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Q&A Interview With Russell Hitchcock - An Air Supply Concert Preview

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发表于 2015-11-21 19:16 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
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Photo Courtesy of Air Supply

      Headed to town for a set Saturday night at the Blue Chip Casino, I spoke with Air Supply singer Russell Hitchcock about rubbing elbows with artists like Ronnie James Dio and Bon Scott, Air Supply's recent American success on the Billboard Dance charts and the duo's uncanny ability to navigate turbulent music industry waters and changing American trends over the course of forty years...

       Throughout their forty years, Air Supply have weathered not just music industry changes to radio and labels during the rise of the internet but constantly evolving American music tastes as well, outlasting trends like punk, disco, grunge and more along the way.

       The key to that success would seem to be an unwavering confidence in their own songs powered by the unbroken strength of the partnership between Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell in an industry where such a thing is extremely uncommon.

       At times it was "cool" to like Air Supply while other times it wasn't.  For some, today, fandom is of an ironic sense.  But as Hitchcock is quick to point out, it never really mattered as Air Supply eventually sold more than twenty million records, standing beside artists like The Beatles with a run of seven consecutive singles reaching the American top five.

       Regardless of the impressive numbers, perhaps the most surprising chart appearance came only last year, as Air Supply cracked the Billboard dance charts for the first time with a pair of tracks: "Desert, Sea Sky" was remixed by UK producers Wideboys and hit number forty-three on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart while their own "I Want You" cracked the top forty, reaching number thirty-five on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart this past September.

       Even as American music consumption methods have begun to shift, the Australian duo continues to log more than one hundred live concert dates each year across the world, part of a seemingly unending tour that brings Air Supply to the Stardust Event Center at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana Saturday night.

       I spoke over the phone with Russell Hitchcock about what makes his partnership with Graham Russell work, some of his favorite singers, run-ins over the years with heavy metal stalwarts like Ronnie James Dio and original AC/DC singer Bon Scott in a much different music industry landscape and what has allowed Air Supply to transcend cultural changes as they celebrate their fortieth anniversary.   A lightly edited transcript of that conversation follows below...

Q.  Air Supply logs a tremendous number of live dates each year.  More impressive still is the amount of international touring you guys do.  What's it like after forty years to still be able to hit the road like that?

       Russell Hitchcock:  After forty years, it's just something that's kind of in our DNA now.  I guess the big difference now is it's a lot harder to get places.  Travel is much more of a pain than it used to be with security being as it should be.

       But we've never really thought too much about it.  We're very grateful to be in this position to be able to tour as much as we do at the level that we do.  We've got fans all over the world so it's really something very special for us to be able to look back and say that we started in 1975 and we've been on the road every year since without a break.  It's quite an achievement.

Q.  Who are some of your favorite singers?

       RH:  I was introduced to music in my parents' house.  I used to listen to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett when I was a kid.  The biggest change for me in how I listened, and what I wanted to listen to, was when I heard the Beatles for the first time.  I think Paul McCartney has got one of the best voices I've ever heard.  Robert Plant.  There's a guy in Australia named John Farnham who hasn't had any recognition in America at all.  He's got the best voice I've ever heard.  I just like good voices.  Freddie Mercury was a favorite of mine.

       And I like groups that sing well together.  I am a big fan of the Eagles and Bee Gees.  The vocals that Queen did.

       On the other end of the spectrum, I am a huge fan of Brian Johnson from AC/DC.  I think he's got a great voice.  Steve Perry.  Just all good singers.  I love them all.

Q.  You and Graham have such a unique partnership in that you actually get along.  Music history is littered with examples of the opposite. How do you guys continue to make it work?

       RH:  First of all, we don't think about it.  It just happens.  But I think the fact that we don't compete with each other in Air Supply [helps]. Graham writes the songs and I sing a lot of them.  We don't have big egos within each other's realm.

