» Joel/Ryan - Airbourne
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Interview conducted August 10 2016
Interview published October 05 2016

"When I Drink I Go Crazy and Thin The Blood are two good titles."

The Australian brothers Joel and Ryan O'Keefee visited Stockholm, Sweden, in order to talk about the new Airbourne record Breakin' Outta Hell [Street date: September 23rd]. These guys don't always answer the questions specifically and often do they kind of end on a different track. Occasionally I wonder if they even know what they're saying and especially when they both talk at the same time. It turned out to be a nice little talk though and say what you will, but a few drops of alcohol and Joel O'Keefee blend quite well in the end.

"We're trying to chop out our way, with a fucking rusty machete."

Tobbe: You've got a record coming out in September, so in your own opinion, is it kind of just a natural follow-up to Black Dog Barking?

Joel: Well, we wanted to make a record that was Friday and Saturday night from start to finish. It's a good time. It has a party vibe. We got the producer who did our first album [Bob Marlette] and then we toured Runnin' Wild, which is our first album. We didn't have any other songs to play live, other than what was on the album. So we said on this album: "What if we had the same mentality? Forget the last 3 albums. We don't have any other albums. We're gonna go out and tour. Let's make an album like that!".

So to work with Bob again was great, you know, and he taught us more on this album, 'cause when we made Runnin' Wild we were just starting out. So I think, on this album, it's not just another follow-up, we have more personality of the band. We've opened up a bit more. It's more edginess to the guitars or a bit heavier. But it's still Airbourne.

Tobbe: So what can Breakin' Outta Hell in the long run do for Airbourne?

Ryan: It sounds like the last 10 years to be honest. It comes back around to me and creates a whole circle around to Runnin' Wild again. It's a good sum-up of the last 10 years in one record. It keeps, you know, the trudging climb of Airbourne stronger. We're not one of those bands that wants to be flash in the pan famous. We don't care about that. We care about just providing for the fans and to rock and roll.

Tobbe: But you won't say no to getting famous still?

Ryan: Well, no, I wouldn't, but we just love this. (Joel:) Just like Red Bull, Airbourne gives you wings.

Tobbe: So what can you say to convince me of this record's greatness?

Joel: We live and breathe the lyrics. The stories we're telling you, everything about the album, they're real deal stories. There's not one fabricated thing on there; it's real. (Ryan:) And when we worked with Bob Marlette with Runnin' Wild, we came into the record with the mentality that we could play the whole thing live from start to finish. So this record has been constructed in exactly the same way, where we pretended the last 3 albums didn't exist and we had to go out on the road with just this record and it would make a perfect live set.

Tobbe: There's always like 3 years between your records…

Joel: I don't know what's with the fucking 3 thing, but here's the deal: So every album has been on a different record label. So the first record [Runnin' Wild] was Capitol and then it was Virgin and then it became Roadrunner, because shit hit the fan, you know. And then the next record [No Guts. No Glory.] was Roadrunner again, but it became more sort of like… Warner vibe. And then the next record [Black Dog Barking] was, like, Atlantic.

The thing is, it was a different record label all the way around. Still Roadrunner at the end, but Roadrunner just disappeared. So Warner bought everything and changed it. So this record is Spinefarm / Universal. We've been on almost every record label other than Sony now. I think Motörhead did a similar thing. You know, that takes time, to negotiate all that stuff.

But it's not like the 80's, where they used to tour for 9 months and then do an album every year. We do a year and a half to 2 years touring. We do 2 years touring on an album, so then we take a year to negotiate a new contract and write the album, when we get our shit together. Ryan and I, we wrote, you know, pretty much everything that's on the album and we like to have a good time, so when we come home to Australia we're drinking beer. The thing is, we are who we are.

(Ryan:) Look, we couldn't write about these kind of songs if we didn't live it. Otherwise we'd be a fake. (Joel:) You can't just pretend. You can't pretend this shit. Look, it's like Evel Knievel. We're getting on the motorcycle, we're driving up over the ramp, we're jumping the cars and when we hit the ground we either crash or burn. We are who we are. For this record, you know, there's 11 songs, but there was well and truly over 30 songs written for it.

So we write a lot because we want to give you the best and we wanna give you the best dynamic for the record. We never see it as just a collection of songs. We see it as an experience. There's a song in here, Thin The Blood, a very fast song, and we had 3 or 4 songs that were similar to that and you'd be bored. But the thrashheads would love it and that's OK, 'cause we got a lot more records to make. But we wanna give you an experience. This will be the 4th record we'll have out there. Anyone can make their own Airbourne playlist now, of the songs they want.

But a record is an experience. You're supposed to put it on, like vinyl, side A and side B. We think old school like that, because it's an experience. We just put that much time and effort into it. It's not just about going "Oh, here's a new record. Let's do a tour.". We really fucking put everything into these records.

