At 80 years old, Jefferson Starship's music is just as real as it has always been for David Freiberg.

Since boarding Jefferson's first incarnation; Jefferson Airplane in 1972, the classic rock musician has remained a band fixture to date.

And he has no desire to stop anytime soon.

Speaking from his home in California, where he has lived for the past 50 years, Freiberg gently answers the phone.


His laugh almost instantaneously bellows through the international line - the first of many throughout the conversation.

It is hard not to warm to him as a person, with a comforting persona that can light up a room, while also having a sense of rawness.

"I might die, you never know," he says with a chuckle.

"Some day I will, I suppose, but I'm certainly not going to plan on it. As long as it is fun, I'm gonna keep going and it keeps getting to be more fun."

His lengthy career has seen him soar to incredible heights but his fame has also come at a cost. In the late 60s and early 70s, he was incarcerated three times for marijuana use, his band has broken up and morphed into various forms and most recently, a dispute with former Starship guitarist Craig Chaquico erupted when he filed suit against this current Jefferson Starship.

But looking back, he wouldn't change a thing.

"I am happy to be exactly where I am right at this moment. If anything had changed in the middle of it, it wouldn't be the same now."

It is the music that has kept him going. Prior to filling in for departed lead singer Marty Balin on the last Jefferson Airplane album, Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun, Freiberg became a founding member of San Francisco band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, playing bass and sharing lead vocals with guitarist Gary Duncan.

But thanks to lineup and stylistic changes, Quicksilver never quite reached the success many envisioned for it.

"When I joined Jefferson Airplane I said, 'oh boy, I get to sing some of these songs. It's wonderful cause I was friends with them anyway ... and so it was just great to sing the three part harmony songs with Paul [Kantner] and Grace [Slick] ... and the whole rest of it was just magnificent. Everybody would come up with these great songs."

The Airplane crumbled soon after, later morphing into Jefferson Starship in the 70s, with hits such as Miracles and Count on Me.

When Balin and Slick left the band, Freiberg was instrumental in moving them into a more commercial, harder-rock direction when he co-wrote Jane, the "new" Jefferson Starship's first hit, about an old girlfriend.

He wrote it with Balin in mind, and when they left, they would try it on all the new singers.

"Mickey Thomas sang it better than anybody else so there you go," he laughs.

Then in his fifties, he parted ways with the band right before it shortened its name to Starship, noting he "didn't build that city" - a reference to the love-it-or-hate-it eighties anti-classic We Built This City.

In 2005, he rejoined the new Jefferson Starship — which also includes veteran Starship drummer Donny Baldwin, singer Cathy Richardson, keyboardist Chris Smith, and guitarist Jude Gold and isn't the only offshoot on the touring circuit these days. Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, fronted by the band's lead singer from 1979 on, is also out on the road, playing a repertoire that focuses on eighties hits.

"We just feel very close, as close as any band that I've ever been in, so we've just had such a wonderful time. I am just so happy to be alive, be 80 years old and still playing it's great."

It is the first time Freiberg will perform in New Zealand, let alone visit the country.

"We might have to move there depending on the politics," he says, with a warm laugh - a nod to the current climate of Trump's America.

But joking aside, he does have a rather interesting link to the country - his cousin works here for half the year.

"I'm not sure where she lives," he confesses. "I've just always known that she's lived in New Zealand, but I'll find out. I'm pretty sure she's going to be there."

He says he's always wanted to visit the country but just never had the time.

"I have a hard time going places unless I can play and be working there. I very rarely have time to go anywhere, but I am so looking forward to seeing your beautiful country."

And while, Jefferson Starship and Toto are both stars in their own right, they have never performed together, something Freiberg says he's looking forward to doing.

"I'm just so looking forward to playing for people in New Zealand, I cannot wait until I get there."

When asked what he would like his legacy to be, the rocker has a "senior moment" trying to figure out a movie quote, before singing a line from the 1984 comedy musical, Spinal Tap - that I had a "good time alllll the time".

"The keyboard player is interviewed by the rock 'n' roll band and he says what's your motto and he says have a good time alllllll the time," he describes. "And I thought that's as good a motto as you can have as far as I am concerned. What else could you ask for?"

Jefferson Starship will join Toto and Dragon on next year's A Summer's Day Live series at Church Road Winery, Napier, on January 10.