       We didn't start off doing this as youngsters.  We were kind of reasonably mature when we started.  We have a great respect for each other.  We're the best of friends.  It just works.  And it's really one of those cases, if ain't broke don't fix it.

       We don't really look at it too much apart from that we're very lucky to have met each other so many years ago and still enjoy each other's company as much as we do.  Because, as you said, I know quite a few acts that they stay in different hotels and they won't fly on the same plane.  They don't do anything but go on stage and sing their songs and go home.  And I wouldn't care to do that.  And Graham and I have both discussed that if it ever got to the point where either one of us didn't want to do it anymore, we wouldn't do it.  I just couldn't imagine being on stage with someone I didn't care about, you know?

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Q.  Air Supply struggled for five years before breaking through in America in 1980.  Was there a particular moment early on in your partnership with Graham where you thought you guys were really onto something?

       RH:  Definitely.  We had huge success in Australia in 1976 with our first release there.  And then we came to the U.S. to open for Rod Stewart in 1977.

       Then we went back to Australia and we were dead in the water.

       I think there was five or seven people in the band at the time and we were getting offers to play for two hundred dollars a night.  I mean, we couldn't do it.  We couldn't pay anybody so we didn't work.

       I was in Melbourne, staying with my sister and her husband, and Graham was in Adelaide, south Australia, writing some songs and I actually said to him, "I don't know whether we can keep doing this."  Because we weren't getting any offers to play.  I was singing jingles for Coke-A-Cola and Maxwell House coffee and stuff to make a living.  And he said, "We have to stick with this because we're great and we have great songs and something will happen."

       So there was that very brief moment where I thought, "Well, this is not really gonna go anywhere."

       But, of course, one of the songs that he had written when he was in south Australia was "Lost in Love" and it was released in Australia with a new record company and it was a big hit there.  It took two years to get from Australia to the U.S. but once it was released in America, by Clive Davis, at Arista Records, that was the beginning of this career that we have now.

Q.  Over forty years you've seen so many different changes in the music industry, whether it be musical trends like disco and grunge come and go, immense changes to radio on both the AM and FM dial, the rise of the internet or the downfall of the major label system now.  What would you say is the biggest change you've noticed during your forty years in this industry?

       RH:  Definitely the internet.  It changed everything.  If you were put to sleep in 1970 and woken up again now and looked at the music business, you'd have a heart attack and die probably.

       As you said, the demise of major labels.  Along with that goes support for new acts - not grooming them, specifically, but giving them a clue about what to do, how to do it, how to dress... A whole lot of advice that you had around you in those days, none of that's there anymore.  And, of course, you can record anything now in your bathroom if you've got the right equipment and it sounds great.

       So there's a lot of pluses to it but I really kind of miss that atmosphere with record companies, and people that worked on your behalf and feel good.  But those days are gone, that's for sure.

Q.  Obviously in America, by the time the nineties hit, the culture here shifted away from soft rock.  Alternative music, specifically the grunge rock out of Seattle, not only influenced younger American music fans but also crossed over in terms of the pop culture as a whole.  It was a different atmosphere than the eighties where diverse genres like hair metal and soft rock could co-exist and even mingle on the American radio dial, especially in ballads.  By the nineties, soft rock became taboo here almost overnight.  During that time, it seems like you guys did a lot of international touring, presumably as a result.  Was there ever a moment where something like that, a changing trend or what not, worried you in regards to sustaining the band's future?

       RH:  Not at all.  Because by the time that those changes that you just described had come into play, we already had ten hit songs and we never really looked at what was going on around us because we were too busy doing what we were doing.  And we still toured extensively in the U.S. but international things came to us on a more extensive basis.

       I mean, we've had four or five careers in the last forty years and we've had success because we stuck to our guns and played the music that we played.  And we've suffered for it... because trends come and go.  But the thing now is, after forty years, I don't really care what's going on.  Because I know that we've got dates booked up until next December again now.  The future has always looked bright for us after a certain point. I don't worry about what's going on.

