AC/DC's BRIAN JOHNSON Says He Buried His Head In A Bottle Of Whiskey After Being Sidelined With Hearing Issues
November 13, 2020
Angus Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC recently joined Zane Lowe on Apple Music to discuss their 17th studio album, "Power Up", which was released today (Friday, November 13). They spoke about deciding to release the LP now, Johnson's return after suffering hearing loss, being grateful to GUNS N' ROSES singer Axl Rose for filling in, and wanting to perform live. They also reflect on Malcom Young and Bon Scott and their ongoing influence on the band. A few excerpts from the chat follow.
On making new AC/DC music:
Angus: "I get very excited with doing something new and going, 'Well, it's AC/DC, but it's got a little bit of a different angle on it.' So that's always, for me, the big puzzle — finding something that's AC/DC, but it's something you've not heard AC/DC [do] before. So you try to look for new ways of doing riffs, and you experiment a little bit with those, but then when you get something, you go, 'That's definitely AC/DC,' and you know that you've cracked the puzzle there. That gives you a little bit of excitement and a little bit of a rush. And then I go, 'Okay, you've done that now. On to the next thing,' and then find another song idea that you can go, 'Right. I've gotta now get better than what I did with the one before.' So it's a constant puzzle."
On deciding to release "Power Up" several months into the coronavirus pandemic:
Angus: "Well, we depended mainly on what our record company [was telling us]... They were the ones giving the advice, and they said, 'We can do it now.' Because originally, we had geared up for it [to be released a few months ago]. It was going to come out early. We had done all promo, video stuff for it, and we were even planning maybe if we [would] do some shows, if it worked. We were geared up to go earlier, but the virus thing kicked in big time, and so it was a case of leaving it up to [the label]. When they thought they had the clearance when putting into the production and getting CDs and whatnot, if they had all the tools to do that. And they said, 'We should be able to do that at this point.' We were depending on them. And that's when I said, 'Well, if you believe you can do it, we'll do our best to help you promote it.'"
On Johnson returning to music after suffering hearing loss:
Brian: "When [the hearing loss] happened to me, it was sudden. Well, it was building up. I knew it was getting worse and worse. And then it suddenly came to the point where I had to stop [performing] — I was told to stop. And it's horrible, and it's cruel. And you're suddenly by yourself. You're by yourself. You have family, [but] your family's gone. But at the same time, I had to be realistic about it. I said, 'Listen, this isn't anything terminal. I've still got me health. And I've been very lucky to have got this far in life.' I think I was 68 years old at the time, which is quite an age. And I looked around, and a lot of people, friends of mine, had passed. And that very week that it happened to me, me best friend passed away with cancer at the age of 59. And that was like a double blow. And it was all pretty rotten. I just thought I'd man up and just have to go through it. It was painful and horrible, but as I've said before, I just buried my head in a bottle of whiskey for a couple of months. And I did. And it was painless. And I didn't take drugs or go and see a psychiatrist — do all that rock and roll, what you're supposed to do… And then, through all of that, and I'm just like you and Angus, and did you think anything was going to happen? Well, of course I didn't. I thought that was it. And then, really, it was only about 18 months after that, and I was just kind of still missing and wondering what to do next, if anything. 'Cause I'm like Angus — I've gotta do something. I'm just an itchy kind of guy. And I got the call from Angus and the office, [from the] management, asking if I would like to do an album. And, of course, I thought surely this couldn't be another great chance in life to do what you love doing. And it certainly was. And that's why I'm so appreciative of the lads and everybody to just give you a chance to get in there and show you can try your stuff out in the studio."
On the technology that enabled him to return to performing live:
Brian: "I've gotta tell you, it was just lucky. When this wonderful gentlemen came up and was looking for me; he was an audio professor. And he wanted to try this new technology. And he said, 'Listen, we could do it together, if I can come down and visit you.' And I thought it might have been all smoke and mirrors, somebody trying it on, but he was the actual, genuine article, and he did fly down all the way up from Denver, Colorado. And we sat there for two days, and I just couldn't believe the results. But, unfortunately, it was the size of a car battery, so we spent the next two years basically miniaturizing, which is the hard thing. And anyway, it worked well.
"When we'd done the album and we'd shot a video in Amsterdam, Angus said, 'Do you wanna do a rehearsal?' Because I didn't wanna go through what I went through again. I said, "Yeah.' And then Angus put the whole backline up. And they were saying, 'Well, we're gonna start quietly,' and we said, 'No, no. I want full battlefield conditions.' And we put it in, in the ears, and we were expected at least maybe two days of screwing around with, but boy, oh boy, it worked straight away… I don't have the words. I really don't have the words to tell you how I felt. But I know 'happy' was one of them. It was really good."
On Axl Rose stepping in for Brian on the last couple of dozen shows of the "Rock Or Bust" tour:
Angus: "We could have just stopped and said, 'We'll cancel, and hopefully we'll get another chance.' But we knew there would still be even a lot of insurance and legality there. Or we can look at other options, maybe. And somebody said, 'Well, maybe we could get somebody who might guest. We might have some people who you could try out, who might be able to do the role and get you through.' So, we had to look at those options. And then, out of the blue, we got a message that Axl Rose would help. If nothing interfered with his commitments, he would gladly help us out. So, we got a rehearse place and tried out, and he put a lot of effort in everything.
"I'd only met him a long time ago in the '80s. He had come to a show and, to me, he was very, very nice and everything. Basically, that's how it came in to be. That allowed us to finish off those dates. So, for us, it was a heaven sent. It was a little bit like a lifesaver. Even though he had done his foot in before he started, he borrowed a chair. He was determined he was gonna go, so I thought... The first show we had to do, I think it was in Portugal, and it was a horrible day. It was raining and everything, it was open air. Everyone was going wrong, and then, just at the last minute, the sky cleared, the storm went away. We got on stage, and got through. He performed from the chair, gave it his best shot, and we got through. So, for the band, we'll be forever grateful. And he helped us get through all of those shows."
"Power Up" was recorded over a six-week period in August and September 2018 at Warehouse Studios in Vancouver with producer Brendan O'Brien, who also worked 2008's "Black Ice" and "Rock Or Bust".