INTERVIEW: Ryan O’Keeffe of Airbourne

Posted: November 10, 2016 by Greg Maki in Interviews
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Few bands today embody the pure rock ‘n’ roll spirit as fully as Airbourne. As drummer Ryan O’Keeffe told us, there was no alternative career path, no plan B. In late September, frontman Joel O’Keeffe injured his ankle in a fall from the stage, but there was no quitting. He finished the song, the show and the tour. Rock ‘n’ roll is in these Australians’ blood, and there’s no turning back for them. The band’s fourth album, Breakin’ Outta Hell, released Sept. 23, is filled with the same kind of loud, brazen, bluesy party anthems found on its first three efforts. Some things are better left unchanged. Airbourne wrapped up its U.S. headlining tour in October in Baltimore, and Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down on the band’s bus with Ryan O’Keeffe to discuss the new record and more.

LIVE METAL: This is the last show of this tour. Bands traditionally will sometimes play pranks on each other at the last shows of tours. Have you had any good ones that you’ve either done or have been pulled on you in the past?

RYAN O’KEEFE: No. Ever since living in a band house together–we lived with each other in the same house for, like three years, so we kiboshed the whole pranking thing because we kinda live out here. I think that actually might be one of the ways that starts bands breaking up–creating tension. As you can see, we just want to get all our shit together, and try and get to Europe in one piece.

When do you actually go home?

Mid-December, for a few weeks. And then, in February, we’re back overseas.

You have the European tour coming up with Volbeat. Do you know those guys already?

Yeah, we toured the States with them, and Canada. Yeah, really good.

How has this tour been going for you?

This has been the best tour we’ve done in the States so far. It couldn’t have been better. All the shows sold really well. So we’ve just been talking about coming back.

Joel O'Keeffe of Airbourne

Joel O’Keeffe of Airbourne

A couple weeks ago, Joel took a bit of a tumble but didn’t miss a beat, didn’t miss any shows or anything. How is he doing now?

He’s doing better. He’s not wearing the moon boot thing anymore. He’s wearing a really kind of cool designed ankle strap thing. I think hockey players wear it. He’s still playing the shows. He didn’t have to cancel any shows. He’s in a lot of pain, but you know, codeine and all that.

Rock ‘n’ roll is a full contact sport for you guys.

It is. (laughs) It is.

Have you had any onstage mishaps before?

Onstage, no. Offstage, yes.

That’s after the shows, right?


You’ve played in Baltimore a few times now. What do you think of this city and the crowd here?

I love it. It’s a really good city. You can tell it’s a big culinary city, a lot of food. And clean. It’s really one of the nicest cities in America, for sure. Always enjoy coming here.

Do you get much of a chance on tour to go out and see the places you play?

Yeah, we do. I took a walk around today. I think it’s Fleet Week. There were jets. I’m pretty sure I actually saw some F-22s, I think, which would’ve been cool to see. But generally, yeah, I have a look around. I like to have a bit of Alaskan crab a lot, which is very hard to get back home.

Have you ever had the Maryland blue crabs or a crab cake sandwich here?

I reckon I might have had, actually, some blue crab in my omelet this morning.

So aside from that, what’s a typical day on tour like for you?

Typical day? Wake up; generally, hopefully, not hungover. And if you are, you just are. Get some food. Pretty much, get in the venue, soundcheck, eat, try and get an hour’s sleep, actually–like a nap, ‘cause we just get all our energy back. We always eat about three hours before a show, and then bang, straight on and hit ‘em as hard as we can.

What about after the show?

Beers. Myself, I’ve got a bucket of beers onstage. Generally, about halfway through the set, I’ll crack the first cold one. It feels like I’m there with the crowd having a few beers.

Do you have a favorite beer?

Well, in the States, I’ve drank a few Sierra Nevadas, I’ve drank a few Boston lagers, and I think Shiner Bock’s not too bad either.

The new album, Breakin’ Outta Hell, came out (in September). It was the first time you actually recorded in Australia. Why did you decide to do that, and what effect did that have?

I think the new label, Spinefarm, just asked, “Did you want to do it in Australia?” And we had just gotten used to coming over here and doing it. So we said, “Yeah, that’d be great if we could. It would be a different experience.” So we flew (producer) Bob (Marlette) and (engineer) Mike (Fraser) out, which was great of them to do, because they were out for two months. And we couldn’t be happier with the results. The studio we recorded at is not going to be there. I think it might be gone now. They were gonna knock it down for flats, so the next one might have to be done somewhere else, maybe in England. I actually heard the Capitol (Records) Building has been retaken over, because when we were there years ago, they turned it into apartments. I think the apartments are now gone and it’s back to being a record label, and I think the studio downstairs is back going. If that’s the case, I’d love to full circle around and go back to Capitol for the next one.

