The iconic, globally recognized and universally loved band, Air Supply formed in Australia in 1975 and have sold more than 100 million albums. On October 24, 2013, it was announced by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) that Air Supply was to be inducted into their Hall of Fame on December 1 at the same ceremony as the annual ARIA Awards. The trademark sound of Russell Hitchcock’s soaring tenor voice and Graham Russell’s majestic songs produced a unique sound that forever be known as Air Supply.
Touring more than 150 show globally a year including stops in England, Philippines, Korea, Canada, the US, and many other countries, Air Supply continues to provide their fans and every audience 100% of what the entire world has loved for decades.
2014, marks their 39th year. Never a dull moment and never shying away from stepping outside their well-crafted personal genre, they jumped at the chance when approached to have the Wideboys remix their song “Desert Sea Sky” and enter the world of Electronic Dance Music. Brad LeBeau, founder of ProMotion says, “Seldom in my marketing firm’s 30 year history, has an über-popular act been able to sustain themselves for decades, let alone re-invent their sound. Such is the case, however, with Australian music icons Air Supply, whose latest single, ‘Desert, Sea, Sky’ – makes them as relevant amongst today’s EDM movement as their legendary ballads were in the 1980’s. Well done, gentlemen. Well done.”
Air Supply’s own Graham Russell was kind enough to take some time away from selling out every stop on their current U.S. Tour to chat with The Levity Ball.
Marc S. Boriosi: Thank you for this; it is truly an honor to speak to you today.
Graham Russell : Well, your very welcome.
Marc S. Boriosi: I must tell you about ‘The One That You Love.’ I remember, I had that on 8-track, cassette, CD, ITunes and now on Spotify and I probably bought over and over about 100 times. Every time I had it, whether I misplaced or someone would borrow it and kept it I’d simply have to get it again.
Graham Russell : Yea I know what you mean, but that’s good though. –Laughs-
Marc S. Boriosi: I’m 43 years old and Air Supply has been a constant soundtrack in my life. I’ve probably attempted to sing along with you guys more than I should have and I am sure nearly pulled a muscle many times trying to mimic Russell.
Graham Russell : Ha, right.
Marc S. Boriosi: I’d say more than any other band, you guys literally defined soft rock for generations. How do you process the magnitude behind that?
Graham Russell: Well since we appeared on the scene, you know Soft Rock / Adult Contemporary (AC) was just about to be born I think. And there were a few artists, there was Barry Manilow and there was us and a lot of records especially from the US were around but they didn’t really have a genre. AC, a whole contemporary was born around them and the soft rock beginning was born around the same time, so I guess we were hooked into it. We were certainly one of the first bands to have that name I think, attached to us.
MB: So how does it feel to know your music has affected so many people on the entire planet? Always in a positive light, your music is just so uplifting.
GR: I think it is, we’ve always thought so. You know we, we are a global act. Certainly because we’re originally from Australia but live in the U.S. now since 84’. Really our home is the whole world since our music has spread throughout the whole planet. Which is great for us because that’s what we hoped would happen. I think any artist hopes for that you know, we were very lucky and we made the right moves during our career. Especially in the early years when we went a lot of places that never had a band before, we just wanted to go there, we could afford to go there and we could afford to not get paid a lot, just to go somewhere that was really interesting, of course now there places that have opened up to the western world and everybody goes there. It’s nice to know we were the first rock and roll bands to go into places like China, Taiwan and Vietnam and all over those places. So it’s ‘kinda’ nice.
MB: It all started with Jesus Christ Superstar?
GR: Yes it did, Yes. It’s funny because looking back from when we first started so much positive energy, so much luck throughout our career; we’ve had some down time too by the way. But we don’t try to think about those but we’ve had a lot of great times, where we’ve had great luck come our way. Our first show as Air Supply when we left Superstar was just a few days after we’d just done a two year run in Superstar and we played to 90,000 people. On New Year’s Eve, in Sydney, at the Sydney Opera House and that’s ‘kind of’ a big venue for any band, that’s really green in their first couple of shows. Six months after that we opened for Rod Stewart. After that tour, yea we were really green…we hardly knew what we were doing but after that tour, he said would you open for me across the United States and Canada, we said “YEAH YEAH”. We were only a year old and we had already played at massive places and we were opening for people like Rod Stewart. Which at that time was one of the biggest acts in the world, so my point is when we were in Superstar, we learned so much about theater and about being on time and connecting to the audience. Then we moved on, when Air Supply began. Then we got to watch Rod Stewart for six months. So it was almost like intensive training for a new band. We were thrown into theater for two years, and then we got to watch Rod for six months and got to know him very well and his band. They were some of the best musicians on the planet at the time. We got to know those guys and what really happens on stage and to watch Rod for six months to know and to see how he connects with his audience, we soaked it all up. So consequently in 1980, when “Lost In Love” hit, we were ready, locked and loaded, we knew what we wanted to do and we were very good at what we did. And consequently we’ve been around for almost 40 years, because of those things that happened early in our career.
