A breath of fresh air
Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock met on May 12, 1975, the first day of rehearsals for a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in Sydney. They bonded instantly over a shared love of music and The Beatles.
They have been best friends for 38 years and have never had an argument.
"I like to say that Jesus Christ Superstar gave birth to Air Supply," Hitchcock says.
Hitchcock sings. Lead guitarist Russell prefers to be in the background.
Although the Grammy Award-winning duo haven't had a charting hit in 30 years, every year since 1975 the pair have performed between 130 and 150 shows around the world for their fans, known as "Airheads".
Many musicians would consider this an arduous touring schedule but Hitchcock and Russell say they are "grateful", "blessed" and don't take their Airheads for granted.
On Wednesday the legends of soft rock perform in Wellington as part of a three-date New Zealand tour, Hits and Memories – their first shows here in 13 years.
They will perform classic hits from their back catalogue such as Lost in Love, All Out of Love, The One That You Love, Every Woman in the World, Two Less Lonely People in the World, and Even the Nights Are Better.
During every live show, Air Supply play a song that Russell wrote that day, usually in under half an hour.
"I always play a new song that I wrote that afternoon. I sit down at the piano or pick up a guitar and just start playing until I come up with a melody. When words come, the first words uttered have to be kept, they are locked in, that's my rule.
"A lemon is a lemon, you know straight away what to throw out." Most musicians have a pre-show ritual. Todd Rundgren takes tablets that stop him belching on stage. Rihanna does a prayer where she "blesses the notes".
"I press my own stage clothes," he says. "It relaxes me. I do it alone, after soundcheck." Air Supply have sold 40 million albums and achieved seven top-five world singles, but they're not stopping now.
The duo hope a coming musical, including four new songs, based on their music – titled Lost in Love – might have the same effect for Air Supply that Mama Mia had for Abba.
"Our music really lends itself to a musical. People know the songs," Hitchcock says, "but they don't always know who the band is. Hopefully, like Abba, the musical will see us be presented in a new dimension to a new generation."
A performance in Israel in 2011 led to a new sound.
"After we played in Tel Aviv, a couple of DJs got in touch with us and said they'd like to mix some of our songs as dance tracks," Russell explains.
"We sent them a song and the mix came back.
"We loved it."
Air Supply are working on a new EP which includes dance/trance track called Desert Sea Sky.
"Two of the tracks on the EP are full-on dance, I've loved dance music forever but always thought it might be too weird for us," Hitchcock says.
"We'd hate people to jump the wagon. It's catching fire live.
"It's been a while since we released recordings, we want people to know we're still alive and kicking."
Hitchcock has heard Lost in Love in some unusual places since it was released.
At a karaoke night in Santa Monica years ago, the sombre balladeer, the mumbler, the girl trying to be discovered and a hipster who sang a song nobody knew were followed by a middle-aged man, clutching a beer.
"Lost in love and I don't know much, was I thinking aloud and I fell out of touch? But I'm back on my feet, and eager to be what you wanted," he sang. Hitchcock happened to be in the audience.
"It's a difficult song to sing," Hitchcock recalls. "Afterwards I went up and introduced myself to the guy. He nearly fainted.
Air Supply play Christchurch's CBS Canterbury Arena on December 3, Wellington's St James Theatre on December 4 and Auckland's The Civic on December 5.
- The Dominion Post