Andrew Farris Interview – Dave Steinfeld (from the album Top of the World available on BMG Australia)
Most people know Andrew Farriss from his work with INXS. Farriss not only co-founded the Australian sextet; he was also its keyboardist and, along with the late Michael Hutchence, its main composer.
INXS got their start in Sydney, Australia and made their name playing the pub scene in and around that city. Farriss came from a musical family and he and Hutchence (who would become the band’s frontman) were school friends. His older brother Tim, meanwhile, was a guitarist who had started a band of his own with his friend Kirk Pengilly (who played both sax and guitar). Eventually, the two duos joined forces. They were rounded out by a rhythm section of Garry Beers on bass and the youngest Farriss brother, Jon, on drums. This lineup of INXS would remain unchanged until Hutchence’s death some 20 years later.
Although they’d already released two albums in their native Australia, INXS didn’t see an American release until late 1982, when Shabooh Shoobah arrived. While it sold respectably, and produced a moderate hit in “The One Thing,” there was little to indicate that five years later, INXS would be, without exaggeration, one of the biggest bands on the planet. Kick, their fourth American album, was a global phenomenon. Here in the States, it rocketed to number three on the Billboard album charts, and scored the band four top 10 hits: “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside,” “Never Tear Us Apart” and the chart-topping “Need You Tonight”. The songs were great, the timing was right, and Michael Hutchence’s good looks certainly didn’t hurt (this was the MTV era, after all). Unfortunately, as the ‘90s dawned, INXS became somewhat less popular and relevant, despite releasing more good work (particularly 1992’s Welcome to Wherever You Are effort). In late 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Sydney hotel room of an apparent suicide. Though the band has recorded with other vocalists over the years periodically, the fact is, you can’t replace a frontman like Michael Hutchence and INXS — as we knew it least — ceased to exist.
The other five band members, however, have kept busy over the years. And last month, Andrew Farriss — who has written songs with plenty of other artists and on his own — released his official solo debut, an EP called Love Makes the World. What’s most surprising about this five-song disc is that it sounds nothing at all like his work with INXS. Recorded in Nashville, Love Makes the World is basically an Americana record! But Farriss has always been adept at creating a distinct mood with his music, and Love Makes the World is no exception; it’s just a different mood on this case. While “First Man on Earth” doesn’t really fit with the rest of the EP — it’s more keyboard driven and at eight minutes, too long — songs like “My Brother” and “All the Stars Are Mine” are both catchy and heartfelt.
I spoke with Andrew Farriss not long after Love Makes the World’s release. Like everyone else, his plans for 2020 were changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he’s hoping to release a full album next year. In the meantime, we had an interesting chat about everything from the new EP to his INXS salad days to Buddhism!
Dave Steinfeld (DS): I wanted to start with the EP. Tell me why you decided to take the solo plunge now.
Andrew Farriss (AF): Right. Well, the EP, which is Love Makes the World, was born by accident. Prior to that, in January 2020, I was actually releasing my Country & Western/Rock album, called Andrew Farriss. But the EP has been released just recently, on October 2, 2020. And here we are.
DS: Now is the Andrew Farriss album coming out as well?
AF: Yes. The Andrew Farriss LP… will be released, at the very latest, March 19, 2021.
DS: In the meantime, the Love Makes the World EP is quite different from the kind of music you made with INXS. And you recorded this EP in Nashville. 0Were you always a fan of Country and Americana, or has there been sort of a shift in musical evolution over the years?
AF: Well, first of all, as a songwriter — both with and for INXS — Michael Hutchence and I probably wrote 300 to 350 songs for that band. But since his passing, I’ve worked with many other people around the world. And I’ve always worked on my own, too. So, for me, this journey — some of it relates to the earlier work that I would have done. My EP — Love Makes the World is the title of it — all five tracks of it are born from the pandemic. The COVID-19 that we’ve been experiencing. I’ve realized as I went along that I needed to put some music out that was important, where there was hope. It may sound a little idealistic or whatever you wanna call it, but [the song] “Love Makes the World” makes the most sense to me of all.
DS: Tell me about why you chose Love Makes the World to be the title [of the EP].
AF: Right. Well, first of all, my wife Marlene is from Dayton, Ohio. I’ve worked and lived in many countries in my life. With INXS, I worked in 52 countries. I have British family [and] I lived and worked out of Britain too — in London. But I live now back in Australia, which is my birth country. And I’ve sang all over the world and seen a lot of things. But I’m just really pleased and grateful that I have the family and friends that I have.
DS: I also wanted to ask you about the song “My Brother.” I was curious to know if that was about Michael, whether it was about one of your actual brothers, or someone else.
AF: A lot of people would think when they first hear the song [that] it’s about Michael Hutchence. But it’s not, actually. The song is about my co-writer, Jon Stevens. He lost a family member of his. Men are not generally good at talking about loss. We’re good at talking about repairing things from hardware stores. And, you know, sports and occasionally girls and other things. But we’re not very good at talking about when something happens in your life that’s so meaningful and devastating from the loss of a family member — especially a male figure in your life. So “My Brother” is talking about that.
