Music Interview: AC/DC – Power Up, Or Malcolm In The Middle

November 24, 2020

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AC/DC have released a new album – Power Up. Lead guitarist Angus Young (AY) and singer Brian Johnson (BJ) talk about the collection.


Power Up is here, the band is back together: how did it all come together? 

AY: Well, it had all come together, basically, when I had a lot of the material together for the album. It came about pretty quickly after that. I knew Brian had been working with a lot of hearing specialists and people who had helped him with a lot of the technology through his hearing. It was really a matter of contacting Brian, Cliff [Williams, bassist], Phil [Rudd, drummer] and also my nephew, Stevie [Young, rhythm guitarist], and just letting everyone know if they’d want to be part of doing this project.  Everyone was happy to be on board, so that was really good.

BJ: It was something special, as you can imagine. Everybody, I guess, came to write the band off a few years before. It remained, you know – it was a great thing with the bond of friendship and working together for all those years. I’m nearly 40 years in and the boys longer than that. It was real and you could touch it. It was the electricity in the room for me. I was very happy. The sad thing was, obviously, Malcolm wasn’t with us because he’d passed not long before. We knew that this album, from the start, was going to be a tribute to Malcolm. That feeling, I think it went through everybody in the room and even to Brendan O’Brien, the producer.


Brian, for you personally, how does it feel to be back?

BJ: It’s exciting. Nobody my age should be this excited without going to prison, but you know, it’s, it’s another challenge to get back with the boys, I thank the lads for having the faith to come back.  For me, to have another shot with them after it all went tits up with the ears is great. It’s kind of weird to get out, though. I feel like we’re being cheated a little bit because of this virus coming along, but I think we can take that on the chin like we took everything else in the past. The things this band seems to be able to ride out are amazing because the members in the band are a pretty resilient bunch.


How was it to be back together in the studio? It’s been six year since Rock Or Bust. Once you were back in the studio, did everything click back into place quite quickly?

AY: When everyone was together and we were all in that room, especially in the studio, and once they got all of the technical side – getting the sound and getting all of that together – then it’s the band up there, just…let’s go! We have the song and it’s really a case of roughly working out the parts and everyone starts playing. It feels really good when you’re in your element. It’s a bit like having a comfortable pair of shoes and you put them on and go, “Wow”.

BJ: It was lovely to look around at the faces, like Phil, looking brilliant. And Cliff, who thought it was finished – happy and pumping out.  Everybody playing brilliant. Of course, Angus brought his songs in. I can’t even talk about them because I’m sure people are framing them in much better terms than I ever could, except the fact that I’m a singer, and anybody would want to get their teeth in these. The boys put it down really good. Stevie stepped up to the plate, no problem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody work as hard as Stevie.  I’d see him in the morning and I’d go, ‘Are you all right, Stevie?’ and he’d go, ‘Yeah, I’ve been up ’til about 3:30 learning that. I want to get that riff right.’ And he did, he’d set up, just banging away. He got it right because he knew that work was from Malcolm. Everybody did. That was the kind of attitude, I think. We wanted to make it worth it to him.


Do you feel this album is a dedication to Malcolm?

AY: Yeah. AC/DC was his life. He created it from the get-go. I always thought I was lucky, even in the beginning, that he asked me to come and be on tour to do the guitar work. I had to ask him, ‘Are you sure you want me, your kid brother, on guitar?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I know what you can do.’ Because he was so comfortable in the way he did things, he gave me that too. I thought well, he’s got confidence in me, so that gave me an even stronger drive to make sure I was doing it justice. It was his style – what we would play as a band, the music, how we would approach it – so for me it was always really good because he had more experience than me. He kicked around in a few bands, plus the tours over the years, and we’d work with my brother, George. Wherever he would get in when we were younger, maybe do some guitar session stuff for a few acts of George’s – it was like Malcolm put everything together to get this band. He had the direction and off we went. Even when we did this album, I thought of him first because of how he wanted it, how it should be, the style and the attitude.  That was always the driving part for me. In the studio, I’m thinking he’s right there next to me.

BJ: I think anybody listening to it can tell that. The few people I’ve talked to that have heard it have commented on the fact that it really is a bit of like old AC/DC, new AC/DC, Back in Black – the whole thing all in one album, encapsulated. I agree with them.  It’s fantastic. I think Mal would have been proud of it.


