Interview: INXS’ Andrew Farriss
The Australian rock band’s keyboardist and songwriter reveals all about his solo EP and new chapter as a country artist
When you’ve experienced the level of popularity that Andrew Farriss did as a member of Australian rock band INXS, you’re probably entitled to sit back and watch the royalty cheques roll in. An essential part of the band’s monstrous success, together with Michael Hutchence he co-wrote some of the band’s best-known numbers. Songs like Need You Tonight, New Sensation and Suicide Blonde which remain as iconic today as when they were when they came out in the 1980s.
Instead of slowing down, Farriss has gone back to the beginning and is having another crack at things, this time embracing his love of both American and Australian country music. So far this new direction has seen him put out a couple of standalone singles and new EP Love Makes The World. Hearing these tracks, it’s easy to imagine an entirely different career path for him, one which would now find him as a veteran of the scene.
Wondering what it must feel like to start over having already achieved so much, we decided to call Andrew up for a chat…
Congratulations on releasing your debut solo EP, how are you feeling about it?
“I’m feeling really good. What I was actually doing, back in January of 2020, was releasing my LP, not EP. An album called Andrew Farriss. I’d released two singles from the LP, Come Midnight and Good Momma Bad, and they both had videos which we’d put a lot of effort into. Then the pandemic kicked in around March when we are in Australia. My wife Marlina is from America and we had a split-second decision to make.
“We were actually going to go to the United States and Europe to play live but we decided that we’d better stay home in Australia and that was really difficult. During that time the record company in Nashville said, ‘Hey Andrew you can continue to release your LP but everyone has gone home,’ they were in self-isolation. I thought about it and went, ‘You’re right, that’s what I should do too, self-isolate and not worry about Andrew Farriss.’ There are more important things like health and family and our jobs.”
How did the EP then come together?
“I live on a big farm that we’ve owned for many years out in the Australian bush and I was walking around one day and it occurred to me that I had other songs that weren’t on the LP that I was really happy with. Songs I’d recorded in Nashville, London and my home studio in Australia and I took the idea to the record label and I said, ‘Would it be okay if I released these as an EP?’ and they loved the idea.
Were the five songs ones that were left over from the album or from completely different sessions?
“Three of the songs were related to my original LP sessions and the other two were like from outer space. I’d made the transition from what I’ve done in the past with INXS as a songwriter and performer with the band and decided to go into the country music. It’s kinda funny, so many people have said to me, ‘What are you doing in the country music genre?’ and I said, ‘Just because I’m in INXS doesn’t mean that when I get off stage I don’t like country,’ it’s the music I love.
“As a songwriter, country is stories and it’s awesome. I love that type of music, I always have. For me it was kind of a no-brainer, I just wandered into the genre because I felt natural with it and I feel lucky to have been accepted both in Nashville and Australia by the country music community. I tell stories and I write like that. What I’m trying to say is that I felt really comfortable with putting this out.”
Does your approach to writing change if you’re creating a country song or a rock song, or is it the same?
“My entry into the country music genre has sort of happened by accident. I’ve always been a songwriter and I’ve written rock, pop, funk, experimental with INXS, but when I started to co-write with people I let the dog off the chain. I decided to say, ‘It’s about me now.’ I love INXS, I love the music, I love the band, I love those guys and I’m proud of what we achieved. We did some amazing things, we worked in 52 countries and sold huge amounts of records around the world, won accolades and awards, you name it. But I decided to be me and I thought, ‘Well who the hell is Andrew Farriss, why does he mean anything to anybody?’
“I started to write with people, as I always have done and always will do, around the world. Marlina and I took a trip down to the US/Mexican border and started riding horses in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. We met an older couple, Craig and Tam Lawson, Craig has sadly passed away, but he was an old cowboy and wrangler and he gave me an education on that area. We rode around all these national monument areas, he showed me where the old stagecoach routes were and showed me places where the US cavalry rode and their forts were abandoned and these remote areas, including up towards Tombstone and the cowboy areas and where Geronimo surrendered.
“The point of all this is that it hit me that all of this is very similar to Australia’s culture, in a strange way, the beginnings. Both Australia and the United States had folk music brought in from Europe in the form of classical music, violins became fiddles and they tried to make sense of it and we formed our own versions of folk and country music in Australia and America.”
How do those influences then turn into one of your country songs?
