Most would associate Andrew Farriss AM as the co-founder and the conductor of INXS, having composed all but one of the band’s top 40 US hits, with the enigmatic Michael Hutchence as the sidekick co-lyricist. The multi-instrumentalist had not only orchestrated the band’s world-wide success with over sixty million album sales, but has also engraved himself as an internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter through the works of various artists across a spectrum of genres, from Jenny Morris to Yothu Yindi.
Surprisingly, it has taken over two decades since the passing of Hutchence for the world to embrace the music of Farriss as a solo artist. With his debut EP Love Makes the World, Farriss takes us through a journey of eclectic chronicles, such as the inherent guardianship from birth to the inexorable destiny of death and grief – after all, life is a cycle. Mental health and suicide poignantly sip through the spectrum thanks to a collaboration with Jon Stevens (Noiseworks, INXS 2002-03) who shares the grief of losing a male figure. The conservation of the rainforest for the well beings of the endangered orangutans in Borneo were inspired by the Clarke Brothers, forming the lugubrious journey of humankind’s fallibility. Being an international figure means living out of one’s comfort zone – and the appreciation of one’s culture and search for commonality are imbued with Farriss’s collaboration with Suze Demarchi (Baby Animals).
While most musicians maintain the DNA of their legacy bands, Farriss elevates into a self-discovery of honesty as a deep-rooted singer-songwriter, focusing on the narratives on folksy and country compositions. To add a further twist onto his repertoire, the Cottesloe-born artist flirts with synthetisers in London, and through the collaboration with Guy Chambers (the person behind Robbie Williams), Farriss transports the listener through a futuristic trance of the third kind. Farriss’s musicianship outrightly shines in this EP, crafting beautiful words that manifest into poignant lyricism that entwines with the sonics, weaving through our emotions long after the songs are heard.
The musical arrangements may have eschewed from the early works of Farriss. Nevertheless, music lovers will develop a penchant for the new chapter penned by the 1990 ARIA Producer of the Year.
Andrew Farriss – a member of the ARIA Hall of Fame and the Order of Australia (AM) recipient – speaks to Sheldon Ang about Love Makes the World, the stories behind the tracks, while giving a masterclass on the art of producing a world-wide hit, and finally reminiscing along the memory lane of INXS.
Sheldon: Andrew! It’s Sheldon here from Around The Sound in Perth. How are you?
Andrew: I’m good, Sheldon…did you say you are from Perth?
Sheldon: Yeah mate from Perth.
Andrew: Awesome, I was born in Perth.
Sheldon: Were you born in Rockingham by any chance?
Andrew: No…I was born at Cottesloe Beach.
Sheldon: Oh excuse me, sorry about that mate (chuckles).
Andrew: (Chuckles) How about you, where were you born?
Sheldon: I was born in Malaysia, but I’m calling from a suburb called Munster or Lake Coogee…and the reason why I mentioned Rockingham is because of Rockingham Holdings – your Music Label?
Andrew: It’s funny that you got that connection because that was a place that mum used to take us when we were kids to have family holidays. Naming a company is a weird thing… not sure how I’m going to put this…but if you have named a company with a positive mind, you’ll do really well if you have brilliant intentions (chuckles).
Sheldon: So true…hey mate you are the second member of INXS in two months that I had spoken with.
Andrew: Oh really! Who else you spoke to?
Sheldon: Your former bass guitarist, Garry Beers
Andrew: Oh Garry you were talking to…Garry…wow that’s great! What were you guys talking about?
Sheldon: About AshenMoon his band, with Toby Rand as the lead.
Andrew: AshenMoon! Great band!
Sheldon: Yeah…anyhow congrats on your EP. I have to say the cover of the EP is not what I had expected, and when I listened to the unreleased tracks, they are not as what I expected as well…so have you always been this storytelling, country ballad writer and singer at heart?
Andrew: Yes…let’s put it this way; I’ve always been a songwriter – that’s the main thing I’ve done throughout my life. And I still do write songs – and I have not finished yet. And I like all genres of music including country music. I have been a fan of country rock & folk music and you get a combination of…what’s that word…combination of different genres…
Andrew: Yeah…eclectic, as a song writer I mainly draw from country roots for this part. As a solo artist this is the first time after all these years that I’m releasing my own music. As an EP, I’m really happy to be able to put these songs together, and I think they worked pretty well together, actually.
Sheldon: I believe so too…I mean you touched on the environment and conservation, mental health and suicide, love and lost, and technology. Was it meant to set up that way from start?
