INXS founder Andrew Farriss talks songwriting, new album & remembers Michael Hutchence

<em>INXS back in the day (Andrew second from right)</em>

INXS back in the day (Andrew second from right)

Without Andrew Farriss there would be no INXS, and without INXS there would be a noticeable absence on the Billboard charts throughout much of the '80s and '90s. Farriss met the late Michael Hutchence as a teenager in New South Wales, Aus., when he broke up a fight between him and another student. Much later into their friendship, Farris invited Hutchence to front his band.  Three decades, dozens of hits and countless sold-out venues behind them, Hutchence is gone, claimed by a much-publicized early death in 1997.  But as the saying goes, the band plays on, and INXS are well into another lifetime as a group, perhaps even a few.  

Aside from their somewhat regrettable 2005 stint on prime-time TV combing through cover-band singers and other bar-stars that led them to on/off-again frontman JD Fortune, INXS made the right moves to enjoy an international success most bands never see. Much of this is due to Hutchence's worldly magnetism as it was to Farriss's songwriting skills that churned out nearly all of the band's Top-40 hits.   

We caught up with a particularly accessible Farriss from his hotel room in Tornoto, seeing as though he and the band are playing Mystic Lake on Thursday with Berlin.  He talked candidly about his late best friend and bandmate, and the era that cemented them both into pop/rock history.

(Sidenote: At U2's concert in Minneapolis on Saturday, Bono said at he dedicated 'Stuck In A Moment' to Hutchence after his death, but said, "Tonight, we dedicate it to Amy Winehouse.")



What was it like working with other musicians to come up with the Original Sin concept album?

It's probably fair to just put it really simply and say it's been a great experience. We recorded an album called Switch with JD Fortune and then we stopped for a while to experiment with some other ideas including a soundtrack of instrumental music. Through that process, we began to not think about things in the way we had before and [disregarding] pop formulas, the perfect 3.5 minute song, whatever that is. We really went sideways and started pulling apart one of our earlier songs called 'This Time'.  As we did that, we suddenly realized that the rulebook is really up to us.

What surprised you the most about making the album?

At first, the other artists were a bit confused as to what we were doing. We got approached by a lot of people, and as a result we have some great guests who dedicated a lot of their time and energy and desire for certain songs they were fans of. It was kind of funny, some of the artists would say, "Hey, I know you'd love me to sing on this track but what I really want to do is this song..." and we were like, "Oh!" That was really surprising. This is not a greatest hits album, some of the tracks are a bit obscure. So some things that happened were really coincidental, like meeting John Mayer in Australia and having him want to play guitar on "Mystify".


Were you worried about how it would be received by critics and fans?

We thought we were going to get hammered. When Michael was alive where we were doing a very different style of touring and recording. This style is really nothing like that era.  We're feeling really good about it at the moment and the door isn't really closed on this process - there's nothing stopping us from considering doing it again. I don't know the sequence of events, but for me it was particlarly challenging as it was exciting because I've constructed a lot of these songs in the first place.

You co-wrote nearly all of the band's Top 40 hits. Do you love performing songs from any particular era?

I do, actually, that's a good question. Specifically, all the songs off Kick I love performing live because the stars aligned for us on that album - it was like the universe all came into focus at one time and place for us.  In 1987 when we gave it to the record company, they hated it and wanted us to go back and re-record it. That's a true story. They didnt understand it and they'd never heard anything like it. We said, "Yeah, that's why we love it."

It's scary because you put this massive amount of thought into a project and then it gets shrugged off. It's devastating to not so much your ego but your creativity. But then to have it massively, commercially received, that was just extraordinary.

Did you have to make any fixes to it?

No! That was our 6th studio album - we weren't just brats off the block. We just said, "No, we have to be really strong with this and this is what we are going to do.'  And it's interesting because a couple of artists that are on Original Sin, the reiimagined album if I can call it that -- they refer to the Kick album and said they listen to it a lot.  In their opinion, some of the songs could be released today and sound relevant. I didn't think about it all that much, and by the early 90s, Kick wasn't a terribly fashionable album. It was about other things then, like grunge. But the one common thread we've discovered that stays true through all generations of people -- what people like to do is they like to dance and they like to have fun. They want to be entertained, and they don't want to be lectured to.

As long as we're talking about that era -- when you remember about Michael Hutchence, what's one thing about him that people didn't know?

He was a good guy to be around, it's just as simple as that. He was good company. He'd go out of his way to talk to people who he felt needed to be talked to or supported, and in that respect I admired him. You form naive friendships when you're young. You have no idea you're going to end up together in the pointy end of the entertainment industry. You just find yourself there, and you're like, "Wow."


I would say that a lot of people don't seem to recall that he actually had a great sense of humor. Michael was also somebody who, even before we left the shores in Australia, had already lived overseas. He spent some time growing up in Hong Kong; he went to North Hollywood High School.  And because of that, when we started to tour internationally, it helped. A lot of people take their cultures with them -- and why shouldn't they? They're proud of their country and language and background. But what people didn't understand when we first started touring was that Michael was already a man of the world. He already got it.

Thanks for sharing that with us. Is it fair to say you're still not without challenges concerning an INXS frontman? On the tour that's coming to the Twin Cities, all the artists from the new album are obviously not going to be on stage with you in a 'We Are The World' sort of performance.  

I'd like to think it was some kind of wonderful traveling review with people with famous careers! That'd be great, wouldn't it? Who knows, this might be actually what goes on in the future.  JD [Fortune] has been touring with us on and off for quite some time. That touring relationship works well, but he decided of his own decision not be a part of us, but we were cool with that and went and did other things. He's come back on a couple tracks to sing on this new album and he's also doing this particular tour with us. We did an ititial run down in Australia that was really well received. We also went to London and hadn't been there in 4 years which was exciting. We went to Portugal too, and a volcano was getting ready to erupt!

We don't have anything like that, so you might be disappointed.

Oh. [laughs] That's a shame.

I've read that you have a dislike for touring -- is this true, and how do you get through it?

The truth is that it's mainly about family. Trying to raise a family while you're traveling can be very stressful because I miss them and they miss me. It just puts strains and stresses on things. In a way, everyone who does any kind of job and travels for a living would certainly relate to that concept. Your kids grow up pretty fast, especially when you're not always with them, and it's not so much with touring or live performance -- I suppose the irony of it is if I could play the Sydney Entertainment Center where I live every weekend, that'd be great but it doesn't work like that. My kids are grown now, but in the years when I was griping and whining about that, I just missed them terribly.

What's one thing about being a member of INXS that never gets old?

I remember when Morgan Freeman won an Academy Award for the first time and he said very dryly, "I never thought these things were important until I got one." I feel similarly as a songwriter -- I just love to be able to perform live and be on stage and see people enjoying the music [I] created. I can't really explain that feeling, but it's great.


INXS play Mystic Lake Casino with BERLIN on July 28 at 7:30 p.m. More info here.

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