“I started to work with people from Nashville, which is about five-and-a-half hours of driving time from my wife’s family in Ohio. I began to meet lots of people and I had doors open for me because of my background. I recognised very early on that I was having a very fortunate experience with known and unknown writers, girls and guys. To answer your question, what really hit home was that I could see the similarities between all these genres… rock/pop/EDM/rap whatever it is, the modern flavour, they all want the same thing… chart success.
“I thought, ‘I’ve seen a lot of life and I want to write about culture.’ I want to tell stories like the old guys did, not just about alcohol or party time, because there’s more to this. It’s about how we absorb each other’s cultures around the world and that’s what my EP became.”
A standout song for us is the eight-minute prog-country opus First Man On Earth, where did that come from?
“Everyone keeps asking about First Man On Earth, I keep saying we should release that as a single because it’s so out there. That song is its own little creature. I co-wrote it with Guy Chambers in London. Guy had gone off to a family commitment and I’d come to this recording studio in Primrose Hill early and he had a beautiful room full of old analogue synthesisers and that’s what I used to do in INXS. So I got in the room and started messing around. Then Guy came back and said, ‘Andrew what have you been doing?’ and I showed him and he said, ‘I love it, can we do this?’ So we sat down with a pencil, eraser and paper each and worked out the lyric.
“First Man On Earth is not what you think it is, it’s not a neanderthal in a cave with a club, it’s actually about us as organic human beings and our relationship with technology. Whether 50 years ago or 1000 years from now, why are we obsessed with technology? I think technology – and the advancement of modern technology – has been good for certain areas, such as education and the medical field, but I feel that there are other areas where there is a great unknown.”
How about in the field of songwriting?
“We’re talking to each other on technology now that didn’t exist back in the 70s, so I understand all the changes and I acknowledge them and I’ve worked with them. I think there have been some amazing things that have come from it and some amazing music has been made through technology too. People who were trying to do things in the 60s, 70s and 80s would have only dreamt of what we can do now, recording programmes and pitch correction and all these things that exist now that were unimaginable then.
“That’s great but that’s not quite what I’m saying. My question is ‘Can you eat a smartphone?’ because in 200 years we’ll still need good food and clean water, that’s my point. As people around the world, are we really improving the quality of our lives?”
You say that one was written with Guy Chambers, does writing with others always bring the best out of you?
“I love writing with other writers, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing songwriters like Guy Chambers and Michael Hutchence.”
What can you tell us about the other tracks?
“I wrote Tears In The Rain with Ciaran Gribbin who lives out in Northern Ireland, I already had the lyric and chorus in my mind but I didn’t have the verse worked out. Ciaran and I heard a story about two Australian brothers called Daniel and William Clarke. Daniel has cerebral palsy and their father took them up to the jungles of Borneo to rescue the orang-utans. That was about 12 years ago, now they’ve raised over $900,000 and secured over 140,000 acres of wilderness for the orang-utans, that’s what Tears In The Rain is all about.
“The next track is called My Brother which I co-wrote with Jon Stevens, an Australian artist and an amazing singer. We got together quite a few years ago and wrote some songs and one was My Brother, about the loss of a male figure in your life. Blokes, we’re not particularly good at talking about such subjects, we’re good at fixing things and talking about sport down the pub but we’re not necessarily good at talking about things that really push buttons with us emotionally.”
And the other two songs?
“Love Makes The World is about the cycle of life. We come into the world as babies, all of us, and eventually, you grow up and think you’re invincible but if you live long enough, at the end of it you’ll still need someone’s help, and then we go out of life.
“All The Stars Of Mine is a song I co-wrote with a friend of mine, Suze DeMarchi. Both of us have had children, as Australians, born in foreign countries. For her, it was Los Angeles and for me, it was in the UK. Two of my three kids were born in the UK and I really like my experiences there. As a writer, I realised we had something in common. We talked about it and thought, ’Let’s write a song about that because it makes the world a smaller place.’ If you’ve had children born in a foreign country you get to learn about the communities, the culture, the politics and you begin to talk about it and recognise that you have a lot more in common with people than you think.”
When you’re writing new songs are you ever competing with your own songwriting legacy?
“Yeah, Andrew Farriss is definitely competing with his past as a songwriter.
With that in mind, what are you hoping to achieve with this set of songs?
“The fact that you even listened to it, I’m really pleased, sincerely. I feel really blessed to be talking about my music during a pandemic when most people are worried about their health, their families and their jobs, they’re not worried about music really. It’s not party time, it’s time for us to reflect upon the people closest to us in our lives and work out where we’d like to all end up in the world. Without sounding ridiculously idealistic or stupid, I’d like to think that the world is going to come out a better place.”