DRUMMER RYAN O’KEEFE
INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Australian rock sensation Airbourne has just released its sophomore album titled NO GUTS.NO GLORY. The new world tour started in January and this time it included three shows in Finland which were instantly sold out. In Helsinki I had a change to sit down with the band’s drummer and co ‘founder Tommy O’Keefe. We talked about the new album, the early years and Airbourne’s future plans. Enjoy
NO GUTS. NO GLORY
Your debut album RUNNING WILD was one of the best releases in 2008 and many magazines, including Metal-Rules.com, voted that CD for the album of the year. What kind of expectations do you have for this new NO GUTS.NO GLORY album?
This is the new one. We spent a year making it. So when you do that it’s sort of like raising a kid, you’re sort of slowing building it. Now it’s out, and now we like to let it be its own thing. It’s something we’ve nurtured. Now it’s all or nothing. We leave it to walk on its own two feet and do whatever it does. That being said, let it grow all gangly, whatever it does is what it does. There are no real expectations. We’re proud of it. We put it out in the world and people will make their mind up.
Two years ago you won many “newcomer of the year” awards. So how are things different now that you are not a new band anymore?
Now I guess…it’s almost in regards to the title of the albums. The first one was RUNNING WILD, we were a new band, and now it’s not a new band anymore it’s NO GUTS. NO GLORY. We’re serious, we’re here. We do have our first heavy trailer on this tour where we are going to be touring a lot for the next two years.
Recording wise, how was it different to work on the second album because I think you had lots of old stuff in stock before you recorded RUNNING WILD, and now you had only 2 years in between these two albums…so was it any different or more challenging to write songs for this album?
We sort of wrote songs on the road and got a lot of experience from the road, which helped a lot. We gathered influence from the road. The difference was, when we went and played with DIE TOTEN HOSEN in Germany in December after Christmas in 2008, finishing up that RUNNING WILD cycle, then on New Year Eve we were on a plane heading back home and on Jan 1 we were home and began pre-production on the second album in a pub. It was the same pub we played our first shows at. It was now closed down, so we just had the key to it. So there we got a lot more influence as well from the old days. We just made songs, and in the evening we’d go to the pub around the corner and drink and bet on horses and do whatever… Have some fish and chips… and just continuously and casually make rock songs. We were so far away from record labels and everything that nobody could get to us so it was just us making rock and roll.
So far all the Airborne songs are written by you and your brother.
How you two actually do your writing together?
Well the riffs are made on the road and we gather what material we have from the road and begin working on ideas for that. John and I work together for the early part of pre-production of getting the songs together, and the lyrics and the riffs…making sure they can be the best they can be. Then we bring the other guys in later on and we sort of take the songs even further. Sometimes me and John go back and refine some new stuff and we all get back together when we’re really pushing to make it a song again. That’s sort of how it works. We setup base camp somewhere and start rocking away.
Tell me something about your new album’s cover art design?
We kind of had the idea about the old type of action movies where they used to put all the main scenes from the movie on the cover. So we wanted to put the songs on the cover and it was also very important to have it drawn so it looks like a photo, but also seems drawn which is the old school way Drew Cousin did INDIANA JONES, STAR WARS, BACK TO THE FUTURE… all those old movies. We asked Drew if he could do it, and he said “thank you for your offer, but I’m retired.” So we found these two other guys, the Sharp brothers in Australia. We sourced those two guys from Ben Cousins who did our first cover. So pretty much those two brothers just drew it all up and it was great.
There are lot’s funny little details included on this new album cover but one slight thing is over the top: there’s a small picture of Lemmy driving a truck on there. How you managed get permission for that?
Well, I think we did? “laughs”
THE EARLY YEARS
You originally started this band around 2003 in a small town called Warnabool. How you actually spell that name?
W a r n a m b o o l “laughs.”
You guys were really young when you started this band. Tell us briefly, how Airbourne was born?
Joe and I started playing when I was about 11. The first show was when I was 13 and the rest of the guys came along when I was about 15. We would practice every Saturday. We wrote more songs and wanted to play more and build more of a band. And we did, we found the other guys and the 4 of us moved to Melbourne and lived in a house together. It was fantastic. We would just rock away. We lived in Melbourne for three and a half years and did gigs as much as we could until word spread.
Like you said you and the whole band moved from Warnabool to Melbourne. Career-wise, how important it was to move larger circles at that point of your career?
It was a very important move to branch out to a bigger part of Australia so we could play to more people. In one of the capital cities that was possible. Then we went from Melbourne to LA and toured there in 2007/2008 and then back home to tour. We have been going to different places. We are going to the Czech Republic to tour which is new for us. We are expanding so it’s good.
So far, have you ever been playing in Russia?
No but Prague is the stepping stone to Russia so hopefully it happens?
