Songwriter Interviews

Graham Russell of Air Supply

by Dan MacIntosh

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Air Supply is the winning combination of Graham Russell's guitar and songwriting, matched to Russell Hitchcock's distinctive vocals. "Hit Supply" may be a more accurate name for this duo, who have delivered touching, mellow, and highly successful love songs since the first week of 1980, when the legendary record mogul Clive Davis unleashed "Lost in Love" on America.

The pair is still going strong today, and meeting (Air) Supply and demand with their new album Mumbo Jumbo, which boasts the first single, "Dance With Me."

Graham Russell let us in on Air Supply's "Raunchy" side, let us know if they're available for weddings, and explains the lyric tweak that made all the difference.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): You've written with Clive Davis, right?

Graham Russell: Yeah, we have. "All Out of Love" was written, and it was a hit in Australia in '78. But it had a couple of different lines in it. And when Clive heard them he said, "These lines won't go well in America."

Songfacts: What lines were they?

Graham: Originally it was, "I'm all out of love, I want to arrest you." By that I mean, "I want to get your attention."

Songfacts: Right.

Graham: In Australia nobody questioned it, and it was a #1 song in Australia in '78. Clive heard it, he says, "Oh, no, that's too weird." It had already been a hit. He said, "In America they won't understand that."

Songfacts: No, we wouldn't. We'd think that was kind of weird.

Graham: So he said, "What about 'I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you'?" And I thought, Yeah, that sounds great. I mean, at first I thought, Oh, I don't know if I want to change it. But Clive said, "It's a great song and it could be a massive hit, but you just need to change a couple of lines." It was that line, and there was another line: "I know you were right." "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you, I know you were right." But funnily enough, we'll never know if it would have worked the other way. And I doubt it, to be honest. Because Clive is usually right.

Songfacts: Yeah, people don't argue with him, do they?

Graham: No, they don't. (laughs) Because he's always right. And I have a feeling he was right in that instance, too. And had I not changed it, it maybe wouldn't have been the colossal landmark hit that it was.Songfacts: Those lines just go together: "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you." I can't picture it any other way. So in Australia then, when you say "I want to arrest you," is that something that is in common speech?

Graham: You know, it really isn't. I think it was just me using a weird word. But, you know, now I think of it, it's definitely very weird. There are certain words that you just don't use when you're writing songs. And "arrest" is one of them. Words like "cabbage" or "cauliflower," like that. There are certain words that just aren't poetic. And "arrest" is one of them. And I really don't know why I used it. But Clive called me on it, and the rest became history.

Songfacts: Did Clive take an interest in the band early?

Graham: He did. He heard "Lost In Love," and – this is what I understand and what he told me – he bought the rights to "Lost In Love' for Arista Records. "Love In Love" had already been a hit in Australia, and I think he was waiting for the turn of the decade, so he released it very early in January, I think the first week. Initially he just had the single. And I saw the single being reviewed in Cash Box magazine when I was overseas trying to scrape money together to live, because I was broke. It said, "This song is destined to go all the way to Top 5." I couldn't believe it. So I called Clive up, and he said, "Yeah, it's happening." We didn't even know we had a release coming out, that it had been picked up. So I was on my way back to Australia, and I came through Los Angeles, and I saw Clive, because I wanted to see if it was real. And he said, "Oh, yeah. It's all happening. You've been signed to Arista. You need to go back and make the album," because we hadn't done the album. So that's how it all went down. It was kind of strange. But he was very into the band in those early years, very much so.

Songfacts: Do you consider it a band, or a duo? I was looking at the older album covers, and it's not just you and Russell pictured on those covers.Graham: It was always the two of us, but we always had a band, and at that point, they always were in the photos, and they actually shared in everything. But there were a couple of small squabbles within the band, so we said, "Okay, we've got to stop this. It's going to be Russell and I from now on." In fact, we started with just the two of us, when we were still in Superstar, when we used to do shows. (Hitchcock and Russell met in 1975 when they were both performing in an Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar.) We always consider it a band, though, even if it's two of us.

Songfacts: You know, they say that a band is like a marriage…

Graham: Yeah.

Songfacts: And it's 35 years now that you've been together?

Graham: Yes, it is. Yeah.

Songfacts: How do you keep that partnership fresh and exciting?

Graham: I'm very lucky because I get to write the songs, and Russell gets to sing them. And there's no competition between us at all. We've never had an argument in our whole career.

Songfacts: Wow.

