Don't Change

27 June 2012 | 8:15 am | Ben Preece

INXS – a band that needs no introduction around the world, let alone to Australians – are back, road-testing another new singer and some new material. Lead guitarist brother Tim Farriss tells Ben Preece just what it is that keeps them going despite it all.


It's been almost 15 years since the death of Michael Hutchence, the enigmatic original frontman of INXS, the seminal band that certainly helped put Australia on the international musical map. Forming in 1977 on Sydney's Northern Beaches under the simpler moniker of The Farriss Brothers, the accolades achieved by the band were utterly phenomenal and far too numerous to list here. Needless to say, the band has had a turbulent time since that tragedy, but they've kept on keeping on, having utilised a number of semi-permanent and temporary lead singers. Noiseworks' Jon Stevens gave it a go for five years, Terence Trent D'Arby stood in for a bit and even Barnsey fronted a couple of songs for the Mushroom 25 concert in 1998. But it wasn't until 2005 that they settled on a young Nova Scotian singer by the name of JD Fortune, discovered on the reality TV program, Rock Star: INXS.

With Fortune out front, the three Farriss brothers – Jon, Tim and Andrew – along with Garry Gary Beers and Kirk Pengilly, released one album in 2005, Switch, which received quite a luke-warm response, to say the least. Even when Fortune was moved on by the band last year, they enlisted Tricky, Rob Thomas, Ben Harper, John Mayer and Dan Sultan among others to provide the voices for Original Sin – a “tribute” album of sorts – that featured re-recordings of their biggest hits. So the question on many of our lips is, “Why, exactly, do INXS continue without their seemingly irreplaceable frontman?”

“We just love playing music together,” laughs the affable Tim Farriss, the oldest brother and lead guitarist of the legendary outfit. “We spent so long being INXS, why lose that? It's still who we are. We could go back to The Farriss Brothers or make music under a new name, but there doesn't seem to be a point. It worked for AC/DC but it was timing for them – they were touring and touring and were just about to make the breakthrough when Bon [Scott] died. Fortunately they found Brian [Johnson] and he just fitted in easily. They wrote Back In Black and it's been a no-brainer from then on; they've basically played Back In Black ever since, every album is a new version. They have a niche and they just play AC/DC. You know from the first three chords who it is.

“But for us, it's a nightly tribute to Michael. It'll never stop being that while we're playing songs he wrote. But that's something we're all used to now, it's been a long time since Michael died and we'd like to feel we've moved on.”

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So who fronts the band and sings the songs in 2012? Well, he's a rock singer from Northern Ireland called Ciaran Gribban who, prior to INXS, was a singer-songwriter in his own right. Fronting projects like Leya and Joe Echo, he's also been nominated for a Grammy for co-writing the Madonna track, Celebration, and penned the score for the film Killing Bono. But is Gribban the new frontman, or simply the latest in what could be a long list of collaborators?

“It's funny,” Farriss quips, “but in our own way, we're all frontmen… now! We're the original guys and that's really what it's all about. Ciaran is an instrumentalist – he plays, which Michael never did. He's not so much of a frontman than a band member who sings – he sings real good, he writes real good and, yeah, he's got his moves, but the rest of us talk more than we used to, we never used to say anything but now we can talk to the audience as well. Our fanbase is such a broad spectrum, our demo[graphic] is so wide that there's people who grew up and listened to us because their parents listened to us. We get generations at our shows.”

While there are no firm plans for the release of the next record, Farriss reveals that Andrew has found a writing collaborator in Gribban, something that never really gelled with Fortune, and that they feel like a “gang” again.

“We're working towards all-new material. It'll be the first new stuff in seven years, Switch was 2005. That one was a bit hard to write because we didn't know who the singer was going to be, or what gender for that matter. The good thing is we're all living on the North Shore now, except for Jon, but there's this place down in Manly, it's a nightclub and it's brand new – we've taken it over as a bit of a music room for ourselves. We haven't done anything like this in twenty-five or thirty years, just getting together as a band a lot to play and work on new material that Ciaran has been working on with Andrew. We just go down there, have jam sessions and we'll record it at the end of the day on an iPhone. We haven't done that in such a long time and we just get to hang out and practice.”

Next up on the band's agenda is the Coast To Coast Tour, which will take them into the heart and soul of regional centres all over the country.

“Ciaran has just moved to Australia and so far the poor fellow has only done shows with the minimum of 15,000 people or something,” Farriss laughs. “So now we have this band room thing, we want to get him out and road-test some new songs – of course we'll be playing the ones everyone wants to hear – and show him the heartland of Australia, where we grew up in the pubs and clubs. Well, these ones are a bit bigger than most of the places we started out in, but it'll give him an idea of the more intimate venues in Australia and basically, we'll just have some fun. We haven't experienced'“intimate' in a while; I think the smallest we've played lately is 4,000 or something – not really intimate, but it kind of is, compared to most places. It means we can change the set and play some songs people haven't heard in a long time, some songs people have forgotten about. Half of them won't be able to tell what's new and what's old.”

A band with such an incredible legacy is bound to create a lifetime's worth of work, and the remaining founding members are working on parts of their back catalogue, remastering it and preserving it.

“We're digitising old masters, accumulating vaults of film stuff which has existed on everyone's Handycams,” Farriss reveals. “When we were doing mega arenas and stages all over the world, everyone pretty much has it on video. And it's [1987 album] Kick's 25th anniversary this year. That hasn't been on the market for a long time so that'll get a run again with tonnes of extra stuff too.”