An Interview with Ryan and Joel O’Keeffe of Airbourne!
You guys are getting ready to release Valley of Smoke on October 26, how would you describe the overall feel and vibe of what was written/composed?
I don’t know, I guess we– you know the way we write is kind of the same, we just spent a lot of time together in the studio and sometimes people have individual riffs and they come together. I think this particular album, more-so than any of our other ones has been you know, more cohesive in the whole approach of the album, there’s a whole lot of recurring themes, musically and lyrically, and I guess it’s just more of a complete musical statement than a collection of different songs for us.
What kind of themes?
Well, the whole record is actually about Los Angeles, our home city. This idea we had, that we had to do a concept record without doing like a, you know, normal concept record about something. I don’t know, somehow the idea got flown around to do it about L.A. and at first, it seemed silly, but then, you know, we realized that, that city is largely responsible for all of us, for better or for worse, and so we did a lot of digging, as to like the history of the city, learned a lot of cool new things and just put together this whole story to tell about the hidden history of Los Angeles, by Intronaut. (laughs)
How do you feel you connected with the music on this record versus your previous ones?
Well, I mean, the connection to the music is largely similar and I mean, we spend so much time taking nothing and trying to turn it into something. And I think, this time around, we had more time to write the record, and we had more of a clear concept to what we were doing. So, the music itself wasn’t necessarily influenced by what the lyrical concept of the album is going to be, but everything was just, we were writing everything more completely, we spent more time together, and tried to use less riffs, and turn them into more music. So, hopefully it works out.
How do you think your fans will connect to it?
I don’t know, I’m hoping that they’re like it. I mean, it’s the first record for us that has clean vocals on it, like singing, we’ve never done anything like that before, and there’s quite a bit of it. So, there very well might be some Intronaut fans that are upset by the introduction of the clean vocal style. A lot of people think that we can’t really get too hung up on that because for us, it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, it just makes more sense, it’s more musical to keep something from going to that place naturally, would just be silly for us, because it fit’s the music. Hopefully Intronaut fans will like it. Hopefully a lot of new Intronaut fans would be nice!
I was going to ask… What would you say to new fans who haven’t heard it yet?
Listen to it from beginning to end. You know, I think with music like ours, a lot of people are in the habit of, like with music in general, people are in the habit of throwing something on and listening for thirty seconds, and immediately whether they like it or not, are automatically like, “I like this, or I don’t like this.” And for us, you might really love the first parts of the album and then maybe it goes somewhere you don’t like, or it could be the other way around where you don’t like what you hear at the beginning and you dismiss it. So, I mean, in order to get a feel for the music we’re doing anyway, I would recommend listening to the whole thing, and then I would recommend telling all of your friends to buy it, as well. (laughs)
Do you think the record will make an impact on people’s lives?
Shit. I mean, that would be great, we’ve had– we’re obviously not a very– we’re not like a really big band, but the fans that we’ve made over the years are all really–the fans we’ve met anyway, there hasn’t been a lot of passive fans, like most of the people that have heard of us and like us are really into it. It feels great when people tell you that your music has effected their life in some way.
For us, personally, this record, there’s so much more emotion and thought put into it so that if anyone, if ever there was a record that we made, you know for people to connect to, hopefully, so far anyway, this would be the one.
Since you guys are from L.A., which has SO many bands out there, how do you guys stand out from every other band out there?
I don’t know, you know. We just– I think that for us, we all come from such different musical backgrounds with a common thread of some form of Rock n’ Roll, but everybody has a pretty different musical background, and a lot just has to do with who everybody was and is individually, and how we all met. Like, when we write music, we don’t really have to try to: “oh we can’t play something like this ’cause it sounds too much like that.” Most of the stuff we just come up naturally, it just doesn’t sound like other stuff out there because all of our musical tastes and whatnot largely revolve around things that aren’t like most of the other metal bands coming out of L.A. or a lot of other places. We write music that just sounds good to us, it’s just a perk that it happens to sound unique, I guess. We don’t have to try to make it that way that much, it just kind of happens naturally.
Many bands constantly strive to improve with every new album, every new show, etcetera; what is something you have improved on or feel that you need to improve on?
Well, something that we definitely want to improve on, we were just talking about this earlier is our actual stage show. I mean, we’re not the band that is going to be doing back flips off of amplifiers and gathering up the moshpit and slamming into each other.
Like Phil Anselmo.
Yeah, exactly. And that works for certain music, but it’s just not our style. In fact, we can’t even– we don’t even– Joe [Lester], our bass player, does the most moving on stage. I don’t get to move around too much because you know, fiddling with effects pedals and worry about vocals, you know? So, it would be really nice to have something we haven’t figured out what exactly to make the live show better, be it lighting, or projection, or something; the thing is, it costs money. You see a lot of bands with banners; we were talking about doing that, which largely for us, isn’t that interesting, we’d rather have something contribute artistically to the musical experience. But, to do something like that, costs money. So, right now, what we can do, is just try to play our music as well as we can and try to convey the energy and love we have for it into the music. Hopefully that comes across in the live show a little bit.
What is one thing you’ve learned through education or even life-experiences that have applied to music?
Umm… Well, education-wise, I would say, both me and the other guys in the band, especially Joe [Lester], who’ve come from formal musical backgrounds like, you know, we use a lot of elements in our music without necessarily forcing it in there, you know? Like everyone communicates musically differently; some of us can read music well or communicate ideas formally, and music jargon, and sometimes we find weird ways to try to come up and communicate with each other.
But, just all of the stuff we’ve been into, like, Joe [Lester] and I both listen to North Indian Classical music, and so that just kind of leaks in there, even though we’ve–there’s certain things some of us have studied and certain things that some of us have just listened to a lot, and have been a part of, and just kind of comes to the table, and hopefully we’re maturing as people and musicians, and trying to make that come across in the song-writing process.
