Air Supply’s Graham Russell Recalls (And Sometimes Cringes At) Their Music Videos
One of the most singular (and unjustly maligned) bands of the 1980s had to be Air Supply. Singer-songwriter/guitarist Graham Russell and lead vocalist Russell Hitchcock led this Australian group to worldwide success with eight Top Ten hits in the United States, selling more than 100 million albums of their patented love songs, swooning some and perturbing others. A band whose soft rock compositions created slowdance & backseat memories for a generation, Air Supply continues to tour to sold out audiences across the globe, with the current tour bringing their hit-packed show to BB Kings’ Blues Club in New York City.
Along the way, Air Supply tried its hand at music videos, which usually looked like AM radio romance come to life: lovers in soft focus, long looks, embraces, etc. Unfortunately, MTV did not air them because of their soft-rock stamp, even though their catchy love songs arguably worked the same side of the street at Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams, etc. We talked to Graham Russell by phone about the videos and the tour.
Are you looking forward to the New York shows?
Oh, yes. It’s always fun, and BB King’s is always noisy and typically New York. Actually, we don’t get to play a club very often, so it’s great. It’s always great to be in Times Square in the center of New York, where all the action is.
During the 80s, you made a lot of music videos. Do you remember the first one you did?
Yes, it was way back in 1976 in Australia when the video format was still very new. We did a video for a song called “Love and Other Bruises”, which was very simple and very inexpensive, but very haunting nevertheless. We have always shied away from music videos. I think Russell [Hitchcock] and I don’t like to look at ourselves on video, so we always found it a little unnerving. We’re musicians, but I guess one must embrace that facet or idiom.
You make it a point to stick to performance most of the time, but because of the nature and tone of your songs, the subject is love, and if there’s a narrative, it’s romantic. I imagine the videos became reflective of that.
Yes, and with our music, it’s hard to get away from that. If we do a video, we kind of already know what it’s going to be. If it’s a romantic song, it will usually have a happy ending. A video for us would be pretty predictable, which we don’t like.
Let’s talk about a few specific videos. “Lost in Love” and “All Out of Love” were straight performance clips. Do you recall where you were when you shot “All Out of Love”?
It was in Australia, and it was in our early days. “Lost in Love” was a big hit, and “All Out Of Love” was coming, and it was actually done for a TV show on the Seven Network, and I don’t remember the show now — it might even have been the Paul Hogan Show, which we used to do quite often. The director said, “You’re on the show so why don’t we shoot a music video at the same time?” So we did. We just did two or three takes. And that became the video for “All Out Of Love”, that was sort of our introduction to videos.
The video for “Even The Nights Are Better” was shot on the Coney Island boardwalk. How did that come about?
We were playing four nights in Westbury, NY, and “Even The Nights Are Better” was coming out, and the usual thing for the record company was to find a director and come up with a storyboard, and shoot it. All of the videos we shot in one day. I remember that one at the storyboard stage in particular, because he said, “Okay, I’ve got you two guys and two girls who are your love interests are on bicycles,” and we just cringed. We thought, ugh, that’s not us. We’re adults and here’s these two beautiful 19-year-old girls on bicycles and we walk up and talk to them? It was just a bit corny, but the record company knew our audience, I guess, better than we did at that time, because it became a big hit. Now we still look at it, though, and go “ecccch” at that particular video. It just wasn’t us.
I’m sure that many people have told you over the years that they fell in love with someone and your songs were playing. At times, trying to translate that to visuals probably DOES come off a bit corny, and I only mention it because I imagine that if you cringe when you see “Even The Nights Are Better”, then “The One That You Love” probably does too. You’re on a children’s playground…
Oh, yeah, that was the same director, and I think we did it around the same time as “Even The Nights”, and yeah, we kind of cringed. We were at the mercy of the director.
Still huge hits, though. I think you guys sometimes have the same pattern as Hall & Oates, where the songs become such a part of the soundtrack of people’s lives, even bad videos can’t ruin them?
Yeah, I don’t think those videos did any damage at all. It would have been nice to do something more creative, but were in a certain genre at that time, and we didn’t know it, but it was a genre that we would inhabit for a long time. (laugh) And it took us a long time to dig out of it.
Why are there two versions of the “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” video?
That’s a good question. There’s one with the big drums, right?
Yes, the two drummers and lots of smoke.
Well believe it or not, I remember shooting that one, but I’ve never seen it! We did it in Battery Park, and it was a night shoot, and it just felt a bit strange. It started to rain and they had to cancel the shoot and carry on the next day. We were playing in New York at the time, and they finally said that they were going to can it, they agreed that it just didn’t feel right. I know they did finish it up later, but I’ve never seen the finished video.
It has the performance you shot mixed with a love story of a soldier coming home.
