Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Phil Rudd: 'I've stopped all the crazy stuff'

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The former AC/DC drummer tells Annemarie Quill his hellraising days are over. Inspired by Sir John Kirwan, he sees a psychiatrist once a week and says he is closer than ever to his children. He’s still got all his flash cars and now the 61-year-old rocker wants to grow chillies.

Growing killer chillies was not something AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd ever thought would become a passion.

But when you are confined to the four walls of your house for eight months, even if it is a waterfront mansion with Ferraris as flatmates, "you discover things about yourself. You do a lot of thinking, play a lot of drums and grow f*** loads of chillies".

Rows of blood-red chillies are laid drying in columns on the white engineered stone kitchen benchtop of Rudd's home. He opens the fridge to reveal a further production line of bottled chilli sauce.

"I like growing things. I like hot food. I had time on my hands. Now I have Phil Rudd hot chilli sauce."

It is Tuesday morning in Tauranga.

Ellen DeGeneres chatters on the television. The pot is on for tea. On a desk there are car magazines, a deck of cards and Where's Ringo? the Beatles version of Where's Wally?.

There are DVDs of Mission Impossible and Toy Story 3.

Rudd's daughter, 17-year-old Tuesday, patters into the kitchen to make breakfast, hair piled in a towel, and rolls her eyes at her father's morning greeting like any typical teenager. She and her sister giggle as their father struggles to adjust the height of the kitchen stool. Out on the deck with 180-degree views of Mount Maunganui and the Port of Tauranga, Rudd sits on a deck chair and sips English breakfast tea from a Ducati mug.

It is unseasonably warm for May. On the boardwalk across the road joggers and mums with prams meander by. A man with a white stick shuffles along, arms linked to a woman. Someone passes on a mobility scooter.

It could be any home in a sleepy Tauranga suburb - except for the huge 25m-long, double-storey motorsport racecar transporter truck housing an NZV8 race car, an onboard kitchen, lounge with wide screen television, music system, red leather seats, and double bed. It is parked on the grass outside.

"It is my latest toy," says 61-year-old Rudd of the truck.

"The V8 I've had built for a while. The truck I got from Oz ... I am going to get it resprayed and everything. Then we'll take it down to Hampton Downs. If you take out the beds you can actually get three cars in there ... but I think it's good when you are racing to have a bit of home comforts. Do some laps. Listen to some music. Have a cup of tea and a lie down."

Phil Rudd says his huge racing car transporter truck, parked outside his Tauranga home, is his "latest toy". Photo / John Borren
Phil Rudd says his huge racing car transporter truck, parked outside his Tauranga home, is his "latest toy". Photo / John Borren

He is getting a vinyl covering for the truck displaying the image from the album Head Job, his 11-track solo album with Kiwi musicians Allan Badger of Rotorua and Geoffrey Martin of Auckland.

Rudd laughs at the suggestion the truck is so self-contained he could go off freedom camping in it.

"Yeah ... well, could do."

Free is what he now is. In March, Rudd's eight-month home detention ended. During his sentence he was banned from taking non-prescribed drugs and ordered to undergo drug and alcohol testing when police requested.

"I'm all done. I'm free. To do what I like ... well, not really."

There are six months of post-release conditions following the lifting of Rudd's home detention which he was sentenced to in Tauranga District Court on July 9 last year. The drummer had in April 2015 admitted to charges of threatening to kill an employee, and for possessing 91g of cannabis and 0.478g of methamphetamine found in his home during a police raid last year. Police had earlier dropped charges against him of attempting to procure a murder, which his then lawyer, Craig Tuck, said at the time generated more publicity around AC/DC than the death of its former lead singer, Bon Scott.

Little more than a week after the sentencing, Rudd was arrested for an alcohol breach but was given a good behaviour bond in October. At the time, Tuck told the Bay of Plenty Times that since that early lapse, Rudd had shown "exemplary compliance with the detention conditions imposed".

A big year

Sitting on his deck, Rudd lights up a cigarette and positions a large paua shell by his feet as an ashtray. He looks relaxed in a black tee shirt, jeans and trainers.

"I have behaved myself pretty well. I even tried to give up the cigarettes but I haven't. I didn't drink. I am not a big drinker so it doesn't bother me. But I have stopped all the crazy stuff.

"At first it was hard. Frustrating. Not being able to go out to the shops. Do the little things. I was allowed a couple of hours twice a week to check on my boat. I'd go in the morning. I got to drive my cars. It was my only freedom. But being a Taurus, a self-determining person, at first I struggled with having to be home at a set time. But now, I am a homebody."

Since the March lifting of the detention sentence, he says there have been no wild parties to celebrate at the Rudd house.

"You're more likely to find me at home in the evenings watching Brooklyn Nine Nine.