After moving to Melbourne you played shows supporting such names as Motley Crue and Motorhead. How it was to share stages with your childhood heroes?
It was great! It was really great to learn from them. Both those bands brought us back. Motley Crue brought us to Japan and Motorhead got us to Europe a few times as well so that was fantastic. It was just great to talk to them and learn about staying true to what you do and seeing them deliverer the same awesome show every night.
You also did some shows with Rolling Stones then?
Correct. Amazing shows!
Isn’t it flattering that many famous band musicians now are fans of yours, like Lemmy?
We have heard that guys of Iron Maiden are fans too and that’s an honor. We heard many times that Maiden crew played our album on their tour busses etc… and I think guys from Rose Tattoo are fans too… so yeah. It’s great!
Before RUNNING WILD there was an Airbourne release called READY TO ROCK. Would you tell something more about that album?
“Laughs” that was when we were still living at home in Warnabool. We didn’t take any money from Airbourne shows. It always went back in an Airbourne account, it still does, and we managed to get it up to $3500. TWeknew that welfare wasn’t going to be enough to move to Melbourne o we recorded what we had and eventually moved to Melbourne and sold them at gigs to pay rent.
Are there still any copies available of that album?
Probably there is not? There are some copies that show up on eBay, but they are probably the old ones that are kicking around.
You get your first big record deal with Capitol but then things turned to change soon after?
Unfortunately, Capital had a bit of a cash problem and terged with Virgin, but we were fortunate enough to get our album back and continue on with Roadrunner. You know, we could have been really screwed.
And when you moved to Roadrunner you still have a same deal?
That’s correct and so we were fortunate enough to get our album back. But we won. Um, so you know? I mean, out it this way. I definitely wouldn’t want to be a band still with Capital now.
Originally you had…was it a five-album deal with Capital originally?
It was for five albums and with Roadrunner we have the same deal now.
When you first got your major record deal, was it hard to get your band signed? I mean, you’re playing straight and honest kickass rock instead of mainstream or any other trends in music world?
I guess….like a lot of people thought “oh it’s not…you know, definitely not something that would get signed or anything. But um….we sure made enough noise, a big noise in Australia, to get recognized. And, you know, it’s insane how it grows. I mean….but obviously with all the touring you know. I guess it just comes down to the fact that people see our passion when we play and they see our love of rock and roll. I think we share that with the crowd and that’s why it’s purely a band that’s based off people and not off anything else. And with that comes a lot of touring.
One exciting thing to occur is that you have provided your music in many popular games like: Madden NFL 2008, NHL 2008 and Skate. In marketing and promotion wise, how important channel are these games, guitar hero etc modern things for bands these days in your opinion?
It indeed is a different kind of radio. They sort of…people interact with it more. Umm…they’re not just sort of listening to radio or whatever in the shop or their car. Well, they could be in their car, but the difference is they can drive against another car and smash everything and have a bit of fun and sort of interact more. So it’s just another way people can hear a bit of rock and roll.
Yeah and mostly you can reach younger people that way?
How about that wrestling thing then? You have that one song in World Wrestling Entertainment?
Oh yeah. Well that was….yeah wrestling. That’s great. We got “Stand up for Rock n Roll” was used for the official theme of the WWE Royal Rumble and then umm…and then we played a song for one of the wrestlers, Ken Kennedy, which was a bit of fun. And once again, just a bit of rock and roll and…yeah, it was something different that’s for sure. But you know, you learn a lot from it and it’s definitely something that we’re glad we did.
Do you already have plans to continue that tradition and release some of the new songs with some games etc as well?
We’ll see. You know a lot of the games were sports games and they come out during the mid-year, so we’ll wait and see?
TOURING AND FUTURE
About touring… When you first did your first worldwide tour, which lasted like forever, how many shows did you actually do back in that tour?
That year was almost 300 I think? Yeah, it was a bit over 300 that year. There wasn’t many off days left but… I mean apparently we’re doing it all again! (laughs)
(Laughs) For the next 2 years
Exactly, two years “laughs.”
This new tour just got started but what kind of plans you have to continue this tour from now on?
Ah well we have this European tour and then we have some dates in the States and then we do June-July festivals. Then we do Canada and then we might do a tour in the States again and then from there we’ll do, I think, come back to Europe? Actually, no… We got Australia in October I think. Australia, New Zealand and Japan and then we come back to Europe for November… And then we’ll do it all again for 2011!
Damn, that sounds heavy… Well, although this new album just came out, do you already have plans for the next release?
Well…there are a couple of weeks off, so we’ll see? I don’t know?
Have you ever been thinking about releasing live DVD?
We’d love to you know. That’s something hopefully we get the budget for or whatever. But yeah, we always love to get that done. That’s probably something we’ll do later on down the track. The opportunity was to arise sometime, and we’ll embrace it if it does.
Okay, our time seems to be done. Thanks for your time and see you on the show!