By Steve Newton
I’ve interviewed hundreds of rock musicians over the past 35 years, but I’ve only been interviewed myself a few times–most of those discussions taking place earlier this year when local Tragically Hip fans like Jody Vance and Drex wanted to know about the book I’d just written about Gord Downie.
But I was on the receiving end of questions again recently, when Stephen Quinn of CBC’s Early Edition wanted the scoop on the rumours flying around about AC/DC possibly recording a new album in Vancouver.
So for those lucky folks who weren’t up at 6:30 in the morning to hear my conversation with Quinn live, I’ve gone ahead and transcribed it. Thank god I had the foresight to enroll in that Grade 10 typing class at Chilliwack Junior High School.
CBC: You know what: It’s never too early for a little AC/DC. You’re listening to “Rock or Bust”, the title track from AC/DC’s last album–or most recent album, now. It was recorded in 2014, and it was recorded right here in Vancouver. It’s also the final effort of the Back in Black-era lineup of the band, which included lead singer Brian Johnson and drummer Phil Rudd. And for one tour Axl Rose, of all people, took over vocals for the band. Well, Johnson and Rudd have been spotted at Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, and this could mean–or could it mean–that they’ve rejoined the band. Well, for more we’ve reached out to rock journalist Steve Newton, he’s with the Georgia Straight, and he joins us on the line now. Good morning to you Steve.
Newt: Good morning Stephen.
CBC: Tell me about when you found out that AC/DC was in town. How did you find out?
Newt: Well I sorta got drawn into this whole AC/DC-in-Vancouver thing about a week ago when a Facebook friend messaged me and told me that he’d seen Phil Rudd and Stevie Young downtown, and that kinda took me for a loop. So I blogged about that. And then the next thing you know someone tells me they have a whole whack of photos of band members hangin’ out outside Warehouse Studio in Gastown, which is where they made their previous three albums. So I blogged about that again, and now it’s gone kinda crazy. It’s good news to me, ’cause I always wanna hear some AC/DC. I’m sure you do too.
CBC: And the photos are interesting because they’re almost these sort of paparazzi-style photos. It looks like Phil Rudd and Brian Johnson taking a break out on the roof.
Newt: It totally does, yeah. I mean the paparazzi angle is not really somethin’ that I’m used to, but, you know, gotta get the news out there, and that’s all I had to go on, so…
CBC: So what does this mean? Every AC/DC fan in the city–you’ve got everybody excited with these blog posts. Any idea what’s going on?
Newt: Not just in the city, but worldwide. I mean the AC/DC fans are just crazy! They’re like Iron Maiden fans or Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Judas Priest fans. They’re just totally obsessed with everything. Uh, sorry, I forgot your question…
CBC: Well here, let me ask you a different question. Tell me more about their history of recording in Vancouver, because they like recording here.
Newt: Yeah, they sure seem to. The Vancouver connection actually started in 1990 when they did the Razor’s Edge album here. They did it with Bruce Fairbairn, who’s famous for working with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Loverboy–various multiplatinum bands–and they recorded that at Little Mountain Sound. Razor’s Edge was…I wouldn’t say it was as strong or anything close to Back in Black’s quality, but it was probably an improvement over some of their ’80s albums. Fairbairn gave them a great sound–I’m sure you’ve probably heard “Thunderstruck”, which is the hit from that album. And the mixer and engineer on that album was Mike Fraser, who would also handle engineering and mixing on the last three albums they made here, which were 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, 2008’s Black Ice–which was a massive success–and 2014’s Rock or Bust. All three of those albums were done at Warehouse Studios in Gastown, which is owned by Bryan Adams, so that’s why the recent sightings of members hangin’ out there has got all the AC/DC world a-buzz.
CBC: It was about nine months ago I guess now that Malcolm Young died because of complications from dementia, of course one of the main songwriters, often credited as the person responsible for the entire sound of AC/DC. If the band is reuniting, and if they’re producing new music, do you think any new material is going to have the same sound as before?
Newt: Uh, that’s a pretty good question. I mean I’m just sittin’ here right now with my vinyl copy of AC/DC Powerage–I got the red vinyl version…
CBC: I saw your tweet!
Newt: …yeah, that’s what I describe as classic AC/DC–not just because Bon Scott is on it, because I like a lotta the stuff that Brian Johnson does too. I mean you can only hope that they’re gonna recreate that amazing vibe of those ’70s albums like that, but to be realistic, um, probably not. But, you know, you can only hope and dream. I mean who knows? It’s hard to tell what’s gonna happen. That’s what’s crazy about it.
CBC: You actually interviewed Malcolm Young a long time ago–what, three decades ago?
Newt: Yeah I’ve got that full-page story sittin’ here. Remember full-page stories?
CBC: No I don’t.
Newt: This is from “Rocktober” 28, 1983. I started workin’ at the Georgia Straight in ’82, and back in the early ’80s hard-rock was huge, and I was doin’ the stories, so I went and hung out with AC/DC at the Four Seasons Hotel. And I expected them to be like hardcore party guys, you know, offering me Jack Daniels and stuff, but I went into the hotel room and they were just sitting on the floor drinkin’ tea like regular old tea grannies. But they were really great, friendly guys, and they welcomed me in. And I’ve met them a few times over the years, backstage, and they’re just regular guys. I think that’s probably part of the attraction to the band. They just know that if they meet ’em on the street–especially back then–they were just regular guys. And it sorta comes through in their music. I mean it’s just regular-guy music. It’s amazing, but you can tell that it’s nuthin’ fancy.
CBC: Well, it’s not. And the music really hasn’t changed a whole bunch, I mean, since their debut album back in 1975.
Newt: Yeah, I think the whole attraction is how, uh… you know, most artists try to be creative and explore different styles but AC/DC has pretty well stuck with its signature sound, which is like a pounding, fierce, rhythm-driven noise that basically just takes over people’s bodies and makes them groove along–unless they’re classical-music fans or something, but… Angus and whichever singer it was–Bon Scott or Brian Johnson–were always the main attraction on stage, but the driving force was Malcolm Young, you know, his underrated rhythm guitar I think, in a way I sorta see a similarity between him and the Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois. I mean a lot of people don’t even know Paul Langlois’ name–they just know Gord Downie, or maybe Rob Baker. You don’t always notice him, but his contribution to the vibe of the music is crucial, and I think… If you’re asking me how they’re gonna sound without Malcolm… Uhh. I mean he didn’t play on the last album–they had his nephew Stevie, and, you know, I think Stevie did a decent job. But I don’t know if anyone’s gonna be able to magically recreate Malcolm’s vibe.
CBC: Steve, it’s great to hear you this morning, and it’ll be so interesting to see what comes out of this, whether they are actually working on a new album in there, or what’s going on. Keep us posted on your blog okay?
Newt: Okay, will do.
CBC: Great to hear you this morning, thanks a lot. Enjoy your red vinyl!
Newt: You betcha!