Graham: We both have certain roles to fulfill and we do those the best we can. There's never any bickering or saying, "No, I don't want to do that song, I want to do this one." And that's always the way it's been. So I don't really know any other way.

Songfacts: Do you tailor your songs in such a way that you know they'll sound good when Russell sings them?

Graham: Yeah, I write for his voice, because I know it so well. And I know what his limits are when he goes up high. It's quite a limit, it's quite high. So I kind of tailor them that way. I think the key's that way, and I'm usually right. Sometimes I have a wrong key so we'll move it. But I think I've got a good grip on that. But I do write for him specifically, yes I do.

Songfacts: Has he ever questioned your lyrics, or does he pretty much trust you?

Graham: Well, he does trust me. And if he makes a suggestion he's very shy about it. He'll say, "Well, what about this word?" And if it's something I haven't thought of, I'll go, "Oh yeah, let's try that." And that happens quite often. I love that input, because I do need a sounding board. And I get that in the studio, too. And I'm the first one for that, if something's not working I'll say, "Okay, let's get rid of that song." If something doesn't flow.

Songfacts: When people think of Air Supply, they think of soft rock, for lack of a better term.

Graham: Yeah.

Songfacts: But I imagine that as a songwriter and a musician there are more sides to your musical personality. Do you ever wish you could just let loose and play loud?

Graham: Oh, well, we do, actually. On this new record of ours, we're definitely doing that. Some of the stuff's pretty loud, and we're a full-on rock and roll band live - my amplifier's cranked right up. I love Rolling Stones and I love Keith Richards as a player, so I play in that same vein. I love that raunchiness that he has.

Songfacts: Really?

Graham: Oh, it's pretty raunchy, yeah. (laughs) New songs, they're raunchy, yeah.

Songfacts: The impression I get from the songs that you write is that you're a very romantic person. Does that reflect how you really are?

Graham: I think it does. I'd like to think I'm somewhat of a romantic, because otherwise my music wouldn't be real. But my whole background, even when I was growing up, was very much that way as well. For instance, I come from a place in England where all those great poets came from - Wordsworth and Keats and all those guys - so I was surrounded by it, and I loved poetry as a child. And I love the English language; that's what I took in school. And I became very good at it, because I just had a passion for it. When I was reading all the great poets, I just loved the way they wrote, I loved the way they made things rhyme. So I just drifted into it by mistake, really. And when it came time for me to leave school and choose a profession, the only thing I wanted was to be a composer or be in a band. I had no alternative but that.

Songfacts: Russell has said that you're not recognized for your songwriting the way you should be. Do you ever feel like people missed the fact that you write so many of those great songs?

Graham: Not really. I know what Russell's saying, because he often says that I never got the recognition that perhaps other writers get. But to me it doesn't really mean anything, as long as people like my songs and sing them and treasure them, and my songs become the soundscape to their lives, that's reward enough for me. It's all Air Supply, and it's not individuals. I am the songwriter, and Russell's the singer, but if people know that, it's not really important to me. The message is important, the songs. I'm so thrilled that I've had a career that's lasted a long time, and that the thing that I do best – better than any other thing, which is write songs – I've been able to do in this lifetime and do it successfully and earn a good living at doing it. For me, that's a great achievement.

Songfacts: Did you really write "Lost In Love" in 15 minutes?

Graham: Yes. "Lost In Love" is such a simple song. I think about the songs before I start to write them, and I think about where they're going to go. I'm very aware that when that inspiration comes, it comes very quickly: it's like a dart, and it doesn't last a long time, that real initial impulse. So when it comes I know that the thoughts are going to be scattered, and they're going to come really fast, and I need to get them down quickly, so I need to think about the song first when I know it's coming. When a song is coming I get a weird feeling, and then I kind of drift somewhere on my own to think about it. But when I actually play the piano or pick the guitar up, it'll come really quickly. But my songs, too, are very simple. I mean, I'm not into jazz, and I'm not into fusion or anything like that. My songs are really straight ahead, real simple chords, the simpler the better. So a song like "Lost In Love" with four chords, there's only two parts to it. There's really no chorus. There's just a verse and a bridge. So something like that shouldn't take longer than 15 minutes to write, you know. (laughing)

Songfacts: Can you tell, when you've written a song, if it has potential to be a hit?

