MARK EVANS INTERVIEW:
February 28, 2012
Being part in the formative years of one of hard rock’s biggest and most influential bands would be a dream come true for millions of fans, but for Mark Evans life with AC/DC was a double-edged sword. The bassist helped the legendary Aussie’s streamline their signature sound on such classic albums as ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’ yet found himself on the outside looking in when AC/DC reached their commercial peak. Holding no grudges, Evans explains the highs and lows of being in the band in his new autobiography ‘Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside Of AC/DC’. A poignant look into a group of guys that were determined to take over the world, ‘Dirty Deeds’ chronicles the drive and determination that eventually made AC/DC chart-toppers. Despite influencing countless musicians, Evans suffered a bout of depression, contemplated suicide, lost his close friend Bon Scott, and even his own daughter Kristin — a tear-jerking end to a book that brings a human element to what many would consider a ‘Rock God’.
Sleaze Roxx: I just finished reading ‘Dirty Deeds’ and it was an interesting look into the highs and lows of being a musician. Was working on the book therapeutic for you in any way?
Mark Evans: Absolutely. The idea of the book has been in the back of head for some time, but for whatever reason I deferred it over the years. I was prompted to write it because I was at a time of my life where I thought it would be very remedial to sit down and take some breaths and take stock of things. So the timing was right and the whole thing was very cathartic. Everyone has their memories and you will remember something good or bad in your life — it will just pop into your mind. When you’re writing a book you recount things and relive things in detail and it can be quite difficult. By the same token you go back to things you haven’t thought of for a while. I spent half the time in front of the computer bursting out laughing.
That’s life, you have things that are fantastic and things that are not so fantastic. There are corresponding highs and depths. If you have a big high in your life you probably have a corresponding low somewhere. That’s just a theory I have. It was very remedial and something I recommend everyone does… just go back. If you have some things in your life you don’t have a handle on it’s a good thing to do. For your family too — I wish I’d said to my grandparents, when they were around, ‘just to go back and write about things in your life because things get lost’. It’s something I recommend to anyone to do — to leave a log for your family to look at.
Sleaze Roxx: Were there any moments that seemed like no big deal at the time, but when you put them to paper made you think twice about your decisions?
Mark Evans: Because I was writing from the point in my life when I’m in my mid-50s, and looking back on the things you’ve done, it becomes obvious that you are a very different person. You are recounting from a position where, hopefully, you’re a bit wiser and have more experience and would possibly do things differently. It’s difficult when you look back and think, ‘man why would I have possibly have done that!’ When you’re 20 years old you are playing to a different rule book than in your mid-50s. Without sounding like I’ve got a big head, I’ve always been a decent person of good nature. But you look back and go, ‘oh man’, but hey, I was 20 or 25. You can’t make too many excuses once you reach 30 though (laughs).
There were a few things in the book that surprised me when I was writing about them. That sounds a bit odd, but on examination there are a couple of things that surprised me, in particular when I was writing about the passing of my father. You don’t lose your memories of it but to go back and recount it in such detail was quite difficult. With my father it was looking back with my sensibilities of a mid-50s person and thinking about the 12 year old kid I was at that time. It was interesting.
Sleaze Roxx: After the book was released were there parts you had forgotten and wish you had included?
Mark Evans: I was very particular about what went into the book. When we were compiling and editing the book I was under the absolute belief there was only going to be one book so I wanted to get in and say what I did. There were constraints on the size of the book and the interest of the book is regards to the time with AC/DC so it is weighted in that way. The AC/DC stuff is all in there and some of the family stuff. There are other things I would have liked to put in but you have to keep an idea of the balance and of the project. The way it ended up I’m very happy with. It was my strong belief there would only be one book so I wanted to make it the best it could be… and it is.
As time goes on it is becoming more apparent another book is an option from the feedback I’m getting. I’d like to do another one because I enjoyed the writing process and it was something beneficial. I miss the writing — it was a hell of a lot of work but it was great doing it. Getting back to the essence of the question, I’m very happy with how the book is. I don’t think I could be happier with it. I had expectations how it would be but it’s gone far beyond that.
Sleaze Roxx: Have you started jotting down ideas for your follow up?
