HM Q&A: Ryan O’Keeffe (Airbourne)

Published on December 10th, 2016

okeeffe-ryanInterview by STEVE MASCORD

HOT METAL: Now, I don’t want to come across like a stalker, but because I’ve been watching you guys since the early days I have a backlog of questions. I’ll hold off for a second and ask you about the new album, because I’m sure that’s what you want to talk about. It’s Breakin’ Outta Hell. Is the interest going up with each successive record? Tell us about how much interest you’ve had.
RYAN O’KEEFFE: “Oh, yeah. I started the band when I was 11 – that’s actually going back nineteen years, and just doing the do, playing rock and roll, doing what we’ve been doing ever since we were – I think my first gig was when I was thirteen.”

HM: Now, I’ve seen you guys from playing to 13 people at Yamba and playing Fortitude Valley right up to Sweden Rock and Leeds and in Canada opening for Motley Crue, and everything’s been an upward trajectory, and I just wonder: do you find yourself analysing if you’re still going up or plateauing? Do you find yourself worrying things might drop off or flatten out? Do you ever stress about that?
ROK: “Ever since my brother (Joel) and I started the band there was never a plan B and that’s honest. We moved the whole band to Melbourne to go on welfare and didn’t get jobs for the purpose of only going to find gigs. Back then, as far as we were concerned, we were going to keep going and move up and that was the way it was going to be. The mentality still remains today. There’s no plan B or thought of things dropping off,and they haven’t. It’s just been growing and growing and I think the second you doubt yourself in anything, it can affect the way you approach what you do.”

HM: Yeah. I mean you are at the mercy of the fortunes of rock and roll itself and there’s not a lot of new bands playing arenas or stadiums or this kind of music. Where do you think rock and roll is at the moment? People have been talking about a revival for years. It’s finding in its own level I guess at the moment, isn’t it?

ROK: “Well, the thing is, the last ten years, pretty much the crux of our career, was the worst the music industry’s ever been since music’s been invented. That being said, we’re on the back end of that. We’ve seen an absolute big change out here where money is coming back in through streaming services and all that sort of stuff. It’s literally easier to listen to a song on Spotify than to download it to your computer, upload it, all that sort of stuff and people want what’s easy. So, we’re on the back end of one of the worst periods in music but I’m still glad we went through it because you learn a lot and there’s definitely a revival. There’s been a few in Canada where we are now and a lot of bands in Europe, so it’s all happening.”

HM: I think the first time I saw you, you played Kings of the Sun on your backing tape, and I think when you opened for Motley Crue you were playing Jimmy Barnes. Do you see yourselves as flying the flag – without trying to coin a song title – but also, do you think rock and roll is under appreciated in this country? You hear Bon Scott more in any other country than you would hear on the Triple M here. Is that a source of frustration, that maybe Australia doesn’t appreciate its heritage in that regard?
ROK: “I think it’s always been that way. It was like that for ACDC. In regard to rock and roll music, if if you enter into any country town they love it to bits but as far as mainstream services, no. I guess it’s one of those things – it’s probably like what I was talking about before – people going for what’s safe because the period of music was so hard for the last five or 10 years. That being said, we have seen some festivals go down, but I’m pretty sure Download’s coming to Australia, and we hope to see another resurgence on that level as well.”

HM: A lot of people were championing the cause of your brother, Joel, to replace Brian Johnson. even people like Eddie Trunk who never plays your music. I just wondered if that ever crossed your mind, what if something like that was to happen?
ROK: “Well, Joel was pretty humbled by the news that everyone was saying that. He was taken aback and humbled, and he’s been asked before in interviews, ‘What would you do?’ and he said the first thing he would do if it ever were to happen was call Brian Johnson for permission, and the second thing he’d do is call a cab to the airport. He was very humbled to hear that.”

HM: Well, the rest of the band, that would have a big impact on everyone else, wouldn’t it?
ROK: “Well, it would have been good promo.”

HM: Have you guys had anything to do with ACDC? Their camp? Has there been any cross-pollination or contact over the years?
ROK: “Well, Ross Young (son of Malcolum) quite a while back came out and sung the chorus of “Runnin Wild”, but we’ve never actually supported ACDC.”