Tobbe: So with 30 songs written and as you mentioned with Thin The Blood, is it hard to come up with completely new stuff, when you write so many songs, and not repeat yourselves?

Joel: It's not hard with the lyrics, because you always see new things every day, new experiences, but there's only so many ways you can get pissed. With, like, When I Drink I Go Crazy, the line, you know "Directing traffic like a ninja." and stuff like that, the unique experiences from one night on the town, it's just about, on the next day, how much can you remember of the night before. (Ryan:) And like going into the record, I mean, we wanted to write a drinking song, but "All the drinking titles are used.".

But you put your mind to it, and you get to work. When I Drink I Go Crazy and Thin The Blood are two good titles. We didn't have them, but then we got to "work" [Drinking]. Like anything in life, if you put your mind to it, you will find a way. (Joel:) You know, bricklayers, they put a brick down, they put another brick down, they put another brick down, build another wall, build another wall, build another wall. That's what we do. It's just another brick, another brick, another brick and "That's a fucking great brick! I'm stealing that one! That one is going on the fucking album!". And then just keep making more bricks.

Tobbe: So, is it still as exciting, really, to put out a new record?

Joel: It's fucking great. It's great to put out a new record. Because putting out a new record is kind of, I don't know, it's kind of like you feel closer to the world. You put another version of yourself out. (Ryan:) Oh, is it another world? Where are you when you're not here? (Joel:) Fucking sitting on the moon, just getting pissed, watching AC/DC, fucking videos, and then I fly back. It's pretty cool. (Ryan:) But we love it. We love it. (Joel:) Yeah, it's great.

Tobbe: Have you ever thought about making your records a little bit more diverse? Like spread your wings a little bit from the original sound?

Ryan: For us, Rivalry itself is a song… (Joel:) We do do it, but we've just been gradually doing it. (Ryan:) The thing is, that's about as far as we take things. I think bands can make a big mistake by doing it too much. But we haven't necessarily tried to go "Oh, hey! What we're doing is not working" or, now hang on, actually what a lot of bands do "What we're doing is really working. Let's go and change it!".

(Joel:) Do you drink? What's your favorite beer? [I name a standard Swedish lager called Pripps Blue, just to get him going.] Imagine you went to a bar and you have a big drinking session. Imagine this. You love this Pripps, all right? Now you go to the pub every Saturday night and you're drinking Pripps and this goes on for years and years and years. I'm talking 10 years now. Pripps is your beer, like "Fucking give us a Pripps! Get me one of those!". And then, all of a sudden Pripps change the recipe and you get one and you go "Oh, what the fuck! What have you done to me? I was loyal. You changed too much. You got blond hair and sound like Blink 182. What the fuck!".

(Ryan:) That's what happens when the band changes. [Laughs] (Joel:) "What the fuck! I hate your band now! I'm gonna burn the record! I'm gonna come and bash ya!, you know. You don't do that to me!". Do you see what I meant to say?

Tobbe: Actually I got the point like 2 minutes ago.

Ryan: He just wanted to tell the story. [Laughs] (Joel:) I just wanted to tell the story and make a fool out of myself.

Tobbe: But when you write a song today, like, what goes through your mind? Are you trying to adapt the end result to something that you know that the fans will embrace?

Ryan: So, basically we are our own fans, because we are exactly the same as the people that come to our shows. (Joel:) We come to shows and drinking. It's the same thing. (Ryan:) It's not just "Does this song make us feel good?". Not only that, but "Can we relate to this song?". It's all for rock'n'roll. I guess it would make you feel good now with a little bit away, but we can relate to that song, and so can all our fans. And like Never Too Loud For Me, I guess it'll make you feel good and stuff, but they can relate to it. When I Drink I Go Crazy, well, that makes 'em feel good. Same with us. That makes us feel good.

(Joel:) Down On You. Clearly the boys are gonna love singing that one. We can all relate to it. Who doesn't love, getting their face… (Ryan:) Wow, Joel. Come on. (Joel:) Getting their, you know, mouth to waist? [Laughs] Who doesn't love that, right? A mouthful of that, you know. As if the women don't love it too. But they will probably go home when I'm singing that song, but the boys are gonna be like "I'm going down, down, down, down, down on you!".

Tobbe: That was actually the first lyrics, of course, that I picked up, really, when I listened to the record the first time. I put the record on and was strolling around my house and just listening a little bit to it and I got to, like, song 7 or 8 and like "OK. There we go.".

Joel: So, you know what I mean, like it's a good time. Oh, that's the other thing about this record. We really wanted to, on this record, give you a really positive injection of good times. No dark bullshit. No fucking stuff like that. Just good times. (Ryan:) Yeah, actually that was a really big approach we went into. (Joel:) We wrote it in the summer. Australian summer. (Ryan:) Black Dog Barking is a good album. Really proud of it. (Joel:) But it was hard. (Ryan:) But like Cradle To The Grave is a little bit dark and so is Black Dog Barking itself. It's got a dark connotation vibe to it. It's a good song. (Joel:) We were in a darker place. (Ryan:) This one, all good times, yeah.