MB: I wonder if many bands would be able to handle that without the theatrical foundation that you have. 90,000 people right out of the gate is a lot.
GR: Yes it is, but like we did like 500 performances of Superstar. So it really gave us an education in music and theater and other things that go with it, like punctuality and respect. Respect the director; respect the people who really know what their talking about and having that background really gave us what we needed, when it was coming, in you know, really six months after “Lost In Love” was around, we were one of the biggest bands in the world, yet we haven’t been around that long, we’ve only been around for 4 years, you know. It was great for us; it gave us a great foundation. Plus we weren’t teenagers, you know. When we had initially starting to have success across the US, I was 30 and Russell was 31. We weren’t 19 or 20 years old, where we’d blow everything and go to all the parties and get stupid like a lot of artists you see these days. We were very ground and that also helped our longevity because we looked at our careers very objectively and made the right choices.
MB: How is the current tour going? You seem to be very busy out there and you seem to be going strong.
GR: Yea. We do about 140 shows a year, every year and you know we just got back from South Africa a month ago, and we have two trips to Asia, two separate trips to Asia. So we’re always going somewhere. Its been really great for us, we sell out every venue we play, so were very lucky. We play different side venues in Asia and we usually make like 20,000, in South America it’s the same thing, but in Dublin, Ireland we’d play 1000 seat pub or club, the same for London. We leave for Las Vegas tomorrow. So we play for all kinds of venues, which helps us too, because each venue we play, stretches a different muscle, you have to adapt to it. We’ve kind of gotten use to that now, if it’s a private show, sometimes we do private shows for like 100 people and it doesn’t faze us. We know what to do and we’ll change the set around and everybody loves it. So you have that luxury experience now about different venues and the times we live in, we just adapt to it.
MB: I was just listening to the Live in Hong Kong album and the quality of music, the vocals, the entire performance just seems to get better over time. How do you guys keep things so fresh?
GR: Well we change the arrangement up obviously, but I think the biggest thing is we play a lot of attention and spend a lot of time trying to sound as good as we can sound. We don’t rehearse a lot because we’ve been playing for so long, but everyone in the band they know what they need to do and they always do it. They sing great and we’re all a great support for Russell the lead singer. After all this time we’ve ‘kinda’ got it down and I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, we just know what we’re doing with Air supply, we got it all down you know. We know when we’re out of tune, we know how to sing well we’ve got a great relationship with our crew, we have a very small crew. Our front of house engineer for instance will come up to me and if I’m singing something out of tune or I’m a bit flat, and he’d come up and say I need to talk to you and I’d say okay what is it this time. “You’re a bit flat here and there” it’s not like I don’t want to talk to him, but I’ll say tell me when I’m out of tune. We have that great relationship with our crew, if my ears are too loud my monitor guy would come up and say “you’re getting loud again, you need to tone it down’ so ill turn it down. Its not like were unapproachable or we think we know everything about everything, because we don’t. We expect our crew and band to give us their expertise.
MB: You and Russell must work together now as easily as breathing?
GR: Yea. We know each other backwards, you know.
GR: We really do. We’ve never had an argument, ever, in our career. So it’s all very even. I mean we have discussions and they get a little bit testy, but one of us always backs off. It’s always one of us and we’ll say okay you do this or you do that and next time I’ll do that, you know. We are always very diplomatic and I mean that’s the way it should be, when all’s said and done, it is a business that we have; this is several peoples livelihood, maybe about 15 or 16 people’s livelihood. They depend on Air Supply for their income and they have for many years. So it is a business but there’s no reason it needs to be just like a business. We’re very tight and very close so we’re like a family on the road, which is very cliché, but it’s supposed to be that way, we all need to support and respect each other, you know. I have a new guitar taken and he’s come on board now and he’s part of the family, and whatever he says, we’ll listen to him, like “we need to do this and we need to do that” so we listen to everyone.
