In an interview with Joel O’Keeffe of Airbourne – conducted before the global pandemic – Adam Kennedy met the legendary ozzie backstage at the O2 Academy Newcastle.

Airbourne frontman Joel O’Keeffe informs us that Angry Anderson from Rose Tattoo said it best, Australian’s don’t play the guitar, Australian’s attack the guitar and that’s the difference. And if you’ve ever seen Airbourne perform live you will see that intensity in every one of their live shows.

The band recently released their latest album Boneshaker. This being a release where Airbourne are trying to encapsulate the spirit of Aussie pub rock and the artists who graced Albert Studios. HRH Mag caught up with O’Keeffe before their recent Newcastle show to get the lowdown on their new album, the Australian music scene and the band’s plans for 2020.

We’re here in Newcastle tonight. This is a place I know you’ve played many times before. How have the shows been going so far in this run?

I mean we are 37 or 38 shows into this fucking thing. Honestly mate, I’ll be really honest with you, I feel like I’m going mental, I feel like I’m going crazy. The crowds have been great, the shows have been great. I think the band’s been playing better than it ever has, we’re hitting a real groove. We basically sleep until the gig and get up and play and then just drop dead or stay up all night until sort of seven in the morning and then just go back to bed again. We’re kind of on this weird vampire thing at the moment because even when you get up, if you got up in the daylight, there’s no daylight anyway. And we haven’t sort of felt the warmth of the sun for three or four months. So we’re in the zone, it’s a dark zone, but it’s a rock n roll zone.

It must feel weird for you guys to be touring Europe in the winter when in Australia it’s summer.

Oh no we were here in your summer too. We were here for European festivals too. We left Australia about five months ago. So it’s weird, we have been getting texts from friends or whatever and stuff. I’ve given up on social media. I don’t even get on that anymore. Like I used to, but I just can’t be fucked with it. I used to get on there and see people sitting back there with their fucking picnics and playing cricket and stuff. And you are sitting here with the damp in your bones in England. I’ve just gotten over that now it’s like, I know when we go home we’re going to get off the aeroplane and it’s just going to be like walking into a solarium – we all need it. We all get so pasty, we will blend into the walls.

The Australian market sounds quite difficult because there are only certain cities you can play in. All the Australian bands tell me there’s only like about four cities. Do you find that as an Australian band that you have to get out of Australia to make a living so to speak?

I think no one tells you that, I think you work it out on your own. it’s kind of like, you know that fridge there, you keep going there for the milk to make your tea and there’s no milk so we will have to go to another fridge. Unfortunately, the next fridge is across the other side of the world. If you keep banging your head against the brick wall long enough it just starts to resonate. Nobody says that, but there are no more venues in Australia for bands to play. The 200, 300 caps, and 500 caps that you cut your teeth and learn your craft trying to work a crowd that first off doesn’t know you, don’t care about you, and just wants you to fuck off and want to watch the headliner – those venues are gone in Australia. So we have a lot of bands that just go alright, they’re saving all their pennies up and they are flying overseas to make it work.

The Australian government is putting in some money to do it for the first time, which is great, but it’s a hard break to get for bands. Some of them do get it, and that does make a difference. If the Aussie government does that more, you know, come on Aussie come on – fuck the sports shit. We give a lot of money to sport, let’s be honest, give money to our Australian music. We had fucking Midnight Oil, INXS, AC/DC even Kylie Minogue. We have some big fucking bands that come out of Australia, for that to keep happening we need venues to play in. Midnight Oil had venues to play in, AC/DC had venues to play in and we had venues to play in – not anymore and that’s not cool.

There seems to be a real Aussie invasion in the UK at the minute. I don’t know if you’ve come across Ablaze, Black Aces, Tequila Mockingbyrd and Massive. They’re spending a lot of their time over here. So it’s really interesting that you say that the Australian government should be pushing more into the music scene out there because it seems like so many of them are spending a lot of time in Europe now.

