A Conversation with Airbourne's Ryan O'Keeffe
Mike Ragogna: Ryan, the band just finished up its US tour, right?
Ryan O'Keeffe: Yeah, we finished it up a few days ago.
MR: How did it go? What did you think?
RO: It was really, really good. We were ready to get back on the road again. It was good to be playing our new song, "Live It Up."
MR: And now you're in Canada, starting up that leg of the tour?
RO: Yep, we arrived last night.
MR: Now, the legend goes the band is from Australia.
RO: Yep, absolutely.
MR: So let's get a little history lesson. How did you and you and your brother Joel put the group together?
RO: I guess as kids, we used to watch a lot of film clips on TV, and one that really springs to mind was the "Thunderstruck" film clip. We just kind of knew that that's what we wanted to do--play rock 'n' roll. At the time, there weren't that many rock and roll bands around--not the kind we play. So we just started playing together, and then every time we got a gig, we just gave it our all and played every gig like it was our last and we still do to this day.
MR: You have a few classic rock influences.
MR: Who were some of your favorite bands that influenced you and Joel?
RO: Oh, you know, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Metallica, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen...
MR: Why do you think fans of the classic rock sound are so loyal and have such a great attachment to the sound? What is it about this style of rock that keeps people hanging in there over all these years?
RO: I think it's because it's a very passionate sort of rock 'n' roll. Usually, the big bands that play it, like The Rolling Stones, aren't doing it for the wrong reasons. They're doing it for a good time, they are passionate about what they do and they genuinely love it because they continue to do it all they way in their late sixties and it's pretty much all that makes them go. I think in any field, if someone is passionate about it, people will respect that. That's why I think this type of rock 'n' roll has this sort of following, because it's a very passionate format of music.
MR: Ryan, you've got a new album, Black Dog Barking, your third. I'm curious about the growth that has happened between that first album and now.
RO: It's just the continual growth of the band, like starting in Australia and then eventually coming overseas, then just constant touring. There are things like headlining the Wacken Festival in Germany in front of two hundred eighty thousand people. There was touring with Iron Maiden in the UK. Iron Maiden is a band we all grew up with a lot, so that was surreal. Playing with The Rolling Stones was another one and also touring with Motorhead. The band's just getting bigger and bigger, and the shows are getting bigger and bigger as more people come out for a good time, for good rock 'n' roll.
MR: What do you think it is about Airbourne that makes your fan base keep growing?
RO: I guess Airbourne fans know that they can rely on Airbourne not to change. I know Airbourne's never going to go into a ballad situation where they go soft for radio; we don't do that. The fans know that we're passionate about what we do, we always give each show as much as we possible can, and they know when they come out they're there to see four guys who really love rock 'n' roll and are there to give it their all.
MR: How did the material on Black Dog Barking come about? Are you writing while you're on the road or were you planning an album and sat down to write the songs together? What is the creative process when you do a project like this?
RO: Well, we're always gathering material. With this one, we just got into a rehearsal space and played through the songs. Joel and I actually took the songs and jumped in the car to drive around the outskirts of Melbourne, writing lyrics, which is a different sort of way of writing songs I guess. But as the world was moving passed, we just kept writing songs in the car. We drove all the way up the Coast, and we'd just do it that way.
MR: Is there a song from this album that was written in a surprising way?
RO: Well, "Ready To Rock" is one that came from ten years ago on an EP, so to have that come back was kind of strange. We'd done nine songs, but we didn't know what the tenth song was going to be. When we got to the end in the studio, we were all trying to figure out what to do. We all had that song kind of kicking around and we had some alternate lyrics for it, so we really felt justified in bringing it back to be put on the record.
MR: And it really feels like the appropriate way to kick off your album.
RO: Yeah, it's crazy. It's the last song we did, but it's the opener on the album, so that's really cool.
MR: You worked with Brian Howes on the production of Black Dog Barking. What was it like in the studio? How did you guys all interact?
RO: We worked with Brian Howes from Canada. Basically, we just spent a whole lot of time getting the right guitar sounds, the right vocal sounds and everything. Brian arranged two songs into one, but that was really good. It was a very sort of old-school way of doing it.
MR: That pays off sometimes because it can capture more of that moment in the studio.
RO: Yeah, that's right. Those guys still have a lot of gear. That helped a lot with getting our sounds.
MR: It seems like you change up your sound a bit from album to album yet still maintain your essence as a band. Is that something that just naturally happens or is it planned?
RO: I guess it's something that just sort of happens. We're forever trying to find the killer tone, and you just learn more every time you make a record. Each time you come back with a little bit more. I'm really happy with the way this one came out.
MR: How much fun was it making the video for "Live It Up"?
RO: It was great fun. A lot of fun.
MR: So, "Live It Up" has the video, "Ready To Rock" has the history, but if you were to point at one song as the essence of the album, which one would it be?
RO: "No One Fits Me (Better Than You)" is pretty cool, it's a good time song. I guess "Hungry" would be one because it's very much about what we are and what we've always been about. Probably "Hungry."
MR: Do you guys feel like you're still kind of hungry? Is that what's driving you?
MR: What's the goal? Where do you picture Airbourne a year from now or five years from now?
RO: I just hope there's fuel in the tank and the bus is heading off to more shows. Playing more places around the world--Russia, South America, Africa, India, you know? It's just to keep the wheels going and expand on the territories.
MR: So, this is really about you guys just enjoying the heck out of this, isn't it.
RO: Oh, there's no way we could do anything else. We'll be doing this 'til the day we die.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
RO: Just follow your heart or follow your gut on everything you do. Never fold, even if you're under pressure from people to do things differently. Stay true to what you are and do whatever it is you want to do. Whatever music it is you want to play, play that exact type and nothing else.
MR: Is there anything else you'd like to say, sir?
RO: Well, on May 21st, make sure you've got the next day off work, get your buddies around, crack the album, get a bunch of booze, maybe have a barbecue and just enjoy it.
MR: [laughs] There you go! Ryan, this has been a pleasure, and I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.
RO: Thank you very much, mate. No worries.
1. Ready To Rock
3. No One Fits Me (Better Than You)
4. Back In The Game
6. Live It Up
7. Woman Like That
9. Cradle To The Grave
10. Black Dog Barking
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
Time to "Live It Up" with Airbourne...
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