For a big patch of the 1980s, Air Supply was all over the radio. Too classically pop for the more brash sounds of MTV, the Australian duo of guitarist/singer Graham Russell and vocalist Russell Hitchcock still sold millions with their big ballads.
Just don’t call them a soft rock band.
“I can’t stand to call it soft rock, quite frankly,” said Russell Hitchcock, Air Supply lead singer, from his home in Atlanta. Both Air Supply members live in the U.S. now, with Russell living in Utah. The group still tours America often as well, with a stop planned for May 13 at the Nugget Casino Resort.
When fans go to the Nugget Ballroom to see Air Supply, they may get a surprise that speaks to why Hitchcock isn’t sold on the soft rock tag for his band.
“If you listen to the recordings we did then, they were very orchestrated, very string-oriented, and the mixes were fantastic,” Hitchcock said. “And at the time, we had great producers and I have nothing but the best things to say about them. But, the band live has always been much more edgy.
“I think we are a great rock and roll band, and people are surprised when they see us, not only because it’s loud — which I know doesn’t make it rock and roll — but because the musicianship is so great.”
The group does stick to those hits that made their name live, but there are some new tunes that always make their way to the Air Supply setlist. In fact, the band is planning at some point in the next year to put out a five-or-six song album out of new material, Hitchcock said.
“I always say this about us: we will play the songs you want to hear,” Hitchcock said. “But, we are going to play three new songs this year. As we do every year, we add something new. It’s good for us. Graham writes incessantly. He can’t help himself, fortunately.”
Hitchcock isn’t kidding about his musical partner’s writing. He mentioned later in the interview that while on this latest tour, Russell was sending him emails with new song ideas.
“And then, we were backstage waiting to go on (earlier the week of the interview) and Graham’s playing this thing in the dressing room, so I ask ‘What is that? Is it new? It sounds really good.’ And I bet (a few days later) he will say, ‘I wrote this new thing, what do you think?’”
“He writes something every day. On the airplane, he always has his headphones on and his iPod out. If they say the cliché is in music you get two years to write your first album and five to six months to write the second, we didn’t go through that. He’s just never stopped writing. He’s amazingly proficient.
Hitchcock went on to say that “maybe it’s because of the genre we work in, but Graham doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he does. I think it would be a sad thing, a tragedy, if he goes through his career and doesn’t receive a Grammy or an award of some sort for what he’s done for music.”
The ones that they love
The band’s place in musical history is assured with its remarkable success in the early ’80s, but it hardly was an overnight sensation. Air Supply actually started in 1975, when Hitchcock and Russell met while work on an Australian version of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The two first had hits in Australian throughout the ’70s, and their debut in America, “Love and Other Bruises,” was released in 1978. During this time, the band also made some noise in the U.S. as an opening act for Rod Stewart.
There were a total of four Australian-only albums in the ’70s before the group’s international breakthrough in 1980. Air Supply’s second album “Lost in Love,” sold 2 million copies and started a string of seven top-five hits in two years, which set a record at the time: “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” “Every Woman in the World,” “The One That You Love,” “Here I Am,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Even the Nights are Better.”
Hitchcock agreed that the climb was longer than people realize.
“It took us two years to get ‘Lost in Love’ to America,” he said. “We finally did get the song to Clive Davis (then president of Arista Records) and once he heard it, he went crazy for it and said, ‘I want to sign you immediately.’”
Hitchcock also said that the band’s melodic sound fit in well with what was happening in American music at the time.
“I think at the time it was perfect for a place like California, where it’s sunny all the time. A lot of people thought we were a West Coast band until they found out where we were from,” he said.
Air Supply continued some commercial success after that big initial run. “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” and “I Can’t Wait Forever” both made it to No. 2 in 1984, while “Just As I Am” was a top 20 hit that same year. Plus, its third album, “The One That You Love,” made it to No. 10. For the ’90s, Air Supply was on major label Giant Records and continued to release albums and tour. It’s been 2010 since the group released an album, while their latest work is a single called “I Adore You,” released two years ago.
Bringing it to audiences
Whether old songs or new, Hitchcock said the band tries not to deviate much from the original songs when playing live shows.
“I’m a stickler for this,” he said. “If I go and see a band, I want to hear the songs the way I remember them, every time. Now, with the influx of new musicians we get in the band, we do give them the right and leeway to add their own flavor and twist to the songs. But, I think you’ll find the song you know will be instantly recognized.
“And, the musicians we have at the moment are just outstanding. They do lend their own thing to the arrangements and make them as good as they were, or even better.
Those musicians include lead guitarist Aaron Mclain, who has been with the band for seven years; Derek Frank on bass, Aviv Cohen on drums (with the band for five years) and Mirko Tessandori, who is from Tuscany, Italy, and plays piano and keyboards.
There’s been a ton a work for the band, as they often have played truly all over the world.
“We went to places in the early days that others had not toured,” Hitchcock said. “We were one of the first bands to go to parts of southeast Asia, South Korea, and we went to Israel three times. We’ve played in Vietnam and also went to Cuba in 2005 and played to thousands of people. In the ’80s, no band outside of Mexico had really toured that country very extensively, but we did 30 cities there. The fact that we’re able to go to all of these places is just phenomenal for us, and the receptions have been great. It’s such a blessing to be able to do this.”