"I haven't really been out and about much. I haven't even been on the Tauranga Eastern Link. I've seen the latest Star Wars movie, though."

He gets up at 5 every morning. He takes one of the cars for a drive. Sometimes he stops for a full English breakfast at the Last Gasp Cafe, which he owns by the marina. He watches sport on television. He picks up his daughter from school. He works out at home in his gym.

"I mean, I don't go crazy. I don't want to do myself an injury."

He says he hasn't minded the quiet days. "I don't get bored. In the music business you get used to a lot of waiting around. I enjoy days when there is nothing to do because there are days ahead when it will be busy."

Phil Rudd arrives at the Tauranga Court today in September 2015. In March this year his eight-month home detention ended.  Photo / Andrew Warner
Phil Rudd arrives at the Tauranga Court today in September 2015. In March this year his eight-month home detention ended. Photo / Andrew Warner

The quietness of the past eight months and the more low-key lifestyle is something he wants to continue, he says.

"It has become part of who I am now. With help. I have had to get help on my issues."

Help has been in the form of a psychiatrist.

Rudd says he has been meeting with the doctor for one-on-one sessions for more than a year, which he describes as "really good".

"He comes here to the house about once a week. I have got to know him pretty well. I would even describe him as a mate. At first I'd give him lots of s***, about Clockwork Orange psychiatry and all that ... but talking about everything, as well as giving up the crazy s***, means that in a funny way, being forced to do that, it has been good. I was quite happy to get the help."

Rudd says being able to admit that he did need help was hard. That it doesn't go with the persona of a rock star, "having issues", but he was inspired by Sir John Kirwan talking about his depression and seeing how he overcame it.

"I've never felt better in my life. Physically, mentally, I am in the best shape I have ever been."

He hasn't become a monk, he says. He hasn't got a special woman in his life, but would like to settle down with someone.

"Yeah, I would like that. But I guess I am hard to live with."

He may have given up the rock and roll lifestyle, but he is not giving up the rock and roll.

"I am still the bad boy on the drums. I am probably playing better than I ever did."

Last month, Rudd was named one of the top 100 drummers of all time, coming in at number 86 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of drumming greats.

A future with AC/DC?

Which brings up the questions of Rudd's former day job: AC/DC, the band he was with for about 40 years.

Lawyer Craig Tuck had originally sought a discharge without conviction on the charges because of the impact a criminal conviction would have on Rudd's prospects of touring internationally with AC/DC, particularly to Canada, Japan and the US.

A conviction, said Tuck, would have caused him to lose "tens of millions of dollars". The prosecution argued against this saying "the elephant in the room" was whether Rudd actually had a place in AC/DC at all.

Rudd's appeal against the sentence was dismissed in October last year, with the judge dismissing the argument that Rudd could lose significant income because of the convictions, saying for that to arise "the band would have to want to play with him".

Did the band still want to play with him?

Rudd's arrest in November 2014 had dominated publicity for AC/DC's 17th studio album Rock or Bust, released that December. Although Rudd had played drums on the album and recorded it together with the band in Vancouver, Canada, his subsequent arrest ended his chances of going on the Rock or Bust world tour.

AC/DC began that tour in April 2015 without Rudd, who was replaced by Chris Slade. Rudd missed the band's 40th anniversary celebrations. Nor did Rudd play in the band's two New Zealand concerts last December.

AC/DC has suffered a series of setbacks with band members of late, not just with Rudd's conviction. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had retired in 2014 due to dementia. Then last month the band announced vocalist Brian Johnson's departure due to hearing loss.

The remaining US tour dates have been rescheduled for later this year, and Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose was roped in for the European leg of the tour, which began last Saturday, May 7 in Lisbon, Portugal and runs through to June.

But even that was not without crisis, with Rose having to do the first European shows seated in a customised throne with his leg in a cast having snapped his toe bone.
Rudd's conviction means he is not able to travel to America. He can, he says, travel to Europe.

Phil Rudd says he's "never felt better as a drummer or a person". Photo / John Borren
Phil Rudd says he's "never felt better as a drummer or a person". Photo / John Borren

So the "elephant in the room" still is the question: is Rudd still with the band? Is it rock or is it bust?

Rudd draws on his cigarette and looks out to the water. He takes a sip of his tea.

He says he has not spoken to band members since his conviction.

In an NME interview earlier this month, when asked about Rudd, Angus Young said, "Phil I haven't heard from. He's been very quiet of late," but Axl Rose was quoted as saying "I've talked to him about these other singers, though!"

Rudd smiled at that. "No, I have not spoken to Axl. He has not spoken to me."

As for playing again with the band, Rudd is not saying never.

"It is up to Angus, what he wants to do. I am limited to where I can go."

It is a much more subdued approach compared with straight after his sentence when he appeared on TV3 saying he wanted to "get my job back ... I'm going to be back".

