Rock n’ roll goes Airbourne


April 6, 2008

Rock n’ roll fans rejoice! Rock will never die as long as bands like Australias Airbourne are here to breathe new life into it. The band’s debut album, Runnin’ Wild (REVIEW), now available in the United States via Roadrunner Records, is an instant classic, a disc that rocks with a bravado and enthusiasm not seen since Bon Scott’s heyday. The AC/DC comparison is unavoidable, especially since Airbourne, too, features a pair of brothers at its core, vocalist/guitarist Joel O’Keeffe and drummer Ryan O’Keeffe. But one listen to Runnin’ Wild is enough to know this is no copycat act.

Guitarist David Roads and bassist Justin Street round out the quartet, which recently moved its base of operations to the United States to focus on reaching the American and European audiences. During the band’s headlining tour with Endeverafter and StoneRider, Joel checked in with’s Greg Maki to discuss his band’s sound and influences, the new album and more. Get to know them now because you’re going to hear a lot more from them very soon. One of the things I always see when I read about Airbourne and the description of the sound is “pub rock.” We haven’t really heard that description here in the United States too much. I think I have an idea of what it means.

Joel O’Keeffe: Pub rock is an Australian thing. In Australia, you play in pubs and you play in clubs. Generally, it’s pub, which over here you might just call a bar. They’re just a bit different kind of establishment. In Australia, we call ‘em pubs.

Do you ever get tired of the AC/DC comparison? Because that seems to always come up.

When you start out as a band and people start to discover you for the first time, you’re always gonna get compared to somebody, especially in this day and age. We’re lucky enough to get compared to the greatest Aussie pub rock n’ roll band in the world. Our band’s in that same sound of bands like Rose Tattoo and The Angels and The Poor, and they’re all bands that we grew up listening to. So it was inevitable that we were gonna end up with that kind of sound. That’s the sound we love. We love that kind of rock n’ roll. Yeah, it’s the best rock n’ roll, I think, to play.

How did Airbourne originally get together?

We started out, just me and Ryan, jamming at home in a room out in the back. We used to jam in there ever since we were kids, Ryan on drums, me on guitar. Then, Dave, we met him at the pub, just working, pouring beers and stuff. We used to get the acoustics out after work, just jamming at the pub when everyone had all gone home. We’d just be there, playing away. And then came around and plugged in, electric, and then we just sort of turned it up. Ryan met Dustin. They just ran into each other and it just really came around, and we’ve sort of been rocking since. We moved to Melbourne about four years ago and then we’d been living there all together in same house, rehearsing in the lounge room, setting all the shit up in the house and blowing the fuse box ‘cause it just can’t handle the power. We used guitar strings to re-patch the fuses. Bass strings tend to work best ‘cause they’re thicker and more volts can get through it. We’ve been touring since then and that’s kinda how we started till we’re here now.

You just recently moved here to the United States, right?

Yeah, we haven’t really even been in the house. We’re renting a house in Jersey and we haven’t really even set foot in there yet. I don’t know. It’s kinda weird ‘cause we don’t have a house in Australia and we kinda haven’t been in the house in the U.S., so we don’t really have a home anywhere anymore. I mean, Australia will always be our home. Yeah, at the moment we don’t have a house to live in.

So with the move here and the tours, is the focus on building the fanbase here in America now?

Yeah. We’re here to tour. It’s such a big country to tour. I guess you’ve gotta base yourself to really get stuck into and the U.K., as well. It’s just a six-hour flight away from Newark Airport, so it puts us right in the center of all the Europe festivals and all that sort of stuff. So we can play there any time. And then when we go back to Australia, it gives us a good excuse to do a proper tour ‘cause when we were living there, we’d always end up just doing sort of smaller tours. Whereas now when we fly back to Australia, we can do New Zealand and we can do the whole lot of Australia again.

I want to say that I really love the new album, Runnin’ Wild. I think it’s one of the best pure rock albums I’ve heard in a long time.

Thanks, man.

You got to work with some well known people on that, the producer Bob Marlette [Alice Cooper, Seether, Shinedown, Saliva] and the mixer Andy Wallace [Slayer, Nirvana, Sepultura, Slipknot]. What was it like working with those guys? What did they bring to it?

