Did INXS all come about because of a trip to London in 1964? It’s a fateful question the band’s former multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Andrew Farriss likes to ponder.
His parents Dennis and Jill Farriss took their children – the future INXS co-founders Tim, Andrew and Jon – from Perth to England when Andrew was 5 years old. In London, they went to a televised variety show.
“And there’s my brothers and I sitting there and out walks the Beatles,” Farriss tells The New Daily.
“And they start playing and we’re looking at each other like, ‘This is pretty cool!’ There was a lot of excitement in the room. It must have had a massive impact on us psychologically.”
It was a shorter, quieter journey that led Farriss – who has a newly-minted Medal of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the performing arts – to his latest musical venture and his first solo album in a four-decade career.
Last month, the 60-year-old released his second single, Good Momma Bad, from his upcoming self-titled country album.
It’s a radical new direction for Farriss, who with INXS frontman Michael Hutchence penned some of the world’s favourite pop songs including Original Sin, What You Need, New Sensation and Never Tear Us Apart.
“I went horse riding down on the Mexico border,” says Farriss, whose wife Marlina Neeley Farriss hails from Dayton, Ohio. “And I suddenly fell in love with the area.”
He learnt the region’s history and saw parallels with the troubled, bloody past of his homeland.
“I thought, ‘What a great opportunity to write about all this stuff’,” says Farriss, who lives on a working farm in NSW’s drought-affected Tamworth region.
The result is an album that includes songs about America’s old West and Australia’s bushranger era, all recorded using instruments of the period.
Does he worry his new direction won’t reach the stratospheric heights of INXS, which culminated in 1991’s legendary Wembley Stadium gig before 70,000 people?
Not at all.
“Now that I’m getting back into the entertainment industry, I’m remembering some of the things I learnt the hard way,” says Farriss, who has three adult children with his first wife.
“Like – a platinum record is no good if you don’t have a life to hang it on.”
So he made a pact with his wife, who encouraged his genre change. His first single, Come Midnight, was dedicated to Marlina, who is battling stage four metastatic breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in 2014.
“We agreed to say to each other the whole time, ‘Are we enjoying it?'” he says. “And at the moment I’m enjoying it.”
He couldn’t always say that of his INXS days. Farriss was not always comfortable with the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, preferring to keep a low profile and going out of his way to avoid meeting other rock stars.
“I used to get these fan moments where I’d freak out,” he recalls.
“Mick Jagger came back to meet the band at least three times – and I never met him. Because that was just too bizarre for me. I’m a Rolling Stones fan.”
There was no avoiding another Rolling Stone, guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards, during INXS’ 1988 Kick tour in the US. The band had just played its first show at New York’s Madison Square Garden and “Keith comes back into the green room,” Farriss says.
“And I’m a bit nervous, so I said, ‘Hey, do you want to meet Michael?’ Because everyone always wants to meet Michael. And Keith goes, ‘Why would I want to talk to him? He’s just the f—ing singer!'”
Out in May, his new album is all about Farriss’s vision, and it’s his first studio album in years. INXS’s last album (with JD Fortune out front) was Switch in 2005, produced eight years after Michael Hutchence’s shock death at 37 in a Sydney hotel room.
Recording again “was great,” says Farriss, who was “pretty lost” after Hutchence’s death.
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“After Michael passed away, [INXS] still made records, but this time around I wanted to make something that was my idea alone.
“I wanted to do it myself.”
And do so without the fuss. During the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January, Farriss played one of his gigs on the JB Hi-Fi stage in Tamworth’s Centrepoint Shopping Centre, where he and Marlina shop.
The noise drew the odd angry glare from shoppers, but Farriss says the “kebab shop guy” said his music “really rocked.” He should have been at Wembley.
“It’s very good for me,” says Farriss, who learnt to play the piano on a Beale upright that his uncle left at the family home in Perth.
“I’ve done a complete circle in my life. My journey has always been writing songs, since I was a kid.
“Sometimes people recognize me, but there’s not a lot of rock-starring that goes on in country music. And at this juncture in my life it feels great.”