AIRBOURNE – “Directing Traffic Like A Ninja”

September 23, 2016, a year ago

Aaron Small

feature hard rock airbourne

AIRBOURNE – “Directing Traffic Like A Ninja”

“Coming after Black Dog Barking, it was a bit daunting. It was going to probably, actually go one of two ways to be honest,” admits Airbourne drummer Ryan O’Keeffe. “It’s one of those things – you either smash it out of the park or…”
 
The aforementioned Black Dog Barking is Airbourne’s third album, released in 2013. Three years later and the high octane Australian quartet comprised of Ryan, his brother and vocalist / lead guitarist Joel O’Keeffe, along with rhythm guitarist David Roads, and bassist Justin Street, have undoubtedly knocked it out of the park with their ass-kicking fourth album, Breakin’ Outta Hell.  
 
Reunited with producer Bob Marlette (Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper) who helmed Airbourne’s stunning debut album, Runnin’ Wild, and engineer / mixer Mike Fraser (Metallica, AC/DC), who worked on brilliant sophomore set No Guts, No Glory, these rambunctious rockers truly had their dream team in the studio. “And we did it in Australia too, which was pretty special,” quips Ryan. It’s hard to believe that prior to Breakin’ Outta Hell, Airbourne had not recorded in their native country of Australia, always opting for The United States instead. Utilizing Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne, “It was a bit crazy cause we’d got so used to… when we said to (record label) Spinefarm, ‘Guess we better start looking for a studio in The States.’ They asked, ‘What’s wrong with Australia? Why don’t you do it back home?’ We’d never really thought about it that way. They entrusted this whole project with us. They didn’t give us an A&R (artists & repertoire) guy or anything like that. If it went the other way, it would have been on our shoulders but… they just said, ‘You guys go and make the record the way you want to make it. You want Bob, we’ll get Bob. You want Mike, we’ll get Mike.’ It was so great that those guys were really looking forward to working with each other too, cause they’d never done a record together.”
 
While the guys in Airbourne live in Melbourne, recording in their home town didn’t mean they got to sleep in their own beds at night. “There’s a big road that goes between where we live and the studio, it’s called Punt Road; you can imagine what they start to call it now when it gets backed up all the time. Let’s just say they removed the P and replaced it with a C,” explains Ryan. “We didn’t want to travel that every day, so we actually got an Airbnb just down the road from the studio, cause we wanted to be able to have a drink after.” So you stayed in some dude’s house? Did you destroy that place and drive him crazy? “No, it was actually this little young couple that owned it and rented it to us. Then they went and checked out the band and freaked out! We had to promise them it would be all good, any loud music would be going on at the studio; we were respectful.”
 
Earlier, Ryan briefly spoke about his band’s new home, Spinefarm Records. After three albums with Roadrunner Records, and given the outstanding quality of the songs that comprise Breakin’ Outta Hell, it’s puzzling as to why they would not want to keep Airbourne on their roster. “Well, a lot of people at Roadrunner had moved on; they downsized the label a bit. For instance, Jonas (Nachsin), who used to run Roadrunner New York now runs Spinefarm. So there’s a lot of old people we had worked with, that we’re working with again now. It sort of feels a bit like the old family, and there’s new, very passionate people there as well. They have a great outlook on metal and rock ‘n roll.”
 

A lot of bands constantly battle the problem of being unable to capture their live energy in the studio. However, that certainly isn’t the case for Airbourne; in fact, they’re masters of the craft! Ryan shares the secret, “We’re very hands on… there’s never a moment that Joel and I aren’t talking about a song. I guess it’s just one of those things where we’re constantly working on the band, constantly trying out how to make something better. We’re never just resting. To be able to do this as a living is fantastic, but we have to be devoted to it as well.”
 
Breakin’ Outta Hell contains some great drinking songs, particularly “Thin The Blood” and “When I Drink I Go Crazy”. Is there any difference between the drinking that goes on at home, and that which occurs on the road? “Well, the funny thing is, ‘When I Drink I Go Crazy’ was about a night out. One of the verse lines is, ‘Standing drunk in the middle of the road, directing traffic like a ninja.’ That was something Joel was actually doing when I looked down from the top balcony of this second floor pub in Melbourne. We’d gone out for the night and he’d had a couple. The bar manager said, ‘Is that your brother in the middle of the road?’ The next morning, I told Joel; cause obviously he didn’t remember. We wrote it down as a verse line, and actually that morning he came up with the chorus, ‘When I Drink I Go Crazy’.” 
 
Define your craziness when you drink. What do you do to match your brother’s traffic directing antics? “Uh… well… during the making of the record I broke my ankle – my fibula. I burned my hand. I may or may not have spent a night… I may have been locked up for a night – not going to divulge into that. We actually kept all that shit under wraps,” laughs Ryan. Incarceration aside, for a drummer to sustain ankle and hand injuries is rather significant. “I’ve come out good, luckily. My fibula is still a bit sore, but I’m able to play which is fine. The burned hand was pretty serious. I had to hold a bottle of anti-fluid all the way through the house to get it out the back door, so it didn’t burn the house down. My whole hand was on fire while I was holding it. But we didn’t want to freak anyone out by telling people on social media or anything like that.” Spinefarm must have been losing their mind! “They never knew mate. This is the first they’ll hear of it.”
 
When it comes to rock ‘n roll, drinking and fucking usually go hand in hand; and there’s more than a little sexual innuendo on “Do Me Like You Do Yourself”. “I don’t think there’s a specific event that inspired that song, it’s sort of drawn from just general good nights out. But what’s funny about that song is the last chorus – ‘Do me like you do yourself; do me before I do myself.’ So listen out for that one.” 
 

 
To call them hard workers is an understatement as Airbourne recorded 30 demos for this album, which were paired down to 11 songs that made the final cut. “Yeah, when we recorded the album, we got eight or nine. Then we wrote a few in the studio that weren’t on the demos. ‘Rivalry’ was done in pre-production. ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’ was done in the studio, near the end, solely for the purpose that we felt none of the other songs were good enough to be album titles. And the lyrics to ‘It’s All For Rock N’ Roll’ were written right near the end because we wanted to write a song about Lemmy (Kilmister from Motörhead).”
 
Airbourne had a big connection with Lemmy; he made a guest appearance as a truck driver in the video for “Runnin’ Wild” – and if you look closely in the bottom left corner of the No Guts, No Glory album cover, there’s Lem driving that same truck. And of course, Airbourne toured with Motörhead. Lemmy’s passing at the end of 2015 gutted us all. “You can definitely feel it out there on the road; there’s a huge gap missing. It was always good seeing him… it’s just weird that he’s not there anymore.” Ryan and the rest of the guys recently visited Lemmy’s newly unveiled statue at The Rainbow on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, California. He describes the experience as “a bit weird cause we met him in person and spoke to him so many times; he’s almost like a rock ‘n roll grandfather to the band. Seeing his statue now… it’s a bit weird.” 
 
In closing, Airbourne’s musical kinship to the greatest Australian band of all time, AC/DC, is undeniable – Ryan offers his thoughts on Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses replacing vocalist Brian Johnson, who had to leave the band due to hearing loss “Well, my hat’s off to Angus (Young, lead guitarist) for getting this whole thing through. Joel and I spoke, and we couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go on the road without your brother (Malcolm Young). Then to lose the drummer (Phil Rudd) at the start of the tour, and a singer half way through. And the tour is called Rock Or Bust. It would have been a shame to see them stop. He did what he had to do and he got a killer vocalist; from what I’ve heard he’s been nailing it.”
 

 

 

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