“All right people/Welcome to the show/Are you ready to rock?/Are you ready to go?/Now we’ve got what you want/And we’ve got what you need/So get your ass down here/And let your ears bleed.” – Stand Up For Rock’N’Roll
It’s as clear a statement of intent as you’re ever likely to hear. One verse that says everything you need to know about Melbourne four piece Airbourne and their debut album, Runnin’ Wild: forget your worries, get down to the front of the stage and lose your mind to some ear-bleeding, sweat-soaked rock’n’roll. Or, as the song continues, “Drink your beer/Drink your wine/Let’s have a good time.” Stand up for rock’n’roll indeed.
Airbourne vocalist Joel O’Keeffe first realised rock’n’roll was worth defending at the tender age of nine. Born and raised in the rural Victorian town of Warrnambool – population: 32,000 – the local pastimes revolved around playing footy and falling down drunk. For young Joel, however, his only interest was devouring the albums he’d stolen from his uncle by Rose Tattoo, AC/DC, The Angels, Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs and Cold Chisel.
“It’s hard to explain, but that’s always what I wanted to hear,” remarks Joel, now 24. “Straight-ahead Aussie pub rock.”
By the age of 11, Joel had picked up his first guitar and was trying to emulate the riffs of his Oz-rock idols. Paying close attention was younger brother Ryan, who’d also fallen under the spell of his brother’s “adopted” record collection. By the time he’d turned 11, and with Joel now 15, Ryan had bought his first drum kit and the brothers were spending their weekends rehearsing, much to the delight of their neighbours, who constantly sent the police over to the O’Keeffe household to plead for silence.
“It got to the point where the cops would just end up saying, ‘Look, come on, guys, we’ve gotta stop coming around here cos we’ve got other people to arrest,’” laughs Joel.
Instantly convinced that their futures lay in rock’n’roll, it would take the O’Keeffe brothers several years to find like-minded musicians in their hometown. After a few false starts that saw the band perform as a three-piece with a now long-gone bass player, Joel was introduced to guitarist David Roads when the two worked at the Hotel Warrnambool. Bringing their guitars to work and, after their shifts, jamming on song ideas, Dave was soon asked to join the O’Keeffe brothers for a jam at their house. Bassist Justin Street completed the picture in 2003, when Ryan literally ran into him while stumbling home drunk from a party one night. Turns out his new mate played bass, and, yes, would be interested in jamming with a band that were looking to move to Melbourne. Finally, Airbourne were ready to fire.
Though it would be another nine months before the quartet relocated permanently, they began driving to the Victorian capital to play shows as regularly as they could, often returning to Warrnambool as the sun came up with just $25 to their name and a full day of school ahead for Justin and Ryan. This exposure to the realities of being a working rock’n’roll band in Australia would stand them in good stead for when they finally made the move to Melbourne, found a four-bedroom house – they still live and rehearse there to this day – and started gigging relentlessly.
“We absolutely attacked Melbourne,” says 20-year-old Ryan. “We painted the town with posters for every gig we were doing. If they were getting ripped down we’d go back and put them up. We had to walk, though, cos we couldn’t afford a car.”
This work ethic helped create a substantial buzz. One-off shows in the Melbourne pubs became one-off gigs in enormodomes such as the Rod Laver Arena supporting the Rolling Stones and The Palace opening for Motley Crue, a remarkable feat given that by this stage the band had only released one EP, the appropriately-titled Ready To Rock. National tours with the likes of Dallas Crane, Jimmy Barnes, The Living End, You Am I and Magic Dirt helped further hone their rowdy live show – it is, after all, not an Airbourne gig unless Joel has jumped on the bar mid-song at least once – while a mainstage slot on the 2006 Big Day Out confirmed Airbourne’s reputation as one of the country’s fastest rising bands.
“It comes from growing up in Warrnambool and being pissed off with people telling us that all the bands we listened to were old and we should be playing Blink-182,” explains Ryan of the band’s explosive live show. “So we always go onstage and try to prove a point about how good rock’n’roll is.”
In 2006 Airbourne got their biggest break yet when, after a huge amount of interest from several international labels, they relocated to the States to begin work on Runnin’ Wild with legendary producer Bob Marlette. With Marlette’s CV one of the most impressive in the business – his credits include albums by Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Seether, Saliva and Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, for starters – Airbourne embarked on a lengthy pre-production stint, whittling the 40-odd songs they’d written down to the 11 that comprise Runnin’ Wild. And just to ensure their immense live energy translated to CD, the band not only enlisted Andy Wallace (Bruce Springsteen, Guns N’ Roses, Rage Against The Machine, The Cult) to mix the album, but made sure that what was committed to tape was done so with the amps on 11.
“One of my ears actually blew out cos I had my headphones so loud,” laughs Ryan. “So I recorded the album with one ear!”
From the album’s fist-pumping title track to the anthemic What’s Eatin’ You and the self-explanatory rock explosions of Girls In Black and Cheap Wine, Runnin’ Wild is an exercise in booze-and-sweat soaked rock’n’roll that isn’t looking to change the world by abolishing Free Trade, but simply provide the ultimate soundtrack to the biggest all-night party there is. And with the title track already one of the most added songs to Australian radio, all that’s left now is for Airbourne to hit the road and take their message to the people direct.
“You have to bleed and do anything you can to make sure the album gets out there,” says Joel. “Every day you wake up and say, ‘How are we going to do this?’ We haven’t had time off in three years. It’s every day, 24 hours.”
The album ‘RUNNIN’ WILD’ released June 23, 2007