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AIRBOURNE’s Front-man JOEL O’KEEFFE Talks New Album “Boneshaker”: “Rock & Roll is Everyone’s Universal Language!”

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Airbourne is releasing their fifth studio album “Boneshaker” today on October 25thvia Spinefarm Records. Hailing from Warrnambool, a small drinking town on the southwestern coast of Victoria, Australia; Joel O’Keeffe [vocals/lead guitar], Matthew Harrison [guitar], Justin Street [bass]and Ryan O’Keeffe [drums]have steadily gained an immense following with their explosive live shows and main stage festival appearances.

Airbourne is a band that truly embodies the spirit of Rock & Roll and “Boneshaker”  continues to see the band deliver songs with memorable guitar riffs, sexually charged lyrics, and fist-pumping attitude like on standout tracks; “Sex to Go,” “She Gives Me Hell,” and “Burnout the Nitro.” Contributor Robert Cavuoto had the pleasure of speaking with Joel to talk about “Boneshaker”, the band’s global appeal, an upcoming US tour, and a potential “Boneshaker” Live CD that’s in the works. Check out the interview transcript below!

Tell me about the importance of writing great riffs CD after CD for Airbourne.

We don’t sit down to consciously write riffs, we just come up with them; other times you come up with shit. If we gravitate towards a riff and keep playing it, we feel it has to be made into a song and be on the CD.

How long was the writing and recording process for “Boneshaker” compared to previous CDs?

In the past, it’s taken us about three months to write, where “Boneshaker”only took five weeks. This time we went into the studio with nothing and a bit unprepared. This is Dave Cobb‘s way of doing things; to do it all in one shot, on the fly, and feel the inspiration of being at RCA Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee.

I love the song “Burnout the Nitro” it’s a powerfully fast song and has some great chanting throughout. What was the inspiration for that song?

“Boneshaker” Album Artwork

We had the riff and when we were sitting around the bar, I started thinking about a police chase and muscle cars. That was our vibe, so we just followed it through.

Airbourne’s music has such global appeal, what is it about your songs that generates such a positive vibe county-to-county?

I think rock & roll is people’s universal language. People want to have a good time and forget about all the bullshit that is going on in the world. Ultimately they want to have fun, and rock & roll does that. It’s the same where ever we go. We are in Spain right now getting ready for a show tonight, and they are having a major uprising; we know a lot of people who are coming tonight that want to forget the shit that’s going on.

You have a new guitarist Matt Harrison. What was the selection process like, and was there a specific chemistry you were looking for?

We’ve known Matt for 9 or 10 years as he is a mate of ours. It was a case of, “Do you want to join the band?” He was already playing guitar in other bands, and we knew he could do it. He likes all the same bands we do and grew up listening to the same music. It was a bit of a no-brainer; when he plugged in, it all made sense.

So there were no auditions, you just called him to come down and jam?

Yeah, that was it! There were no auditions or stuff like that. We wanted to get a mate of ours in because that the way it was and is with us. We are a band of brothers and wanted to keep it that way! When you are touring, you don’t want a hired gun. You need to band together like brothers, and when you don’t know the guy, it doesn’t work.  It can feel a bit cold when they show up to just play their parts. When someone in your band is your mate, you have your inside jokes and are laughing all the time. It’s great to have that sense of familiarity. Getting someone we didn’t know wouldn’t have made sense to us.

Joel O’Keeffe on stage

Has Matt infused the band with any new creative energy?

We work really well together with the two guitars. We don’t have to stop and figure out who should play this or that part. He comes up with his own ideas for second guitar. When we are working on a song, we don’t have to say let’s try this; Matt will come up with something around it. This keeps us plowing forward. He brings so much enthusiasm, as well. I guess it’s because it’s all new to him. It’s really great having that and be around him. It makes it easier when you are playing the same venue or find yourself in the same old place; he is the guy who is excited and loves it! We can be on the road for five months, feeling beat up, and he will still be enthusiastic and enjoying himself because it’s all new to him. It’s good to be around that!

David Roads left the band a few years ago, are you guys still friends and on good terms?

Yeah, we are still mates. He went back to work on his farm in Australia. We are in contact, and I’m going to catch up with him when I get back home.

Was it a tough decision for him to leave the band?

His farm had to come first. It was stressing him out pretty badly. The road is not easy, it’s not all rock & roll, being in a band, and let’s party; it can be pretty fucking hardcore touring all the time. It’s not like the 80s and 90s before Napster fucking killed everything. When you have something pressing on your mind about home, it can make you freak out.

I’ve interviewed you a few times and even once in-person before a show in New York City in 2016. You always come across a very calm and cool, but on stage, you are a madman. Tell me about that transformation, and what happens when you hit the stage?

