By Martin Popoff
A drug bust, a murder-for-hire charge that was dropped, psychiatrists, helicopters and fast cars … Phil Rudd capped an action-packed last few years with a heart attack, and all this on top of getting fired from AC/DC after recording the “Rock or Bust” album of 2014.
Now the four-on-the-floor AC/DC thumper is back with a solo album called “Head Job,” a bold and barroom-rocking record that evokes images of all in the above. Conjuring a potent and gritty cross between Rose Tattoo, Hanoi Rocks, Motörhead and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, Phil, along with Geoffrey Martin on guitars and Allan Badger on bass and vocals — local guys Rudd’s played with for close to 30 years — have tempered themselves up a flicknife of a band, one that has expanded now to five members for European tour dates.
Add to this the world-weary smarts of Rudd’s and “Badge’”s lyrics (evocative of the late Doc Neeson of The Angels — Angel City in North America), and Badge’s rough, belligerent vocals (which sound exactly like Phil looks), the result is a tough-as-nails record rifled through with a salient vulnerability that comes from a far too real sense of mortality.
“Probably ‘Hold me down before I do something I might regret,’” laughs Rudd, when asked as an opener about a telling lyric on the record. “Which is quite poignant. But no, I’m just on a few backing vocals. I didn’t sing any of the main vocals. I write a lot of words with Badge, and a lot of it is my story. At the end of the day, Phil Rudd is a more marketable name than Johnny & the Jackknifes, so we have to deal with that. But we use my history as a bit of a leg up, you know?”
Asked if he was a frustrated writer in AC/DC, Phil figures, “No, not really. My writing comes from sitting at home, after I was done with AC/DC in ’83, and was sort of just mucking about, and a couple things sort of popped out. You know, simple things like ‘Forty Days’ — these songs are simple and they work. That’s probably our philosophy. Keep it simple, and, you know, make it striking.”
What about frustrated drummer, then? I mean, Phil’s gig was always scoffed at as one of the easiest in rock. Did he ever regret not being allowed to show more chops in that situation? “Well, I’m not about more chops,” counters Rudd. “I’m about the … I love producing my own album. As the drummer in AC/DC, I had no involvement at all in any of that — virtually none at all. So stuff rubs off on you after the years, and whether you know it, you find yourself with an ear for something. And I’ve always been a bit of a do-it-yourself guy. And I just decided that I’d build a studio and knock a few of those songs down, and it sort of evolved from there. But as far as drums go, I guess everyone sort of considered me to be the engine room of AC/DC. The rhythm section is sort of nailed down by me. That’s probably what I do best. I just nail it down, brother. I just keep it nailed down. I don’t really have any inherent or inside talents or capabilities. I just sort of swing at them and see what happens.”
As for his mission concerning the knob-twiddling, Phil says, “Well, the production philosophy is, if it doesn’t sound any good, throw it out and do something else. There’s no scientific production involved in it. I engineered a lot of the tracks myself, and thanks to our mastering engineer, Hayden Taylor, in Auckland, who saved the two-track reel from the bin basically, and mastered it for us, and did a fantastic job and just brought it all back to life, it’s all good. Add a couple tracks onto it and there’s an album. But yeah, the mastering was the most stunning thing — from my ham-fisted engineering, he really made it shine.”
One of the cool things about “Head Job” is the record’s punk vibe, despite none of the architecture of the songs being particularly punk. I asked Phil where this came from, and if he and the guys in AC/DC paid much attention to punk back in the late ‘70s. “No, none of us. AC/DC weren’t a punk band; we were a rock band. You know, if there was anything going down on our side, like, we would be in. We would play and fight, you know what I mean? (laughs) We were that sort of band, a no bullsh*t band. So we just … we weren’t offending anyone. We would just sort of carry on with it. That “antipodean punk rock extravaganza” label they put on us, that came out before the Sex Pistols and all those guys. We were just a little stroppy bunch of f**king midgets, you know? And we looked just like the punks, and that’s where that sort of came from. And the obsession with punk followed after that, from Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols and all that stuff on King’s Road. That’s what that all came from — it started as a fashion and it turned into an attitude.”
Fast-forward to this feisty record of 11 rockers, and Phil says, “Geoff would be the best guitarist I’ve ever played with; he’s an untapped treasure. I tell you, he really is a great player, plays great rhythm, as well as some beautiful solos and stuff. Yeah, we’re good friends and have been playing together for 30 years, so it’s real tight. Geoffrey, he’s the man. But we’re bringing another guitarist to play rhythm. We’ve already found another guitarist. And he’s working out really well. We’re really looking for it to be a strong rhythm section-based band, with a lot of foot-tapping. These guys have got great feel. You know, we really nail it, sort of out of nowhere. It’s just a really good playing relationship we have. Me and Geoffrey, we played together when we were quite young; we’re almost like Siamese twins. I don’t know, we just enjoy the same things. But we’re a five-piece now — the final cat’s now coming out of the bag there. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve. And, yeah, watch this space (laughs).”
And hopefully we shouldn’t be expecting any more heart attacks. As assurance, Phil promises he’s keeping fit. “Yeah, I work out, I work out. Although I sort of prefer to work out on the kit, you know? The kids keep saying I’m making too much noise downstairs, but that’s all right (laughs). But we’re really happy with the new album, I can tell you that. It’s taken me forever, but we think it’s got plenty of game. Plenty of foot-tapping. I am dangerous, mate, trust me. I’m dangerous. You better believe it, mate; I’m more dangerous than I’ve ever been before. I’ve sorted all my bullsh*t out, and my substance issues are all a thing of the past, and yeah, now I feel like a young fellow again.”