One for the road: Airbourne's Joel O’Keeffe

Airbourne’s guitarist and main man Joel O’Keeffe on losing your way backstage and the significance of TransAm trucking...

What was the first gig you ever played and how did it go?

“The first gig I played was when the Olympic Torch came to Warrnambool. We were on the back of a truck and the Olympic Torch came down the road. It was when we had the Sydney Olympics [in 2000] and so we played some rock ’n’ roll. The crowd were rocking. You could see the torch coming down the road and it was kind of cool.”

Describe your current stage rig…

Our stage rig is big and loud! It’s six Marshall stacks and we’ve got all the heads going

“It’s big and loud! It’s six Marshall stacks and we’ve got all the heads going. There’s an SLP up there, a couple of 800s and a couple of DSLs. It’s one in and then I’ve got 12 out, but we only use six because there’s only six stacks. But if we wanted to run one head per cabinet - another six heads - we could run one head per cabinet on a six-stack wall, so it would be six Marshall heads and 12 cabinets. 

“There’s no effects at all, just straight in. The only effect I use is the volume knob on the guitar, a Gibson Explorer. I’ve got a bunch of Explorers up there. I’ve also got an SG in the rack, a black ’61 reissue that was customised.”

What piece of gear is most essential to your live sound?

“The problem is you can’t just have one piece. It’s all very simplistic, but if I don’t have my guitar and I don’t have my Marshall stack, I’m fucked. Wireless is really helpful to run around and stuff like that, but if I had to do a gig on a lead, I would have to gaffer tape about 20 Boss tuners together to connect them all and then hopefully it would still work by the time it got to the amp…”

What non-musical item could you not do without on tour?

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“I’ve got a couple of those Bose speakers that I set up and I’ve also got one of those Marshall things that you plug into like a dock - it’s more of a speaker thing. I couldn’t really do without my hotel room sound. I take it everywhere I go to get the tunes going. Touring would be hell without that!”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“It actually happened! I don’t know what country we were in at the time, but we were about five or 10 minutes late to the stage, because we ended up accidentally going out an exit door backstage and we couldn’t figure out how to get back. We ended up going back in through the ticket stalls with the guitars and we walked through the crowd and got back on the stage.

“We couldn’t work how to get to the stage from the backstage area - and they almost didn’t let us in. They were like, ‘Have you got tickets?’ I’m like, ‘We’re going to play a gig… We haven’t got guitars and no shirts on because we’re just into the high life!’ But I think our guitar tech had his triple A and then they went, ‘Ah cool, no worries.’”

What’s on your rider?

“It depends where we are. If we’re in Germany, kegs of beer. If we’re in France, it’s just shitloads of wine, and then England it’s more beer. When we’re in Switzerland we have a lot more cheese on the rider, a lot more chocolate and stuff like that. We just get all the good stuff. 

“Wherever we go we stock it up on the bus. We have tap-beer downstairs in the bottom lounge and then we have the fridge full of all the cheeses and shit like that. Then there’s a big area for all the spirits and a big area for all the wines. 

“Then, basically, there’s another area for all the chips, the crisps, that sort of thing and there’s Vegemite and Marmite to make toast. It’s kind of like a pub on wheels!”

What’s the best tip for getting the audience on your side?

One of my dreams as a kid was to go on tour with TransAm Trucking lugging all the gear. Now I’m sitting looking at our TransAm truck

“Give them free beer. If you’re in for a bit of a slow night, then throw them a few free beers - that will get them going [laughs]! You’ve got to draw the crowd out a bit, that’s the nature of the game. It’s fun. It’s challenging, most times. You fly along on top of the energy with the crowd, and they just lift you up.”

What’s your favourite live album of all time?

“I would have to say AC/DC: Let There Be Rock. When I was a kid I used to have the VHS. It didn’t come out on DVD, so I couldn’t get it. I used to watch it all the time, because they had interviews with the band and they showed the tour bus, stuff like that - packing down the gear, setting up the show. Just lots of real, raw footage and what it means to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

“It’s funny, we’re sitting here doing this interview and one of my dreams as a kid was to go on tour in a big tour bus with TransAm Trucking lugging all the gear, and I’m sitting out here looking at our TransAm truck sitting out there with all our gear in it. 

“On the AC/DC: Let There Be Rock video they had TransAm Trucking. So, to me, TransAm Trucking is like a rock star, you know. That’s like the real deal and when I see the truck every day I say, ‘There’s the TransAm, there it is!'”

Airbourne tour the UK from 17 November. See Airbourne Rock for full dates.


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