Airbourne's Joel O'Keeffe: the 10 records that changed my life
We’re letting you in on a MusicRadar secret here, but sometimes when asking an artist to name the 10 records that changed their life, it’s a good idea go warn them ahead of time so they can have a good think about which albums make the cut.
With Airbourne’s larger-than-life frontman Joel O’Keeffe, there was no need.
“No one gave me a heads-up on what you wanted to talk about, but I love rock 'n' roll, so it’s no problem to think of 10 records that changed my life.”
That just sums up this likeable Aussie, a firecracker character with an addiction to rock. That lust for big hooks and even bigger riffs is reflected in his own band’s image and their new album, Breakin’ Outta Hell.
Joel and co’s commitment to all things rockin’ also extends to their punishing tour schedule. We speak to Joel a month ahead of the record’s release.
Typically, this is a period in which a band will take a breather and prepare for the album tour that is to come. Not Airbourne. Instead they’re in the thick of a pre-release tour, with a huge run of dates stretching into 2017.
“Sometimes, the album comes out and then you tour, but this time we couldn’t wait,” Joel explains.
“We just wanted to get out of the studio and get playing again. We’ve started jamming the new tunes at soundcheck and we’re just playing Breakin’ Outta Hell. We want people to hear the album before they experience it at the gig. It’s like when I was a kid I heard Razors Edge first, and then I went to the AC/DC gig.”
Speaking of which, here come the 10 records that changed Joel’s life…
Breakin' Outta Hell is out now via Spinefarm Records.
1. AC/DC - Razors Edge (1990)
“My mum got me the Razors Edge album by AC/DC for my birthday when I was six or seven years old. I’ve still got that cassette at home somewhere.
“From the moment that I heard that as a kid I was hypnotised by it. I didn’t really know at that age what guitars were or what music was, and then I heard that album. I played it over and over and over again.
“I would take it into school in my Walkman and I would listen to it at lunchtime, at recess and sometimes during class, because I wasn’t interested in school once I had heard what rock 'n' roll was.
“The thing that made me want that album was seeing the Thunderstruck clip on a music TV channel we have in Australia called Rage. I saw that and asked for it for my birthday.
“I also asked for a blue singlet like Brian Johnson wore. I couldn’t figure out whether I wanted to be the guitarist or the singer. I still can’t figure that out.”
2. Metallica - Black Album (1991)
“After AC/DC, Metallica was the next band I found. Enter Sandman was on a lot when I was a kid and I loved that. I knew I had to get that album.
“At that age, I didn’t even know how you would go and buy an album. All of the other kids at school were listening to whatever was cool. I was an odd one out as a rock kid. So I went to the record store and was like, ‘Oh, wow!’
“My mum or dad would drive me down there and that’s where I started seeing all of these other bands. I saved up my pocket money and bought the Black Album.”
3. Metallica - Kill 'Em All (1983)
“When I went to buy the Black Album, I saw that there were more Metallica cassettes at the store, so I knew I had to buy all of those albums as well.
“Cassettes were like $20 each and I thought, ‘Fuckin’ hell, I’m gonna have to paint the house three times to get enough pocket money for all of these albums!’
“Eventually, I did and I got Kill 'Em All. Kill 'Em All set me down a road and changed a lot for me. I even jumped off the house roof one time while listening to Jump In The Fire.
"I was getting into it and fucked up my ankle. I was listening to Kill 'Em All and the Black Album at the same time, and I loved Metallica.”
4. Rose Tattoo - Rose Tattoo (1978)
“Angry Anderson from Rose Tattoo was a major inspiration to me.
"He’s a little guy, but when he gets on stage he’s the biggest guy in the room. He has such a powerful singing voice and he commands the stage.
“He’s still rockin’ today; he can belt it out. I went back to that record store and they were in the same section as AC/DC, and I asked my uncle about them and he told me that if I liked AC/DC I would love Rose Tattoo.
“Listening to Rose Tattoo really got me going. They made me not want to go back to school - I just wanted to play Aussie pub rock 'n' roll.”
5. The Angels - Live Line (1987)
“This one was a double live album. I remember I had to do work experience and I had just got a car. It was a four-hour drive and I had this album going the whole time - I was pumpin' The Angels the whole way.
“It was them on tour in Australia, and you can hear the crowd. It sounds like it goes from pubs to theatres and bigger venues. You can hear how packed the smaller venues sound.
“That was a great introduction to The Angels. The guitar is so clear on that album.”
6 and 7. AC/DC - Let There Be Rock (1977) and Powerage (1978)
“Those two albums were so powerful in terms of the guitar. They were a huge influence for me guitar-wise.
“Powerage is overlooked sometimes, but the people that do appreciate it make up for it. People who love that album really love it. Anyone who hears that album will love it.
“You can’t top Riff Raff. To have Riff Raff and Let There Be Rock on two different albums a year apart, wow. Then you’ve got Whole Lotta Rosie, Kicked In The Teeth, Dog Eat Dog. That was a great double whack.
“It makes sense that they’ve brought some of the tracks like Riff Raff back into the AC/DC set recently -those kinds of things are Axl’s vibe, I guess.
“I remember stacking the record player speakers my mum and dad had; I stacked these four speakers up to play those albums. Not much has changed - I’m still stacking speakers up today.”
8. AC/DC - If You Want Blood You've Got It (1978)
“This was definitely an album that changed my life. I found that on record in a flea market sale.
“I remember hearing the hum of the amps when it starts and then they go into Riff Raff. Fuckin’ hell, that is just rockin’.
“When I was a kid, I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. Everyone at school was listening to what was popular at that time, and there I was going back 20 years in time.
“You can feel the over-the-top energy of the band on that record. It makes you want to improve as a band hearing an album as good as that.”
9. The Poor - Who Cares? (1994)
“That was a mega influence on me. I got that not long after Razors Edge.
“I saw The Poor opening for AC/DC on the Ballbreaker tour. It was like I’d never even seen a band before. Seeing them live made their albums come to life for me.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. It was like being hit by a meteor. It left me in shock. I don’t think I blinked once during the whole gig.”
10. Airbourne - Runnin' Wild (2007)
“We signed to a major label and went out to the US. We’d never been out of Australia before, so it was big.
“We started playing the songs for the label and I think it was the head of the label who said, ‘Yeah man, sounds like AC/DC.’ I thought, ‘Dude, you signed us; you know what we sound like.’ He said he loved it and he’d see us at the Grammys.
“We had a great A&R guy who took us in and was good to us. He’d take us to go watch all of these bands in LA, like WASP, Warrant and Poison. Then he’d say that we had to get our songs to the level of those bands. We had maybe half of the album done, but we needed more.
“We ended up in his storage facility; we were basically stuck in a concrete box for three months working on songs. Every now and then the label would come down and have a listen and leave us to it and say we needed to do better. We had never been out of Australia and we started thinking they’d never let us go home!
“We just worked on it sometimes working through the night until the songs were ready. That album was a great rock 'n' roll milestone for us.
“We went and toured that record playing the whole record every night for two years. I remember coming to the UK for the first time. I thought it’d be like when we started in Australia with five people there.
“We were loading in the gear at the first venue and there was a big line of people around the corner. I asked if another band was playing in another room in the venue and there wasn’t; they were there for us. I said, ‘Fuck! We’d better go tune our guitars!’”