Australia is a mystical land both beautiful and rugged. As a nation there exists intrigue and mystery, and of course you gotta love those fucking accents. When it comes to their rock and roll they like to keep it simple, pure, and fueled by beer and attitude. Much like their forefathers in AC/DC, the mates in Airbourne are hardworking guys with friendly attitudes and ready fists.
Recently Metalholic had a chance to chat with vocalist/guitarist Joel O’Keeffe as the band prepared to assault Atlanta, Georgia. We talked about the band’s new album, No Guts, No Glory, recording with Johnny K in Chicago, and about growing up in a convict nation like Australia. So strap in, crank up some Airbourne and enjoy. Otherwise, piss off!
For Airbourne nothing is simple, and the guys probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Even before taking off for Chicago to record their sophomore album on Roadrunner Records, the band locked themselves down for a six months to write the new material. Much like the album’s debut single, “No Way But The Hard Way,” even the song writing process was a nightly battle. The band holed up at the Criterion Hotel, the pub where they played their first gigs in their home town of Warrnambool. Throughout the process the band had to endure various invaders.
“The place was empty for like a month or a year or something there were these derelicts that had been like living in there,” laughs. “There were rats running around, there were homeless people upstairs, there were kids breaking in looking for a place to smoke some weed. So it was full on in there, and we’d have to go down in the middle of the night with pool cues and fight people off from stealing our guitars and stuff, so it was pretty fun. Basically that’s where we set up for six months. We loaded in a big PA and we got all the power running again and we got the bar running again, and we got the amps in. We just had a blast in there.
“Mind you, the smell of rat piss got worse every day. Cause we’d leave like any bits of uneaten pizza and fish and chips laying out. And the rats would literally breed, so we’re probably responsible for like an outbreak of bubonic plague in Warrnambool, Australia.” (laughs) “But basically it was just great to get back to where we started. To get the rock and roll back the way it was in the old pub, before we headed up to Chicago to knock ‘er out.”
The old school hard knocks mentality did not stop there either. When the band made their way to Chicago to record with producer Johnny K (Sevendust, Disturbed, Adelitas Way, Machine Head), they chose to sleep in the studio for the duration.
“We had this kind of idea that we’d sleep in the studio,” Joel confesses, ” and Johnny actually said that this is what we do over here and we were like oh, ‘that’s great.’ You just sleep on a futon and you’re right there in the action literally sleeping behind the drum kit or in the tracking room. Yeah, Johnny was great to work with. He got in there, he’s one of the boys , and he always has good ideas and he’s always happy to try your ideas and he never thinks ah, that won’t work, he’s like, ‘Hey man, let’s do it. No stone goes unturned. We have a look at everything.’ We drilled these big holes in his walls and we broke a few things, but he was all cool, whatever it takes. Johnny’s a great bloke.”
Joel and the rest of the band, brother Ryan (drums), David Roads (guitar) and Justin Street (bass), hail from Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia which is about three-and-a-half hours down the coast from Melbourne.
“It’s off the Great Ocean Road. Bit of a tourist spot. There’s whales and these rocks called the 12 Apostles, although there’s only about four of them left,” Joel laughs. “Which seems like a bit of a tourist scam, but whatever you gotta do to get people there, you know. But yeah Warrnambool, it’s a surf town. Surfin’, drinking… good times.”
You can hear the good time feeling in their music. Perhaps it’s something they put in the water down under that gives them that garage band, romp and stomp rock and roll vibe. Joel tries to explain it in his own way.
” My father is a historian and he taught me how to look into things like this. Australia is a convict nation, you know. The come from all different parts of the world starting out like 200 years ago. So the whole attitude in Australia is to stand up against the system. Whatever the rules were, you stand up against it. Like in the miners’ strike of 1894 where they stood up for their license tax. So basically that’s where its coming from. This whole thing is about crank it up loud, all about a good time, no bullshit. It’s meat and potatoes rock and roll, that’s what it is. Australian’s are influenced by all of the great musicians of the world, from the blues here in America to the early rock and roll that came from the UK, from England. We basically take all the best bits, the loudest bits from The Who and back to the Beatles… to Chuck Berry and ZZ Top and slam it all together, cut out all the stuff you don’t want and just crank it right up and that’s sort of what we do in Australia. We’re very convict, we won’t bullshit ya. We say what we are, we do what we do.
That in your face, balls to the wall attitude truly permeates every track on the band’s two albums, Runnin’ Wild, and No Guts, No Glory. The band puts all of who they are into each track, and it really shows on the new album.
“Every song that we do always means a lot. It always means something, it always comes from somewhere,” Joel confides. “Like for example, the last track, ‘Back On The Bottle.’ We went over to Germany to play Wacken. And it just felt good to do a gig again because we had been in the studio for a bit and just to get back out there, grabbing the bottle and going out in front of a crowd. And then you know, working all week long, knowing you’re going to blow your paycheck on whiskey, women, and beer. It’s just like, that’s what appeals to the people we play for and to the people we are ourselves. When we used to work in Australia, working jobs, that’s what you want to do; the weekend comes and you just wanna get that paycheck and blow it all on good times.”
“Good times” are at the heart of everything Airbourne does, and what they are about. Fans may be different between Europe, where the band just finished a tour with Taking Dawn, and America, but Joel believes the goal is the same.
“You know, everywhere you go in the world there’s rock and roll,” declares Joel. “Out here in America, it seems to be more sparse. These big festival tours like Mayhem or Warped…it amazes me how many dates you can do in this huge country. And over there (Europe) they don’t really have so much of the touring festivals, it’s more like big one-off festivals and that kind of thing. And then the crowds, the faces in the crowds are very much the same. Wherever you are, it’s always about having a good time and drinking and standing up for rock and roll and crowd surfing and stage diving and everything you want to do. It’s the same everywhere in the world, rock and roll is the universal language.