November 30, 2020 Interview – INXS’ Andrew Farriss
You simply never know where life is going to lead you. We can plot and plan all we want, but sometimes it is just out of our hands. Mystical in a way, Australia’s Andrew Farriss feels like he is the fortunate one in such an unpredictable universe, as he found massive success during the 1980s with his internationally famed Rock band INXS. A band that never fit into one box or category, Farriss relished in the ability to surprise listeners and himself with the music they created. In fact, all these decades later, he is still turning heads with his latest venture in the world of Folk and Country Rock.
A new inspiration for the talented songwriter, Farriss is a student of the world and is heavily fascinated by culture of all types. Finding interest in the old western frontier of American history, he is now creating music no one would expect. Unique and equally interesting, he most recently put out the EP Love Makes The World prior to a debut solo LP some time in the near future. An inspiring time for Farriss, he recently took the time to chat about his life with INXS, his love for diversity, plans for future music, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for over 40 years now. Earning a massive amount of success with INXS, how would you describe your incredible journey in music?
Andrew Farriss – That’s a big question. First of all, I feel fortunate and lucky. I will quote John Lennon, “You’re lucky if anyone likes you.” I’ve been one of those rare individuals who’ve had international success for many years, for commercial radio too. It hasn’t just been one particular song, it’s been over albums and years. The journey has led me to my own music now and a very different genre from what I was doing with INXS. Now I’m being Andrew Farriss and releasing Country Rock or Folk music, and it has been received really well so far. I’m feeling really good about it.
Cryptic Rock – You certainly have been on an amazing journey. INXS’s X album recently turned 30, and beyond that, the band has a lasting legacy thanks their versatility. INXS is a Rock band, but did not fit into one box. Was that important for you and the band?
Andrew Farriss – Yes, that is right. You just hit the nail on the head. It was actually a problem for us. It’s a miracle that anyone cares about INXS at all. (Laughs) We almost didn’t get known because we wouldn’t conform, stay in a box, and just play one kind of music. We used to experiment all the time, and later on, tried blending with Rock and Funk when a lot of people weren’t doing that. We used to experiment a lot with technologies, tried doing different things, and mixed up styles of music. I think the recording companies probably didn’t like us at all, because they didn’t know how to market us or what to do with us.
I think that same experimental thing that INXS did is the same reason why Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty), Brandon Flowers (The Killers), and Pat Monahan (Train), at different times individually, “It’s bizarre, but you can go around the world and you can hear INXS quite often on contemporary radio.” As much as I would like to think it was just one thing: I would like to put it down to both the songwriting, and that as a band we would experiment, we would not do the same thing over and over again. That was part of what INXS was.
Cryptic Rock – That is what makes the music so great, and it remains great all these years later. Outside INXS you have since launched your aforementioned solo career in music. You released a couple of singles, and the EP Love Makes The World. This new EP is a very mixed bag of music, but it is also provides a sense of hope during the times we are living in. What was the inspiration behind these songs?
Andrew Farriss – I was actually in the middle of releasing my self-titled LP, not the EP. The LP, I released two songs earlier in 2002 around January – “Come Midnight” and “Good Momma Bad.” Then COVID-19 hit the world and the record company, BBR Music Group out of Nashville, said, “Andrew, you can keep releasing music, but everyone’s going home and isolating. You might be good to chill for a minute and watch what happens.”
At first I was a bit uncomfortable about that, but then realized there was some wisdom in it. I stopped worrying about it all so much, and then I realized I was very fortunate to have recorded the songs that make up my EP now, earlier. I had the songs written, recorded them, but they didn’t suit the LP that I had made. I took it back to the label and told them I was really interested in putting the songs out because I think they really suit what the world is going through. To my surprise, they told me, “We liked the songs and let’s put them out.” I thought they would tell me no, let’s continue with the LP.
I think the lyrics work with the times we are in. I would like to say it’s party time at the moment, and there are a lot of songs about alcohol and other things, but I don’t feel it’s that time just yet. I feel like we are still trying to come out of something that has affected the whole world. That is why I thought these songs would be useful to people… hopefully.
Cryptic Rock – They really do resonate. With the EP out, what can you tell us about the LP? Will it go along the same trajectory?
Andrew Farriss – That’s an interesting question. I think the LP will take us on a different ride from the EP. And that is literally, there are a bunch of songs on there that relate to cowboy era and earlier times. I’m absolutely obsessed with culture. Not just Country music culture, but the instruments that make up early Country music are fascinating to me; all of them are taken from Classical music. I try to use all of those instruments on my EP, but especially on the album. I’ve tried to really stick to my guns on the album. With the songwriting I tried to have a theme running through it about the Old West. What’s a bit strange about that is there are not a lot of other artists I saw doing that.
