Graham Russell: Taking Air Supply from Dreams to Stardom

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Graham Russell

Paul McCartney once sang, "You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs." Like McCartney, Graham Russell can say that he looks around and sees it isn't so. Thirty years after forming Air Supply with his partner Russell Hitchcock, fans are far from being "All Out of Love." As the group prepares a charity concert and international tour, we stole a few moments from Graham Russell's time in the studio to reminisce on the past and compare it to today.

First off, I want to personally thank you for creating the music that made it possible for even geeky nerds like me in high school to have a chance with the ladies.

(laughs) You're very kind! Thank you.

Air Supply became the musical face, so to speak, of romantic music for a generation. Did you intentionally set out to be soft rock balladeers, or did it just veer that way naturally?

Well, we kind of got that handle, if you like, by default. It wasn't by design at all. We just played the music that I wrote and that Russell and I really liked to sing. So we just did what we felt was right for us at the time, and consequently we became the romantic band of the world. Fortunately for us, it's something that stuck with us, because we liked that kind of music, and we still do. There are still millions of people who like it as well, so we're in good shape at the moment.

As big a concept as it is, I would think there are only so many ways you can write about love. What do you draw inspiration from without getting burned out?

My inspiration comes from everything. I'm a big people watcher -- I always watch. I spend a lot of time on the road, just taking walks and looking at people, seeing what they're doing, and that is very inspiring for me. It really is.

But I challenge myself, and try to write different songs -- and I do! I write a lot of different things, different projects -- but it's usually Air Supply that everyone refers to. When they talk about my songs, it's always Air Supply and not anything else.

Well let's direct a bit of attention that way, then, so people know what other projects you have out there.

Well, I just finished a play for New York. It's like a musical, but it's really a play with songs; just wrote eleven songs for that. I wrote a rock opera about ten years ago, and I have my solo albums. I'm always writing something, and they're all different.

Funnily enough, I'm really into dance music, and I have been for a number of years. I'm really into techno and dance, so I'm writing a lot of that now.

How do you find the music industry today versus the way it was in the 80s and 90s? Have you had to change style and message?

It's a very different world now. With the almost disappearance of the record companies, things are very different. I think it's easier and it's harder. I think it's easier for young new artists to create a record or make some tracks, but it's very hard to get noticed. So it's a double-edged sword. In the old days, you had a record company, and they did all the marketing plans; they pretty much did everything -- and they took all your money, or they tried to. (laughs)

These days you could make a record in your laundry room if you wanted to. It's very good, because there are a lot of artists who would never have got heard before. We've got Justin Bieber and a whole slew of people who've been discovered on YouTube and Facebook. It's great! I think it's wonderful, I really do. There's more to choose from. But I think you have to sift through the stuff to find out what you like and what you don't like, as far as a consumer goes.

With artists using the Internet for self-promotion and even distribution, have you developed an online presence for yourself? Do you have a YouTube channel or Facebook page?

We do, but our record company actually handles it for us, because... to be quite honest, I don't have the time to get online all the time and be looking at Facebook and YouTube. I wish I did, but I don't. I work every day. If I'm at home, I'm in the studio working on a project; then, of course, I'm on the road, and that's another story all together. But our record company manages that for us, so I don't have to spend time on that, because I'd rather be creating something, or writing a song or some lyrics -- and there's always that to be done.

I'm always curious about band name origins. Do you recall how you settled on the name Air Supply?

Absolutely! It's quite strange, because we were in "Jesus Christ Superstar," and we had a record coming out, and we didn't have a name. And we said, the next morning whoever had the best name we would go with. So that night -- this is true -- I had a dream. I dreamt there was this massive billboard, like in Times Square, and the lights were flashing all around. And in the middle were just two words, and it said "Air Supply." It just kept going on and off, like a neon. And I told Russell in the morning, "I wonder what that is? I wonder what it means?" And we said, we didn't have any other name so let's go with it. And that's exactly what we did. It's a strange, you know? But then it's become synonymous now with our music, which is what we wanted.

I would imagine that at some point in your career you may have actually seen that billboard in real life, touring, once the band took off and gained so much attention.

I have seen it, yes! I've seen it several times. I'll never forget: In '83 we had our Greatest Hits come out, and we thought it was a little early -- we'd only had two albums come out -- and Clive Davis said, "No, we need to put it out." And he had a billboard on Sunset Boulevard, and it had the total sales every week, and somebody would cross it out and put more up. I used to watch it, week after week, and it was so bizarre to see that up there, because I used to think, "God! That's me up there!" There was this big picture of me, and I just thought, "Wow, that's so weird," because I don't consider myself a celebrity or a pop star or anything like that, so to see something like that to me was really weird.

You're coming to Belleville, Illinois for "Paint the Town" this October 17th.

Right, with Delilah.

Other than that you were available and someone asked, what drew you to this event?

We did something similar to this in Orange County, California, about three months ago. We did a little acoustic thing, just with Russell and I. There were some invited guests and people came for dinner at this restaurant, and it had a showroom, and we thought, "Wouldn't it be nice just to do something with the two of us, with no amplifiers or anything, just one guitar?" And everybody loved it. We played for like an hour, and we said we'd love to do it again. Then we got this opportunity at the venue you're speaking of, and Delilah was involved. We said we'd love to do it, and make it a radio show. We don't get a lot of opportunities to do that with just the two of us -- we travel with the band and the crew and all that. But it's nice just to do that with Russell and I. The songs have to stand on their own, and we have to stand on our own -- we can't hide anything. We're really looking forward to it. We do an hour, and we do all the hits. A lot of people would say, "Well, you can't do that, because you don't have the orchestra, and all the drums and everything." But we do -- we just do it, and it always sounds great, because there's a great energy between Russell and I and the audience. They really pick it up. If they're not hearing a certain instrument, I think in their mind they hear it. But playing the songs as they were written is a great thing for us, and we like to still do that and know that we can do it if all else fails.

Any upcoming touring or studio work you're involved in right now that we can look forward to?

I just finished the play for New York, which is called "Once Removed." The next thing for us is, after the "Paint the Town" date, we go to Argentina and Columbia. In November we tour China -- we're doing four cities in China. And Malaysia -- we're going out east to play until... I think about February.

So you'll be traveling the world for the next few months.

Yeah. We just had two weeks off, which is very rare for us. It's been nice to stay at home and just potter around. I've been in the studio, of course, but it's been nice not to have any schedule, and to just be able to create when I feel like it.