Interview with Joel O’Keefe of AIRBOURNE at Ramblin Man Fair

Interview by Mark Dean

In between playing guitar in Airbourne, drinking beer, and climbing stage scaffolding, Joel O’Keefe does the odd interview. We were fortunate to grab a few moments chat with him at Ramblin Man Fair festival in Kent before Airbourne’s set on the main stage.

Ryan, apologies from dragging you away from watching the Answers’ set. Being from the Emerald Isle myself, I was wondering if your surname had an Irish ancestral link?

Yes, way back – I think they originated from Kilkenny.

Your music career seems to be on an upward curve with each album release, but has there been any low points for you and the band?

I mean, the low points are when you go to the service station, and you have been driving for twelve hours and you want to take a shit. You get there and you go “thank God, there is a toilet” and then there is no paper (chuckles). That is a low point. You have got to get creative.

Is it not easier to rest on your laurels of past success, and become complacent? What keeps you fired up, motivated and driven?

No, we don’t see it like we even have laurels. Each show is a different thing and each tour is a different thing. It’s not like we go “It’s OK.” We don’t think of ourselves as a big band. We are just four guys from Australia playing rock and roll. That is how we have always thought of it.

What life lessons has the music industry taught you?

A life lesson in the music industry itself is why you might love playing guitar or singing get ready before you get into it. It’s not what you think it is. It’s completely different, you need to have an iron stomach and you need to back yourself when no one else will.

Any hobbies or interests outside music?

Hmm, Hobbies…  I’m trying to think. I like watching movies, I like watching Netflix and shit.

Your influences you clearly wear on your sleeve, but are there any new bands that you like to listen to?

A couple of bands from Australia, The Lazys, Palace of the King, and The Answer.

How do you respond generally to criticism? I am thinking specifically of the common accusation that is thrown at the band regarding your sound being too similar to another famous Aussie band? Does stuff like that bother you? Many critics have accused the band of being one-dimensional.

When I was a kid I watched a lot of interviews, with big bands like AC/DC, Status Quo, Lemmy and Motorhead. Even Metallica, I think they just got a review and “…one trick pony blah blah blah.” You go “well, that was that one guy. You have a whole crowd of people.”

Who are still buying the CDs, coming to the shows, etc.

Exactly, the thing is when you sign up to a band that you love and they change it on you, it’s kind of disrespectful to the fans. I joined up to your band and I love your band, because you play rock-n-roll a certain way. Then you are playing ballads and have a new sound. Then I feel like I have had something taken from me. Motorhead didn’t do that, we are not going to do that.

No drastic changes on the next album then?

No, we are like brick layers, don’t ask us to be a doctor.

What would have been your first introduction to music? Maybe a parent’s album, a particular song on the radio?

My first musical memory would have been by Atlantic Rhythm Section. The song would have been “Boogie, Smoogie.”The first line was, “I was horny, as horny as hell, so I went down to the grill.” Then the song kicks into a double time thing. It’s a really good rock and roll song. Then the first real memory would have been seeing AC/DC in 1996 in Broadlake Arena on the Ballbreaker tour.

Ramblin Man Fair

Photo: Mick Hutson

Do you still have hopes, dreams, and ambitions?

I want to play guitar solo on the top of Everest. I know I am asking a lot, we need the generators.

You seem to have played guitar on the top of everywhere else…. ever had any accidents with that part of the Airbourne stage show?

No, not so far.

Do you have any stories of strange obsessive fan-stalker type scenarios?

No, we have been pretty good with things like that.

What has been the biggest challenge for you personally?

The biggest challenge…I don’t know. I mean…getting over a hangover maybe.

Why have you succeeded in an industry where so many have failed?

I think it is because we stick to our guns, what I was saying before about the music industry. You have just got to be stubborn, I guess is a good word for it. Still listen to people though.

Best and worst parts of working in the music industry?

The best part is getting up on stage and playing. The worst part is wanting to take a shit and there is no toilet paper.

The career path that you have chosen is fraught with obstacles, pitfalls and dangers, but how do you survive?

You just stay on it, and just always keep looking ahead.

Final question. Who would you actually like to interview yourself? Perhaps a personal hero or inspiration?

An actor, Idris Elba, he did a big series called “Luther.” He would be good to talk to.


About Author

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time. Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko