Interview with drummer Ryan O’Keefe of AIRBOURNE
Interview by Mark Dean
We had a chat with Airbourne drummer, Ryan O’Keefe, about the upcoming release of Breakin’ Outta Hell, the band’s fourth full-length album, out on 23 September 2016 via Spinefarm Records.
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How are you?
Pretty good. I actually had a French interview come in on my lunch break for top ten albums and I wasn’t ready for it, so that’s why I was a bit late.
Yeah, questions like that can kind of throw you off a bit. Okay, I last saw you at Rambling Man festival during the summer. Just wondered how that was for the band?
Oh, it was great. The first festival, there was something about it. I think it was only the second year and I’m really hoping it grows a lot more than what it is because it is a festival that is humble in its own way. There is not like a thousand stages playing all different bands and shit like that. It’s just great to have a nice little festival where it seems like there was more of a relaxed feeling. A nicer crowd.
You guys, I assume, you obviously enjoy playing live. You have any preference? A small club, or are you just enjoying the whole experience?
Well, they’re always different. It depends on what you’re doing. I mean if it’s a festival Joel could be climbing a truss halfway through the show. If it’s a club, he could be behind the bar pouring a pint of beer. They’ve all got their own specialties I guess. We always try and bring a stadium show to a club, and a club show to a stadium.
You’ve got a new album coming out this month, Breakin’ Outta Hell. It’s actually the first album that you’ve actually recorded in your homeland?
Yeah, which is really good. It was a great thing that Spinefarm sort of said to us, “How do you guys want to make this next record?” We never really thought about going and doing it at home and flying out the producer and engineer to Australia, but it just worked out that way and it worked out really well.
And obviously you’ve got both a producer and an engineer that you’re familiar with, that you’ve worked with before?
Well, Bob [Marlette], who we’ve worked with for a while, which is great and, you know, to have him back within minutes it was almost like time hadn’t even passed. We were straight to work and it was awesome. Then, of course, with Mike Fraser, he mixed No Guts. No Glory, but never actually engineered one of our records, and to have him come out as well was amazing.
Okay, you guys always seem to be on tour. Do you ever have any time off?
Well, I’m currently in LA for about ten days off. I’m on Sunset Strip here which is great, but I mean with guys like us we kind of, with time off we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. It’s kind of what keeps us on the road.
I just wondered what were you like at school? Was music always something that you wanted to do, or were you good at school and you had a career choice to make?
No, I was terrible at school and playing rock and roll was instantly… we knew that was what we wanted to do. Of course, we were told many of times that we should have a plan B and we’re wasting our time, banging our heads against the wall trying to be big musicians for a living, and there wasn’t much support actually at all from many of the curriculum. We stuck to our guns and here we are.
What sort of guy are you? Are you a glass full or glass empty kind of guy? I mean do you see obviously the positive things in life?
I try to see the positive things. In the past there have been times where I’ve been the glass empty guy but lately as you get older you go through experiences in life, and I’m only thirty now but you start to actually just be a glass full guy. Life is too short.
What in your life are you most proud of? Your career has had a stratospheric ride. Each album is doing seemingly better than the previous one. You seem to be on kind of an upward movement all the time.
Yeah, I mean I’m just proud of the name Airbourne and what it means and, you know, as I said earlier this year ten years ago when I was twenty trying to sneak into the Rainbow Bar down the road, Rainbow Bar and Grill, working on Runnin’ Wild, you know, there is a lot that happened in those ten years and a lot of hard work and a lot of great memories and shows and meeting our idols from Maiden to Lemmy to The Rolling Stones. Just all those experiences all culminating around the name Airbourne, you know? That’s been an amazing thing.
Any regrets or has it all been positive so far? Any mistakes? Maybe when you were younger you said something that you look back and say, “Oh, I should have done that differently?”
Not really. I mean I did the rock and roll ride … I just wouldn’t change any of it. It’s why it’s so fun is it has been so spontaneous and half of it you don’t really remember.
Do you have any unfilled ambitions? Do you still have targets and goals for the band?
Just to keep growing as a band. You know, try to make the shows bigger and better every time. You know, our management says we have missed too much of our money back in the show but that’s what we have always done and, you know, in the last tour in Europe we were playing Breakin’ Outta Hell and managed to have a bunch of big pyro lines during that song. Adding pyro to the show now, adding more stuff, having the crew always building bigger and better things for the stage. Just constantly growing the basics, you know?
Obviously, you’re asked your favorite ten albums. I’m not going to ask you those. Your roots, your rock and roll roots, seem very clear. I just wondered if, as in the band, maybe a guilty music or pleasure that you enjoy? Do you have any other sort of genres of music that you actually listen to that would surprise people?
Well, when we were younger we grew up around folk musicians. Irish musicians. We were sweeping under the tables while twenty odd people will be sitting around playing as you would know those kind of songs. We’re always, you know, John and I especially have a bit of a reaction if we’re in a pub, like an Irish pub, and that music is on we tend to drink twice as much as we usually would and that, in itself, is a lot. Something about Irish music I guess, yeah.
I’m from the North of Ireland. Are your Irish roots and your Irish links something that is important to you?
Yeah, well, we’re O’Keefe’s, and it is felt in our blood. It is actually what we were feeling actually when we go to Ireland, you know, if we go to Kelly’s Sellers in Belfast or something like that and drink a Guinness and I don’t know. You feel just… you do have a sense of a homeland feeling when you’re there.
Who would you like to sit down and interview? Maybe a personal inspiration or hero? You mentioned that you’ve met the likes of Iron Maiden, Lemmy, are there any other sort of personal heroes that you’d still like to meet?
I mean, I would have loved to spoke to Malcolm [Young], because what he created was the world’s best rock and roll band. That would be a hell of a person to speak to.
How do you view AC/DC and what it has become now? They’re touring still with Axl. Do you think that’s a mistake or is it, you know, is it not? Is it the right thing to do?
Well, I mean it’s one of those things … The tour is Rock or Bust, and within the problems I think bands have to go through personally, losing their brother, then losing the drummer, then losing the singer, it’s an incredible amount of problems to happen in one thing but, you know it was called Rock or Bust and so what he was able to achieve in such a strenuous time, it was amazing.
Any thoughts on Axle Rose as a vocalist with AC/DC? Was that surprising?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). They’re really nailing the songs. I guess when they were running trials and sing-in’s and stuff they must have heard him sing songs and felt that for sure this was the best road to take. It sounds like he is doing a good job.
Would you, as a fan, pay for a ticket if they were playing?
If there is AC/DC coming I would see it.
The album is coming out, what in the UK Europe on 23rd of September. Obviously what is the plan then? More touring?
We’ve sort of been warming this up now with the single and definitely looking forward to coming back on the album there and then all of next year to be on the road just constantly touring and constantly just playing bigger and better shows.
Thanks for talking to me this evening. I believe you’re playing Manchester I think on the tour so I’ll get along for that.
Yeah, absolutely. We definitely are. I can’t wait.
Any thoughts on about how much new stuff you’re going to be throwing into the set?
It’s going to be hard because there is so many ones to choose from and with “Breakin’ Outta Hell” definitely being there, “It’s All For Rock and Roll” definitely because it is written about Lemmy. Then, other than that, I mean there are so many others. A bunch of the guys want to do “Thin The Blood.” Yeah, there is a lot to choose from.
I guess more difficult the more you put out, obviously. Okay, Ryan thank you very much. As I said I look forward to the tour heading to the UK. Again, I look forward to seeing you live again. Thank you for chatting.
Thanks. Looking forward to it.
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