       I don't listen to music at all really, anything current.  If I'm in my car I listen to sports talk radio and if I'm listening to music it's gonna be either the Beatles or AC/DC or the Eagles or Bee Gees or stuff that I fell in love with all those years ago.  So we just keep on doing what we're doing.

       Getting back to your point about the changes - hair metal being able to coincide with soft rock and stuff - I mean, I remember the days when you could go and hang out with people that played in the opposite genre to what you were doing.  I had dinner with Ronnie James Dio a few times in Los Angeles - got along great, a beautiful person.  And then all the sudden it became a competition: "Because you're not 'cool,' we can't talk to you anymore.  You're not playing the kind of music that's popular now so we don't want to be around you.  We don't want to have that stain of being associated with you because you're not hip anymore."

       And that's kind of sad.  Because the music business is one of the smallest in the universe.  I'm probably beginning to sound like I'm a really bitter old man after this interview! (Laughs) But I enjoyed the days when everybody got along with each other and everybody was grateful that they had a job in music and they were making a living.

       I remember, it must've been in 1976 or 1977, we were touring, and we were in Melbourne, and I went down to the laundry room at two or three in the morning to do my stuff and Bon Scott was there.  And we had a chat for quite a long time.  And he was another guy that was a great, great person.  And it wasn't that "Air Supply's too soft and AC/DC's..." It was just music and we all enjoyed each other's company.

Q.  You just said the word "cool" and that's something I wanted to get to as well.  Obviously, there was a period there where it became "uncool," in America, to like something like soft rock in general.  And that's the type of thing that some of your peers, despite unthinkable success, have had kind of a hard time dealing with.  Phil Collins kind of comes to mind. But it doesn't seem to bother you in the slightest.  Was there ever a time where that was difficult to handle?

       RH:  Not at all.  The thing is, once 1980, '81 came, and we had four or five top ten songs, and we were kind of established at what we were doing, it never really bothered me.  Ever.  And it doesn't now.

       I'm also a realist in that whatever music is popular is city hall.  And you can't fight city hall.  You've just gotta go with the flow and do your thing and not worry about it.

Q.  Twice in the past year or so, first with "Desert, Sea, Sky" and most recently with "I Want You," Air Supply has reappeared on the American charts... But on an entirely different American chart:  the Billboard Dance Music charts.  What's it like for you guys to not only shift gears and head in a different musical direction - after forty years no less - but also to experience some of your biggest American chart success in the past twenty-five years?

       RH:  It's great.  It was a very pleasant surprise.  It was unexpected.  Both of those songs weren't planned - because Graham doesn't write like that.  He just writes what comes into his head.

       But it's great to even imagine that in five decades we've had successful songs on some chart somewhere.  It's quite amazing.

Q.  I know you said that you don't listen to a lot of new music but, obviously, it's dance music that's huge right now, especially in America.  Your last full studio album, Mumbo Jumbo, was released in 2010.  Are you guys working on new music?

       RH:  We just released a new song that's a little more in the vein of what people would expect from us.  It's on YouTube and you can see the video.  It's called "I Adore You."

       We have no plans to do an album, per se, now, mostly because of the time.  We do about 120 shows a year.  In the old days, when you could go home or go to a studio for six weeks or two months and do it, that's just not an option for us now.  So we'll keep doing what we're doing and hopefully have more success with the new song and see what happens.

       As I've said a few times, we wanted to work together because we thought we had something that was very cool and sounded good.  There was no plan - we just wanted to do it!  And that's what we do now.

Q.  What would you say is Air Supply's biggest accomplishment over the past forty years?

       RH:  I think the career - the body of work and the career: Being able to say that we still do what we do very well and we still tour all over the world.

       We've had a career that's not only maintained itself but been successful for forty years.  I think that's the best achievement of all.
 楼主| 发表于 2015-11-21 19:17 | 显示全部楼层
A great interview with air supply!
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