The second song on AIRBOURNE’s astonishing new album Black Dog Barking, ‘Animalize Me’, instantly draws parallels to KISS. In 1984 Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, along with Eric Carr and Mark St. John, released a now Platinum Certified album called Animalize. However it quickly becomes apparent the two have nothing in common. Lyrically, Airbourne’s ‘Animalize Me’ begins with “Stranded in Nevada under a neon sky.” And that’s exactly what happened to Australia’s fiercest foursome – not stranded as on a desert island, rather left to their own devices for a few days in the City of Sin – Las Vegas. Inspired by the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of “Lost Wages,” Airbourne wrote and quickly recorded ‘Animalize Me’.
As vocalist/guitarist Joel O’Keeffe attests to, some of those initial sessions made it onto the final mix. “Those vocals, the verses on that are the ones from Vegas, we just kept them and transported them over to LA and Vancouver where we did the rest of the album. We wondered if it was going to fit? We put them into the new recorded track and it worked. We re-sung the choruses, but those are the real Vegas vocal takes. That’s why there’s that real dryness to them, because I was very hung over every day; we’d been drinking all night. We’d stay out and on the way to the hotel we’d go to this little bar called Bootleggers, and as you’re walking to the hotel after Bootleggers at about 4am, you’d look over at the lights of Vegas and it was still cranking – let’s go back for one more! So we’d go back into town again, that’s just the way it was.”
Pressed for a few more details, Joel confesses, “A lot of it’s blurry. Basically we were there, laid over, but also we just fell off the radar. We were stuck in a hotel for an extra few days, and we made the most of it!” Vegas isn’t exactly a bad place to be with extra time on your hands. “Yeah, I love it! It’s just so much fun; you can go all night and all day, keep on going and going until you drop. We met a guy there, Kevin Churko (OZZY OSBOURNE, FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH), who’s a producer – and he has a studio. So we just hooked up and got it done out there; it was great. I think we were drunk the whole time; just a real good Vegas time. Kind of like that movie The Hangover in a way, with the lions and tigers and Mike Tyson.”
Black Dog Barking is Airbourne’s third album, and it also marks the third different producer used by the band. Bob Marlette (ALICE COOPER, SEBASTIAN BACH) produced the debut, Runnin’ Wild. Johnny K (MEGADETH, SEVENDUST) produced the sophomore effort, No Guts. No Glory. And now Juno Award winner Brian Howes (NICKELBACK, PUDDLE OF MUDD) has produced Black Dog Barking. Despite the differences in personnel behind the board, there really isn’t a change in style or sound across the three albums. “With Brian, we met him virtually the same time when we were over in Vegas; we were actually interviewing producers. He just had the same love of music that we had; I think he was wearing an IRON MAIDEN t-shirt. We talked about bands like MOTÖRHEAD, JUDAS PRIEST, and AC/DC – how great those bands were; METALLICA was another one. He was saying he’s always wanted to do a rock ‘n roll album, but he’s never had the chance to make a good, crashing record. He’s done different kinds of music; if you look at what he’s done before us, there’s nothing like us there. People were saying, ‘are you sure you want to go with this guy?’ Absolutely man! You’ve got to meet Brian; he’s one of a kind. He’s one of the biggest rock ‘n roll fans I’ve ever known. We had a full party at his house when we were tracking one night; we had a ball."
"We had a relationship similar to the way Metallica had with Bob Rock making The Black Album; he really fit in. With Brian, he was so much a part of the band making the record… it was different, we never had that before. We became OCD about the album; we tracked seven days a week. There was no Christmas; there was no New Year’s Eve. Apparently the world was meant to end at some point, but we skipped that. We just dug deep on it and I think that’s the one thing that really was the difference on this record – we worked with a guy who loves rock ‘n roll just as much as we do. When the song was playing back, Brian would say, ‘I don’t know about that little bridge going into the solo? I think that could be better.’ And we were sitting there self-consciously going, yeah you’re right. That’s what was pissing us off too. Having that guy to bring those things to light – things you might not have even noticed – made a big difference. And the thing about Brian – and Jay, which is his engineer – they really care! They come from Vancouver – the school of Bruce Fairbairn (BON JOVI, AEROSMITH), Bob Rock (THE CULT, MÖTLEY CRÜE), Mike Frasier (JOE SATRIANI, JACKYL), and Randy Staub (SHINEDOWN, MONSTER MAGNET). There’s some powerhouse guys that come from there, and that’s where Brian’s from. It was great to work with a young producer like that who came from the school of the best.”