Bob, he’s had a lot of experience. He’s worked with a lot of people, a pretty wide range of artists he’s worked with. He’s been around doing this since—I don’t know what the early days of recording rock n’ roll was—but he’s just been educated in it. He just really brought that groovy attitude, just this sort of get in, plug in, play, do what you love and, I guess, just play what you’ve always played and not change anything and not feel that you have to please anybody, just play rock n’ roll. And he’s there to record it, get it right, to see the whole thing and make sure we do a good job.

And what about Andy Wallace?

He’s that guy, you know? He’s one of the very sought after mixers to get your album mixed by and we were lucky enough to get him to do our album, even our first one. It’s one of those things where you see the list of albums that guy’s mixed. We just basically sort of said to the label, “Look, we don’t want to get in his road at all. We just want to let him do his thing ‘cause he’s a master at his craft. Just let him mix and we’ll have a listen to it, and we’ll see if it hits where we need it to be.” He basically nailed it in one. He just did it right out. He’s great.

When I listen to the songs, they just seem like they’re made to be performed live on stage. So what is an Airbourne live show like?

It’s just a loud rock n’ roll show. We play as hard as hell and try and entertain to the best we can and just try and have a really good time with it.

On the current tour, did you get to pick the opening bands?

We’d never seem ‘em live before, but I think we picked ‘em when we were in Australia. We basically got on the MySpace and checked ‘em out, and they were all about the right kind of things. It’s about getting out and playing, and they’re great to tour with.

I’m going next week to the show in Baltimore. That was one of the places you played back in the fall. How did that go?

It was a memorable show. It was our first time playing in Baltimore, pretty much the first time doing a sold-out U.S. show. It was just a really great feeling. The audience just made us really play hard ‘cause they gave us a lot back. Whatever we gave them, they gave us like 10 times back and it just fueled the whole thing. It was a lot of fun.

This summer you’re on the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. Are you looking forward to that and getting out there with all the big metal bands on the tour?

Yeah, yeah. It’ll be really cool. We don’t get a chance to see a lot of those kind of bands in Australia. I mean, they do tours, like Big Day Out and their own tours, but we’ve usually been on tour at the time. But now we’ll see what it’s all about. It’ll be cool.

Both in Australia and over here already, you’ve gotten to play with a lot of really big-name bands. Who were you most excited to get to meet or play a show with so far?

That’s a hard one. There’s the Rolling Stones and there was Motorhead and Rose Tattoo. I think probably the most exciting ones were those three, to meet them, ‘cause Lemmy, he just really is one of those blokes where as a band—I mean, he’s a bass player and a singer, but I think drummers, guitarists—everyone—respects Lemmy and Motorhead for everything they’ve done. That’s one of those bands that you’re just in awe to see live, let alone share the same stage and get to meet him and have a drink with him. It’s one of those things when you’re playing in a band, you get to meet the bands that got you into playing rock n’ roll and then to get to play on the same stage, it’s full circle from listening to the first Motorhead record, and then actually getting to play with them is amazing.

You guys have done some stuff for the WWE. You did a song for a CD coming out soon [WWE The Music Volume 8, released March 25, 2008]. How did you get involved with them?

We’ve always loved wrestling and they just came in and we just went, “Yeah, fuck yeah, we’ll do that.” We’re big fans of that since we were kids, being little Hulkamaniacs and stuff. It’s one of those things where they’ve taken music and they’ve taken the sport of wrestling, put ‘em together and made it into this big production. They did it in the ‘80s, and that’s kind of what rock n’ roll is. You look at footage from some of those Judas Priest concerts, like the “Fuel for Life” tour, and those big Def Leppard shows and you see that kind of production. That’s kind of what that is and it’s a good thing to be a part of.

What goals do you have for the band?

The one goal we’ve got is basically to stay on the road for as long as we can and keep touring. What happens when you run out of money? You’re fucked. The tour support, when that runs out, you’re basically screwed and you might as well slit your throat ‘cause you’ve got nothing else to do. So you’re just trying to keep alive, just trying to keep touring and just trying to stay out there as long as you can. Yeah, trying to work as hard as you can, basically.

What’s next for the band after this headlining tour?

Yeah, I think after this tour, it’s probably that Mayhem tour. And then over to the U.K. for a whole bunch of festivals and stuff and side shows. And Europe and a lot of places we haven’t been on that side of the world before. Pretty much just a lot of touring.