UPDATE: A New Zealand court dismissed Phil Rudd’s appeal October 5th, ruling that the drummer must serve out the rest of his house arrest. Rudd’s lawyers argued that the sentence was harmful to his music career as it prevented the drummer from reuniting with AC/DC. However, the judge rejected that argument, saying in a statement that there was no evidence to support that Rudd’s AC/DC band mates even wanted him back, New Zealand’s 3 News reports.
For embattled former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd, this was not how 2015 was supposed to go. In an alternate universe, the 61-year-old musician would have already traipsed through Europe with his band on their Rock or Bust tour, delivering a career-spanning set that may be short on surprises, but long on grand spectacle and bombastic rock tradition. He would have currently been rehearsing and preparing for the group’s upcoming North American leg, performing classic rock chestnuts alongside the band’s latest album, to which he contributed in 2014.
Instead, he is speaking to Rolling Stone from his Tauranga, New Zealand, home, where he will be confined for the next eight months as part of his sentencing on threatening-to-kill and drug-possession charges. Friends, family and other well-wishers are allowed to visit, but he’s legally mandated to not leave his house; it’s a prohibition that has, according to Rudd, allowed him to “get really organized” while working with court-appointed psychiatrist Rupert Bird, a specialist in methamphetamine psychosis “who’s helping me through my imbalances and personal issues.
“It’s all going quite well,” Rudd tells Rolling Stone. “He’s a highly qualified maniac from the Clockwork Orange school of psychiatry. I’m learning a lot of things. I’m a big fish in a very small pond down here and I’m not used to it. But it’s been an asset in a way; there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Rudd takes a pause, choosing his words carefully. “But then there is.”
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Last November, Rudd was arrested for attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill and possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. Prosecutors dropped the murder-procurement charge due to “insufficient evidence” one day later, but the others stuck, resulting in a sentence of eight months of house detention, entry into a rehabilitation program and a ban on alcohol and drugs.
“Everyone seems to fuckin’ hate me, but everyone really loves me”
The details of the case painted Rudd as a musician unhappy with the release and reception of his 2014 solo album Head Job. In a summary of facts presented to the court, the drummer allegedly asked that his former security guard-turned-personal assistant be “taken out” following the failure of the album. The release of that album “didn’t go well,” which infuriated Rudd to the point where he fired much of his staff, including the assistant.
Last September, Rudd allegedly phoned an unnamed associate and asked if they would murder his former assistant in exchange for $200,000, a car, a motorbike or a house. The following day, Rudd made several threatening phone calls to his former assistant, culminating in one communication where the drummer allegedly stated, “I’m going to come over and kill you.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Rudd denies ever asking anyone to be “taken out” or any sort of murder-for-hire exchange, though a report by New Zealand TV station 3 News said that the drummer apologized to the man he threatened. (The apology was accepted.) For Rudd, the whole incident stemmed from a record-release-party altercation that has been blown out of proportion.
“I didn’t have a major issue of any sort except I got really [angry] on this solo album [event] of mine, which I was organizing myself,” Rudd says. “It came to a head at this woman’s party, which was badly organized. So I sacked all those guys on the spot. When I walked in, everyone was [drunk]; eight sheets to the wind and full of bourbon. That’s the last thing I wanted to see. I wanted them to sit down and listen to the album, have a snack and a cup of tea. It just got worse from there. I wasn’t handling it very well. The whole thing was a little bit too much for me. But the threatening charge is just a complete crock of shit. I wouldn’t do that.”
“The threatening charge is just a complete crock of shit. I wouldn’t do that”
Rudd’s lawyer, Craig Tuck, immediately filed an appeal following the sentencing, telling Rolling Stone that the sentence was “manifestly excessive.”
“Phil is appealing his conviction and sentence on the threatening-to-kill, cannabis and methamphetamine charges,” Tuck says. “There is no date for his appeal. The primary grounds are that the consequences of conviction are out of all proportion to the gravity of offending. The main purpose of the judge sentencing Phil was to address rehabilitative needs, which he is doing.”
