September 26, 2016 Interview – Ryan O’Keeffe of Airbourne
There has been an outcry over the years that true Rock-n-Roll will never die. While the names change, the record labels crumble, and time tries to break the spirit of Rock-n-Roll, it simply cannot be undone. This is all thanks to bands such as Austrlia’s Airbourne who carry the flag of their forefathers of Rock, proudly, and with only one intention, to rock hard. Together now for over a decade, the gritty rockers have seen each of their first three studio albums break the US Billboard 200, as well as achieve high positions around the world. Now returning with perhaps their most furious offering to date, Breakin’ Outta Hell, Airbourne are out to prove they are here to stay. Recently we caught up with co-founding member Ryan O’Keeffe about the journey of Airbourne, their unity through Rock-n-Roll, being a drummer, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Airbourne has been together now for over a decade. In that time, the band has achieved a great deal. The band’s first three studio records were highly charted and you have toured the world. Tell us, what has this incredible journey been like?
Ryan O’Keefe – It has been great. I turn 30 this year. It has been quite a journey the last 10 years. We now dropped our fourth record and just got back from Europe doing a bunch of shows. I couldn’t ask for a better journey, to be honest with you.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it has to be amazing to live out your Rock-n-Roll dreams. Airbourne has always been more of a straight-ahead Rock-n-Roll band where you have steered clear of current trends. Is that something the band has prided themselves on?
Ryan O’Keefe – Yea. I think when my brother and my were kids, we started rooting that sound; that raw sound with 4 chords and strong bass behind it. It stuck with us since day one and something we almost kind of fight for. We are extremely passionate about it.
CrypticRock.com – Well it has worked very well for the band. You mentioned your brother Joel. There are a few bands out there where siblings are working together. Is it easy working with your sibling? Usually, with your brother or sister, you can be more open and comfortable being critical about things.
Ryan O’Keefe – It does help. There are no bruised egos. Airbourne is the main goal and Rock-n-Roll is the main goal. Anytime we have any differences, it does not last that long because we get back on working on what is important pretty quickly. It kind of cuts out the bullshit.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and that has to make for a good working environment when everyone is on the same page. The band has been very consistent, every three years putting out a new record. With that said, you recently put out your fourth album, Breakin’ Out Hell. What was the writing and recording process behind this new album?
Ryan O’Keefe – We had been gathering material as always on the road. Writing lyrics down on our phone and recording riffs. We got back to Australia in the later part of last year and started putting demos together. Then we got on the phone with Bob Marlette, who we did Running Wild with. We talked to him about doing another album together because we always wanted to. Scheduling worked out well this time. We also always wanted to use Mike Frazier, the engineer. Everyone signed on and we said we have never done a record in Australia, how do you feel about flying down here for a few months? They said, “Hellyeah.” We got down there and we were pretty much laughing and having a good time the entire time. It almost wasn’t even work.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a great experience. This record is in fact your first via Finland’s Spinefarm Records. Spinefarm Records is traditionally a Metal label, they have done a great job of diversifying their acts over the years. What has your experience been like with them thus far?
Ryan O’Keefe – Really good. They were sort of the first people to endorse us to do the record out of The States for the first time. They pretty much gave Joel and I the reigns. We had complete responsibility. There was no A & R guy producing anything. It was what we wanted, they backed it. Even now, we were in Belfast filming our latest video for “Rivalry.” They have been helping us with our vision on it. It is probably one of the most brutal videos we have ever done. One thing we described was we wanted to make Fight Club, but like Disney on Ice (laughs). They have done that. They had us playing in a big warehouse, it was really cool. I just look forward to working with them more.
CrypticRock.com – That is great. They are a good label. As stated, the record is out now. The first single you did release was “Breakin’ Outta Hell.” For those who have not picked up the album yet, is that track a good example of what the rest of the record has to offer?
