Legendary Australian pop-rock duo Air Supply is celebrating 45 years of serenading the world with tunes that (more likely than not) you, your parents and quite possibly your grandparents have indulged in romance to. But don’t peg the band as all lovey dovey — singer Russell Hitchcock’s trademark tenor voice and Graham Russell’s enchanting music and lyrics deliver passion, furor and most of all, rock ‘n’ roll.
Known for such superhits as “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” “The One That You Love,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” Air Supply has proven their talent from decade to decade, performing worldwide with 130 concerts annually, most of which are sold out. Their albums “Lost in Love,” “The One That You Love,” “Now & Forever” and “The Greatest Hits” sold over 20 million copies. Now, they are currently on the “Lost in Love Experience Tour,” titled after their latest album, and will make a stop at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on March 15.
Graham Russell, the six-foot-five mastermind behind the band’s iconic songs, shared some insight into his musical genius.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Well up until I was about 12, I wanted to be a doctor, but I don’t do well with blood. So that was out. Then I really wanted to be in a group and I wanted to play guitar, because I was already learning. And then of course, when the Beatles came along, that really solidified my dreams of being in a rock ‘n’ roll group.When you’re in school and you become a certain age, you have lessons and career classes and they would ask me what is it that I wanted to be, a lawyer, doctor, or whatever. And I’d just say, ‘I want to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band.’ Of course they wouldn’t believe you. And they weren’t allowed to let you run away with that idea because they had to lead you to a career, but I never strayed from that idea. I was always there.
You and Russell met while performing “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Were you always involved in theater?
Well we met in ’75 and neither of us had done anything of any real consequence before that. Russell worked in a store and I always loved theater because I kind of grew up with it and all the great soundtracks from musicals growing up in England. But it wasn’t until then that it really opened my eyes and I went, ‘Oh wow.’ You know? I just loved theater and still do today. I think that’s why our show has so many theatrical elements in it.
What’s on your current playlist?
When I’m at home I usually have Pandora on, so I can pick what I like to listen to. I like to listen to instrumental tracks. I’m a big fan of classical music and I find that that’s a great balance for me. When I’m home, I have it on all the time, but I don’t like any vocals at home, because I kind of live those in my working life. So I just like mellow kind of songs. Just instrumental music strings and orchestras, things like that. And I don’t listen to the radio anymore. I kind of weaned myself off it, which is probably not a good thing because I suppose I should be current with what’s going on, but I’m so busy with everything. I just don’t have time to sit and listen to the radio, you know? If I’m driving to the airport, which I do frequently, I’m always playing new songs or new ideas of my own. So I’m always trying to further those ideas along instead of listening to the radio. I used to listen to it a long time ago, but I’m just not into it anymore.
Do you have a songwriting process?
I do. I think have a process, a rhythm if you like. I’m sure all songwriters do after so many years. I like to get up early, which is unusual for musicians I’m told, but I like to get up early and I like to play my piano for like an hour. I have a big grand piano that I just love to play. I sit down and play, and something happens. I’ll play something that’s new that’s going to be a song and it always happens. So, every morning I do that, and then later on in the afternoon when I need to do my chores or whatever in my daily living, I’ll come back to that and usually finish it off or take it a little further. That’s my routine every day. Of course, between those times, I’m always playing guitar as well. I have guitars strategically in my house. Usually they are on chairs and things. I’m very fortunate because whenever I pick an instrument up, something happens. I’ll play something and think, ‘Oh, that’s really nice. What’s that?’ And it’s another song coming along. So that’s a great thing for me. I don’t have to search for ideas, they’re always there, which is wonderful.
If you could only perform one song out of your whole repertoire for the rest of your career, what would it be?
I would have to say “All Out of Love” because we have a lot of songs that people love around the world with various bullets in it. But that song is kind of in a class on its own; it’s just one of those songs that people love to death. We always close our show with it and it always brings the house down, which is quite strange because the song is from 1978; it’s an old song, 42 years old, and yet every time we play it or I hear it, it sounds just as fresh as the first time. And I know that’s a really weird thing to say, but when we play it live, I know that everybody’s waiting for it. So it’s a great relief I see on their faces, and they just go off into this world. And so do we, because that song in particular has been so good to us. I mean, it’s been a staple for everyone for decades and it’s been kind financially to us. It’s given me things that I love and it’s allowed me to be a professional musician and not have to worry about where my money is coming from, for this lifetime anyway.
