Air Supply: Hits, Heart Ache and A Whole Lotta Love
Graham Russell and Russel Hitchcock may not be names you instantly recognize. If you’ve ever fallen in or out of love, however, you’ve probably rejoiced or wept to a soundtrack of their songs. More than any other band in the exclusive 40+ Club – that being bands that have been making music together for more than four decades – AIR SUPPLY is certainly the best one for knowing how to deliver a song about love and heartache.
Just look at their track record of hits: “All Out of Love,” “Lost in Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” “Every Woman in the World,” “Two Less Lonely People,” “Love and Other Bruises,” “Even The Nights Are Better.” Put those songs onto a disc and play it on an endless loop, and you’ll quickly discover there’s still a glimmer of light left in that dark, jaded spot in your chest you used to call your heart. Not that Russell and Hitchcock are softies or anything; since first meeting in 1975 while performing in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, they’ve worked hard to ensure Air Supply live in concert has all the elements of a bonafide rock show. You can hear it on their new album – The Lost In Love Experience, recorded with the Prague Symphony – which strives to recreate that big stadium feel that has helped Air Supply cross the 5,000 plateau for concert performances around the globe.
With three shows slated for the Avalon Ballroom November 14 through 16, Graham took time to chat with GoBeWeekly about the band’s hits, their prowess as a live band and why Bonnie Tyler is a rock-blocker.
GoBE: When you were just an acoustic duo performing in coffee houses and pubs, were your dreams then as big as the reality you’ve managed to create with Air Supply?
Graham: Certainly not. We were just enjoying that moment then. We knew we sounded really good, because everybody kept telling us. But we had no idea that it would turn into this beautiful life we all have. At that moment, we were young, you just take everything in its stride. We didn’t have any thoughts of any great, grandiose career for sure.
GoBE: Well, here you are almost five decades later, still releasing CDs and touring the world. For you personally, what is the most unbelievable part of this journey? For what are you most grateful for at this stage?
Graham: You know, I’m really grateful for being able to tour and play at a very high level, and to do what we love to do. From a songwriter’s point of view, it’s a beautiful life we have. Who could imagine. And the weird thing is, a lot of the old songs, they’re still so current. They’re in movies, they’re on TV all the time. It’s more than a dream, it’s like we always say, this should have happened to someone else. It’s amazing. That’s the reason we’re so thankful for this right now. We do so many shows. In fact, we turn down more shows than we do. We just got back from Mexico, we did three huge shows there this past weekend. It’s a beautiful life. We’re not young anymore, but we stay fit and we just want to bring our music to people and see their faces light up when we walk on stage. It’s quite a rewarding experience.
GoBE: The staying power of those songs speaks to the quality of the songwriting. As a songwriter, that must make you extremely proud to know those songs continue to resonate with new audiences.
Graham: It really does. So often I sit down when we’re travelling, on a plane or somewhere, and I think back to when I was 11 or 12 years old, and I didn’t know how to write songs. I didn’t know how to do it, but I just kept doing it. I realize now that all those years of learning and of writing songs that may not have been that great, you kind of get better as you go along. I wouldn’t change anything, but the reflection is a beautiful moment. I used to write a song every couple of days. I didn’t know why, I just did it because it felt right for me and I just loved it so much. Now I love it even more, and of course I understand why I was doing it for so long.
GoBE: The productivity was certainly reflected in the volume of music Air Supply put out. When you consider the first decade of the band, you released nine albums in 10 years. Does that seem ludicrous to you now given the way the industry is?
Graham: It really is. A lot of our early career is really ridiculous. I mean, when we came out of Jesus Christ Superstar, we didn’t really know what we were doing at all. But we had two things going for us. We had the songs, and we had Russel’s voice. We didn’t know that at the time. When we had our first hit in Australia, the pennies started to drop. And when we formed the band, we really had no idea about what we were doing. Russel had a great thing he said many years ago. He said we didn’t make any mistakes, because we didn’t know what we were doing. So everything we were doing, we thought was right. The biggest thing we had was, we believed in what we were doing. And we were having so much fun, just singing and playing, singing all original songs. We weren’t making any money, but when you’re 25 or 26 years old that’s not important. You just want to do what you’re doing, playing music all the time. That was a gift from somewhere. We’ve never forgotten where we came from. It keeps us grounded, and it always has.
GoBE: I would have to disagree. You’re hardly grounded, given the amount of flying you’re doing around the world. Is there a place that you’re particularly fond of playing over the years that you continue to go back to?