Why the change of heart?

"I was over-fuelled. All over the place. I am not like that any more. I've never felt better as a drummer or a person. I am not saying I never hope of ever playing with AC/DC again but, then again, is it even AC/DC any more? No Bon's beautiful voice. No Malcolm. No Brian."

But Rudd is not hanging up his drum sticks.

He has applied to be able to go to Europe in June to do some shows to promote Head Job. He says he is also considering an expansion of his Tauranga waterfront Phil's Place restaurant, opening another one in New Zealand, possibly in Queenstown or Taupo. And he definitely wants to get some racing in.

He says he still has his helicopter, his launch Barchetta and his car collection including the Ferrari 599, the NZV8, a 2010 Mercedes SLS AMG with the numberplate Sonor, a 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, and a Can Am race car.

But first the music.

"I am going to France and Belgium to play some gigs. Small venues. Hey, it might even be a pub, you know. It is going to be low key."

Phil Rudd is looking forward to getting on with life again. Photo / John Borren
Phil Rudd is looking forward to getting on with life again. Photo / John Borren

His son Thomas lives in Belgium and has two children of his own. "He has grandad-ed me twice."

It was after the album's launch party in August 2014 that things started to go downhill for Rudd. Rudd celebrated with friends and family - including his children Steven, Thomas, Jack, Milla, Tuesday and Lucia. Rudd's local music mates were there. The wine and beer flowed at Phil's Place, which fed the revellers salmon caviar and prawn dim sum, lamb chops and fried chicken nibbles.

But in the days afterwards, Rudd says he had got "stressed", and was "highly strung". At his sentencing, his behaviour - including the threats to the former contracted employee - was described as "methamphetamine-induced psychosis" with his lawyer saying the issues that stemmed from his drug use had resulted in a "perfect storm" that "impacted heavily on those around me".

In the appeal, his lawyer said at the time of the offending Rudd had been experiencing "significant addiction problems and abusing substances", and his wild "nutting off" phone call was made during a period of paranoia.

Rudd says he now accepts he needed help. "I am not glad it happened. But it is not bad it happened."

He says he is closer to his children than ever. He has some good old friends that have stuck by him. You don't see him protected by bodyguards anymore. "I don't need them ... I really have given up all that s***."

The music, he says, is where he started, and that's where he goes back to.

Down in his "man cave", his rock memorabilia, framed photos and awards are so many they lean against walls as there is no mounting space left for them on the oak panelling.

For a man cave it is tidy, with its own kitchen, a pool table, and more car magazines.

Phil Rudd arriving at Court in Tauranga in July 2015. Photo / Alan Gibson
Phil Rudd arriving at Court in Tauranga in July 2015. Photo / Alan Gibson

There is a Beatles clock, and Ringo Starr memorabilia. Rudd has been a Ringo fan since he was 13 and he cites him as one of the inspirations behind his solo album.

Rudd bypasses the leather couches and takes a seat in the corner at the drums.

Flicking on the switch for sound, he starts playing. The room fills with the thud of rock.

He is not just the 61-year-old grandfather in sleepy Bureta.

He is Phil Rudd, the drummer, the heart and soul of a band, with his trademark straights and minimalist hard rock style. Swinging with the rhythm.

He plays the title track from his album, Head Job.

"Don't talk to me/ Just leave me be, I just want to watch TV and think about nothing ...shelter from the rain, from the head job hell ...understand my pain."

He gives it his all, finishing the track seemingly emotional, sweating, spent.

It is not just the track Head Job that has an eerie autobiographical feel. In fact his own album, 20 years in the making, with many words penned by Rudd, is strangely prophetic, with a middle track Bad Move with the lyric, "I broke all the rules". The eighth song Other Side includes the lyrics "I know in my heart I can make a brand new start, don't let me slip and slide back to the other side."

Says Rudd: "Ha, well. Hell. Ain't that just music. And we wrote all that before."

"I love the simple things now"

Back upstairs, Rudd walks past an airbrushed artwork of himself, which depicts him looking like the bad boy rocker, cigarette hanging out of his mouth. A local artist did it for him and is doing ones of Allan Badger and Geoffrey Martin too.

"I am looking forward now, to doing a bit a racing. To playing again. But I am not going to take it too fast. Not take too much on. I like living here, in this house. I like being by the kids. I don't want to leave Tauranga. I just love simple things now, like just sitting, enjoying the sun."

Sun Goes Down is another track on Head Job.

You get the feeling that despite the firestorm he has ridden in the past two years, the sun has not gone down on Phil Rudd. It's his 62nd birthday next week. He says he is not planning a party. The only bottles in the fridge are the chilli sauce.

"I can tell you that I am as positive as I can be now that I have given up the crazy s***, and I don't want to go back to it."

"Right now, I am going to have another cup of tea."

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