Ryan O’Keefe – Absolutely. The song itself is not only a good vision of what is to come on the record, it is almost describing of an alien coming down and asking, “What is the one song that describes your band?” It would have to be that song. It is hard, fast, there are some dark moments, and big chorus. It is the perfect song for what is coming.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. Now, the band is returning to the USA for a tour. It has been quite a few years since the band has toured The States. Are you excited to be touring the region again?
Ryan O’Keefe – Oh yeah. It has been a long time coming. It sort of feels like it has been forever since we came back. We are all extremely excited. Hopefully there will be more tours to come next year for sure.
CrypticRock.com – It is exciting to see you come back to the USA. Each time Airbourne has played the USA, they have received a great response. How would you compare playing in the United States opposed to other places?
Ryan O’Keefe – Well, fortunately for what we do, around the world, it is the same mentality. It is almost like people are waiting to release to this kind of Rock-n-Roll. I don’t know what happens, but I remember, in Belfast and Dublin recently, thinking, “It is amazing what adults will act like during an Airbourne show.” Jumping on shoulders, crowd-surfing, and throwing beers on their head. Everyone just gets into it and almost lose control to Rock-n-Roll. It helps us play better as well when the crowd is really like that.
CrypticRock.com – One can imagine you feed off the crowd. That is what Rock-n-Roll is all about. It is about letting go, having a good time. Obviously not hurting yourself or anyone, but having a good time.
Ryan O’Keefe – Absolutely, we played a show recently in Germany and one of the bouncers dragged one of crowd-surfers out by his head. We actually stopped the show, we said that is not happening. We actually got the man fired. Rock fans are there for a good time. If they are crowd surfing, that is cool. They are never there to hurt anyone. We are always about letting people have a good time. Let them get on shoulders, let them crowd-surf. No one ever gets hurt, everyone always has everyone’s back.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is what is great about the Rock community as a whole. We spoke earlier about working with your brother Joel. Airbourne, as a whole, has been a cohesive lineup for a long time. That is rare and difficult to keep together. What is the key to the band’s chemistry.
Ryan O’Keefe – I guess we had a system all the way. When first moved to Melbourne, we lived in a band house together for 3 years. We have been at the bottom together, we built this together. We all have that sort of passion and membership toward the band. We are very proud of that. I think it is pride and brotherhood.
CrypticRock.com – That certainly shows in the music and on stage. It is very impressive to see a band’s core stay together like that. Australia is clearly a very different place than the rest of the world. What was it like growing up there and how did it affect you as a musician?
Ryan O’Keefe – It was pretty rough when we were growing up. There wasn’t much of a Rock community in Victoria where we were from. That kind of describes why we play our shows so extreme, because from Day One, we had not only entertained, but converted. We were kind of a bit alone growing up down there listening and being passionate about this kind of music because it wasn’t fashionable at all. From there, we moved to Melbourne, now we are in the US.
CrypticRock.com – It is always interesting to hear what other parts of the world are like. Everywhere is different. You have been playing drums since you were a young kid. For you personally, what are some of your musical influences?
Ryan O’Keefe – I grew up loving Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Generally the good stuff. Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Def Leppard. It was all of that, everyday.
CrypticRock.com – Great mix of bands. All those bands you mentioned clearly has influenced Airborne with a larger than life Rock sound. As a fan, you have probably been to a lot of concerts yourself. Do you have any particular concert which provokes fond memories?
Ryan O’Keefe – The first one was Bob Dylan. Then it was on the AC/DC Stiff Up Tour, I was very young and I remember it being really loud. It almost solidified what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
CrypticRock.com – That is what is great about a Rock show. Everyone probably has one of those experiences they take with them for the rest of their life. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music, but also Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of those genres, do you have any favorites?
Ryan O’Keefe – Sci-Fi, I like Highlander (1986) with Christopher Lambert. I like Masters of the Universe (1987) too. For Horror, I remember the show Tales from the Crypt. I don’t know if it was fully Horror, but it was always good.
CrypticRock.com – Great and different choices, wonderful to hear that. Are there any new films that you have seen that you enjoyed?
Ryan O’Keefe – I recently saw Free State of Jones (2016) starring Matthew McConaughey, and it was real good.