Latest release: Breakin’ Outta Hell (Spinefarm)Website: www.airbournerock.com
It’s been nine years since Airbourne broke out with their debut album Runnin’ Wild, that nailed the classic Australian rock n’ roll sound. At no point have they even looked like slowing down or doing anything any differently to how they’ve been doing things since they emerged from Warrnambool as teenagers, and why should they? The old adage If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it might be a cliche, but things don’t become cliches without reason.
“Joel and I will work on riffs together and conjure up an idea of what we want to do,” affable drummer Ryan O’Keeffe explains, “and then the other guys will come in and we’ll start working. It’s how we’ve done every record and it seems to work.”
The younger O’Keeffe brother is on the line from a bar on the Sunset Strip, enjoying the fruits of his band’s ongoing success as one of the premier hard rock bands in the world right now. Album number four, Breakin’ Outta Hell, is yet another affirmation of Airbourne’s single-minded purpose to rock like motherfuckers without heed of radio-friendly considerations like power ballads or slower songs.
“If a song’s not gonna do it live,” O’Keeffe asserts, “it’s not gonna make the record. It’s not like we’ve got anything against ballads, it’s just that everything we make has the mentality of being played in front of 80000 people and whether it’s going to work. So that kind of direction is how the record ends up going.”
The only concession for Airbourne on Breakin’ Outta Hell was to made it grittier and heavier than the previous album. To that end, they reunited with veteran hard rock producer Bob Marlette, who helped them establish their sound on their first release.
“He wanted us to be a little heavier, a little rawer, not as produced, not as clean. So he definitely got that out of the band. There’s definitely a grittier vibe to it.”
It’s not likely to capture the attention of Australian radio, but to O’Keeffe and the rest that’s really not the point. Airbourne’s number one priority is playing live. The drummer sums up their motivation in one word: “Passion.”
“We’re passionate about our live show,” he says with some animation. “People are seeing four guys playing the rock n’ roll that they love to play, not for money, not for girls, but for the sheer fact that we love the sound and the feeling of gigs, and especially when you play in front of thousands of people and their reaction, people can see it. People can see through bullshit.”
That’s the attitude has won Airbourne fans the world over and found them sharing stages all over the globe with some of the biggest bands ever. One of their first major appearances was with the Rolling Stones, but Ryan lists their tour with Iron Maiden as a clear highlight.
“Being able to tour with Maiden was like a dream come true,” he says, before elaborating further: “A dream come true would have been just meeting them! On Sundays they would make sure they had an old fashioned Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding… to be sitting there while Janick’s reading the fucking paper while having a Sunday roast, while Bruce Dickinson is guiding people around the stadium on VIP tours is surreal. Touring with Motörhead, the Rolling Stones… you just have to pinch yourself.”
It’s certainly a long way from the lounge room in Warrnambool where the O’Keeffe brothers were first exposed to the glorious power of the riff, thanks to Rage and Airbourne’s most evident touchstone – AC/DC. They are unlikely to ever shake off the comparisons to the Aussie rock giants, but it’s never bothered them. O’Keeffe shamelessly declares that he can’t think of a better band to be compared against.
“Obviously we grew up with The Poor and the Angels and Rose Tattoo, and AC/DC. Our first introduction to rock n roll was watching Rage and the ‘Thunderstruck’ film clip came on all the time. Joel and I were little kids, jumping around the lounge room to that,” he recalls. “And I formed a band with my brother!”
Just like AC/DC too, Airbourne soon found it necessary to head for wider pastures overseas. They’ve never looked back. While accolades, sold out tours, ARIA nominations and charting albums continue to come their way in their homeland despite the wilful ignorance of rock radio, Airbourne is very solidly established offshore now. They’re living the dream, and Ryan O’Keeffe has some great advice for anyone who truly wishes to follow in their footsteps.
“[AC/DC and INXS] really applied themseves off shore to be able to build the name and pay the bills. You can only go around Australia so many times and to make a living, and what a dream – to be able to do this all around the world. Any musician who wants to do this for the rest of their lives should get on a plane and give it a shot.”