That sounds pretty cool. I never saw it. Well, they decided to go for a totally different concept with the other video. They chose me to be the leading guy, which I really resisted. However, I was very pleased about it because the lady who plays my love interest in the video later became my wife, and we’ve been married for twenty-seven years! The video was going to be shot in Los Angeles, and they couldn’t find the right person for the love interest. They had auditions, but they couldn’t find someone they thought would fit me. I thought that was strange that they couldn’t find someone in all of Los Angeles, but they asked me if I knew anybody. I had been corresponding with this lovely young girl in Chicago named Jodi. We’d been writing, but we’d never been on a date, so I showed them a photo of her. They flew her out, and she tested for the part and got it. It rained in Los Angeles during the time we were supposed to shoot, so we went to Utah because we had shows there, and the whole shooting company came out there. Jodi came too, and during the shooting, we became inseparable. We fell in love during the shoot. The director wanted us to pretend like we were in love, and I didn’t have to pretend anymore! And we’ve been together ever since.
You get your screen kiss in the middle of lasers.
Yeah, it’s funny, my favorite shot of that video is when Jodi is on the roundabout going around, and the camera follows her. I think it’s such a beautiful shot. It really captured her nature, her youth, her vitality, her spirit. That was one shot that told me, yes, I’m making the right decisions here! (laugh)
“Goodbye” is a huge video, and you are playing on the front of a moving train. How’s that happen?
It was real too! No CGI back then. It was in Arizona, we had gigs there, and it was mostly Russell because he had the vocal, and I was sort of ancillary. They said, what do you want to do here? I said, I don’t want to be a love interest. So they strapped me on the front of this moving train, and it was moving pretty fast, going through the mountains of Flagstaff. It was very cool. It’s funny, that song was not a hit in the U.S., but in the rest of the world it was as big as any of the other hits. I was glad to hand the baton to Russell from that moment forward as far as romantic leads are concerned.
For “It’s Never Too Late”, you were playing a piano in a giant field?
Yeah, that was in Malibu. I lived there for ten years. We figured we’d get a nice exotic location. The director said, you can play piano, but let’s put it in the middle of a field. And I said, okay let’s do it. And that was it. I really just wanted to be in the back, which is really where I’m more comfortable.
In “Can’t Stop The Tears”, you continue the locale shoots. You’re on a big rock in the desert, which is a popular place for music videos.
The proverbial desert scene — yes, I love it, I live in the desert now. Yes, it was kind of a barren landscape. Nothing particularly new. It’s very red.
One of the things I find strange is that you weren’t played much on MTV at all. Was it your niche, a little too soft for the rock? Your hits in the U.S. are more radio-based. Did you find that to be true in other parts of the world as well?
If we’ve got a record out in the U.S., it’s released worldwide, and sometimes it takes off and sometimes it doesn’t. But it takes off somewhere every time, you know what I mean? So that’s always been the way it is, but I’ve always shied away from the limelight.
“Every Woman In The World” video was filmed in the studio — the only video you have that was filmed in a studio, in fact.
Yes, that was filmed while we were recording, and I actually love that video. Everyone’s smiling and having so much fun. We’re not taking ourselves seriously, and it’s very much in line with who we are. It’s one of my favorites, and it was all just off the cuff. The director came in and said, I’ll just shoot you here. I like that spontaneity.
We seem to see the band in a way we never see them.
Yes, and I think it’s the only one with that type of content. We’re having fun, we’re on top of the world. A lot of fun. Wish we could do more of those.
Do you look back on that video period fondly or was it more of a nuisance?
I look upon them fondly because they are a time capsule. And I do look forward to doing another one — in fact, we are shooting one for a single very soon called “Desert Sea Sky”. It’s a full-on dance track, which we’ve never done. I do look forward to videos much more now because I am much more comfortable now with who I am in the band. As I said earlier, I’m much more content being the strong silent one in the back. I’m tall.
Are you playing the new single at the live show?
Yes, it’s usually the first encore, and the reaction is amazing. We’ve done videos on a train, in a field, on rocks — this one could be in outer space! They can put us on the shuttle. (laugh)
What is it that keeps you touring?
We’ve always been a heavy touring band. We love to play live, and that’s always been the payoff for Russell and me. When you see that crowd, and how much they love the songs, they laugh, cry, and go through the emotions right there with us. Russell and I always said we’ll stop touring when the people stop coming. At the moment, they are, so I think we’ll be doing shows for some time here, hopefully. And you know, I get people telling me at the meet-and-greets, after they’ve seen us, that it’s everything they thought it wasn’t going to be — it’s vibrant, it’s loud, and it’s engaging from the first downbeat of the show. It’s exciting. People are certainly bombarded with hits.
Catch up with Air Supply at their website and be sure to catch them on tour.