[Laughing] It’s really about the power of the guitar when you run out in front of the crowd, you can’t stand there and stare at your shoes. You a have a wall of Marshalls behind you, so it’s like a shot of adrenaline. It doesn’t wear off until you leave the stage. You can be running on fumes, and the crowd can actually pick up you. They are keeping you upright until you leave the stage when you hit the floor. As soon as I get off stage, I’m done! You can order me a coffin and throw me in. People would think I died and you can have an open-casket funeral backstage [laughing]. “He lived a good life; he was a rock & roller.” You give them everything and that’s the only way to do it. You don’t think about the next gig, you just think about the one you’re doing and give it all you got.

Any plans to record a live CD/DVD to capture the energy of the live show?

The plan is to do it now that we have five records. Somewhere on this tour, we will likely record it. The venues are stepping up, so that’s another reason for us to record. The crowds are mega rowdy too. It’s weird with live DVDs or Blu Ray as people don’t have the right equipment to play them, they end up putting it in a PlayStation 4. I’m a big fan of Blu Rays as the sound is better, the quality is better, there are no interruptions, and I like the physical nature of them. Bruce Springsteen recently performed Bruce Springsteen on Broadway on Netflix, and I don’t know if it was a physical release but that is the way to do it. To have it on Netflix and then special edition DVDs or Blu Ray with some cool content around it, so it’s not just the concert. These days you have to have all the extra stuff. It just takes time compiling all of that, making it cool, and then recording a Boneshaker live concert!

I saw you in 2016 but don’t think you have been back to the US for a tour since. Will you be coming back to the US soon to support this CD?

Just two days ago, I was on a call with our management and talking about the US and how we plan to get there. It’s looking like it’s going to be next year around May. It would be so great to get back there again. It’s such a fun country to tour! I still remember all the times we would be on the road and pull into Walmart to take a break at 4:00 am before getting to our hotel. We would go inside and ride around on children’s bicycles and kick balls around the store.  You can get whiskey and the little things you need. It’s great to see the American countryside too; I love it. Everybody in America wants to do shots; wherever we go, they say, “Let’s do a shot!” even before I get on stage. They tell me, “Fuck all that shit, have a shot!”[Laughing] I’m like “Ok,” then I can really tear it up! [Laughing]

Are you thinking of touring America as a headlining act or as a support act?

We are discussing a bit of both at the moment. It’s mainly to go out as a headliner, but there were will be shows where we are a support. We are still putting everything together. Whichever way it is, I just can’t wait.

Joel O’Keeffe pouring himself a beer at the band’s New York show

When you guys were first coming up playing bars, did you play any AC/DC songs?

We used to play heavy rock, and we did a few AC/DC songs like “Dirty Deeds,” “Highway to Hell,” and “Thunderstruck.” That was way back in the day, and I would have been like 16 years old. We would also play “Tie Your Mother Down” by Queen. It’s not an obscure song, but it’s not a song that every band whips out. We would also do “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival. We still play that randomly today.

It would be great to hear you do a few AC/DC covers when you come to America.

I think we will as Americans love it when we do covers and really get into it.

What do you think of rumors of Brian Johnson being back in AC/DC?

Based on the information that’s available on the internet and a few mumblings we heard by some people, it sounds like it’s happening. It’s just when they announce it. Apparently, it’s the “Rock or Bust” line up with Phil Rudd on drums. I’m not sure what happened with all his legal troubles, but if it’s all cleared up, I think it will be that line-up. It’s exciting, and they have the whole world waiting!

What impressed me about Airbourne is you appear to be headed down a path for greatness. Where do you envision the band going in the future say 5 or 10 years out?

The more you play, the higher you climb. One of the things is continually working on the show and take note of what works on stage and what really gets the crowd excited. It’s about trying to find all the bits of adrenaline that we learned in front of the crowd and try to cram it into one big ticking time bomb [laughing], so where ever we go, it works. One of the things we do now is to have the crowd sit down on one of our songs; then have them all jump up at this one moment for a big rush of energy. We did it once and then decided to do it more. We are trying to find more ways to get fans to interacting with the band. We are on our fifth record and the band is propelling itself. For example, we are now headline festivals in Europe where last time around, we weren’t. We have to keep doing what we are doing and not slow down.

One of my favorite aspects about your show is when you ride on the shoulders of a roadie playing guitar as he walks into the crowd.

We are still doing it, and the roadie is an American, we call him French Fry. Two nights ago, we were playing in Paris, and the fans were so enthusiastic about having us come into the crowd they knocked us to the ground. We were on the floor, but they cleared away and helped us up then got back to the stage. For a moment, we thought we were goners [laughing]. We have an American carrying an Australian, and walking alongside us is our British stage manager. It was like that old joke, “A Brit, an American, and an Australian walk into a bar…” We do it every show and have only been to the ground a few times.

When you played in New York City, you were carried to a sidebar where you poured yourself a beer!

You know in someplace I do that, the barmaid has come up to me after the show and said, “You owe me for a pint of beer!” [laughing]. Sometimes they are not happy about it, and other times they are fine. I think in New York they were happy about it.

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