Mark Evans: Strangely enough I was writing when you called — don’t waste my time I’m an author, OK (laughs). Since I was young I’ve read and I’ve always leaned towards autobiographies. Someone finishes their autobiography and they get interviewed on TV and they are, ‘oh my God, reliving everything was such a stress, so emotional’ and I’d be going, ‘for God’s sake grow a pair!’ I now have a better understanding of that attitude. I won’t be doing that in an interview, I’m a bit more private than that, which seems a contrary thing to say since I have just put out a memoir. I know from writing the book I certainly have a better idea of who I am… I think.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve always wondered how a musician who gets fired from a band that goes on to great success doesn’t end up being bitter. How can you not be pissed off about missing out on what could have been?
Mark Evans: I think it boils down to your personality. I’ve never been one to rake over the coals of anything — it’s pretty much a family trait, you just get on with things. What would be gained to be bitter about things?
Sleaze Roxx: That’s true, but I’m sure if it happened to me I’d hold a grudge for awhile.
Mark Evans: When the split from the band happened it was disappointing. It made me sad, I was angry… all those things because you get conflicting feelings. It wasn’t a surprise for me that I got sacked from the band, but it was a shock. It was like getting a divorce. I went through a divorce later on in life and it was the same feeling — it was fucking awful. In the same token there was equal amounts of, ‘thank God that is over’. There were certain elements of being in AC/DC that where quite difficult, but that all went away as soon as I hit the intro of “Live Wire”. If it just involved playing live with the band it was no problem. It seems superfluous to say, but it was a great band to play in. I used to look forward to playing on stage because it was the only time you got any peace and quiet (laughs). That was the only time the band really existed is when it was playing.
I’ve never been a bitter person. If someone said what bothers you about it? I’m not bothered about it at all. I’ve got great memories of being with the band and I’ve got a lot to thank the guys for. It was a great learning curve and I was involved in some great music. If you held a gun to my head now and said, ‘would you still like to be in AC/DC’, you’d be out of your mind to say no. It just didn’t happen that way and I’ve got a fairly physiological attitude to it. If I was the right guy I’d still be there, so it’s pretty obvious I wasn’t the right guy. They have been very, very successful without me, so I think they may have made the right decision (laughs). Who knows what would have happened? I’ve pondered that many times, and as I’m sitting here, I really miss playing with the band.
I’ve got two favorite bands in the world. One is Rose Tattoo, possibly my favorite band, and the other is AC/DC. In qualification to that I’m a little bit biased, and no disrespect to what the band has done, but if you ask me personally I prefer the stuff Bon Scott was involved in. To qualify that further, two of my favorite AC/DC albums are ‘Powerage’ and ‘High Voltage’, which I didn’t play on. Maybe because I’m divorced from those albums, I can appreciate them for what they are. People look at ‘Back In Black’ and that’s an amazing record and amazingly successful — it’s just a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll record. If I had to point to what I think is the best AC/DC album its ‘Highway To Hell’. I’m a Bon fan, I gravitate towards that stuff.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Highway To Hell’ is my personal favorite.
Mark Evans: There is a run of three albums which I think is where the band grew quickly. ‘Let There Be Rock’ is the one that started it off, then ‘Powerage’ where the band seems to take a bit of a breath, and then goes bang in ‘Highway To Hell’. I’m a bit of an old fart with my music but I’d put it up there with ‘Who’s Next’ or ‘Exile On Mainstreet’.
The track listing, the order of the songs, even the title is a cracker. It’s just a great record. When I listen to ‘Highway To Hell’, because of the relationship I had with the band, particularly with Bon, there are times when I couldn’t help but wonder what the next one would have sounded like with him. It just wasn’t meant to be, what can you say… shit happens. It’s been 32 years since he died… can you believe 32 years? It’s just bizarre. I don’t want to sound like a lunatic, but I still expect him to knock on the door. I think because he is still so visible in the media and possibly because I’ve been doing this bloody book (laughs). I sound like I’m astral traveling but it’s nice to still have that presence here because he was a great guy to have around.
