Exclusive interview – hellfest.fr : AIRBOURNE [Ryan O’Keeffe (drums) et David Roads (guitar)]
“When people ask what my favourite festival is? I usually mention Hellfest. It’s a certain feeling involved and energy. And the catering is amazing!”
Ryan O’Keefe – Le Trianon, Paris – December 1st, 2016
What was the last bit of music you chose to listen to together before doing that interview?
Ryan: Where were we… Oh, that Xmas dinner! We had a Xmas dinner and we listened to AC/DC’s Fly On The Wall because Joel (O’Keeffe – vocals and guitar) managed to take over a stereo at the pub, in the private room where we were having dinner… That was interesting (smiles). Did we play anything else?
David: Yeah, a couple of old stuffs, demos and rock favourites, you know…
So you’re in Paris for two days and the sun is shining. And instead of chilling out or doing some sightseeing, you’re busy doing interviews… Aren’t you a bit pissed off about that?
Ryan: (laughter) No! It’s sort of part of what we do, spreading the word of rock n’roll. We would be more pissed off if we weren’t doing interviews because that would suggest we’re not successful.
About a year ago, we experienced terrorist attacks here in Paris. Does it feel weird for you to be back in Paris for the first time ever since?
Ryan: No, no. We’ve toured everywhere. We’ve just played in New York, we’ve been to the States a lot. We’ve been touring for the last 10 years and stuffs have been happening everywhere. Generally, after something so tragic happens, nothing generally happens much… It’s generally pretty safe after that sort of stuffs happen.
David: Terrorists definitely wouldn’t come back here.
Has the perception of your job changed when it comes to play live though?
Ryan: No, it’s the same with travelling when we do flights. After 9/11, we noticed if anything you feel safer because security at the airports was stepped up. And that’s the same around in town: security stepped up.
David: That’s life in general. You see a crash in the news and you can be knocked down by a car the next day. Like Ryan said, we travel a lot, we fly a lot: we’re probably more at risk because we travel a lot, flying around. It’s something you shouldn’t worry yourself about. Keep going ahead.
Breakin’ Outta Hell’s been out for a couple of weeks. Are you pleased with the various reviews and comments?
Ryan: It’s definitely the best response we’ve had since… Black Dog Barking (2013) did very well but this one seems to have done exceptionally well so we couldn’t have been happier with the response. The songs have been going live fantastically.
Every new Airbourne albums gets a better ranking in the charts but it seems that it got more difficult in the States this time. Do you have an explanation for this?
Ryan: I didn’t actually see the numbers for the States but I do know that it was released a week early. So people were able to download it for free! (laughter) Maybe it didn’t go that well in the charts but we just did a tour there and it was the best tour we’ve done in the US. It definitely didn’t affect ticket sales and stuffs like that.
Any favourite songs out of that album when it comes to play live?
Ryan: “Down On You” has been going down very well. And also a special one is “It’s All For Rock N’Roll”, which we wrote about Lemmy. Actually, we also did a video for it in Manchester, which will be released early next year. That’s a pretty special song.
Your setlist seems rather unchanged gig after gig over the last few weeks. It’s not a very rock n’roll way to deal with it, is it?
Ryan: The last gig we just did in London, we changed the set. We added “Hellfire” which we had not played for 6 years or so. And we also added “Diamond In The Rough” that we hadn’t played for a bit.
David: We just try to get the best set, that flows right and that feels right, dynamically, and get the crowd lifted and then, have a mixed flavour of the songs of each album, it’s important. And obviously having enough songs of the new album as well. It’s a hard thing, getting a setlist to work. But as Ryan said, we’ve just done two shows in a row and loads of people bought a ticket for both shows so we try to change the second night when it happens, like add in extra songs to make it a bit different for these people as well.
You’re newly signed to Spinefarm Records. Weren’t you happy with Roadrunner? One thing is for sure, you’re the big guys within Spinefarm now.
Ryan: (laughter) A lot of people from Roadrunner moved to different places. We’re actually still working with a lot of people from Roadrunner where we are now. So we moved with Spinefarm and it seems like the best place to be. When we made that record with them –our first album recorded in Australia – we flew Bob Marlette who did Runnin’ Wild with us and Mike Fraser. They flew to Australia for two months. That kind of setup we wouldn’t have been able to do with Roadrunner. Spinefarm has been very, very supportive on doing what’s best for the band, on what we wanted to do. And the record turned out great. It was definitely the right time for us.
Recording in Australia is something you definitely want to do again in the future?
Ryan: No. As the studio that we recorded at is – I think, almost probably by this stage – knocked down.
David: Sing Sing Studios had been there since the seventies but unfortunately it was being sold and we were the last band to make a record in the studio.
Ryan: So the next one might have to be done maybe in the UK or France, I don’t know.
I guess that having Bob Marlette back on board was an important asset for you…
Ryan: Yes. We’re definitely looking at him for the next one as well. We’ll see.
2017 will mark the tenth anniversary of Runnin’ Wild. Any plans so as to commemorate it?
