Don’t mislay your earplugs: Australian rock icons AC/DC will be touring next year to showcase Black Ice, the band’s first studio album in eight years. So, long time; no hear, but the magic of the quintet seems to endure - some legs of their current world tour sold out in minutes. Not bad for a band that has not allowed major changes to its minimalist hard-rock style for 35 years. Their big crowd-pleasing hits, such as “Hells Bells”, “Back in Black” or “Thunderstruck”, are not only characterised by the driving guitar riffs of brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, but also by the raspy voice of English-born singer Brian Johnson. We met the 62-year-old, who’s also a keen amateur racing driver, in Düsseldorf for a candid conversation about how even the fastest rock star will be outpaced by age some day.
Q: AC/DC has sold 200 million records over the past 35 years. Where do you get the drive to keep going?
A: I don’t know what it is about this band, we are useless at being celebrities. We just cannot do it ... When I race in my car, I specifically ask that the announcers say only, “The driver is Brian Johnson from Sarasota, Florida.” That’s it. They go, “Oh no, no, no, it would bring the people in, more people.” And my reply is, “Please don’t do that, because my fellow drivers would think me an asshole, and I don’t want that. Please, I just want to be a driver, and that’s what I do.”
Q: You’re the big exception. There is this cult of celebrity with the media selling gossip as news…
A: I get an English newspaper and the whole middle pages are: “Seen in the pub: somebody drinking a pint of beer.” I don’t care [laughs], I don’t care if he is drinking his grandmother’s blood. But that’s the world now. People are famous for being famous and for nothing else. And good luck to them, because it lasts about a year and then they’re nothing again.
Q: You are 62; are you going to do this until they send you home in a box?
A: Before I started this album, I met our producer, Brendan O’Brien, and I said, “Brendan, will you make me a promise? If I’m not up to scratch, if I’m not up to the job, please tell me! I’m a big boy, I won’t cry, I’ll just disappear. I’ll just say goodbye to the boys, and they can get somebody else in to do the job.” And I really, really mean it. Because the last thing I want is to be the member in this band that holds it all back. So Brendan looked at me and he went, “OK.” But he never said anything, so I was very lucky.
Q: The last album took eight years to complete. Does it worry you that you may not be able to fulfil the recent long-time contract you signed?
A: Oh well, no. For my part I’d gladly continue, but at 62 I have to prove to myself I can still do two hours on stage. That’s the next hurdle. If I go on tour and can’t do it after a week, then I won’t ... I’m sure there is a younger singer out there who can do the job, because there is always somebody who can do your job, you’re never the only one in the world [laughs] ... But I don’t know if I can hold on. That’s the unfortunate thing about being a human being: you get old.
Q: What’s good about getting older?
A: You start appreciating things more. You appreciate that you’ve been lucky in life. You appreciate the good things in life, such as your family and that your fans have stuck with you.
Q: And the worst thing?
A: You know you haven’t got much time left. That it’s all going to go away soon and you’re not going to miss it, because you won’t feel it. I don’t believe in an afterlife, it’s just the way it is. I’m one of those unlucky people who doesn’t. I think the lucky people are the ones who believe in an afterlife. They’ve got something to look forward to. I don’t believe in it, so I just believe I’m going to have one of the best sleeps I have ever had.
Q: When did you first feel your age?
A: I’m lucky with that. Maybe when I finish my work-out sessions now, there’s certain leg muscles that I have to stretch just a little bit more than I used to, but that’s it. I feel good that I’m still fit enough to run and do things – I thank my lucky stars. Let’s put it that way: I’m luckier than a lot of unfortunate people, who can’t do that.
Q: What would you do if you were 16 years old again?
A: Sixteen again? Exactly the same. I wouldn’t change a thing.