Sleaze Roxx: It was kind of obvious that you weren’t too happy with the underhanded way the Young brothers fired you. I wondered if at the time you were upset with Bon and Phil Rudd and the way they remained relatively quiet during the meeting, seeing you were closer to them.
Mark Evans: Not at all. One of the things that was very plain at the time was it was something that was out of their control. If it had been someone else in the band — and it certainly would never have been Angus or Malcolm — if it was someone else that was put in the cannon instead of me I know I would have had no control over it. I never felt any ill will towards them and never have. There was a fair bit of dust in the air for me personally after getting over the shock but it was also quite a large slice of relief too. Between the two, you go, ‘fuck it I don’t want to be out of the band’ and ‘thank God’. I was rick-a-shaying between those two.
That’s an interesting question though because I’ve never thought about that. Possibly that would be from how I saw Phil 24 hours before the meeting went down and how Bon was at the meeting — I think that was very instructive. The way the decision was made was just as upsetting as getting kicked out of the band. I would have liked to have had Malcolm come to me and say, ‘listen this is what is going on’. I would have appreciated some more rope.
Sleaze Roxx: It seemed to me that everybody knew you were going to be kicked out except you.
Mark Evans: What irked me a bit was I had brought it up with Malcolm previously. We were in Melbourne at an after show party and Angus, unusually for him, got smashed and spilled the beans a bit. That irks me that I confronted Malcolm about it and he was, ‘no that’s not me that’s Angus’. I don’t know why they would do that other than it wasn’t the time to make the change. The time frame sped up the change because we were kicked off the Black Sabbath tour. It seems a bit glib to say we want to get a bass player who can sing. Surprisingly I can actually sing (laughs).
In Malcolm’s case it was possibly an effort to spare my feelings a bit, or not be confrontational about it, because he isn’t good at confrontation. I’ve dissected it quite a few times obviously. There was no ill feeling between Phil and Bon, or Malcolm either — he and Phil drove me out to the airport. You could see that Malcolm was never a great one for letting you know how he felt but you could see it was, ‘hey mate, thanks, it didn’t work out’. He was as heartfelt as I’ve ever seen him. It’s no surprise, its common knowledge Malcolm and Angus can be fairly complex. You have to admire what they have achieved for the band. They were making decisions at that time that they thought were best for the band. I’ve never had any issue on that side of things.
Sleaze Roxx: You fought depression during your time in AC/DC and there was section in the book when you even thought of suicide. Do you think if you remained with the band you would still be here today?
Mark Evans: The correct answer to that is no (laughs). People often say, ‘do you wish you were still with the band?’ or ‘what would have happened?’ It’s a theoretical question. The answer that is always in my head, and sometimes I don’t use it because it doesn’t sound good, but I don’t think I’d be around. If I was a gambling man I don’t think I would have gone the distance. I was never into the drug side of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle but I could certainly see myself drifting that way. I’m not talking about heroin, but there was a massive middle ground of other stuff that I was starting to embrace wholeheartedly (laughs). Would I have gone the distance? I sincerely doubt it.
Sleaze Roxx: You mentioned that Bon was thinking of doing a solo album before his death. How do you think that would have turned out?
Mark Evans: It would have been great. Bon had great soul to him and had a great character. What makes AC/DC great is what makes a lot of bands great, there is a chemistry — it’s something that happens within the band. I’m no Beatles fan, I wouldn’t stick my head over the back fence to see the Beatles if they were playing today, but I admire and respect what they have achieved. George Harrison even ended up being a friend. I point to the Beatles because you get those four guys, and John Lennon and Paul McCarthy individually are fantastic, but there is something else that happens when you put four guys in a room together. There is very much that chemistry between Bon, Angus and Malcolm — that’s what sets the whole thing off.
Sleaze Roxx: Did it ever annoy you that AC/DC reached their highest level of success without Bon?
Mark Evans: Not at all, a feeling like that is not in my nature. It’s a great legacy to Bon that the ground work and foundation was laid with him. The band’s legacy… you point to Bon — but it’s a group effort. It doesn’t happen because of one person, maybe there is one person driving it, but it’s impossible to have a band like AC/DC without having a solid core inside where the chemistry happens. If it was possible for a band to come out and make their first album and its ‘Back In Black’ I’m sure it would be successful, but it wouldn’t be as successful without the five or six years before that — and that is hard work that was done by the band. They got to the point where it was ‘Highway To Hell’ and everyone at that time realized this thing is going to break wide open.
