I have long been a fan of INXS and their music, previously described by band members as “big, basic dirty noise” and “white boy dance music” and had the pleasure of meeting Michael Hutchence when working as a publicist on MTV (Music Television) at Channel 9 in the early ’90s.
At the time, INXS was lauded as the consummate Rock band, enjoying chart-topping singles such as What You Need, Never Tear Us Apart, New Sensation,and Suicide Blonde.
Throughout 34 years of playing together, INXS has performed over 5,000 live shows to a colossal 25 million people across 50 countries.
In September 2011, INXS announced singer/songwriter Ciaran Gribban as the band’s new front man. Following the success of recent overseas concerts, INXS will be touring to regional Australia for the first time in many years, playing the band’s massive hits plus some brand new songs.
I caught up with guitarist Tim Farriss to talk about the band’s upcoming Coast to Coast tour to regional Australia …
Fans will be thrilled with the announcement of your long awaited tour.
It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time – it’s a chance to get out of the major cities. Ciaran Gribbin, our new singer and songwriter with Andrew (Farriss), is fresh from Ireland and loves Australia. We’ve been hanging out a lot in the band room playing and want to get out there to road test the new songs. We’ve wanted to do an ‘Original Tour’ for a very long time. There hasn’t been an opportunity to do it. Now that we’re writing all this material and we’re about to go into the studio, we thought before we record it, why not take this opportunity to finally do the ‘Original Tour?
You recently performed a slew of overseas concerts with Gribbin. Was it a conscious decision to debut the new singer overseas prior to touring to Australia’s Rock heartlands?
It’s how it played out, really. Ciaran started out with 15,000 people in Peru, then his next night was Argentina. We’ve been playing South America for a long time, and we threw him in off the deep end. Now we’ve had a chance to bond and for him to become more of a band mate, rather than a hired gun.
Which makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?
It does make a huge difference. We’re just enjoying his company and the songs that he and Andrew write. There are some real jewels and some surprises. The more we hang out as a band the better, as Ciaran gets to know how we do things. We haven’t done this in a long time, since before Kick. It’s Kick‘s 25th anniversary this year and to celebrate we’re re-releasing the record, which hasn’t been available for a long time, with a whole lot of stuff which will come out with it at the same time.
What else will be released with it?
All kinds of stuff, that I don’t want to give away…
Just a little bit …?
There will be some versions of songs that people haven’t heard, plus lots of video and archival footage. We’ve had all our stuff digitised, because film and tape only has a shelf life for so long and it had to be digitised. In doing that, we discovered some real gems – especially amongst some of our personal stuff. When we were touring during that era, everyone was trying to outdo each other with the latest handycam, and we were just shooting the hell out of everything and not even looking back at it until now…
Ciaran comes with strong songwriting skills – are you maximising those skills?
Absolutely. It’s the first time Andrew felt comfortable writing with a partner in the band since Michael died. It’s obviously really important and was a major priority for Andrew moving forward that he was able to find another writing partner.
He met Ciaran at a party somewhere on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and they just started writing together. Ciaran came out to Australia from Ireland with his wife, only planning to stay for a few months, and he and Andrew started getting pretty serious about writing. Then Ciaran moved here and they’re writing and we’re playing together – and we love it. Everyone’s having a great time.
Following Michael’s passing, is part of the reason why some of the other singers didn’t quite work out for INXS because they didn’t have strong a songwriting ability?
That’s the main reason. They all had wonderful talent and are wonderful entertainers in their own right, but they were always somebody else. It was never, “Oh he’s the new guy in INXS”; instead, it was always, “Oh, he’s Terence Trent D’Arby, Jon Stevens, or JD Fortune”. They’re individuals in their own right and were kind of like ‘hired guns’. I know that’s what Brian Johnson is in ACDC, but he came along at a completely different time for them. In fact, they broke huge when they got Brian Johnson to sing. So for us, it’s been a completely different road. We’ve had to go in several directions to find the right path and feel really comfortable again, and that’s what we’ve done – it’s a great feeling.
When someone who has played such an influential role in a band either leaves the band or departs us, it doesn’t mean that the band has to be thrown out with it …
Well put. You took the words right out of my mouth. I would have said more like, “If someone in the family dies, you don’t change the name of the family.”
No you don’t …
You carry on. We didn’t spend all those years and all that time away from our families for it not to be something. And by being INXS, Michael is still around. Every time we play, Michael is there. We’re keeping him alive.
It’s a rare day when a band stays together for 34 years and has the level success that you guys have. Respect would play an enormous part in it, I’d imagine?
I guess just the joy of playing music together. We really do enjoy playing music together. Other than respect, you talk to people who say, “We grew up listening to you”, and so in many ways the music that you’re hearing now is influenced by us twenty or thirty years ago, when these people were growing up. It keeps our music relevant.
During the ‘Summer XS’ tour in 1991, INXS played Wembley Stadium in front of 77,000 people. Tell us about how you became nicknamed The Riff Meister, or The Riff Sheriff.
We usually like to mess around with songs musically and have fun on stage and try different bits and pieces out here and there … We’d get to a point in the song What You Need and stuff around, until Michael would finally say, “Play the f-ing riff, Timmy!” It just sort of came out of that from the press. People call me the Riff Meister and Devil Inside. I used to skateboard across the stage, playing during Kirk’s solo, and he used to get upset because it would take the attention away from his solo.
You can’t take the attention off the solo!
No … It’s a great solo, and it did deserve more respect than me skateboarding around the stage.
I’m absolutely gobsmacked that you have performed to 25 million people …
Ha! Well, I’m gobsmacked that it’s only that many…
Five thousand live shows, 25 million people and nearly 50 countries. That’s impressive.
Well, you should see my passport and my Frequent Flyer points.
I want some!
I’ve got enough to share.
Good! Are you still a bit of a fan of deep sea fishing?
When you’re up here, if you have time, I’ll point you in the right direction of someone to go fishing with.
That would be great; I’d love it.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 64 of Manning-Great Lakes Focus