Rockin' Down Under With Airbourne's Joel O'Keeffe

Posted on by Randy

Born and raised in the rural Victorian town of Warrnambool, Airbourne vocalist Joel O’Keeffe first realized his love of rock ‘n’ roll at the tender age of nine. He devoured the Rose Tattoo, AC/DC, The Angels, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs and Cold Chisel albums that he stole from his uncle, while others got drunk and played sport.

Joel’s younger brother Ryan soon also fell under the spell of his older brothers “borrowed” record collection. Ryan bought his first drum kit by the age of 11 and he and Joel spent their weekends rehearsing – much to the dismay of their neighbors. Several years later Joel met guitarist David Roads at the Hotel Warrnambool where they both worked. They brought their guitars to work and jammed on song ideas after their shifts. Soon enough Dave was jamming with the O’Keeffe brothers at their makeshift rock n’ roll den (home). Joel stumbled into bassist Justin Street after a night of drinking in 2003, and soon enough Airbourne was a fully-fledged rock ‘n’ roll band.

The band soon relocated to Melbourne and played as many gigs as they could land themselves. They couldn’t afford a car just yet, so they walked around putting up posters on every surface possible to promote their gigs. This work ethic helped to create a buzz and soon enough Airbourne were playing shows in iconic arenas instead of pubs. By the time the band had released just one EP titled Ready to Rock they had supported the Rolling Stones and opened for Motley Crue at the historic Palais Theatre.

A main stage slot on the 2006 Big Day Out festival confirmed Airbourne’s reputation as one of the country’s fastest rising bands. The band became characterized by their rowdy live shows that screamed rock ‘n’ roll. It was not an Airbourne gig unless Joel had jumped on to and swung from parts of the stage mid song at least once. The year 2006 proved to be one of Airbourne’s biggest years yet, as it saw them relocating to the States to work with legendary producer Bob Marlette after receiving a huge amount of interest from several international labels. Airbourne chose 11 songs from 40-odd songs they’d written and Andy Wallace (Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Linkin Park, Slipknot) was enlisted to ensure that their live energy translated well to CD. A lengthy pre-production took place and in 2007 Runnin’ Wild was finally released.

Later in 2007 Airbourne attracted interest from renowned A&R man Ron Burman of Roadrunner Records in New York, and by July, Airbourne had secured a worldwide record deal. They continue to write music and revel in rock ‘n’ roll to this day.

How would you describe your playing?
When I pick up a guitar I really just let it take over. Where the guitar wants to go, I just go along with it. But I do love it loud. It’s a real trip being caught in the blast radius of Seymour Duncans, Les Pauls, and Jim Marshall’s tone. We don’t use pedals, because all that does is water down the tone created by those iconic rock’n’roll men. It’s what you do with that mix that makes it your own. When I sing I imagine I’m a guitar, through an overdriven JMP and with a story to tell.

What kind of gear do you currently use?
Gibson Explorers Gibson SGs, walls of Marshalls (JCM800s and JCM 2000 Dual Superleads), Seymour Duncan pickups and D’addario strings, Shure Wireless packs. Sennheiser, Shure and Beyerdynamic mics.

Why did you change out your stock pickups?
One of the first riffs I learnt back in the ancient riff-learning times of B.S.O.T.W. (Before Smoke On The Water) was the riff on the Seymour Duncan CD. I listened to all the pickups on that CD multiple times a week. I love it, from the Screamin’ Demon to the good ol’ 59! I changed because they just simply cut through all the BS with uncompromising hot razor tone that becomes a Sonic Hurricane when rammed through a six full stack Marshall wall!

I use the 59s and the Screamin’ Demons in The Gibson SGs and some of the Gibson Explorers respectively, but the main white Gibson Explorer I use live has the Seymour Duncan… um …I actually don’t know! Its been there for so long and the serial number has worn off, but I know its a Duncan because I bought it when i was 15 and its still goin’ strong! Seymour Duncan just makes what I play cut sharper and opens the door to use more dynamics, light and shade. Seymour Duncan gets the best out of you and cuts through all the BS with uncompromising tone. My Seymour Duncan pickups never quit and cut through the BS night after night.

How do you deal with different voltages from different countries?
Well, the 240’s are louder and ballsyer, hence “The Who” so you just need more of ’em when in a 120 volt territory.

What is the best part of playing in a band with a family member?
When the s@*t hits the fan we always got each others back.

What is the worst part?
The black eyes and blood noses.

Be on the lookout for a new Airbourne album- the band is working on a new album to be released next year.

To visit with Joel and the band, please go to:

Written on October 8, 2012, by Randy

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  • Sivispace

    I prefer the SG to the Explorer because it is lighter. However, I’ll take a chambered Les Paul over any other electric.