Graham: There are several. We’re very fortunate. We probably travel around the world more than any other band or artist in the world. That’s a bold statement, but we play so many shows. I’m very fond of Buenos Aires, we love playing there. Dublin is great, London, New York. Everywhere is great, and every show is always different. The one common thread we have now, when we walk on stage everyone knows the words to every song, so it’s a great evening for us. It brings us back to where we began. It’s fantastic now for one reason. We’ve survived over the years. A lot of bands have arguments and they break up. We’ve never done that. We never argue. We’re just very thankful for the journey. After every show Russel and I always meet in my dressing room, and we have a glass of wine. And we talk about this and that. Not an after show goes by that we don’t realize how fortunate we are.
GoBE: You talk about travel. You’re new disc was recorded with the Prague Symphony, I just interviewed Marc Jordan who also recently recorded with them. How good is that symphony that everyone wants to record with them?
Graham: We’ve wanted to play with them for years. They’re regarded as one of the finest symphonies in Europe. Something came up with a friend who worked with them who said they had a couple of days free, and if we wanted to put something together with them we could. When we went there, it was just amazing. It was the same studio where the score to Lawrence of Arabia was recorded. It was this beautiful old studio from the 50s. For us, it was the perfect match. We’re very proud of the record. It sounds huge and monstrous, which is what we wanted.
GoBE: It really does capture all the energy of an Air Supply show, which is a lot more spirited than many people would imagine it to be. Do you think people are surprised that an Air Supply show is actually a rock show?
Graham: They are surprised, which is also surprising after 45 years that so many people haven’t see us. In fact, at every show, I say “who’s never seen us before?” And always 50 percent of the audience put their hands up, which is alarming. When we speak to people after, I see it in their eyes. They’ll say, wow, great show. And I’ll say, this is first time for you. And they go, yea, how do you know? People think it’s going to be mellow, with a few love songs. But it’s going to knock your socks off. It’s a big, big sound. That’s what we want to give people. The good thing is, we’re getting new people all the time. If they come to one, they’ll come to several. That’s great for us.
GoBE: There’s so much emotion in the songs you sing. Love and heartache are universal themes for sure. Do you think the emotional impact of the songs you write helps translate that energy to the live shows?
Graham: Part of it. It’s multi-faceted. We do have those simple songs, and they are packed with emotion and passion. But we have Russel’s voice, and our stage show is very unique. We’ve created our own sound, which we really didn’t create – it created us. I don’t think there’s anybody doing what we do. A lot of people jump on the love bandwagon, especially in the last five years. We’ve been doing it for almost five decades, so we’re very good at what we do with our sound. We know what people want. We know the moves they’re going to make in the audience. Nevertheless, every show is different. We’ll put things in and take things out. There’s just an energy when we walk on stage. It takes people by surprise. It’s a feeling. It’s why we called the album The Lost In Love Experience. You can’t really describe it. It’s a lot of different things. It’s the light show. It’s the simplicity of the show. We engage the audience from the first downbeat. We don’t just stand there and sing. It’s like this nuclear fission that just keeps getting bigger and bigger until we finished. We experience it every night.
GoBE: There’s a bit of a Canadian connection to a recent project that involves Air Supply – a musical based on your songs written by Canadian playwright Jim Millan called All Out of Love: The Musical, first staged in the Philippines. Have you seen the performance?
Graham: I did. We became very good friends with Jim. It began its run in Manila the September before last. I’ve heard there’s a theatre in Calgary that’s going to take on a production of that. It’s a really fun musical.
GoBE: You’ve had so many hit songs, one of the biggest of which is one of my favourites, “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” That song peaked for a long period at #2. Do you know what blocked it from becoming a #1 hit?
Graham: I do. It was Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s funny. When “Lost in Love” came out, that didn’t go to number one on Billboard either. It was Christopher Cross that stopped us there. But of course, we had several after that. The songs that kept us out were great too. It’s a nice thing to be kept out by great artists.
GoBE: For your Niagara Falls show, for those who may never had seen the band before, what can they expect from Air Supply?
Graham: I always say this. If people have never seen us, it will be everything they think it’s not. People think it’s going to be a mellow little hour and forty minutes of love songs with acoustic guitar and a few vocals. They’re mistaken. It will be one of the most powerful shows they’ve ever seen, and that’s certain. It’s powerful and energizing, and somethings going to happen to them when they hear it. That is certain.
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