All For Rock N’ Roll: An Interview With Airbourne Drummer Ryan O’Keeffe

By Andrew Bansal


Australian hard rock quartet Airbourne have been around since 2003 but have been a breakthrough band in the genre over the past six years, since the release of their second album ‘No Guts. No Glory.’ in 2010 and the worldwide touring that accompanied it. They made an indelible impact on American audiences through their appearance on the touring Uproar Festival the same year, and have not looked back. They followed it up with a strong third record ‘Black Dog Barking’, and are now ready with their newest full-length effort ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’, due for release on September 23rd 2016 via Spinefarm Records. Led by brothers Joel (vocals, guitar) and Ryan O’Keeffe (drums), Airbourne enthrall with sheer energy, whether it be the studio recordings or the live show, and this new set of tunes might be the best embodiment of their ethos. As the band gets ready to embark on an absolutely must-attend North American headline tour, Ryan O’Keeffe took time out last Wednesday September 7th to talk to Metal Assault, and his answers to the questions were just as precise, fun and hard-hitting as Airbourne songs. Enjoy the chat below.

It’s been about three years since the last album ‘Black Dog Barking’ came out, and I’m sure you’ve been busy touring and all that. What have you been going through during this time?

Yeah, we began working on the record earlier this year with Bob Marlette, who produced the first record ‘Runnin’ Wild’. But previous to that was a lot of touring, a lot of putting the riffs down on the road and just building, building the name, and finally this year we’ve got the fourth record nailed, ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’. It is the first record we actually did in Australia. All the other three were done in the US. So, that was pretty cool. We flew out Bob and we flew out Mike Fraser, world-renowned engineer, and in two months we just put it to tape and it was great.

Right, I was going to ask you about recording in Australia for the first time. What made you decide to do that and how was that different from recording in the US?

Well, the record label asked us how we wanted to make the record our way. There wasn’t necessarily any A&R. The whole thing was directed by my brother and I, so the buck sort of stopped with us on it. It was great because we dreamed up the dream team of Bob Marlette and Mike Fraser to get the killer production on the sounds. And then, we’d never done a record in Australia and we’d never been asked. We just got used to jumping on a plane and doing it in the US. But I guess to go back to where we came from, we recorded just down the road from some of the old clubs we used to play, and it gave us good inspiration. The record actually came out with some similarities to the first record we ever made.

I think you’re right about that. It’s the most energetic set of songs you guys have made so far. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, I think that’s what Bob got out of us, the raw sound of the band. What people fall in love with when they see us live is that sound and rawness, so this album is something that’s not overly produced and has a bit of grit to it. He pulled that out of us and it’s definitely what we were aiming for when you went into this one.


As you said, the live show is kind of the trademark feature of the band that impresses people, and your shows are all about just endless out-of-control energy. It must be the biggest challenge to capture that on record and have the same kind of impact on the listener.

Yeah, it’s something we’ve gotten better and better at during making records, and we definitely nailed it on this one.

You’ve toured so much for every album, and you go through so many experiences  and adventures together. Does that also inspire new song ideas?

Yeah, when we’re on tour together, Joel and I are constantly talking about the next record and how to make the show bigger, and things like that. Taking inspiration from your life experiences is important when you write songs, it gives the songs more depth, and a bit more water, so to speak. Definitely this new record has a few songs on it like that. One that comes to mind is ‘Down On You’. So, good life experiences help (laughs).

In terms of the writing style, is it old-school where you get together and jam it out, or is it more individual?

It’s never-ending. It begins with getting on the road and putting riffs on your phone or a recorder and noting down lyrics and song titles. Then you get home, collect all that info and put it together. Some lyrics stick to some riffs, some riffs demand their own lyrics or whatever, and then all the way up into going in the studio. We made a couple of songs in the studio this time. ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’ and ‘Rivalry’ were a couple of the last ones that were made. The lyrics for ‘It’s All For Rock N’ Roll’ which is written about Lemmy, those were the last verses that were written for the record, because we felt that song needed to be important and that’s why we wrote it about Lemmy. The biggest judge when you’re recording an album is that microphone before it hits the tape. When you’re actually singing down the mic, those little alarm bells that you weren’t listening to previously ring louder and say, “Come on, you can do better.” And then you might spend an hour just to get it right.


That’s an interesting take on it. Your musical style is something that people identify with. You’ve followed a similar theme through all four albums and people know what to expect, but when you’re writing new stuff, do you get conscious of ever may be sounding too much like the old stuff? And do you ever listen back to the old stuff to make sure that’s not the case?

We don’t really think anything about that because what we are is what we are. When I want a cheeseburger, I don’t want to end up with a fish burger. With Airbourne, one of the best ways to describe how we’ve approached this is, say in the past we’ve given you a jack and coke. This time we’re trying to give you a double jack and coke. It’s got a little more kick to it, you know what I mean?

That’s a good way of putting it. Talking of your drumming, in classic hard rock it’s more important to stay to the beat and keep the rhythm stable. That has to be your biggest focus instead of trying to overplay.

Absolutely. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than sitting in front of 80,000 people in Europe or something, playing and watching the crowd go from jumping up and down to just stopping and looking at the stage, not knowing what to do. I feel that my job is to just keep the 80,000 people jumping in the same time and just enjoying the show. The biggest rock in the last 40 years has done that. It’s all been good simple riffs and good simple drums with good lyrics.

Exactly. One thing that’s obviously a signature of Airbourne shows is your brother’s wild antics. It’s like expecting the unexpected, basically. But while he’s doing all that, you’re glued to your seat playing the drums. Sometimes does it get scary to you or are you used to it by now?

I’m used to it, we’re brothers, and if I tell him to not do something, that’s the first thing he’s going to do (laughs). But he’s pretty skilled at climbing and stuff. He’s a crazy guy that you just can’t stop, and it makes the shows pretty exciting.

Definitely. Talking of shows, you’re just about to start a North American tour in a few days. It’s a headline tour which I think is a big step for you. People who’ve seen you as an opener at festivals and bigger tours are probably more looking forward to this one than before because it’s going to be a full set by Airbourne.

Yeah, it’s exciting! We’ll get to play more songs and we’re definitely going to be getting into the new record during the tour. It’s crazy and hard to believe that it’s four records now to choose from. So, it’s really going to be a lot of fun.

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Airbourne North American tour dates:
09/12/2016 – San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
09/13/2016 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theatre
09/14/2016 – San Francisco, CA @ Independent
09/16/2016 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor
09/17/2016 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore
09/20/2016 – Victoria, BC @ Sugar
09/22/2016 – Kamloops, BC @ Cactus Jacks
09/23/2016 – Calgary, AB @ Gateway
09/24/2016 – Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall
09/25/2016 – Saskatoon, SK @ Saskatoon Events Center
09/28/2016 – Winnipeg, MB @ Pyramid
09/29/2016 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
09/30/2016 – Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge
10/01/2016 – Detroit, MI @ Smalls
10/04/2016 – Waterloo, ON @ Maxwell’s
10/05/2016 – London, ON @ London Music Hall
10/07/2016 – Toronto, ON @ Opera House
10/08/2016 – Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre
10/11/2016 – Boston, MA @ The Middle East
10/12/2016 – New York, NY @ Gramercy
10/14/2016 – Baltimore, MD @ Soundstage