DS: Okay. I didn’t know that but I appreciate it. One of my closest friends, about five years ago, lost his daughter very suddenly. Shortly after that, I lost my Mom. And our friendship has become much deeper in the last few years.
AF: I’m sorry to hear that.
DS: Yeah. It’s been tough for both of us. He’s been an inspiration to me, though. He’s a bit older than me and kind of an older brother figure maybe. We always got along but as you said, we would talk more about sports and music — stuff like that. We can still talk about that and we can still laugh. But since we’ve both dealt with loss, our friendship has taken on a much deeper dimension too. And I don’t take that for granted.
AF: Can I ask you a question?
AF: Are you an atheist?
DS: (after a pause) I am! I’ve never been asked that during an interview.
AF: Sorry, can I ask you another question? So what do you believe in?
DS: That’s a good question. The last few years, I’ve been exploring Buddhism. And I’m still exploring it. It resonates with me more than some of the traditional Western religions do. But having said that, I’m still a novice with Buddhism. You know, the people I’m studying with and talking to have been practicing it WAY longer than I have. But that’s the path I’m on at the moment. Have YOU explored Buddhism at all?
AF: Um… A little. In 1983, INXS went to shoot a video — two videos — in Japan. One was for a song called “Original Sin” and the other one was “I Send A Message.” We went to the oldest Buddhist temple in existence. And the Buddhist monks that were in the temple had been there, in succession, for a thousand years or more. When we got there — this was in the middle of Tokyo — we started shooting these two videos. So, the head of the Buddhist monks came up to Michael, and he said, “It’s great to have you here”. This man had a bald head and this beautiful sort of gold and purple robe. And I said, ‘Can I just ask why you let US in here, after a thousand years of isolation from Western influence? Why INXS, my band, why did you let us in here?’ What do you think he said?
DS: I have no idea!
AF: No, come on. Give me an answer! I want an answer!
DS: I can’t imagine that this guy was a fan of ‘80s pop music…
AF: No, right! (he laughs)
DS: Just a wild guess… I’m gonna say there was something maybe in your personality or music that spoke to him?
AF: Correct! He pulled out a trumpet. He started to play trumpet and he said, ‘I like your music. And even though you’re the first group of — you know, whatever the Japanese word is for white Europeans, British, Australians or whatever — that we embraced and asked to come into this temple. And we’re happy to have you here’. Can you imagine that? After a thousand years?
DS: That’s amazing. Take me back to the Australian music scene of the late ‘70s, that INXS came out of. I’m curious to know what kind of time and place that was.
AF: Yeah, interesting. Some Aussie bands would probably disagree with me but I think I’m right in saying this. The Aussie pub rock scene that so many bands, including INXS, were born out of was like nothing you’d ever seen. AC/DC came from that background. INXS came from that background. Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, The Angels. There were so many bands that [came from] that era. We weren’t controlled by US [and] UK pop trends. We weren’t controlled by fashions dictated by Europeans. We were just simply on our own roll here in Australia — and we were excited. We were feeling invincible and that the music we were creating was unique. And you know what? It was. The music that we created and put out there to people — they were like, ‘What the Hell is this? This is not a British Invasion. This is not what we’ve seen from the U.S. before. This is not ABBA. This is a whole other thing’. I think the Australian music scene still is affecting the world, in a weird way. For such a small population, we really have a high concentration overseas.
DS: There was a band from that era, or maybe a couple of years before, and they only had one hit here in the States. But I love ‘em. They were another group of six guys from Australia. They were called The Sports.
AF: I know the song, and the guys you’re talking about. Yeah, they’re great.
DS: I wanted to ask you about an INXS song; I think it’s one you wrote by yourself. The song “This Time.” Any memories or inspirations of writing that?
AF: Sure. “This Time” was a song that I recorded with INXS round-about the Listen Like Thieves era, our 1985 release. The record was produced by Chris Thomas — great producer. He liked “This Time.” I wrote the song about love dynamics where, you know, you can argue with someone you love. But at the end of the day, you have to stop arguing and just recognize that you love the person. That’s what the song is all about.
DS: To bring it full circle — and I know everything is subject to change — but right now, what do you have on the agenda for the first part of next year?
AF: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. First of all, the Australian government won’t let us leave Australia until they’re comfortable the pandemic’s finished. So, I can’t go anywhere (laughs). Back in March, Marlene and myself — ‘cause we have American family and friends and commitments and business interests — we were gonna head to America. But we decided to stay in Australia for a variety of reasons. So, I don’t know exactly how to answer that question, ‘cause [our] planning changes all the time based on government restrictions or openings or whatever they’re gonna do. The planning of anything is a nightmare, you know?
DS: Yeah, I get it. Andrew, is there anything else you want me to cover for this piece that I haven’t asked you about?
AF: Well, probably. I just can’t remember what it is. [laughs nervously] Thank you for talking to me. My name is Andrew Farriss. I’m a songwriter. And I really appreciate everyone listening to me or hopefully listening to my music. My EP has five tracks on it, which are “Tears in the Rain,” “My Brother,” “Love Makes the World,” “All the Stars Are Mine” and “First Man on Earth.” And thank you for listening to my EP. I really appreciate it.
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