I remember talking to the guys on a trip back here, talking to Phil and Mal, and saying ‘this is looking good, this is going to go off’. They were saying they were still working hard. There was no way they had stopped pushing. They always knew it was going to work but it probably took longer than they would have liked. I would have loved Bon to be there a lot longer.
I was disappointed Bon probably didn’t get to realize that full success and there is a sadness attached to that. I’m sure the other guys in the band would have that same feeling, but tenfold, as they were there when it all went down with Bon. It was difficult enough for everyone but they are the guys that lived through it on a daily basis. It was hard enough for me when I saw Brian Johnson do his first gig with the band in Sydney. That was poignant and a tough thing to deal with. I have a lot of respect of how they worked their way through that transition. It was amazing how they buckled up and went for it — very much the ACDC fashion, just get on with it.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you think if Bon were still alive today that he would want to be out on the road in his 60s?
Mark Evans: Absolutely. There was only one way to take him off the road and that is what happened to him. He was like Peter Pan anyway, I don’t think he was going to get any older. He was in remarkable shape for his age. It’s very odd that he’s been gone for 32 years because he still seems the same. I liken it to guys who go away, fight in wars, and lose their buddies. In your memory they don’t change — you get older and if you delve into it and examine it in depth it’s a very surreal feeling.
Sleaze Roxx: You made Angus sound like a very guarded and often unapproachable person in the book. Looking back, could you ever say that the two of you were ever close friends or does he let people get that close?
Mark Evans: That’s a thing that probably confounded me a little bit. There were times we would get on great and we would have a lot of fun. I think the problems between Angus and myself — and I wasn’t on my own here, pretty much everyone in the band and road crew fell afoul of Angus along the way — was that he is a very intense and committed guy. You see how he is on stage, and to get to that level you have to have a lot of intensity. There is a lot of energy to build up to that. In my view Angus would get incensed and pissed off with people if he didn’t see them being as committed to the cause as he was, and it’s impossible to do that. He’s amazing, and that is something I have a lot of respect for. So it wasn’t that difficult to rattle his cage in that area. The majority of the time it was smooth but if there was a blow up it would be pretty fucking hectic. He expected the ultimate from people and if he wasn’t getting it that would create some problems. Looking back I can’t fault him on that, because it’s worked — the end justifies the means. They wouldn’t be where they are today unless they were the people that they are.
We used to get called over confident, arrogant assholes… and we were! We were very certain of how the band was and we knew we were a great band. Angus and Malcolm from the start had expectations, not aspirations. They had expectations of how the band would be — they were going to make the band huge. People think that is fucking arrogant but you have to remember those guys came from an environment and a family where one of their older brothers George had incredible success with The Easybeats. He had a hit with “Friday On My Mind” and was a bonafide rock ‘n’ roll star. At one stage The Easybeats, if they had gone the right way with the right management, could potentially have been massive. They were from an environment of, ‘hey George has done it, it is possible’. Angus and Malcolm didn’t say we should put a band together, write our own songs and maybe get some gigs — they started from a platform that was way above any place a guy would normally start a band from because they had a blue print of what George did. I think their expectations resulted in the swagger they had, without The Easybeats maybe you don’t have AC/DC.
Sleaze Roxx: One band that wasn’t mentioned in your book was Cheetah. George Young and Harry Vanda ended up working with them. Where they mentoring the band while you were part of it?
Mark Evans: Absolutely, George was very much hands on. That comes across the wrong way doesn’t it (laughs). They were very much mentoring and I started working with my drummer at the time, John Lalor, and we were pulled into Cheetah by George. It didn’t get mentioned as that was a fairly short experience, probably only a matter of a few months. Back in the days I was pretty much a hired gun for Alberts and it was in between a break with the band I was in with Rob Riley, who was away with Rose Tattoo at the time. Those girls, Chrissie and Lyndsay, were great singers — I was going to work for them at some stage over in England where it was getting really big. It looked like they were going to get picked up but unfortunately Chrissie got ill. She was a very sick girl for about 12 months and that put the band off the road.