Tobbe: Are you trying to revisit the original idea that you had like 12 years ago or would that prove that you have ran out of inspiration?

Joel: You see, Runnin' Wild was a party record and that was what we wanted to make back then and then the next 2 records we'd lost a little bit of that. We make different directions. Not to discredit them at all, but different directions. (Ryan:) No, I'm very proud of them. (Joel:) I'm still very proud of those records, but it's just there is a connection between Runnin' Wild and Breakin' Outta Hell. Not only did Bob Marlette make Runnin' Wild, but he made this one. (Ryan:) And there's definitely a connection.

(Joel:) And then working with Mike Fraser as an engineer is something we always wanted to do. And we always wanted to make an album in Australia. It's our first album we've ever recorded in Australia, and also mixed there. So there's a lot of things about this record that make it what it is. It's the great escape. You can have a hard week at work, or break up in a relationship, or whatever hell you're going through, rock'n'roll has always gotten us out. World - off, rock'n'roll - on.

Tobbe: So you still play a lot of songs from Runnin' Wild live, but wouldn't it be more fun to play more newer songs in the future?

Joel: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of songs that we've started jamming already in sound checks and we're like "Fuck. This is fucking awesome!". Hearing it through a P.A., like "This is gonna rock!". (Ryan:) Yeah, it's gonna be hard to pick songs, you know. (Joel:) I think it's just gonna be a Runnin' Wild / fucking Breakin' Outta Hell tour, with a couple of songs off Ready To Rock. The next tour, when the album comes out, would be Ready To Rock and Live It Up and then all songs from Runnin' Wild and all songs from Breakin' Outta Hell. No Guts [No Glory] might get a bit of a fucking sideline for a bit. (Ryan:) Chewin' The Fat is pretty good. (Joel:) Bottom Of The Well is pretty cool.

Tobbe: You're touring from late May to mid December or something this year and what does it take for someone to be more or less constantly on the road for 6 months?

Joel: Sense of humor. You gotta have a really good sense of humor. (Ryan:) And gypsy blood. (Joel:) Gypsy blood and sense of humor. You have to be able to take a shit in the woods or albeit a carpark in the full moon, in the light, and sit there, going "This is what I do.". Because this is what happens when you're in a band. You can't shit on the bus, but you're stuck. That's a very graphic, ugly look at it, but you gotta laugh at that. You gotta go "Haha. We just all took a shit in a carpark. Can you believe that?". [Laughs]

Tobbe: Side by side. Four guys, and the crew.

Joel: Yeah, just going "Hey! Pass the toilet roll. Pass the roll down.". The guy in the end is only getting a little bit of cardboard and starts going "Fuck!". [Laughs] (Ryan:) Jesus, Joel. (Joel:) "Can someone pass me a shirt?". No, but sense of humor and gypsy blood.

Tobbe: You've had the same lineup since 2004 and what makes you, seemingly, get along well?

Joel: We lived in a house for 3-4 years and that ironed out the crisis. From then on we became a band of brothers. It's like trench warfare. Bullets are coming over our heads. Everybody has got each other's back. We know how to stay out of each other's way and know when to help a guy out.

Tobbe: So, what, in the end, differs Airbourne from a lot of other bands, who didn't make it to this level?

Joel: Oh, I don't know about other bands. I only really know about my own band. And I've got my brother, and that's one thing that's kept this solid. And then having Roadsy [David Roads, guitar] and Streety [Justin Street, bass], who are like brothers from another mother kind of thing, you know. We've been very solid, we've been very focused and we've stuck to our guns the whole way. I mean, to be honest, maybe we've been lucky, maybe we've just been who we are.

I don't know what's kept us where we are at. We're going through a jungle that many bands have already made pass through. We're trying to chop out our way, with a fucking rusty machete. But we're there cutting it, and we're cutting our own way. AC/DC did say it best, and we always get compared to AC/DC, but the thing is, it's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock'n'roll. And in these days, ever since Napster and all that sort of stuff, and the record industry is going the way it's going…

I mean, if this was the 80's, Ryan and I would be living in fucking mansions and we'd play fucking stadiums, but we love rock'n'roll and we love playing rock'n'roll and that's why we're here. It's not about anything else. It's about going out and giving people a good time, 'cause when we see people having a good time, from what we do, we have a good time. We always come second to the fans, but…

Tobbe: So how much have you sacrificed to get here?

Joel: Well, this is our life. This is our life. I mean, I don't think we made really any sacrifice. It's a blessing to be able to do this. To get up and playing guitar and seeing people love it and they sing the words back to you. That feeling outweighs any sacrifice. It makes everything secondary, seeing the smiles and the cheers. If we've made sacrifices, I've forgotten them because of how great our crowds are.

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