You worked with Bob on the first album and then didn’t on the next two. Why did you decide to go back to him for this one?

We always said we would go back to Bob. It’s actually really great, the fact that we’ve gone through a few different, other producers to learn different things. But with Bob, it was great to have him back, because we got to working pretty much straightaway. He walked into the room and it was all hugs, and then it was working on the first song within about two minutes. He’s really good at what he does.

This is your fourth album. You’re starting to kind of become veterans at doing this now. Has the way you work–write songs and record–has it changed at all over the years?

Not that much. Generally, Joel and I will just try and get all the ideas that we’ve accumulated over the touring and when we’re at home–whether it’s on our phones, recording or anything like that–get together and start putting it together, start talking about what the record needs to be, what our goals are. This one, it had to be a party record, because that’s what the band was really about. We wanted to make sure that the whole record was about that. So setting those little goals and stuff like that helped us make decisions about what we wanted the whole thing to be in the end, really.

You’re close to all of them, they’re all your babies, but do you have any favorite songs on the new album?

The new one, I think “Breakin’ Outta Hell” is pretty cool.

“It’s All for Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a tribute to Lemmy. The band had a relationship with him for a long time. What was it like when you first met him?

It was great. He rocked up to our film clip about 10 years ago for “Runnin’ Wild.” Couldn’t believe it, ‘cause it’s Lemmy in our video. We hung out with him, had a few Jack Daniel’s. He was playing some ZZ Top in the limo. We actually got pretty drunk. And ever since that day, we’d see him on the road, toured with him quite a few times. He’d always give advice like “Don’t change what you do no matter what” and all that sort of stuff. It was a very, very good experience to be able to meet him.

The band has been around for more 10 years, and you’ve been able to keep the same lineup together, which is pretty rare these days. Why do you think you’ve been able to do that?

Getting back to the first question, I guess. We knotted everything out when we lived together for three years. We were on welfare, all of us. You kind of get to know each other when you’re on welfare and have no money. And from that day onwards, it’s just been all about the band, all about going forward in what we do, making sure that the band gets bigger and bigger.

It’s been almost 10 years since Runnin’ Wild came out. Where do you see yourself and the band in another 10 years?

Doing this. Well, hopefully doing this. Hopefully playing bigger places. Hopefully playing more countries, really. Places like China are opening up quite a lot. We’ve been to Russia a few times, which has been interesting. You can do South Africa, India. We’re about to go down to South America really soon. Yeah, and then just keep growing, keep growing. Keep the thing growing, and then hopefully sitting here doing another interview in 10 years. (laughs)

If this hadn’t worked out, did you have a plan B?

No. It’s weird. It’s like it was never gonna not work out, as far as we were concerned. Plan Bs aren’t healthy. You’ve gotta just be like, this is what’s gonna happen, this is the way it’s gonna be.

I feel like I kind of have to ask this because you can’t read anything about Airbourne without AC/DC coming up. What doing think about what’s been going on with them, Axl filling in and everything?

Yeah, I mean, … my hat’s off to (guitarist) Angus (Young) for getting through what he did. Losing his brother on the road would’ve been hard enough as it was, then losing the drummer, then losing the singer, on an album cycle/tour called Rock or Bust, and he said, “We’re gonna finish the tour. People paid for tickets, we’re gonna finish the tour.” And he did. I don’t think many people could actually get through that, so my hat’s off to him.

Airbourne has a lot of classic rock influences. What newer bands are you a fan of?

There’s a band playing the States–Crobot.

They’re gonna be on the next tour, right?

Yeah, they’re gonna be on the Volbeat tour, and then we’ve got a headline run in the U.K., and they’re gonna come support us, which is gonna be great. They actually released their record, I think, on the same day we did. They’re a pretty cool band, I’m looking forward to touring with them.

Do you have any end-of-tour traditions?

Just make it to the airport. Just make it to the airport bar and enjoy a few scotches at the end. And there’s always another tour coming.

Anything else you’d like to say right now?

Well, we’re planning to come back to the States. When we do, make sure you grab a cold one, and come out and rock out.


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