That happened by accident, it happened because I was working out of Nashville with some songwriters. My wife, Marlana, is from Dayton, Ohio, which is a 5 1/2 hour from Nashville. We decided to go horseback riding down the Mexico border, right around the Chiricahua Mountain area. By accident, we met up with a a wrangler/cowboy. Sadly he has passed away now, but he took me and my wife through all these national monument places; old stage coach routes. I know exactly where Geronimo surrendered, you also had the Mexican army, the cowboys up in Tombstone, US Cavalry, and the settlers. I went back there again 2-3 times since and road horses all over the place.
Then I went back to Nashville, got in a room with writers, and they would ask, “Hey Andrew, what do you want to write about?” I looked at them and thought they’re not going to like this, and when I told them what I want to write about they said, “Okay….” (Laughs) They all have certain styles that a lot of them like to write in, so they get on the radio. I’m not interested in that though, I’m more interested in writing stories about the Old West. I am also interested in that subject because it relates to my culture here in Australia; I don’t live on the coast or a beach, I have lived inland in the Outback.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, it is really very interesting to hear what sparked your artistic direction. Is culture something that has always interested you?
Andrew Farriss – Absolutely. Part of my paternal family is British, part of my family is Australian, and now, part of my family is American. I’m interested in culture and history. The world is getting more sophisticated with technology, but you have to remember where all things started from. That is especially true with Country music which started with real simple instruments and people going through pretty tough times.
It’s good to remember where it all came from. I also find it really fascinating how people like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, or Willie Nelson always say, “I wish I was a cowboy.” That was because the culture a lot of Country music was born from people enduring immense hardship; both financial and lifestyle. That created a certain kind of music and style. I think of this journey; it’s still evolving and we’re in the middle of it.
Cryptic Rock – Right. We learn from the past and culture, plus it makes for great art.
Andrew Farriss – That’s right. Diversity of culture is such an important thing in the world. Some people will talk about how we’re all the same, but I don’t think that’s true. I’ve worked in 52 different countries. I think it’s good that there are different languages and that people have different ways of doing things; as long as they are doing things that benefit others in a positive way. I think the diversity of culture is a fantastic thing. I think it’s part of what makes the world a better , more interesting, and powerful place.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. The EP ends with “First Man on Earth” which is very unique to the other songs. How did it come about?
Andrew Farriss – That song was a kind of freak. What happened was I was songwriting with Guy Chambers in London. He had a family commitment that morning, so I walked into the studio and he had a whole room of old analog synthesizers. I knew how to use these things, so I just started having fun and messing around with them. When Guy came back from his commitment he asked me, “What have you been doing?” I showed him and he said, “That’s great!”
The two of us sat down with pen and paper to put the lyrics together. It’s 8 minutes and 8 seconds, and I apologize for that – it’s way too long. It doesn’t have a Pop structure. What it’s really about is how 50 years ago there was different technology, and how in 50 years time there will be some other different technology, but we, as human beings, keep getting more obsessed with technology.
Cryptic Rock – What a great concept. As a key songwriter in INXS, how does writing alone or outside the band compare for you?
Andrew Farriss – As a songwriter I’ve always written outside of INXS and wrote songs by myself. I do enjoy co-writing with other writers, because you know what, I learn something. Every time I work with someone, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a very famous songwriter or not, I just like them as people and what their contribution is artistically. I think it’s healthy to listen to what someone else has to say about the world, how they feel, or where they are going in their life.
As a writer I learn a lot more every time I work with another writer. Either I’m picking up the personality or the character of the person I’m working with, or I watch the way they assemble a song and I go, “Wow, that was really clever.” Each time I do it I pick up a little bit more as I go along. For me, a lot of my songwriting with other people, or even on my own, was forced on me because, unfortunately, my songwriting partner in INXS passed away many years ago. I was forced on a journey in that sense.
Cryptic Rock – And here you are today putting out something vastly different than you ever have before. Last question. What are some of your personal favorite Western films?
Andrew Farriss – That’s a good question too. I like El Dorado (1966) just because it’s a light film. I also like the interplay between Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, and James Caan. It’s a classic film with some really interesting scenes. There are some modern films, as well, such as No Country For Old Men (2007) and Tombstone (1993).
It’s not so much to me the Hollywood part of it, to me it’s the cultural part of it. To me it wasn’t until I immersed myself literally on the back of a horse out in some of these areas. It didn’t feel like Hollywood anymore, it suddenly seemed very real. I began to understand how it felt, not how it looked to be these people. It’s hot, uncomfortable, dusty, it rains, it snows, etc.
As we go along as human beings, we are getting more and more civilized; we live in concrete boxes, wherever we live, and we are getting disconnected from nature like that. It’s about the connection with humans and nature to me. That’s part of why on my EP I focused on lyrics that have to do with the relationship we have with each other and technology.