This interview was supposed to take place in a locked vault in Sony/BMG headquarters, with Murray Engelheart, the author of the book AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll yelling his insights to me over the top of AC/DC's yet-to-be-released Black Ice album, due out on the 20th of October.
I was then supposed to write these insights down, shorthand, because there was no way Sony was going to let me take a recording device into the vault. You'd have it all straight from the horse’s mouth. Unfortunately that didn't happen because something they “couldn’t discuss” was going down at Sony and the guy who was supposed to put the CD in the slot wasn’t available and consequently morale was too low for anyone else to bother doing it. Something like that anyway.
So, instead, this interview took place in a cafe with Murray and another guy, Lucas Ihlein who is an affable fellow and also the man behind the bonscottblog.
Vice: Murray, we're not going to get to listen to the album today.
Murray: Mate, I'm not fucking surprised.
Nah mate, I'm not surprised at this at all. Security at an event of this magnitude is going to be tight. It's the first AC/DC album in eight years. They'd be mad not to be paranoid.
Really? You think that’s why we weren't able to listen to it at the last second?
Murray [to Lucas]: You're not the head of the Western Australia fan association?
Lucas: Nah, nah, that's Doug. He's a bloody legend about twice my height, three times my width, and has a company called Dirty Deeds Demolition. Here, have a copy of a publication I made. It's called At the Cemetery. We photographed and interviewed everyone who came to the cemetery to pay respects on the anniversary of Bon's death. There's a guy called Ben Scott, who claims to be Bon Scott's love child. He's petitioning the Supreme Court to get access to Bon's DNA.
Murray: Don't we all wish, mate, don't we all wish. AC/DC generates heat. Everything they do creates wild rumors on the internet. The level of fanaticism is untouchable. And they just let it fly. They don't stir it up, it's the fans who propagate it. AC/DC is mother's milk. You grow up on it. People are obsessed from cradle to grave. The music doesn't just get into your ears, [leans over and taps Lucas on the head] it gets into the base of your brain.
Lucas: It's minimalist. Loud, but minimalist. It's this accuracy of beat, almost a metronome beat which makes every cover band come off sounding sloppy and half-baked.
Murray: Yeah, they don't do concept albums or rock operas. AC/DC has never used orchestras or children’s choirs [however their work has featured bagpipes—ed.] They are what it says on the can. That's very important.
[Waving Murray’s book]: How did you come to write this?
I first saw them at Warwick Farm Racecourse in March 1976, standing in the rain with about two hundred people. I was still in school. Bon Scott ruffled my hair. I would love to say I spent three weeks drinking with the band that first time I saw them, but nah, Bon Scott ruffled my hair. Since then I've done a dozen interviews with them, but I don't claim to know them personally. Anybody that says "I have easy access to AC/DC," they're lying out of their arse. They don't communicate with people unless they want to, so the interviews I've had have been a privilege.
What are they like?
Brian is gregarious, Angus is shy.
Lucas: Angus is a bit like Andy Warhol. You know, he was on Howard Stern for an hour and there was only about sixty seconds worth of interview there. He managed to say almost nothing.
Murray: Yeah, well, if people treat them like morons, they just play along. Look, AC/DC isn't just recreational music, it's a religion. I mean there's a dentist who only plays "Highway to Hell" when he works, strippers who won’t dance to anything else, and it's been used by the US army in Afghanistan to psych out the Taliban.
Lucas: It's there for all of the key moments in your life. "You Shook Me All Night Long" is the single most requested song at weddings. [Opening zine again, pointing] Here's a guy called Glenn, his back is entirely covered in AC/DC art. Once, after a concert, he got to meet Brian Johnson, who signed his back with a texta [Australian for sharpie], and he immediately went to a tattoo parlor to get it permanently inked in.
Shouldn't we talk about the album?
Murray: It's produced by Brendan O'Brien, who's worked with Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots—go figure—and it's 15 tracks, their longest album yet. One single has been released. And it'll rock you from Saturday night until the cops come. Everything else is a secret.
Lucas: Oh, except that it's exclusively sold in the US through Wal-Mart.
What? Bullshit. Wal-Mart's a warehouse that supplies Americans with diets so bad they've got diabetes. I've seen people in Wal-Mart riding electric shopping carts to get around. I thought they were disabled. They've just been wearing the same track pants for so long they've got rickets. It's fucking tragic.
Murray: Do you know how many CDs Wal-Mart is going to sell? They've pre-stocked three million copies. AC/DC would be pretty stupid to take your attitude. [Pause] They're stocking my book, too.
Lucas: Anyone who wants to shoplift the album from Wal-Mart can look up an easy how-to on the internet.
You can't hear the album anywhere just yet but you can support Ben Scott's campaign to get a paternity test over at his site.