Graham: Now, after so many years writing songs, I think I've got a grip on the potential of a song. If I write a song and I think, Oh yeah, I like this, and I have a feeling that it's going to be a hit, then it's usually a correct feeling. But in the past I didn't have that. Like I didn't really have it with "All Out of Love" initially. But then once it started to build in the studio, I thought, Oh yeah, this is gonna be a big one. But I was very surprised by "Sweet Dreams," which was a Top 5 for us in '81, because I had no concept that that was ever going be a single. I just thought, Oh, I've got free rein here, I don't have to particularly write a hit song, I can just do something that I want and that I think would be great for the band, which was "Sweet Dreams." But when Clive (Davis) heard it he was all over it. So I was very surprised then. But I think now I've learned to distinguish certain songs from others.

Songfacts: What can you tell me about the new album?

Graham: Well, it's 14 songs, and it's a concept album, which is very dangerous to do these days, but we didn't care about that. They're all brand new songs, and they tell a story, if you want to go that deep. The songs are great together, but also individually they'll stand on their own. I think "Dance with Me" has already charted.

Songfacts: That's a song about dancing, and that's not something people associate with Air Supply music. Although maybe slow dancing…

Graham: Well, actually, if you'd seen us live, we dance all night. We don't stop moving. It's strange, until people see us, they go, "I had no idea. I thought it was gonna be like all wedding songs or like that." But no, it's pretty full-on.

Songfacts: At concerts, people want to move; they're not sitting down listening to music. That's something you do at home, right?

Graham: That's right. When I go to a concert I want to stand up all night and, depending on who I'm watching, I want to get into it. I like it loud and raunchy, and I want to enjoy the music, hear the hits, and hear what else they've got to offer. And we try to do that with our audiences. I think it's our duty to give our audiences new things all the time, and we always have been. We don't just go out and play the hits and say, "Well thanks very much, we'll see you next year." We like to entertain people that perhaps have never heard of us or never seen us before.

Songfacts: What kind of feedback do you get from your fan base?

Graham: We do a meet and greet after every show. We always do it and we always have, and I think that's why we've created such a liaison with our fans. And after the show, if we do a new song, they'll go, "Wow, that new song was great," or "I love the way you did this." So we get the feedback from them all the time, like when we first played a song off the new album, it's called "Faith in Love," but we first played it like three years ago.

Songfacts: Wow, that's a long time ago.

Graham: It's a disco song, you know.

Songfacts: Oh, really?

Graham: I remember that song in particular, it was like breaking the barriers - we could do other things. I thought at first that people would think Air Supply with a disco feel was too weird, but you know what? The Bee Gees did it, so I think we can too.

Songfacts: Absolutely. The Bee Gees did it extremely well. Do you call California your home state now?

Graham: No, I live in Utah, actually. In the mountains.

Songfacts: Oh, lucky you. How about Russell? Where does he live?

Graham: He lives in Orange County in California.

Songfacts: Are you planning to tour this summer?

Graham: Oh yeah. We've already done maybe 20 shows this year. We're going overseas, we're going to Mexico, and we're off to China, India, and Kuala Lumpur, and all over Asia. Then we'll come back to the US in August.

Songfacts: Does your music translate well in non English-speaking countries?

Graham: They know every word to every song. I guarantee when we play the new album they'll know every word to the new songs, too.

Songfacts: That's gotta make you feel good to think that they're that devoted.

Graham: We've played in places in China that people have never heard of, and they're there, thousands of people, and they know every word. They don't know what they mean, but they know 'em all. Wild.

Songfacts: The songs just take on lives of their own.

Graham: Right. They do. It's been such a long time now. The early hits, people just keep playing them. Which is great, but I think they mean a lot to people around the world. Even people that weren't alive when they came out, they love 'em. You know, we see 9, 10, 12-year-old kids at our shows. And I ask them, "How come you know all the songs?" They'll say, "Oh, we saw it in this movie or our parents play it all the time, and we love it."

Songfacts: Do you like how your songs have been used in movies?

Graham: I do, absolutely.

Songfacts: You had a song in the movie Happiness. ("All Out of Love" - it's at the end of this clip)

Graham: Oh, I don't think I've seen that movie.

Songfacts: Well, you've got a song in there. But don't watch it with young people.

Graham: Oh really? It's a bit dodgy?

Songfacts: Yes, it is.

Graham: Okay. I'll look out for it, though.

Songfacts: Air Supply is like the ultimate wedding crasher band - your songs must be played at more weddings than you can count.

Graham: Russell and I, our career seems to have been like a flash, and suddenly we've been together for like 35 years. It's so weird. But I do think about that: certain songs mean more to people than others, but they certainly keep playing them, and definitely at weddings. You know, and I've been to a few weddings in my time, and there's Air Supply songs all over the place.

