by Keith Valcourt | Photos by Travis Shinn
Since 2003, Aussie rockers Airbourne have been tearing up stages around the world with their patented blend of straight ahead 3-chord rock that remind most people of vintage AC/DC. Aside from touring, they have released six rocking albums, including the recent Boneshaker. Comprised of the O’Keefe Brothers—Joel on lead vocals and lead guitar and Ryan on drums – Justin Street on bass, and newcomer “Harri” Harrison on rhythm guitar, the quartet was scheduled to hit DC on May 2nd to pummel the Rock and Roll Hotel’s stage into submission. I reached the “New Guy” Harrison via telephone to discuss how he ended up in Airbourne, what it’s like to be in a band with brothers, and where it is best to do the “Backseat Boogie.”
Q: How did you come to join Airbourne in 2017?
A: It was ultimately as simple as a group mates having a beer at our favorite local pub. We had all been good friends for the best part of a decade at that point, so when Roadsy (ex-rhythm guitarist) decided to leave the band, I got a call the following day to “catch up for a beer” and that was when I was asked by the guys. Three years later and now that I’m actually in the band, all of our most important decisions still seem to be made at a pub!
Q: Was it difficult to fit into an established band?
A: I wouldn’t say it was difficult. Prior to joining Airbourne, our friendship was always based on a common love for all things “Oz Rock” – from AC/DC right through to Rose Tattoo, The Angels (or Angel City) and Billy Thorpe. From that point of view, Joel and I had already spent countless late nights playing records and trading guitar licks. That foundation made transitioning into the band pretty easy on both a personal and musical level.
Q: Did the O’Keeffe brothers put you through any kind of hazing or initiation process?
A: Ha ha, not really! With being friends for so long before I joined the band, we’d already gone long past the “new guy” stuff that I might’ve copped if we didn’t know each other beforehand.
Q: What was the recording process like for Boneshaker?
A: It was a privilege to work in “music city” Nashville with Dave Cobb at the historic RCA Studio A. Dave is a master of capturing one-off moments and is a huge believer in the ‘spark’ of first and second takes. He encouraged us to make definite decisions quickly – on anything from guitar tones to song arrangements – and embrace the history of the studio we were working in. There’s been so many amazing records cut in that place, and it’s an honor to now be a small part of the studio’s story.
Q: Because you were the new guy, did you get an equal say in making the record?
A: I certainly felt as though my opinions and input were heard while making the record. In some ways, I guess we all felt like we were a “new band,” but there were definitely points where we had the luxury of relying on the experiences that the other guys had over the course of recording the four previous albums with other successful producers, too.
Q: What was your favorite part about recording in Nashville?
A: The whole scene there is amazing, and the camaraderie between musicians from all walks of life was really cool. Country, rock, blues and everything in between! The level of musicianship in any bar you walk into is mind-blowing and definitely inspired us to ‘lift our game’ every time we stepped foot in the studio.
Q: Historically, brothers in bands don’t work out. How are the guys getting along?
A: Great! We see the whole team – band and crew – as a family, and we live together for months at a time, so of course it’s not always easy to live alongside 11 or 12 other people on a tour bus. The more we do this though, the better we get at recognizing when to push each other’s buttons or when to give each other some space. We all share common goals, and Airbourne is our number one priority so for that reason, arguments normally end as quickly as they start!
Q: The shows get crazy, has anyone in the band ever been injured onstage?
A: Joel has busted his ankle a few times, and there’s often moments where Streety and I will need to duck one another’s headstocks at the last minute, but it’s normally the drunken offstage injuries that are the main concern! Ha ha!
Q: What is the one thing you need on the road to keep you sane?
A: A good pillow. Memory foam all the way! Awesome for soaking up the bumps and movement of a tour bus.
Q: Airbourne has long been compared to AC/DC. What do you think of that comparison?
A: We don’t take it as anything but a compliment. I mean, they are obviously the most well-known “Aussie Pub Rock” band, and it’s natural for AC/DC to be the most common reference point for that sound. Before I joined the band, I do remember seeing an interview with Angus Young where he said that he likes us, so it’s pretty cool to be acknowledged by the master himself!
Q: How did the fires in Australia affect the band and you personally?
A: Thankfully, we seem to be through the worst of it now… But it was shocking to be a helpless bystander while those gigantic bushfires tore through our country, took lives, destroyed homes, and decimated our wildlife. I guess the positive that came from it is that so many people immediately jumped to action and did everything they could to help. Whether it was financial aid, volunteer work or anything in between; Australia definitely felt the love! I mean, I watched Queen recreate their Live Aid set at the ‘Fire Fight Australia’ concert last weekend… That’s pretty fuckin’ cool! As a band, we were glad to help raise funds via a charity auction as well as through sales of a specially designed “Fire Eater” T-Shirt which has sold by the truck load and raised a huge amount of funds for our firefighters. Check out http://airbourne.probitymerch.com
Q: The first single of the album is “Backseat Boogie.” Which make and model of car is best for the backseat boogie?
A: Doesn’t matter. Just Give us a work bench, and we’ll get the job done. A good tradesman won’t blame their tools!
Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More
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