Ryan: We’ve actually talked about it. Its release for Europe was 2008. It came out in 2007 in Australia but we were on an Australian label at that stage. So that being said, I think that next year we’re gonna be doing something for Runnin’ Wild. That’s what we’ve talked about.
A new Airbourne record is released every three years. A three year-cycle works so well for you that this has become like the perfect pace for you?
David: It’s not really planned that way. Each album cycle kind of takes two years and…
Ryan: The first album was released on Capitol/EMI and then released overseas on Roadrunner. The second record was released on Roadrunner, the new one on Warner and this one on Spinefarm. So that’s quite a lot of label hoping. We are actually very fortunate to be able to even release a record. So yeah, it’s never been intentional but who knows? The next one might be quicker or whatever. It depends. Generally we tour quite a lot. We haven’t been home since June. We’ve been touring straight since June and this is the warm-up for the record. The next year is gonna be a big tour. This tour would be enough for a lot of bands. We’ve done Europe, UK, we’ve done US, Canada. We’re back in Europe and UK now. We’ve got Hellfest coming with a very important slot on the festival. We tour quite a lot, we spend quite a lot of time on the road. That generally affects the record: it’s impossible to make a record in two years if you’re on the road for two years. That’s just physically impossible.
The reason for releasing an album is more about offering new material or getting a way to do more touring?
Ryan: Well, we love touring. That’s what we’ve always been about. The live show is what kind of what has sold the band and it’s definitely how people coming to our gigs got converted, I guess. The record making is probably a different thing. You do have to put yourself in a mind set in a way. On the road, it’s all about the show and trying to stay healthy and physically fit and we try to do that. In the studio, it’s a completely different thing. The mind is all about songrwriting: “Does it work?” or “Is that going to go down well live?”, stuffs like that.
Joel tends to be more and more at the front when it comes to promotion, posters, album covers, pics on Facebook, etc. Do you feel comfortable leaving him under the spotlights?
Ryan: Absolutely, he’s the lead singer. If anything, that’s something that has been lacking in rock n’roll: people say there’s no rock stars. You’re not gonna have rock stars if you keep looking at 4 people.
David: Joel is the frontman.
Ryan: Yeah, he’s the frontman. That’s what he does and what he does very well. That’s why this band, I believe, does well: he‘s a very entertaining frontman.
You’re talking about “rock stars” and “frontman”. What about Axl Rose playing with AC/DC earlier this year. What’s your view on that?
Ryan: The tour was called Rock Or Bust. And I couldn’t imagine the position of Angus was put in when he first couldn’t tour with his brother. And then he loses the drummer. Then he losses the singer. That’s nightmare! Anyone else would have pretty much cancelled the tour after losing your brother.
David: And that’s all it came down to: just Axl Rose landing a hand to help them finish the tour.
Ryan: It’s called Rock Or Bust: he rocked and he didn’t go bust. For the reports that I heard, Axl did an extremely well job, which is fantastic.
This going to be your fourth appearance at Hellfest in 2017. Does that remind you of any specific anecdote?
David: Probably the first one when we had to run to the stage! Remember that, Ryan? (laughter) We had a show the day before at another festival in Spain. We were quite drunk I think…
Ryan: It was the early days, back in 2008. We played a festival in Spain, back in the mountains and then we got in this van. The driver had to drive us from there to Hellfest because, for some reason, we couldn’t use a tour bus. During that trip, there was a few joints passed around and a couple of beers. So everyone fell asleep and we woke up at 3 am. I woke up upside down on the front seat, my face facing the dashboard. And then I instantly looked at the tur manager because we were in the middle of nowhere, in farmland, in the early morning. I looked at the driver and he said: “I don’t know where we are!”.
David: He apparently drove in the wrong direction for a couple of hours.
Ryan: We didn’t have SatNav but we manage to get there somehow, very early in the morning. We woke up twenty minutes prior to stage time. Nobody actually woke the band up but the crew manager managed to get the gear set up. Our tour manager finally woke us up and got us out of the bus: “You must be on stage in 15-20 mins!”. We literally just jumped out of bed, threw whatever clothes we had on and ran to the stage with our hair everywhere. Guitars were thrown at the guys; I just jumped behind my kit and it became one of the best shows we’re ever had. There were Australian flags in the crowd and the crowd definitely knew about the band and was definitely up for it. It was by far one of the best and more memorable shows. Usually, it takes us an hour to warm up, you know. The guys do a lot of vocal warm up. I work a lot on my harm and wrists to get warmed up but it was a nice and hot day and I guess we were just ready to go! It was one of these great moments of rock n’roll!
What about the 2017 edition? Here’s the line-up: up to your taste?
Ryan: That’s gonna be a very, very cool festival. So many names on it! I’ve also said that in interviews before when people ask “What’s your favourite festival?”: I usually mention Hellfest.
David: There’s such an energy about it!
Ryan: It’s a certain feeling involved and energy. And the catering is amazing! (laughter)
To finish this off, I have a request. I’m supposed to interview members of The Dead Daisies in the days to come: what question could I ask them on your behalf?
Ryan: Red or white with your dinner?!
Many thanks to Olivier (Replica).