MB: Air Supply is obliviously tremendously successful in many ways, how do you define success?
GR: That’s a great question; I define success certainly for myself to be able to do, at this stage in my life, to be able to do what I love to do. I love to write songs and I love to perform on stage, I love that and I get to do that every day of my life and I get paid very well for it and I get to visit the world every three months. That’s a great job for me. I mean we may not be on the top of the charts, but that’s not important to me, what is important is bringing our music to the world, selling our shows out and people really enjoying what they see. That to me is the epiphany of success.
MB: Wow, very cool. Who were some of your early music influences?
GR: Certainly, The Beatles first and foremost, The Rolling Stones, The Who, you know a lot of the English bands I grew up with. Even bands like Herman’s Hermits not one of the greatest musicians but they made a few great pop records, that I really paid attention to and that gave me a great insight into, when I started writing songs it’s the little things that they put in there and I say I’m going to do that. Little things like little words can make a huge difference. I love those things, those things are very British and I grew up with that so they were my influences.
MB: What the favorite venue you’ve played?
GR: My favorite venue was, I loved playing in Dublin, we played at a club in Dublin, it was like a 1000 seat club, and it’s the nosiest club in the world…certainly, it’s just so loud, we love to play there. We also played at the Gran Rex in Buenos Aires, in Argentina. I mean it’s so many. I love playing in Las Vegas too, you know every time you step on stage it’s like something goes off in your brain, like okay we’re off again. It’s funny because when I was in Superstar, you’d hear that overture and something would click and you’d go “okay here we go”. The same thing happens with Air Supply, as soon as we hear those, as soon as we hear those first chords; I go “wow, here we go it’s another show, it’s a great feeling, you know.”
MB: How about new artist out there, that impress you or you’d like to work with?
GR: Oh God, that’s going to have to be Ed Sheeran. Yea, A solo English guy…I actually think he’s fantastic. I think an artist comes around, now and again, and not very often like Ed Sheeran that just white washes everything and changes everything. A solo guy with a little guitar and he’s playing arenas on his own, and he’s re-writing the books and it’s time for that. I got a bit fed up with Hip Hop and Rap, and he’s just a breath of fresh air, which is really nice. I mean there are a lot of great artists but I particularly like the solo acoustic artists because that’s where I come from and that’s what I love.
MB: Historically you’ve shown signs of being a true romantic, what inspires you when you write?
GR: I think the romance part has always come from when I write from poetry. In school, that was really my major, if you’re into that, I was the only boy in the whole poetry class with 35 girls. If you’re into that then you’re taking a leap of faith because it’s not the thing most men want to go to or steer towards but I couldn’t help it, and I just I loved that. And that was the beginning of my romance with the romance, with words and I just love all that. But that’s where it came from with me. I’ve always been a romantic you know, I think being in Air supply for 40 years, you have to be; it wouldn’t work if you weren’t.
MB: – I was actually reading some of your poems “From the Heart” and I’ve wondered if there is a book or collection on the way.
GR: Yes, My next one is coming out in two weeks actually. It’s a collection of 99 poems and it’s called “Nearly Beloved”, that’s why there are only 99. –Laughs-
MB: -We are talking almost 5 decades of being on the scene, you must have seen everything. What are your thoughts on the music industry these days?
GR: I think it’s very healthy and it’s very good, because there’s more of a variety now and it’s not locked down to one artist that has a major recording contract. The idea of a recording contract is a laughable matter because nobody really signs a recoding deal; everyone can make records in their lounge or their bedrooms and make great records too. I think that’s a good thing it’s not just the record company that’s making millions of dollars and the artist are starving, now it’s a little more evenly distributed. It gives people a better chance, people who may be talented but never had a chance before, now do. As I said, if they have the talent they’ll go somewhere. Then they’ll discover that it’s not just music that’s important, you got to have the whole package, you’ve got to have the look, you’ve got to have the fortitude and you’ve got to be able to write your own music or you really don’t have a chance. So I think it’s unavoidable that the digital age would come, because it did and it’s going to go further and further. So I think it’s a pretty healthy thing I really do.