HM: Cool. I would imagine “It’s All for Rock N’ Roll” sounds like a tribute to Lemmy.
ROK: “That’s correct.”

HM: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Lenny, and how the news of his passing affected you guys.
ROK: “I guess it happened a few minutes prior to recording the record. He was in our first video ten years ago, and ever since then we did a bunch of tours with Motörhead, and we would always see them in
Europe at festivals and he’d always pop in, say hello and he’d always give us advice, ‘Never change what you’re doing, never let the industry affect you,’ and there’s definitely a big hole felt now out on the road at the festivals that he’s not there.”

HM: One thing I’ve noticed – I just want to know if this is a coincidence or not – you keep yourselves a little bit distant from the nostalgia circuit. I don’t see you touring with Faster Pussycat or going on the Monsters of Rock Cruise or any of that stuff. Is that deliberate, or the opportunities haven’t arisen?
ROK: “I think with us, we’re running our own course in a way that we either do headlines, big festivals, or big supports, and with dropping an album, the headline shows are going great.”

HM: And the other thing is, I listened to “Never Too Loud” on the album, and sadly I’m at the point in middle age where it can be too loud for me, because I went to so many gigs I picked up p1100833tinnitus. Reading these stories about having six kegs on the rider and this sort of stuff, surely at some point you worry that if you keep drinking six kegs Joel’s not going to be able to take his shirt off anymore. The rigours of the road are going to take its toll. Is it part of the image thing? Do you have to reign it in just to do your job properly?”
ROK: “Well, the funny thing is, I’ve got tinnitus as well. Not really. Last night we tied one on, a few whiskies, few beers. We won’t drink that much before a show, never affect the show but we do get kegs if we play anywhere in Germany, Austria, stuff like that. It’s not something we’re proud of or anything like that but you’re out on the road with a band and crew you’re good mates with, and some of these guys have been with us 10 years – it’s kind of hard not to have a good drink, sitting around at a festival and Judas Priest is on stage. You don’t really just go to your bunk and sleep, it’s quite hard to do that. But it’s part of touring, and the life, and we love it.”

HM: Just wait till middle age, mate. You’ll find it hard to keep the weight off. Going home to Warrnambool, do you still consider yourself – you’re an Australian based band, right? You don’t consider yourself European based?
ROK: “Kind of. We’re sort of based in Melbourne but it’s weird because we sort of spend more of our time out on the road and who knows where we’re going to be in a couple years to be honest.”

HM: You mean that you might have to relocate or get a home somewhere else?
ROK: “Well, I don’t know. It’s been talked about. The thing is, it doesn’t matter where you live, touring everywhere but who knows? We could live in the UK, we could live in North America.”

HM: When you do go back to Warrnambool, do some of your old mates treat you differently? Your life has been so different to theirs. Do you encounter any awkwardness, or jealously, or find that you just slip back into the same old friendships and routines?
ROK: “It’s the same old friendships, same old routines. We’re good friends and go out, hit pubs, and do the usual thing.”

HM: Okay, mate. I’ll ask you one deep and meaningful question, and then I’ll leave you alone. Your experiences over the last 10 years, from being in a band with your brother to seeing the whole world. If I was to ask you about two or three things it’s taught you most about human nature, the way of the world, the things you wouldn’t have learned otherwise – could you come up with a couple for me?
ROK: “Okay. Common sense is not that common, is one. People are very influenced unfortunately, by media. Once you tour the globe a few times, you start seeing things from a different perspective, and seeing people can be manipulated quite easily.”

HM: Politically? Commercially? Manipulated to buy things, or manipulated to do things, or -?
ROK: “Everything. Commercially, media, news, anything like that. You turn on your TV, I guarantee you’re going to get hungry pretty quick. People are generally friendly everywhere you go. That’s all I can think of, really.”

HM: What have you learned about the worth of what you do? Obviously, you put smiles on people’s faces – is that your job, do you think? What have you learned about that?
ROK: “Rock and roll, ever since the Rolling Stones, it’s for a good time. Being in a rock and roll band, your job is to give people a good time, so that’s kind of what we’re about. Come to a show, lose your mind, forget about your troubles, and have a good time.”




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