Rudd was re-arrested 10 days after sentencing after a female guest brought alcohol into his residence, though Tuck tells Rolling Stone that it was Rudd who called the police to his place. He is expected to answer to those charges in November.
Rudd is defiant when asked why he thinks the case has received worldwide attention, even more than AC/DC founding member Malcolm Young’s tragic dementia diagnosis and subsequent departure from the band. “The local paper had their heads up their asses and I don’t know why,” Rudd says. “They seem to really want to find something bad about me and blow it up to sell papers. They look at me as the ‘bad boy drummer.’ They just really don’t like me. Everyone seems to fuckin’ hate me, but everyone really loves me.”
There’s an air of frustration but cheerful optimism to his voice, as if Rudd pictures himself as the man against the world; the iconoclast whose ordinary fight with a co-worker got turned into an international scandal. “It’s best I stand up and stick up for myself, which is quite good,” Rudd says. “I am a pretty strong person within myself.”
The thornier matter is Rudd’s place in AC/DC, a band he joined in 1975, left in 1983 reportedly due to conflicts with Malcolm Young and drug and alcohol problems, and re-joined in 1994. Rudd hasn’t spoken to any members of the band since his arrest last year — “Which is a little weird,” he says — with the group issuing the terse statement at the time of Rudd’s arrest, “We’ve only become aware of Phil’s arrest as the news was breaking. We have no further comment. Phil’s absence will not affect the release of our new album Rock or Bust and upcoming tour.”
While [guitarist-founding member] Angus Young told Rolling Stone that Rudd’s arrest had been a “big blow to us,” the band has scrubbed Rudd’s name and likeness from the “Band” section of its website, replacing him with current drummer Chris Slade. That hasn’t, however, diminished Rudd’s optimism to re-join the group and record more music with them.
“All I’m looking for is an opportunity to step back up,” Rudd says. “Once I get back my freedom to travel, I’ll hopefully be heading straight back to whatever they’re doing. I feel great. Better than I’ve ever felt before. I’m very keen to get back in the saddle.”
Asked point-blank if he’s still a member of the group, Rudd remains resolute: “Me and everyone else says that, But that’s not what Angus says,” Rudd says. “I don’t want to upset Angus by saying the wrong thing. Me and Angus kicked serious ass and he knows if I was there, it would be better. I know he knows that, because I’ve proven it before. Just give me five minutes in a room with him and I’ll get my job back. I promise ya. I was doing hard personally and did some things I probably shouldn’t have done. We’ve all got our cross to bear.”
A representative for the group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There’s no such thing as bad publicity. But then there is”
Rudd explains the band’s lack of communication with its general mantra that applies to all members: Deal with it yourself. “With AC/DC, if you’ve got a problem, you sort it out yourself,” Rudd says. “That’s how it works. I’ve got a problem, so I handle it myself. You can’t expect the band to come over here, line up, and say, ‘This guy’s great. When are you gonna go and make a fuckin’ ass of yourself again?'”
While there’s no indication that Rudd will play with the band when the Rock or Bust tour hits Australia and New Zealand starting in November, he remains hopeful for some sort of reunion, even if it’s temporary.
“I’m ready to go,” he says. “Never been fitter. Never been more passionate. I’m more dangerous than I’ve ever been. They should get me back there, even if it’s just for a weekend to have some jam in some fuckin’ small room somewhere in a basement.”
Until then, Rudd will distract himself by tending to his house, working on his appeal, writing an autobiography tentatively titled Phil Rudd: My Life and allowing himself more hedonistic endeavors. “Girls are allowed in as long as they don’t drink or bring alcohol into the house,” Rudd says. “So I make it up with that. I’m just a boy who can’t say no [to women]. The more, the merrier.”