Prior to recording Black Dog Barking, Joel and his brother, drummer Ryan O’Keeffe, wrote a good portion of it driving around in his car. The rough demo tracks would be cranked on the stereo, figuring out which lyrics went with what music. “Absolutely, the streets of Melbourne, driving around with the music we recorded as a band. Me and Ryan would be in the car, we’d pull into pubs and have a beer, chicken with chips. Then you pick up one of the magazines in there, or the paper and you see a story about something. It could be about too much semi-naked women getting around in Melbourne on a Saturday night – they were going on about that forever. Too much alcohol being drunk in Melbourne; they’ve got to bring all these laws in. So there’s lots of stuff going on like that in the paper. Then there’d also be stuff like a rock ‘n roll pub being shut down and how bad that is. This pub’s been there for 50 years, bands like AC/DC, MIDNIGHT OIL and INXS came through this place – how dare they shut it down? So that inspired things too. Then you get back in the car and drive around again. Maybe someone might cut you off in the lane, that’d spark you up and make you all angry; especially when you’re listening to a song like ‘Hungry’ which is on the album, it’s a fast paced rocker. So that’s how we did it.”
‘Hungry’ is pretty autobiographical. “Absolutely mate! That’s what we went out with that one to do. Yeah we’re in a big tour bus now, but we’re still that band in a van at heart. We’ve still got that drive and that passion, and that’s one of the things we’d never written a song about. Anyone who likes this band is always really fanatic; we need to let ‘em know we haven’t changed. We’ve still got that same hunger! When we listened back to the song, I remember thinking any young band starting out now will hear this song and go, ‘hey man that’s us. It’s us against the world.’ It’s a song by a band for bands.”
The special edition of Black Dog Barking has three bonus tracks, the first of which is ‘Jack Attack’ – inspired by and dedicated to Jack Daniel’s. “Pretty much exactly, nail on the head. I love Jack Daniel’s! I love the standard bottle of Jack, I love Gentleman Jack, and I love Single Barrel Jack. I noticed they did a Honey one, I haven’t tried that yet. Just the sound of it, mixing honey with Jack Daniel’s sounds retarded. And I found a bottle… I didn’t pick it up cause we were in a rush. We went to the liquor store and they had all the Jacks there, and one bottle left of pure white Jack Daniel’s unaged rye. I should have bought a bottle.”
‘You’ve Got The Skills (To Pay The Bills)’ is the second bonus track. “It’s about a really hot chick who really knows how to fuck! She could be a prostitute, she’s paying the bills. We’re talking about red lights and stuff in that.”
Lastly there’s ‘Party In The Penthouse’. “It was a hotel somewhere, I can’t remember what city it was in, but we were all up there. When you’re up high enough in a hotel, if there’s no one above you or below you – and you work that out. What we do when we get to a hotel is we go up to the floor above us, knick knock on the door and see if anyone answers. If no one answers, no one’s above us. If no one’s below you, and no one’s next door left and right, it basically means security ain’t going to come. We just went to town! I think we were up ‘til 6am the next day, still going strong but we had to leave. We had to get on a plane to fly back to Australia. That’s where it was! It was actually in Canada when we were finishing the album in Vancouver. We were up all night ripping into it. We take this big Bose stereo with us on the road, we had that in there cranked, and a shit load of booze. I remember the maid came banging on the door in the morning, ‘I clean your room?’ No, no, we’re good thanks – yeewww! We were pissing off the balcony, throwing stuff out the window; just having a great time.”
One rather remarkable thing that’s happened for Airbourne involves the Full Throttle Roller Coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. The tallest, fastest looping roller coaster in the world will showcase 'Live It Up' from Black Dog Barking. “It’s not running yet. We were there about three weeks ago and they’re just putting the electrics in. We were scheduled to go there and jump on the roller coaster and give it a whirl as we say in Australia; but they’re still wiring it up. So they want us to go back and play at the park. Funnily enough that theme park, Six Flags Magic Mountain California, is the same place where SPINAL TAP – remember when Nigel left the band and they play that weird gig in an outdoor amphitheatre; that’s where they played. I was talking to one of the owners of the park, and I said those seats look really familiar. So I asked him if I could go in? ‘Yeah man, just open the gate.’ I got on the stage and holy shit! This is the stage where Spinal Tap played when Nigel wasn’t in the band. So when we play the park, we’re going to play that stage. I asked who was here last and they said SALT-N-PEPA. Are you kidding me? How Spinal Tap is this going to get? I think the one before that was DEVO.”
So is Airbourne’s song ‘Live It Up’ playing throughout the entire roller coaster ride? Are there speakers by your ears in the seat? “I was talking to them about that and they said there’s a ride there called X2, it has speakers in the seats, but they sort of have trouble with it cause they cut out every now and then. It’s technology that’s being developed; there’s so much noise and speed with a roller coaster, when the sound comes out a speaker, it goes behind your ears no matter where it is. I said they should develop a headphone system that you can lock onto people’s heads and let them have the track ‘Live It Up’ on any roller coaster that doesn’t have a song. Let people plug their iPod in and play their own – imagine being on a roller coaster and putting ‘Iron Fist’ by MOTÖRHEAD on, or ‘Hit The Lights’ by METALLICA. That would take the roller coaster to a whole new level! The guy’s eyes lit up, he hurried off and started talking to these other guys. So that’s my idea, let people pick their own song and personalize the roller coaster experience.”