Songfacts: Have you played your songs at weddings for people you know?

Graham: I have, yeah. I wrote another song that's on the new Mumbo Jumbo album called "Why?" We did it with the Celtic tenors and it's just beautiful. Very Queen-like harmonies on it. I wrote the song when my son got married. When he took his first dance with his bride, I played it on the dance floor with acoustic guitar. And Russell sang "Now and Forever" at my wedding.

Songfacts: Really?

Graham: Yes, he did. In Rockford, Illinois, in 1986, to a big church organ accompaniment. It was just breathtaking.

Songfacts: Oh, my goodness.

Graham: Yeah. That was beautiful. So we do it, too. (laughs)

We spoke with Graham on April 29, 2010. For more information on their tour and album, go to their official site.
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Comments: 9

  • Augusto D.pampolina Jr. from ManilaThe most favorite love songs in the Philippines comes from "The Air Supply" we love you Russell and Graham of Air Supply.
  • Dara from Philadelphia, PaWhat a wonderful husband you have! God Bless you both! I'm in my 20's and in college and I absolutely LOVE Air Supply! I became an Airhead this year, (that's what they call their loyal fans.) My parents listened to them while they were dating and now they passed this music on to me. I am a huge oldies music fan from the 50's to the 80's, so Air Supply fits into that category. I first heard the song, "All Out Of Love" on a Time Life infomercial and on the radio as a little girl many years ago. By the way, the hosts of the infomercial were none other than Air Supply themselves! This past April, I recently came across a cover of this song from the television show, Glee. As I was playing this cover, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock’s voices singing this song on that infomercial came back into my head! I typed Air Supply in the search box on YouTube and went back and listened to the original version that I heard all those years ago. After that, I’ve checked out some of their other songs such as “Lost In Love” and “Even The Nights Are Better.” That same month, a few days after my birthday, my parents surprised me with tickets to see Air Supply in my hometown of Philadelphia! I also went to their sound check before the show and I got to meet them in person! I chatted with them before and after the show, During the concert, they blew kisses to me and sang to me! When they got to the song "All Out Of Love" at the end of the concert, chills were running down my spine. I told Graham and Russell about the Glee cover of this song after the show and how it led me back to their music and Graham laughed and said to me,“There’s no escaping us now!” Today, They are very nice and funny guys! My parents actually surprised me AGAIN for Chanukah this year with tickets to see them in the spring! I cannot wait to hear them again; I am so excit Their concerts are AMAZING and they still have that magic with their voices! They are a must see if they ever come your way! I love you, Graham and Russell! “Lost In Love,” and “Even The Nights Are Better” have become popular favorites in our household! Thanks to these two, my parents and I have become a family of Airheads! Air Supply Forever!

  • Ryan from Boston UsaOn a warm summer night, in 1988, I went to an AS concert. As a hard core rocker this choice was calculated to maximize my impression on a young lady I had just started dating. The band gave such a great show, with all these familiar tunes, that we both ended up having an awesome time! In fact, we began a 17 year relationship I am certain sprang from majic we shared that night. If u ever get the chance to see them live take someone special. Thank you Air Supply!
  • Mary from Florida, UsaLove Air Supply, it was due to good timing when they became a huge success here in the USA. "Sweet Dreams" is probably my favorite but I love and listen to all of their songs.
  • Chew NkYes Air supply is probably underrated. i have loved Air supply all my life. They are one of the best pop groups in the 1980's. MALAYSIA
  • Ken Sparkes from Sydney AustraliaPossibly the most under rated hit team Australia has produced. Some in Australia are still not aware of Air Supplys enormous success in North America. I will feature "Even the nights are Better" on my TV show to pay tribute to their success and remind Australia of the wealth of talent the Group has.
  • Jarrod from Brisbane, AustraliaAir Supply are a great band, to think of there humble beginings in the local production of Jesus Crist Superstar down under to the dizzin' heights of America and the world. They truly wrote some beautiful songs that to anybody who has ever been in love, could very much relate to. I feel very proud that they were an Australian outfit that conquered the world.
  • Suzette Williams from Kingston,jamaicai love air supply haven't heard the new song but looking forward to enjoy every word of it,i enjoy reading this interview,love you guys.
  • Patty Nelson from Kansas City, Mo.Love Air Supply ...Love the new album Mumbo Jumbo and enjoyed reading this interview. Can't wait till he sees the surprise I have for them o honor their 35th
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