A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Angus Young – Guitar World – March 1986 – Part 3

Guitar World March 1986
By Joe Lalaina

(All parts in Italics and Quotes are from the March 1986 issue of Guitar World)

To this day. Angus continues to play in shorts, every show. However a lot of AC/DC fans say it s a worn-out routine,

“I guess it depends on which fans you talk to,” counters Angus. To me, it’s comfortable. If I took the stage and dressed like any other guitar player. I don’t think I would be able to be myself. The shorts are as much a part of me as my guitar.”

Lalaina is trying to get a reaction from Angus.  I lived through the Eighties, and during this period, glam and hard rock was becoming king.  All the bands had a similar look.  AC/DC didn’t fit this look and a lot of the journalists tried to put AC/DC down.  Even the sales of AC/DC albums started to tank during the Eighties.  It wasn’t until 1990 when AC/DC released The Razor’s Edge that their career was resurrected.  The response from Angus is typical of the attitude in AC/DC.  They never cared for trends.  To quote Frank Sinatra, the did it their way.

“When I first started playing in shorts, it was a challenge. People would say, Hey, this guy’s a clown—here comes Peepo or something. As a result, it made me work harder to prove to the people that I really did know how to play guitar. I just plugged it into the amp and played. I never used any of those wangy’ bars or stuff like that.”

These days, an artist would change who they are, just so they can please.  No one wants to be hated.  Instead of working harder to stay true to who they are like Angus, 99% of wannabe musicians would change.

In fact, Angus hates tremolo units.

” Those things never appealed to me,” he says. “If I want to get a similar kind of sound, I just de-tune the strings. Cliff Richard used to have this guy in his backing band, Hank Marvin, who used that thing on almost every note. He was like a Buddy Holly clone—he used to do these silly little steps. Guys like Hank set the music world back twenty years. I couldn’t believe guitarists like Beck looked at him as inspiration. Whenever I saw guys like Hank Marvin, I would always go in the complete reverse of what they were doing.”

That is what I am talking about.  By 1986, everyone was doing tapping, whammy dive bombs, sweep picking and had racks of gear to rival NASA.  Angus is totally against it, staying true to who he is, keeping it simple, keeping it real.

Angus says his biggest musical inspiration was his brother George Young, who together with Harry Vanda produced the first few AC/DC albums. Vanda and Young, you may recall, were the guitarists in the Easybeats, one of the most successful Australian pop bands of the late sixties.

That is what a lot of people seem to forget or don’t even know about.  Angus and Malcolm Young had a successful older brother. Does anyone remember the working class anthem, Friday On My Mind?

“We learned a lot from George.” says Angus. “He was the first one who said to us, To be different, you must do everything your own way. When he first heard us, he was impressed with the fact that we could take someone’s song—an old standard like ‘Lucille’ or something and make it sound like a new song altogether. George just let us do what we wanted. He didn’t make us put nice melodies in. If anything, he made us toughen our music up.”

“Although George had more experience as a guitarist and a songwriter, he was also a good producer. A lot of people call themselves producers, but in fact they may be more of an engineer, since they know more about sound than about songs or arranging. George knew about everything. A lot of producers can’t even tell you if your guitar is out of tune.”

“George was great to work with in the studio.” adds Angus. “He always said that since we’re a rock and roll band, the less gimmickry, the better. The last album he did with us was our live album back in 78, If You Want Blood You’ve Got It. I remember George saying, “This is the last AC/DC album I’m gonna produce, since you guys already know enough about the type of sound and songs you want.”

I have a strong viewpoint on producers.  A good, smart producer can really get the best out of a band, and to me, they are the real unsung heroes in the history of hard rock and heavy metal music.  George Young, didn’t try to change AC/DC into another Easybeats.  He made them play to their strengths.  He assisted them in making their sound tougher, rawer, edgier and grittier.

After considering a few producers (whom Angus says he would rather not name), AC/DC settled for Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who produced the bands next three albums, Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock We Salute You. Of these, Back In Black was the most successful, selling a whopping eight million copies.

“That album is our biggest selling album in America,” acknowledges Angus, “but our European fans preferred our early albums. A lot of the sounds on Back In Black are very much like the sounds you hear on the radio these days.”

Mutt Lange, another master producer.  Of course he went on to massive things with Def Leppard, Bryan Adams and Shania Twain.

How many AC/DC fans knew that Lange, produced three AC/DC albums.

Of course, Back In Black has now moved over 30 million units worldwide since its release.  Highway To Hell, the last Bon Scott album has now moved over  10 million units worldwide since its release and For Those About To Rock We Salute You, has now moved over 7 million units worldwide since its release.

It was another super producer, Bruce Fairbairn that helped re-establish AC/DC in the Nineties with the excellent Razors Edge and the classic Thunderstruck.

Could this be why AC/DC decided to produce their last two albums themselves?