Sleaze Roxx: In the book The Who seemed huge to you thanks to their ‘Live At Leeds’ album but when you saw the club you realized it wasn’t that far removed from places you were playing. Do you think bands can create that type of mystique these days with the internet?
Mark Evans: I think the gig is up as far as that is concerned. The only information you got about ‘Live At Leeds’ was that it was recorded at a University, you had no idea what the place looked like. The was no YouTube and you couldn’t see that there was only 700 people there. You colored the story in yourself, you just assumed it was a massive place because it’s a massive record — possibly my favorite live album of any. It was another piece of the puzzle thinking ‘we aren’t too far away from this’. We were closer than we thought we were and it was just a matter of doing enough gigs and getting to enough people.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems like some of the mystery is taken away from rock bands these days. I wonder if the days of ‘Rock Gods’ will be over once bands like AC/DC retire.
Mark Evans: I think with everything being so immediate on the internet the mystique has gone to a certain extent. A lot of people are more accessible and there is a lot more information. You can see a lot on YouTube that you wouldn’t have seen 10 or 15 years ago. But you can still stay relatively private — I think Angus and Malcolm do a fantastic job of keeping their privacy in a business that doesn’t lend itself to being private these days. It’s a double edged sword for those guys. I’ve read things saying they are standoffish, insular, and uncommunicative. I just think they are private guys in a world that isn’t private. It’s played against them but it’s the way they are. If they have something to say, they’ll say it.
The business has certainly changed in the way music is dispensed. If I talk about the time I was in AC/DC in the ’70s compared to now, the product is the same but it’s a completely different business. I’m from a world where before I was in AC/DC I was working at the Post Office. If you didn’t go to the bank and get cash out on Friday you had no money for the weekend. It’s a completely different world, but in terms of AC/DC it’s a world they have moved on with. They’ve played to their own rules but managed to get a very firm footing for the band that will never go away.
Sleaze Roxx: How does it make you feel knowing that the music you helped create has influenced thousands of musicians?
Mark Evans: It feels great. Without sounding like an egomaniac I’ve had hundreds upon hundreds of bass players come up to me and say, ‘you got me into bass playing’. At the time, when I was with the band, people were, ‘shouldn’t you be a bit busier on the bass’. Well no, that isn’t what the song needs, it’s just ‘boom boom boom’ — that is just what it is. Now there are a lot of bass players around the world going ‘boom boom boom’ (laughs). It’s a good feeling, I’d be non-transparent if I said it didn’t make you feel good. I certainly didn’t invent that style of bass playing but it wasn’t that prevalent until that point.
Sleaze Roxx: Thanks for chatting Mark, I really enjoyed reading the book.
Mark Evans: It’s been great. The way the book landed with people and the way it’s been received, people have been getting back saying it’s honest and sincere and I hoped that is how it would come across. I was anxious before the book came out about how people were going to view the ending about losing Kristin. I was wondering, ‘should I even be putting this in the book?’ I just wrote from my heart on that — I intended to have another chapter or two after that point of losing Kristin but once I wrote it I said, ‘well that is the end of the book’. It’s amazing how many friends, Dad’s, and family people have got back to me and said they had been through similar things. Sometimes it needs people to voice something in a manner that people can find accessible. It’s been a really assuring part of the book in the way that part has been greeted.
Sleaze Roxx: I thought it was a great way to end the book because it not only caught me off guard but made you more human.
Mark Evans: At the end of the day I’m just recounting what happened. The book isn’t an invention… it’s just what happened. I’ve almost been a spectator all along. It does catch people off guard because Kristen got really sick and we did lose her a couple of times there — people go, ‘he’s got a new house, new band and everything is going fine’. I think people thought it was a happily ever after thing. Now it is. I have some great memories and the good memories will win.
God I wish the end of the book was different, but it’s just life. To stop doing what we are doing is just a slap in the face to people who aren’t around. My agent Pippa said it’s a really nice tribute to Kristin and it’s kind of cool if people take that on board. Stay tuned for another book.
Sleaze Roxx: I look forward to reading it.
Mark Evans: Put it down as a definite maybe.