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INXS' Andrew Farriss gets a kick out of going solo

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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For most of his music career, Andrew Farriss was happily in the backline for INXS.

He was the group's primary songwriter, mind you, an Australian Songwriter's Hall of Fame inductee who, with the late frontman Michael Hutchence, penned hits such as "Original Sin," "What You Need," "Listen Like Thieves," "Need You Tonight," "New Sensation" and many more. Onstage, however, Farriss played his guitars and keyboards low-key, often towards the rear.

With the band largely inactive since 2012, however, he's put on the hat -- literally -- of frontman. Spending time in Nashville as well as Australia, he released a solo EP, "Love Makes the World," last fall, while his self-titled debut album comes out Friday, March 19. Farriss will be fronting his own band starting with dates next month in Australia, and he's gradually getting used to the idea of being The Guy onstage rather than just one of the guys in the band.

"Yeah, it makes me think a little more about all of that, where I didn't have to before," Farriss, 61, says by phone from Sydney. "And also I've got to be careful, as my wife's always kicking my ass about what I'm wearing and all that kind of stuff, which was kind of important to me before but now it apparently really matters."

Farris, who resides in rural Tamworth when he's Down Under, acknowledges that he "didn't really know what Andrew Farriss was supposed to be after an experience like that, with the band" -- which sold more than 70 million albums worldwide and had seven Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1985-90. He says there's long been an allure of country music, starting with American Western films he watched as a youth that in turn led him to artists such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and others, particularly in the Outlaw Country end of the spectrum.

"I reflect on the culture of what inspired those guys," Farriss explains, "and it's funny because if you listen to, say, Willie Nelson, he often says, 'I just want to be a cowboy.' And you look and say, 'Why would that be?'

"But then you look at that history, and I think those older guys were very aware of where that culture came from in the first place. I think a lot of what's happened in recent years, (country) has gone into this urban sprawl, modern style about modern culture and modern urban living. But the roots of it all that go way back when, to me that's the interesting part of it.

"So when I went to Nashville and got in the room and people said, 'Hey Andrew, what do you want to write about?' I'd sell, 'Well, to be honest, I'd like to write about the Old West in this country -- and they kind of stared at me like, 'Hey, dude, that's not gonna get us a hit.' And I'm like, 'Well, yeah, but, y'know, I've had hits, big hits, before...'"

Nevertheless, Farriss found writing and recording in Nashville to be "liberating" and "refreshing," though his collaborators included Australian ex-patriates such as Mark and Jay O'Shea -- who co-wrote "The Kelly Gang," a song about their homeland's notorious 19th century crime posse led by Ned Kelly. The biggest difference, he notes, was letting his lyrics lead moreso than instrumental ideas.

"I think I use the lyrics in whatever I'm working on these days to guide me," Farriss explains. "If it's a compassionate lyric, I'll try to use compassionate music. If they lyric's about, 'Hey, it's party time. Let's all drink alcohol and get wasted,' then I think, 'Yeah, I'll write an upbeat song and it'll be cool and everybody can party to that.'

"It's been nice, because I think what happens to a lot of artists and songwriters is they get pigeonholed by people -- 'No, you get in that little box over there, and you behave yourself.' But I don't believe in that, so it's been nice to go in this different sort of direction."

Farriss is not denying his INXS past, however. He plans to include reworked versions of some of its songs in his own shows, and he's also tacitly involved in a stage musical that a former manager is building from the band's songs.

"Y'know, INXS, two of the guys are my brothers, Timmy and Jon, and the other guys are like my brothers, my family," Farriss says. "And then when you actually get to a point, like INXS did, where you're a multi-national entity running around entertaining and writing songs and having big hits, at some pint the reality s you're still kind of high school friends doing it. So all I can say is I feel really blessed we did it together like that."

And Farriss hopes he'll feel just as fortunate with the music he's making now and will continue to make on his own.

"I've sort of developed into who I want to be now," he says. "I'm feeling comfortable. I can write songs and sing them, and I'm feeling OK with them all. I feel really lucky, to be honest with you."

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