGUS YOUNG: It was a bit of a combination. We were tossing around names and she fired off that one. It just stuck. We thought it was a great name and we needed a name quick because we were going to this agency in Sydney and they were saying they had some gigs coming up so we needed a name.
PAUL CASHMERE: Who are your guitar heroes?
ANGUS YOUNG: I like people like BB King and Buddy Guy, the great guitar man and my all-time favourite Chuck Berry.
PAUL CASHMERE: What about newer acts?
ANGUS YOUNG: Not really. A lot of it these days is to be fast and furious. The more I look at it the more I admire my brother Malcolm. The rhythm playing and good rhythm guitarists are a dying species. There is not many of them coming up in this new style music world. The great ones are Keith Richards and Ike Turner. They are great rhythm players.
PAUL CASHMERE: The albums are spreading out these days. There were two in the first year, five in the first two and a half years but they are few and far between now.
ANGUS YOUNG: True, but what AC/DC has done is that we have made more albums in our career than what a lot of bands have done. We have had more albums in the last twenty years than The Who. We are now lucky we get a lot more time to sit back and spend the time writing which is great for us. You can really concentrate. Sometimes in the past you get the deadline coming into it especially when you commit yourself to a tour. A lot of stuff in the early days was written and recorded while we were touring. Nowadays, it is good to be able to sit back and pick what we want to do.
PAUL CASHMERE: I’ve always like the cannons in concert.
ANGUS YOUNG: Yeah, they have been a part of us ever since the album ‘For Those About To Rock’. When we came up with the idea we were looking for something at the time the royal wedding with Charles and Di was going on. We were in Paris putting down demo tracks for that album. When we were doing that song we just stopped and we could hear the cannons going off. One of the guys had the TV on of the royal wedding. I said it sounded great so let’s try that.
PAUL CASHMERE: Did Charles ever get paid a royalty for the idea?
ANGUS YOUNG: You never know.
AC/DC Black Ice is out now.