How was the process of recording this album? Any interesting recording anecdotes?

AJ: Whenever we work with Brendan O’Brien, he’s always got this card game. He’s always hustling. It’s a card game that only he knows the rules for. Anytime you ever sit down with him, you go, ‘You didn’t have that rule before.’


The album is called Power Up. Is it a statement of intent for what’s on the record?

BJ: Yeah. I was thinking of names and I’d gone through the list. I thought the first song, Realize, was a song Mal really loved. There’s a few lines in there – ‘You’ve got the power to mesmerise…put a chill running down your spine,’ – those phrases; the power. That’s probably what AC/DC was about from the beginning – electrical power. When you walk into a studio, you plug in your guitar, crank on your amp and you’ve got all that power.  We’re putting out this powerful sound, so for me, Power Up is basically another term for the band, AC/DC.


The album has the typical AC/DC sound that people love.  After all these years, where do you get the inspiration to come up with brand new songs that continue to surprise your fans, but still keep true to your sound?

AY: Again, a lot of it’s back from get-go – Mal’s direction. We always aimed to set our own standard in sound and style. We wanted to be able to be a band that if you heard it on the radio, or you heard a song or heard it anywhere, then immediately when you heard it you went, ‘That’s them, that’s AC/DC.  I hear it straight away. That’s their style.’ That’s what we always wanted to capture, so any album we ever did, the variety comes in what you do with the songs, but the style and how it’s played, and that powerful sound, that’s what we strive for. Every album we ever did had to come up to that standard.


Can you tell us more about the process of writing the album. When were the songs written?

AY: A lot of them come from just before the last album that Mal was on and performed – Black Ice. Prior to that album, Malcom and myself had had quite a  good few years off.  We were very busy.  We’d gotten a little studio and we just kept cranking out songs. We had so many songs that even when we went to do Black Ice, we just had boxes of songs. I wanted to go back and see what Malcolm and I had worked on. I thought I had to get these songs and get them on this album that we had wanted to get recorded. With a lot of them, the songs were basically all there. The only thing I might have had to do is an ending, or maybe a break, or anything that when I’d gone through that I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we’d probably have changed this piece and maybe done that.’ But again, I’d always think how Mal looked at it. That’s how I always tuned in, even when I would do ideas of my own. My audience was Malcolm, because he was the critic.


Can you tell us about working with Brendan O’Brien?

BJ: It’s easy. He’s full of beans, fun and energy. He’s always got everybody working. Nobody sits down on their hands when Brendan’s around. He’ll have me up in the room, singing. He’ll have the boys downstairs getting something right or getting something rehearsed for as soon as I’m finished doing that. He always keeps you fresh. He never lets you linger on anything for too long and he’s always pushing through to the next thing. He’s like one of the band, really. He’s a very, very good musician. He’s got a hell of an ear for everything, you know, so I enjoy being around him and working with him. I think the boys would say the same. He’s a fun kid.

AY: e knows all of that stuff.  He’s multi-talented, and it’s good when you’re working with somebody who knows his music. Plus, he knows our whole career, even from the early days. He’ll go, ‘Hey, if you listen to all your records, you’ve done something similar.’ And then I go, ‘He’s right.’ He’s very confident in what he does. He’s not afraid to go out and get his hands dirty. If there’s no engineer about, he’ll just rush out and move the mics how he wants it, or going in and helping Phil get his snares and things together or whatever. The other good thing is, he keeps you laughing.


After all these years, how do you manage to still keep your energy so high, individually and as a band? Is performing a catalyst for your energy?

BJ: I’ve always been energetic. I can’t sit still for long. I get bored sitting, watching the TV or just doing regular stuff. I’ve always got to be moving. As my Dad used to say, ‘Something’s wrong with that kid, he’s a jumpy jack.’ Singing with AC/DC is no small part of that. If I see Angus out there doing his stuff, I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to try harder.

AY: It starts for me when I put on that school suit. I suddenly feel different. I feel I’m comfy now, I know what I’m about and I can put the hat down. I even feel taller; I grow a couple of inches. Don’t take that the wrong way!


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