Airbourne: This band’s on rockabout

This band’s on rockabout

Airbourne: Beetroot makes 'em craaaaazy
Photo: Courtesy of Roadrunner Records

Australia's Airbourne have nothing but the road to call home as they get ready to unzip, er, unleash No Guts, No Glory

They’re opening for the nastiest, skankiest rock’n'roll sideshow of 2010, Mötley Crüe’s Dead of Winter Tour. Imagine, if you will, the hallways and dressing rooms backstage, throbbing with big-breasted blondes with orange tans and bad tattoos.

Mötley Crüe top this bill, then Aerosmith 1970s guitar god Joe Perry, and then there are our boys in Airbourne, the balls-to-the-wall thunder from Down Under.

This tour has all the makings of an out-of-control rock’n'roll circus. All you have to do is read the scummiest, nastiest, dirtiest rock bio ever written, the Crüe’s 2001 New York Times best-seller The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, to wonder if their handlers will be able to keep them out of trouble on this tour.

And Joe Perry – currently feuding in the press with (former?) Aerosmith frontman Steve Tyler, now in rehab to beat a painkiller addiction – used to be known, along with Tyler, as the notorious Toxic Twins.

So what’s it like opening for these legendary rockers and legendary drug addicts? Have the Crüe and Perry passed on the party animal torch to Airbourne?

"I dunno, mate!" laughs Joel O’Keeffe, lead vocalist and lead guitarist for Airbourne, right now the most fun, most hard-rocking boogie band on Earth. "[But] everywhere you go, once again, anything goes!"

There’s just one thing, though: "You never eat before a show," O’Keeffe admits, "because you’ll throw up on stage!"


It’s funnily appropriate that the afternoon I speak with Joel O’Keeffe I’m working a serious hangover. I start by saying, "Forgive me…"

Joel butts in, "I hear ya, mate!"

Joel is my new best friend.

He and his brother Ryan formed Airbourne back in 2003 in the Aussie town of Warrnambool, Victoria. Joel had been playing guitar since he was 11 and Ryan drums since he was 15. Then Joel met guitarist David Roads when they both worked at the Hotel Warrnambool, jamming between shifts. Brother Ryan reportedly bumped into bass player Justin Street while stumbling home drunk one night.

The quartet packed their amplifiers and moved to Melbourne where they proceeded to become the biggest, hardest rocking bar band in Oz since the late Bon Scott and his AC/DC mates tore up Australia exactly 30 years earlier.

"My guitar heroes when I was a kid growing up were four guys: Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix, and Angus and Malcolm Young [of AC/DC]," Joel says. "I just loved their raw, wild power!"

Airbourne cannot escape the AC/DC comparisons, right down to the blood brothers at the heart of each band, as well as the cover art of their upcoming album, No Guts, No Glory.

Like Joel O’Keeffe told the Brooklyn website Metal Sucks, "Oh, mate, in this day and age, whoever you are when you come out, especially if you’re from Australia and you sound like we do, you’re going to get compared to anyone who is out there. To be compared to the best rock’n'roll band in the business, there is no higher compliment. If you get compared to a band like AC/DC or Motörhead or Rose Tattoo or Iron Maiden or Metallica, you can’t be doing anything wrong because that’s real rock’n'roll."

O’Keeffe maintains pretty well the same theme as I pop a couple of aspirins. "I know you get all the AC/DC questions," I say, "But what I really want to know is, do you get more groupies than AC/DC?"

Joel laughs. "Nah, I reckon Bon [Scott] got his fair share!"


Like they say – and it’s still true – if you make it in America, the world is your oyster. So Airbourne relocated from Melbourne to New Jersey in 2006. Melbourne wasn’t quite Sydney, with that city’s famed, rock pub harbour neighbourhood, The Rocks.

"Melbourne’s a bit darker – [but] not gloomy – and summer is pretty fucking hot," Joel explains. "But [Melbourne's music scene] is getting killed off. There was always lots of bands playing in the pubs, but the government brought in [restrictive] laws because there were always fights in the pubs."

O’Keeffe knows of what he speaks. "I used to work in a pub and every Friday night we had [live bands] and one night I got a foot in my face!"

Still, the Jersey shoreline isn’t exactly Australia’s spectacular Gold Coast.

"We were renting a house in Jersey. But we were always on tour so we stopped in 2008. We don’t really live anywhere now. If there’s time off, we’ll go back [to Australia] and rustle up a few shows and have a few barbeques."

Airbourne wind down their tour with Mötley Crüe in Montreal on Feb. 5, then jet across the pond to headline their own tour across Europe and Scandinavia to cross-promote No Guts, No Glory, available March 5. The single No Way but the Hard Way is already racing up the charts.

So our boys may not get back home for some time yet.

Which reminds me of the year I spent Down Under a lifetime ago when I was roughly O’Keeffe’s age. I learnt three lessons pretty goddamn quick:

If a beach is deserted, there’s a reason for it (sharks).

You can’t outrun a crocodile.

And Aussies love beetroot on their hamburgers!

"I love burgers too!" Joel says. "There’s always McDonald’s, but if you go to the local fish-and-chips shop or burger shop, they’ll chuck every fucking thing on there! I love beetroot!"

That’s not all.

While this spectacular country has given the world some truly great artists – Dead Can Dance, INXS, Nick Cave and Midnight Oil (frontman Peter Garrett is now Australia’s Minister for the Environment) among them – Australia is also famously home to many of the world’s most notorious, most glamorous and best-loved drag queens.

And, man, wouldn’t it be awesome to see Joel O’Keeffe in all his macho splendour strut centre stage in full drag?

"Yeah, mate!" Joel agrees, laughing. "Just like Bon Scott!"

Clearly, you can take Airbourne out of Australia, but you can’t take AC/DC out of Airbourne.

w/ Mötley Crüe and The Joe Perry Project
At the Bell Centre, Feb. 5

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