That’s where the gigs are at. That’s where people want to rock. It’s not that there are not rock and roll fans in Australia. It’s just Australia’s so spread out, everyone’s pretty far and few between. And it’s just the way it is. You can’t just survive playing weekends. Even though with the internet, and that does resonate throughout the world and everything, but you gotta be over here, it’s where it is at.

You’ve got a new album out which is entitled Boneshaker. I mean just walking into the room tonight and seeing the Marshall’s on the back wall, Boneshaker seems like a pertinent title for an album for Airbourne. Was that kind of what you were thinking – music that is going to shake you to the core?

That was the first song we wrote for the record. And it came to the point of like, what’s the running order, the track order and all that sort of shit. Well like what are we going to call the record? Oh, This Is Our City – it’s a bit long let’s just call it Boneshaker. It was the first song we wrote, it’s the first song we played, we did the record in five weeks. We wrote the whole fucking thing in the studio. We’re like, fuck – Boneshaker let’s go with that, And we did. There’s a lot of people say, Oh, it’s not even the best song on the record. We don’t really care what people think, we just think that Boneshaker as a whole, it’s just a 30-minute record that goes like a machine gun. It’s over real quick. It does seem to encapsulate the fucking feeling we had in the studio. And we are a does what it says on the tin band.

I understand you were going for a bit more of a seventies rock/classic sound on this album. Is that right?

If you’re familiar with bands like Rose Tattoo, The Angels and AC/DC. The Easybeats was another band from Australia. Billy Thorpe is another one. Lobby Loyde and his Coloured Balls. There’s a sound in Australia that was crafted by Harry Vanda and George Young, who was enticed back to Albert Studios in Australia, who had worked here in Abbey Road and they’d been working over for quite some time and making some mega-hits, but they were two great producers. One of them being Angus and Malcolm’s brother who was enticed back to Australia by Ted Albert to head up all the studios. And at that point when they got back there – have you heard a song called Love Is All Around? Well, that’s from out of there. And so big pop hits and big rock and roll hits through the 70s were done by them.

And they created a sound which was defined as Aussie rock/Aussie pub rock. And that’s what we just fucking zeroed in on. Just go for a classic seventies sound, a broad spectrum. We went, we’re going to make an Albert’s Record. F**k everything else, we’re going to do what our country started doing. Because after that period, you sort of got into the 80s and that sound is still there in bands like Cold Chisel, but then once the nineties hit that sound kind of got away. And we just said, look there’s something great, we made the two-stroke lawnmower in Australia. We made the black box in aeroplanes. We made Aussie pub rock – we need to continue doing that because other nations can’t do that, they can’t make Aussie pub rock. Angry Anderson from Rose Tattoo said it best, Australian’s don’t play the guitar, Australian’s attack the guitar and that’s the difference. Look now guys like Pete Townsend is who Australians grew up watching. The way he swings his arms, his anger when he does it, so that’s the way Australians think you play the guitar.

Do you have the next 12 months mapped out, what’s on the cards?

So we get back to Australia, and we do Summernats, which is the biggest Burnout festival in the world. There are about 40,000 Aussies with muscle cars and they have the biggest burnout competition. If you look it up, the footage of it is fucking insane. Every time we show it to someone that’s overseas they go fucking hell – it is like Mad Max with modern cars. Americans freak out when they watch it, they go, Oh my God, I can’t believe a car could do that. So we do that. So that’s going to be a lot of fun. And then we’re going to shoot a video there for Burnout The Nitro with all these rev heads. So they’re all pumped up, it’s going to be great.

And then we tour with all Ol Black Eyes – Alice Cooper, he’s going around Australia. So we’re going to go around with him and New Zealand. It’s our first time back to New Zealand, so that’ll be really cool. And then we’re back here. We go with Iron Maiden in Europe and then we’re doing, Donington again. It’s Donington to me – it’s Monsters of Rock.

Words and photography by Adam Kennedy