Airbourne. Take a moment to consider the name, roll it around your tongue and savour it, because it’s gonna be on everyone else’s lips within the next twelve months. Why twelve months? Well, that’s how long I reckon it will take these Aussie roughnecks to conquer the rock world, dragging everyone kicking, screaming and headbanging back to the days when all you needed were loud guitars and songs about beer and women. As a band, Airbourne wear their influences like a mad technicolour dreamcoat, belting out straightforward no frills Australian pub rock in the tradition of the likes of Rose Tattoo and AC/DC. This all stems from the fact that founder members Joel (Vocals/guitar) and Ryan (Drums) O’Keeffe got their musical education from their uncles record collection, a collection that contained just about every down and dirty down under band that ever necked a beer and then broke the bottle over someone’s head.
I recently got to spend a short time with drummer Ryan O’Keeffe before the band played the shoebox sized venue that is the Bristol Louisiana. The day was unseasonably sunny for an English February, and Ryan was in good spirits. On the surface just another unshaven young hellraiser, he comes across as a thoroughly nice bloke, although not one prone to giving long answers to questions (which accounts for the briefness of this interview).
Although Airbourne seem to have exploded out of nowhere, the band have been part of the brothers lives for many years, as Ryan explains. “Joel and I started the band about ten years ago, in a town called Warrnambool. Our first show was when I was about 13, so I guess that was about eight years ago. We played there for a few years and then found the other two guys, David and Justin – they joined about six years ago now. We lived in Melbourne for three and a half years, and now we’ve moved to New Jersey.” I comment that this seems like a strange place for a young Aussie band to relocate to. “Where New Jerseys based, it’s only six hours to Europe,” he explains. “We’ve only just moved a few weeks ago, I don’t think we’ll have the chance to go back home for a while.” As we sit on the balcony and watch the working stiffs go by, I ask what he thinks of the UK, as it’s the band’s first visit. “Been here for about a week and we love it,” he says, smiling. “It’s kinda like Australia, you know - no bullshit.” Hmmm… maybe he needs to explore a bit more, or read the news rags!
One thing that has dogged the band in the short time since the release of their electrifying debut “Runnin’ Wild” album is the accusations that all they are is an AC/DC copy band, a sentiment that Ryan shrugs off without much care. “Every band will have their critics dismissing them and stuff, it’s just one of those things. I don’t really care, to be honest.” In truth, AC/DC were just another band in a large roster of similar sounding artists, lucky to be the ones who made it big. “It really was invented by a couple of bands, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, and the guy that really invented it, Lobby Loyde and his Coloured Balls. That’s where AC/DC got their sound from, off those bands,” Joel explains. Naturally, all of these bands played their part in influencing the young O’Keeffe brothers, so I ask Ryan to pick his favourites. “I guess Jimmy Barnes, Angry Anderson… I can’t really think of any… I guess the biggest would be Lemmy from Motorhead. We played with them in Australia. It was great. We did about five gigs, he’s a really great bloke.”
Another parallel with AC/DC is the fact that Airbourne contains two brothers , Ryan and the aforementioned singer & guitarist Joel. Whilst Ryan hits his drums like they spilt his pint and shagged his gran, Joel is the fizzing energy centre of the band, known for leaping about like a kangaroo with a spring up its arse. I ask if he’s ever fallen off the stage, “Yeah, he falls off everything!” laughs Ryan. “He’s fallen off bars, he’s fallen off scaffolding at festivals…” Surely there must be quite a bit of brotherly friction, I enquire, hoping for stories of massive punch ups. “Every now and then, but that’s actually not that much.” says Ryan, dashing my hopes. Even so, with two such lively personalities one of them must take the role of boss over the other, so who is it? “I am,” he says, laughing again. ”He’s the older brother, but I’m the caretaker.” To further cement their position as band leaders, the brothers are credited with writing all the band’s songs as well, but who is the driving force creatively? “Joel does most of the writing,” admits Ryan, “then we’ll talk and I’ll sort of help him out and stuff.”
We sit and chat about the fact that the band have crawled their way out of a small town where the main hobbies were drinking and fighting. Warrnambool certainly doesn’t seem like any sort of mecca for rock music. “It’s a small town, only about 30,000 people. It’s a coastal town, with a lot of surfing and football.” Rock and Roll must have been a good distraction from everyday life, I comment. “I reckon I’d be in prison if it wasn’t for rock and roll,” Ryan states honestly. “I’d probably be in prison or in the army.” Talk of prison reminds me of the forbidding prison featured on the bands artwork, and I ask Ryan of it’s significance. He explains that it’s just down the road from Warrnambool. “That’s Pentridge,” he says “That’s where Chopper Reid was.”
Airbourne may be familiar to some of you without you even realizing it, as they have appeared on several Electronic Arts video game soundtracks, such as Burnout: Paradise, John Madden and NFL 08. Ryan loves this, reckoning that “Video games are in a way the new kind of radio, to get the band out to people.” We wrap up the interview with a few questions about one of Airbourne’s favourite subjects: Women. As a band who are settled firmly in the ideals of the past, I ask if there’s still groupies in Rock & Roll for a young and sexy rock band. “There’s a little bit… currently not enough I think!” laughs Ryan. What about the sexism, I say. Can you really be a rock band today and get away with such blatant belittling of the female of the species? “Absolutely!” he says with conviction, and you know what? I think he’s right. We shake hands and I promise to wave to him from the sweaty front row. I think Airbourne are going to be okay, as long as they stick to their motto: “Have a good time… just drink heaps and get laid and you’ll be alright!” Cheers to that, Ryan, and good luck cobber.
Interview by Alan Holloway,