“Not really,” says Angus. “We went from working with Mutt to producing ourselves simply because we wanted to. All the material was ready before we went into the studio albums we did with Matt. He left the music to us because he knew what we wanted. But the difference between us and any other band he’s worked with is that he likes to spend a lot of time in the studio, we don’t. I mean, he’s a good producer and he’s good at getting a great performance out of a band, but he spends too much time recording. We can’t stay in a studio for six months to a year on an album – that’s ridiculous.”

Is Angus happy with how Fly On The Wall turned out?

“We think we’ve done a good job and we achieved what we wanted. We just wanted to make a tough and exciting rock and roll record. And that’s what we made.”

Fly On The Wall had two stand out tracks and the rest was filler.  That is why the Who Made Who soundtrack album that came next sold a lot.  Even though it had a two new songs, it was sort of like a greatest hits album, featuring the best AC/DC songs from Back In Black, For Those About To Rock We Salute You and Fly On The Wall.  It also had Ride On from the Bon Scott era.

It wasn’t until The Razors Edge album released in 1990 that AC/DC recaptured the public’s love affair with them.  Since then they have never looked back.  If any young artist is starting out, these articles form the key component to the A to Z of Making It.  Stay true to who you are.  If you do that, and you write great music, an audience will find you.


Friendships + Business = Music Detonation

Friendships + Business = Music Detonation

Let’s face it, you meet a few different people and strike up a friendship due to your similar tastes in music. You can all play instruments, so you decide to start up a band. You have quite a few songs written, musically and lyrically and the jamming begins. Within a week, over 10 songs are down. Its beers, hugs and smiles all round. It’s time for a gig.

A quick two song showcase recording is completed to get the gigs, complete with cover art, lyrics and thank you. The music and lyrics are stated as a band effort. You don’t feel that is correct, however you let it slide just to keep the peace. Because in the end it’s all about the gigs, the music and having fun. Who cares what some CD cover states?  Why cause arguments within the band.

The gigs start coming, the shows keep getting better and you bring more and more songs to the table. The audience is getting larger and there is a demand for new recorded music. You engage certain super fans and get them to list their 10 best songs and off to the recording studio the band goes.

By this time, it’s more than just the band in the studio. There is an audience out there, who want the music, who want information. The drummer does a local street rag interview, where he claims that the songs are a band effort, everyone has their input. This doesn’t sit well with you, as you know that is not true.

All the songs have been written by you and only you. If there has been any input it has been minimal with the suggestion of doing the chorus twice instead of once. You confront the drummer at his untrue statements, and he disagrees with you, stating that the songs did have his input. You ask him what input did he have. He answers by saying he gave you the idea on the subject matter for the lyrics. You go to him an idea does not mean that he wrote any music and lyrics. At this point, the singer and the bass player are sitting on the fence.  You feel betrayed. It’s all splintering apart. Then the engineer mentions about the performance collection agencies and if the songs are registered. Everyone has dumbfounded looks except you. You tell them that you have registered the songs as 100% yours and that most of these songs date back to before the band was formed. The lawyer friend chimes in with a band agreement, stating that since the songs are written by you, you will get 50% of the mechanical royalties and split the other 50% between the other members. He also suggest that you get 100% of the publishing royalties.

This causes disagreements and resentments and you know that this band is on borrowed time. You tell the members in the band that you are leaving and that you are taking your songs with you. They say nothing. Then you get a call from the collection agencies telling you that your old band mates have just registered your songs in their own name as songwriters and if you agree with their request to amend your registrations. You are angry and you tell the agency that you do not agree. The agency tells you that you need to sort it out with them and until then, the songs are placed in suspension and any monies earned on those songs will be withheld until an agreement is struck. You feel violated, used and angry.

How can this happen? The onus is now on you to prove that you wrote your own songs. After exhausting all the free legal advice you can get, you finally speak to an entertainment lawyer who tells you he will do it cheap and take care of you. So you have email conversations, phone conversations and you request the lawyer to write a letter to your ex band mates. All this is done. You get the bill for the month. $700 for one letter, a couple of email conversations and a couple of phone conferences. And the letter is ignored by your ex band mates and nothing is solved.

More anger and more resentment. You can’t believe this is happening. You have done nothing wrong, except create music, which you loved doing. And now you are paying money to prove what is yours. This goes on for months and the band responds to the letters with different demands and always stating that they had input in the songs creation. The album was finished, and they go about releasing it, without your permission.

Even more anger and even more resentment. They even changed the previously agreed booklet, adding themselves as songwriters.

If anyone thinks the above doesn’t happen, then they are living in a delusional world. This is what happens in bands, as everyone is greedy. This is what happens as everyone wants to trump up their efforts as being more important than what it really is.

Gone are the days, when a drummer was just a drummer, a bass player just a bass player and so on.

If you are the songwriter, then you don’t need a band anymore.  You see previously a songwriter needed a band to play live shows.  That was how it was done once upon a time.  These days, its not like that.  Live venues are not what they used to be (has anyone come across gigs where the band needs to guarantee a certain turn up and if that turn up is not there the band has to pay the shortfall.

Write your songs, release them yourself.  Don’t waste your time with people who will bring you down.  If you are great and your songs are great, great musicians will come knocking.

Until then, keep writing and be great.