It’s strange that “All Out of Love” in particular is always in movies. Our manager Barry will call me up and tell me that it’s going to be in another movie, but often he’ll forget to tell me if it’s in a TV show or something. So I’ll go to the movies or I’m watching TV and boom, it comes up… it’s a nice surprise, it’s really cool. That song in particular has been through all these generations and people still love to hear it. And obviously directors of movies ask for it, so they know it has certain power too.
I see many media outlets refer to your music as “soft rock,” but it doesn’t sound like your shows are just melodies and ballads. How would you define your sound?
Oh, it’s anything but soft rock. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll show. I grew up with the Stones and The Beatles. In our early years, we used to be on the same bill as ACDC in Australia and Midnight Oil, all these kind of heavy bands. So I love rock ‘n’ roll and I love heavy music. I mean, our music is not your typical rock ‘n’ roll; not like The Stones, for instance. However, the music is really powerful. It’s loud and it’s super powerful. And the people that haven’t seen us before, when they do see us, I see the ‘whoa’ look on their faces. It’s right in your face. Our keyboard player plays these incredible strings that sounds like a massive orchestra.
I think that’s why people keep coming back to our shows year after year, because they always find something they didn’t see before or they didn’t hear before, and we change things up a lot. But when they come see the show, they’re so surprised they go, ‘Oh my, I had no idea it was like that.’ I think they thought it was going to be really mellow, you know? And when they hear it, I mean it’s loud and it’s right in your face, which I love. I don’t want anything by half measure. Music should be loud and it should be powerful to have its impact on people. And I think that’s what we do.
Now I have to ask, because you’re the Graham Russell — do you have a specific lyric that really hits you hard or means something extra special to you?
You know what, I do. There’s a lyric in a song I love. I write musicals too, and in one of my musicals, ‘Alamo’ which is not out yet. We’ve done a couple of readings, though, and there’s a song in there with a lovely lyric which epitomizes the way you can play with words. The lyric is “there is no shame to bear, and there’s no blame to share.” It’s really everything that I love in a great few words; it’s a real tongue twister. But it’s so eloquent, I think. And that’s my favorite line ever in a song. It’s really quite extraordinary.
Besides songwriting, do you have any hidden talents?
I live on a big ranch for over 30 years, and I grow a lot of my own food. So I’m a very good gardener. I have a huge geothermal greenhouse and I grow a lot of my food there. I love getting out in the garden and I’m kind of pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I can pretty much grow anything. I’m vegan and I’m very fussy about my food. It has to be organic and it has to be just right for me. So I’m fortunate to be able to grow it all for myself. But apart from that, I don’t really have any talents besides songwriting (laughs).
Favorite decade of your career?
Well, I think my favorite decade is going to be this one, starting in 2020. I just feel it is, simply because when you get a little older, you’re wiser and you’ve figured out a lot of things about life and the universe and where you want to be and where you want to go. You’ll find you’ve found out more about love than when you were in your 20s or 30s. So I feel like I’m in a good place now with the band, it’s great. We sell out every show we do. We’re in a good place. And I’m in a good place as a songwriter. I’ve kind of got a grip on it now. I mean, if somebody came to me and said, ‘Can you write me a song about this, that, and the other?’ I’d go, yeah, okay. And I’d be able to do it. But several years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I’ve kind of got my whole body and soul around songwriting, so I’m in a good place with that.
The 80s was a great decade for us too, because we had a lot of hits in Australia and we’d been to the U.S., we opened for Rod Stewart for six months. But nothing happened for us and we thought it was going to, because we’d been so lucky in Australia since our career began. We’ve played for a lot of people and we’ve been on the road. So when we went to the U.S. for the first time, we thought we were on this role and we were gonna be successful there. But fortunately we weren’t. And I think it was the best thing for us, because it knocked us off that pedestal and made us realize we had to go and learn our craft. Now we’ve got to get in the trenches, you know? You’ve got a few hit songs in Australia, but you know, big deal, who cares? But when you’re on the world stage, when you’re in the United States, you’ve got to be good. You’ve got to have the ammunition. And we really realized that when we came with Rod, then we went back to Australia and instead of giving up, we said, no, let’s dig in. We can do it.
And that’s when I went away and wrote about 20 songs. I went away just with that sole purpose to write some great songs that I thought were great songs, and in there was the whole first American album, the one with “All Out of Love,” “Chances,” “Lost In Love” — all of them are in there. And so we had the ammunition. So when we arrived in 1980, it was actually January 1980, we were ready or we thought we had the ammunition. We were a good live band. We weren’t great. We were good. Butt we had the songs. And Russell was just ready to go; he had the most incredible, most amazing voices in the world at that time. So we were kind of armed and dangerous and then we broke out. So that was a great decade for us. It was realizing that we could do it and that was a great awakening for us.