MB: You guys have covered soft rock, pop, and adult contemporary, I’d like you to personally discuss three words I can’t get out of my head “Desert Sea Sky”.
GR: Oh right. It’s a very interesting thing with that. I had the song for two years and I wrote the song in Israel, we were doing several shows in Israel, and I was sitting on the beach in Tel Aviv by myself you know, there was a lot of people around and I wasn’t listening to any music, I just looked up at the sky and I realized we were in the desert but my feet were dabbling in the water. So it’s the desert, the sea and the sky, so then I thought of Moses of all people, and I thought Moses has probably been here, right where I’m sitting, and he’s the guy that lead his people across the desert for 40 years or something, away from captivity from the Egyptians like what we’ve read in the bible. Then I thought that’s a really cool thing and here I am on that very same spot, the Desert, Sea, Sky, take your people out of captivity and lead your people into something really cool, and that’s where it came from and I went back and wrote the song that very same afternoon.
MB: With the Wideboys remix you guys have now conquered Electronic Dance Music.
GR: Yea originally we were playing it for three months and it was the rock and roll version and our PR company media person came to me and said, “Have you ever thought about a dance mix and I said well that’s not my expertise, and they said they know some people who do that and that’s how the Wideboys came along, and we sent it to the Wideboys and they said “Oh yea, let’s do it”. That was our first foray into dance music and it was great… you know, I love it. It charted and people love it live, and the best thing about it, is it kind of changed our cause a little bit, it allowed people to hear Air Supply doing a dance track and it sounds really good and it sounds really amazing live. And I think it’s good for us after so many years. I don’t want people to think or expect the same kind of music from us, or to think it’s just going to be ballads because it’s not.
MB: I love that, it’s like you guys haven’t created your own prison, confined yourselves to one genre not being afraid to do whatever you want, to just let it happen and end up doing it so well.
GR: Yea. I think so, we don’t try to do anything we’re not capable of, and it’s cool because everybody really and it’s funny because when we did it with the DJ’s all over the world, we got reports back from DJ’s about the track and that’s how it goes up the charts. And several DJ’s didn’t know who we were, obliviously because they were young; there were some in Spain, Portugal and other places in Europe. They said wow this band is great, what a great sound. New band Air supply from, America. Isn’t that weird?
GR: That’s fine I’ll take it you know.
MB: Just re-inventing wherever you seem fit. I think it’s really good though, you come off Superstar, you have a foundation then you hit a homerun with Rod Stewart, then you dabble a bit into dance music and “Bang” once again right out of the gate.
GR: We had no idea it was going to chart, we were thrilled you know, we are grateful, we’re very, very happy.
MB: You’re right it’s just a tremendous live it really is.
GR: We look forward. I like seeing the people who haven’t heard our band, see us play and they go “whoa” they love it, it’s something new and everyone wants to rock out now and again you know.
MB: I don’t want to keep you too long, but I have one last thing to say. I believe what makes everything work so well and it’s because you and Russell exude true love and passion for what you do and your fans, I should say is we, we fans don’t just hear it, we feel it. What are your thoughts on that? It’s just amazing what you guys accomplish, the emotion you guys instill.
GR: You know we really believe in what we’re doing, and none of it’s fake, we try not to do anything we’re not capable of like I said earlier. What we do we love it and were lucky, Russell and I are in our 60s and we’re lucky to even be working, especially to do what we love at a high level and having hit records still, so we’re very thankful of that and it’s the fans that bring that to us, but what we have never veered from our course of writing and recording songs that we love and that we feel are great for us and great for our audience. So what we do, we have real passions and real emotions and we don’t hold that back. Sometimes Russell is reduced to tears on stage if he’s singing something tender and he has no problem with that. And sometimes I’ve seen him several times stop in a song and say I have to stop because I’m ‘kinda’ breaking up, and he’ll stop and it’s all for real. That’s who he is and that’s what it’s all about for us; you know it really is, we couldn’t have it any other way. It has to be real and I think if something’s real, the audience responds like you said they know, they know if it’s real, or making it up or if it’s all bullshit you know, but that’s not what we’re about. People may or may not like our music but either way it’s very real and it’s live and it’s in your face.
MB: Well, it’s so very human and it just works.
GR: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that.
MB: Thank you so very much Graham for taking the time today, I really do appreciate it.
GR: Oh you’re welcome, any time. It’s been a pleasure, have a great day mate, lovely to speak with you.