How do you let the music communicate through you?
Umm. I’d love to say that there are painstaking hours of torment and difficulty for figuring out what we’ve wanted to do with the songs, but the reality of it is, that most of our energy going into this stuff musically are really positive; we get together and things just seem to consistently happen really well. It doesn’t seem very difficult for us to try to come up with a new song we’re going to like or something; the hardest thing for us is coordinating our schedules, the only (laughs) emotional turmoil that goes into our music, for the most part, is everyone being stressed out about getting from point A to point B and having to pay bills and work. Once we get into the practice space itself, everything else kind of fades away, and there’s not a lot of conflicting/tormented emotions, you know, it’s a largely positive, productive process for us, once we get together. So, just getting everyone in the same room is the most difficult part.
How would you say your instrumental abilities have evolved over the last few years?
Well, for me, when I joined in this band, I was never really a guitar player that seriously. I was a drummer and that’s how I knew Joe [Lester]. We played a lot of music together, you know, other styles of music outside of Intronaut. So, when I joined the band as a guitar player, I had just my formal musical education was with drums and with guitar, is just something I had never really studied, it was more of something I just played for fun, by ear.
So, joining Intronaut, like learning all their songs in the beginning that were already written, was kind of like the learning curve for me where I was learning all of these songs and even if I had no idea what was going on, over the years ever since I’ve been in the band, because I needed to be a guitar player to be in this band, I have been real serious about learning more about guitar, and spending more time practicing and coming up with musical ideas, and also working on like, technical exercises just to try to free up hands just to do whatever comes to your mind.
It’s been great because Sacha [Dunable] was kind of in the zone of where he was writing riffs and stuff, and when I joined and got really gung-ho on trying to get better on guitar, he kind of did the same too and started spending a lot more time working on actual guitar playing. This record, for sure, more than any of our other records, there’s a lot of guitar playing. Before, most of what I’d heard, was like, ambient-atmospheric guitars and a really technical rhythm section, and that’s true, largely. But we wanted to have more, bring more to the table, melodically and technically with the guitars this time around. So, hopefully we pull it off, we’re about to find out! (laughs)
You guys covered Dixie Whiskey [EYEHATEGOD], why exactly did you choose that song?
You know, I don’t know. Century Media [Records] were looking at old songs or old bands that we’d want to cover. You know, some of the other guys in the band come from a much more metal background than I do, my music background wasn’t really metal, but at a time when I was in the band, we were talking about that. I didn’t know that those guys listen to a lot of EYEHATEGOD before in the past, when we were talking about certain bands to do, they played a couple songs from them, you know, we listened to that one a few times, and we’re like, “That’s a great fuckin’ song!” And I think it’s been covered before by another band or two maybe, but I don’t know, we just felt that would be a really good one. We’ve done– we’ve covered another song that was a Pink Floyd song where we took it and really just screwed it all up with time signatures and stuff, and this one for the most part, we’ve played it as-is, just in a newer, heavier setting, I guess, if you could be heavier than EYEHATEGOD. (laughs) I don’t think we really succeeded, if that was the mission, we didn’t succeed. But that just seemed like a fitting song for us to cover.
Those are all of my questions, unless you’d like to say anything else?
Buy our record! (laughs) Come support live music, if you like it, tell a friend. We’re hoping, with what I mentioned earlier, about like possible Intronaut fans, or just metal fans in general, when they hear like the newer, cleaner vocals, there’s still plenty of heavy stuff on the record, but there’s also a lot of songwriting on the record, and a lot of people might not like that, and we’re hoping for every one person that decides they don’t like us anymore, or because of the new direction, we’re hoping there’s at least four or five people that have never heard us and might not give the music a chance if they just heard some of the old stuff and you immediately hear screaming and you keep hearing screaming, a lot of people, especially people who aren’t musicians, the first thing that they identify with is, you know, a human voice, it’s the oldest instrument there is. We still do the screaming stuff, it’s got it’s time and place, and it’s there. We’re hoping for a lot of people that might otherwise just kind of listened real quick are like, “Oh this stuff, we don’t like it.” We’re hoping to get some new fans and keep doing this music thing as long as we can.
Is there one song on the album that you would say sums it up, or are they all too different?
Umm. I don’t know if one song sums up the record so much. We have– there are some songs that are– there’s a couple of songs later on the record that are actually musical reprises of previous songs and be like some of the songs on the first half of the record are like longer, epic songs, and then some like a musical idea from one of those earlier songs will be the basis of another song later on the record that’s shorter, that’s actually kind of indirectly related to that song as far as, like the music itself and sometimes lyrically too.
There’s a song on the record that has two drum sets and two basses because we decided to do a song where I played drum set also, both Danny [Walker] and myself playing drums, where we both created different beats where we put them together sounded like one big crazy beat. And my good friend Justin Chancellor, from Tool, we were just hanging out, we were talking about doing this crazy song, I just thought one night all drunk hanging out, “hey, it’d be cool, we’re doing too drum sets, what if we just had two basses.” And I asked him if he’d be interested and he said “Yeah.” So we had this one song on there where there’s no vocals, but we’ve got Justin from Tool alongside playing bass with Joe [Lester], and Danny [Walker] and I are playing drums, and it definitely is different from the rest of the songs on the record, you know. Every one of our records, we try to have one song that’s kind of weird and maybe it’s just sheer musical self-indulgence, but you know, even if that’s true, we like it, it’s a lot of fun for us. So, I don’t know if one song really sums it all up, but hopefully if there’s a song you don’t like, maybe you’ll like the next one. (laughs)