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Joel O’Keeffe of Airbourne – All we want to do is rock!

Interview and Photos By Robert Cavuoto


Not many bands today truly embody the spirit and drive of a classic hard rocking band. Many tries, but only a few succeed. Airborne is one of those bands succeeding with their distinctive style and sound making every song an instant classic. There isn’t a song in their catalog that doesn’t get the heart racing and fist pumping. Their newest CD, Breakin Outta Hell was released on September 23rd and the band continues to blend memorable guitar riffs with sexually charged melodic lyrics to create fist pumping kick-ass rock n ’ roll.

Hailing from Warrnambool, a small drinking town on the southwestern coast of Victoria, Australia, Airbourne has steadily gained an immense following with their explosive live shows and main stage festival appearances including a headliner spot at Wacken, Rock Am Ring/Park, and Download.[G5]  The first time I witnessed them play was at the Uproar Festal in 2010, their performance solidified it for me as if I was watching greatness, a band on the verge of rock stardom.

I had the chance to speak with vocalist/guitarist, Joel O’Keeffe, about their newest CD; Breakin Outta Hell.


Robert: Most Airbourne riffs have a signature sound, something that tells you right away its Airbourne. How do you continuously deliver great riffs CD after CD?

Joel O’Keeffe: It’s hard; when you come up with a riff you really don’t know if it’s good or if it will end up as a song or even make it on the CD. You might not even like it a few weeks later! With your iPhone, any riff you come up with can be recorded on the spot. Speaking of writing riffs before using my iPhone I used to record on a portable recorder like you have and left it at an airport. It had almost 200 riffs on it and never got it back.

Robert: The guys in the band must all be of like minds when it comes to songwriting. Tell me about the chemistry within the band.

Joel O’Keeffe: When we get in a room and plug in we all know what we have to do. We all meld together. We know what we want to do and all we want to do is rock.


Robert: Your four albums have really solidified the band’s sound and musical style. Can you share your insight into how the previous three compare to Breaking Outta Hell?

Joel O’Keeffe: It’s hard to compare your own children because you care about them all so much. Every time we go out of the gate we just want it to rock. We want to get the best we can lyrically. This new CD has a bit more of an edge to it and stripped back. Black Dog Barking went pretty heavy on the production side because it’s what we felt we needed to do at the time. That’s what you do with an album at certain times, on this album we wanted to dial it back and push everything else forward. It also has to fit in with everyone’s frame of mind at the time.

Robert: You have a beautiful and touching new love song on this CD, “Do Me Like You Do Yourself.” What can you tell me about it?

Joel O’Keeffe: Oh yeah [laughing]. These songs sometimes come from strange places… [laughing]. The best line is the last one, after we are chanting the chorus “Do me like you do yourself” at the end we say “Do me before I do me myself.” [laughing].

Robert: I haven’t seen you on the East Coast in about 6 years since the Uproar Festival, why don’t you tour the US more frequently?

Joel O’Keeffe: We have to tour Canada at the same time we do the US and we have a lot of demands in Europe. Canada has stronger support than down here.  We need that help to tour the US. We will be back next year; that is the plan. We have realigned a lot of things so we can come here again.


Robert: I see that you play a lot of festivals out in Europe, is that your biggest market?

Joel O’Keeffe: Yeah definitely, Europe is where the stronghold is. Maybe we’ve gotten to a lot of people. The US is so big, you have to think of it as 50 countries; Europe can probably fit within the confines of the US.  Texas is so big, like 10 times bigger than France. So when you come here you have to get far more people across a wider territory.

Robert: I heard that you hurt yourself while on stage recently, what happened?

Joel O’Keeffe: I fell off the stage and tore some ligaments in my foot and cracked a couple of ribs. That was a few weeks ago so at least now I’m walking. I was literary on YouTube watching hockey players get taped up trying how to figuring out how I can do it with gaffer tape. In hockey they have sports tape; in rock n roll, we have gaffer tape. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work.

I was able to find something at Dicks Sporting Goods that has been working well. It can emulate a heel lock/strap lock for hockey players. Plus I have an ankle brace; you can’t see it as my pants and sneaker covers it. With the cracked ribs I just don’t sleep on it and have to be really careful with it as it still has to heal. During the shows, I have the adrenaline going so it doesn’t bother me.

Robert:  I’ve seen videos of you at outdoor festival climbing quite high up the lighting rigs. Do you ever get nervous while you are up there?

Joel O’Keeffe: I really don’t get nervous; it’s just one of those things where you are at the moment.

Robert: Any close calls?

Joel O’Keeffe: There was a time in Poland where I climbed up and part of the truss had come off. I thought it was all attached but it wasn’t. When I got to the top, there was garden hose holding it all together. There wasn’t too much concern about health and safety going on at that show [laughing]. When I saw the hose I was like “Oh shit, I better do this solo real quickly because this is not going to hold me.” Obviously, it wasn’t meant to be climbed.


Robert: I’m pretty excited to see you guys tonight, what new songs will you be playing?

Joel O’Keeffe: We’ll be playing “Breakin’ Outta Hell” and “Rivalry.” Once we hit Europe we will be adding more new songs. We haven’t been to this market in a while, we didn’t want to come out and give you the whole album because you haven’t seen us with the last album Black Dog Barking. We have to think backward a little bit and give you a taste of new stuff and some of the stuff you didn’t see last time. When we come back next year it will include more of the new songs.

Robert: One of my favorite Airbourne songs is the title track off of Black Dog Barking. I’ve always wondered who is the “D tuned, gutless idol” you mention in the song?

Joel O’Keeffe: That’s coming from the whole X Factor and Idol thing. If you want to watch a TV shows that’s cool but you start out with talented kids who could have gone somewhere. They get thrown into this machine and any original thought or idea they were going to bring to the world musically is watered down completely. It’s switched out for a new thing like McDonalds. They don’t actually allow them to be who they want to be because at that young age they are easily influenced.

Robert: Your weapon of choice live and in the videos seems to be the white Gibson Explorer with the beer cap volume knob. Tell be about the guitar?

Joel O’Keeffe: I got it in 2005 from a shop in Santa Monica called True Tone which is no longer there. They had some great vintage amps and guitars. There is actually a purpose to the beer cap. It is so I can use my little finger to change the volume as quickly as I can. I like to sit about ¾ of the way when we are playing live. When I hit the solo I crank it up. The other volume and tone were disconnected. I never use the rhythm pickup and the tone is always on 10.


Robert: Were you ever contacted about stepping in for Brian Johnson of AC/DC as I think you would have made a great replacement?

Joel O’Keeffe: Thanks, I wasn’t called up but saw a lot of stuff online about it. We were in the studio at the time and I was really humbled by the online stuff that came out with me as a good fit. If the call had come through, I would have done it. I think Axl Rose did a great job, sung all the songs really well, and put on a great show. He has Brian’s range and the Bon Scott’s unpredictability and charisma. It was Rock or Bust and it wasn’t bust.

Robert: How do you think you would have done if you were fronting AC/DC?

Joel O’Keeffe: I would have been as nervous as hell; I would have been scared shitless. But once you get in and get going I’d be alright. I know the songs.


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