Andrew: Originally, I was releasing my LP earlier this year at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. And then the pandemic kicked in and the world changed, and I was watching the world trying to struggle and we still are, and figuring out how do we go through and come out of things, and I stopped releasing my LP and I started rethinking a release, and that’s how an EP was born and I recognised that the world is going through something extraordinary together. I sat there and looked at other songs, and luckily they were recorded really well, and I was happy with the recordings. They seemed to me, when I looked at the lyrics of the five songs in the EP, I listened to them and I felt they worked really well. I had already been working on the ideas, possibly the follow-up to my LP. So the EP was born like that.
Sheldon: The name of the EP, Love Makes the World, which is also the name of the track – I thought this will be like a happy love song and then you get a twist that cuts pretty deep, “Standing by the grave, with flowers in my hand”. So what sparked you to write something with a grim reality?
Andrew: Well, because it’s the reality. Love Makes the World is about the cycle of life. You come into the world as a baby, you are totally helpless…and no one gets through life without the help of other people. And from the moment you come into this world, you have someone looking out for you…looking after you…or you don’t survive, and then when you become an adult and you think you’re invincible, and then when you get to the end of your life, you’ll be lucky to have someone looking after you. So I didn’t mean to be sad or grim at the end of it…is the reality of life.
Sheldon: Poignant indeed. And I believe All the Stars of Mine focuses on internationalism versus nationalism – do you feel that since 2016 nationalism has gone about the wrong way?
Andrew: I don’t know…well first of all…All the Stars are Mine is a song that I co-wrote with Suze DeMarchi who is also, by the way, from Perth and from the Baby Animals band – fantastic band. What the song is about is that both Susie and myself in different times and different families had children born in foreign countries. And when you have little children in a foreign country, you begin to absorb the culture and the food, you observe the politics, you see and read the headlines…and that gives you a different feeling than perhaps when in your own country…and you look at someone elses country. Then, suddenly, you realise they have their own culture, and that’s the beautiful part of it. We are all different – but yet most of us want exactly the same things – and that is what the song is all about.
Sheldon: And this EP is not just about human to human interaction – there’s also about human to nature interaction, and the orangutan conservation in Tears In The Rain? Have you been active in that sense?
Andrew: I know the Clarke Brothers who put up the books about saving the orangutans, and I’ve known them for a while…and I met one of the brothers the other day, William. I’m not really in a sense of an activist. I’m more about the person who likes to encourage people to think about the Earth, and the fact that we only got one Earth, not just the environmental aspects of it, but we should try harder to work together, accepting different cultures and getting on with one another.
Sheldon: And the cover of the EP has The Earth behind you…is that symbolic to what you’ve described as us being one?
Andrew: Yeah, I think you have described pretty well. And there’s a bit of sense of humour as well; I’m dressed like an old cowboy so it’s not that serious…it’s serious but not serious at the same time. And part of it is we only have one planet. And as far as I know, we can live on, and we got to look after it.
Sheldon: And speaking of one world…you wrote this EP in three different locations; Sydney, London and USA…
Andrew: That’s right…
Sheldon: I find it quite interesting because these days you can collaborate with any artist without physically being together, but you travelled to the far reaches of the planet to do that?
Andrew: All through these years, I’ve written songs in every way possible. Including by technology, by Skype or Zoom or co-writes, but there’s the human interaction with working with someone with a person in real time…the old school where it is also great. You can pick up the way the other person feels by just being with them. Technology can distance people as much as bringing people closer together. Technology is a strange thing like that, and you can’t necessarily know what the person is feeling of thinking if you’re not in the room.
Sheldon: On the topic of writing, you composed all but one of the INXS songs that went to top 40 in the USA. When you write songs, when do you know, ‘Alright, this will be a huge hit’?
Andrew: To be frank, I don’t think I will ever know what is going to be a really big hit. All I know is over the years, if I’m being honest about what I’m trying to say of a story that’s true, or trying to face emotions that are difficult to face, and trying to articulate them as a writer and do the best – I can get the idea across for the song, lyrically. And as a musician, you want to make sure it is musically entertaining enough or funky…or something you want to dance to…or you want a tear jerking ballad or something…that’s you know how the music will suit the lyrics. If you do your best, the best you can with those things – it is possible that you have a hit!
Sheldon: I was speaking with Ross Wilson of Mondo Rock and Daddy Cool, and he was saying that sometimes you have to leave your antenna out there, and the lyrics will come to you – rather than you looking for the lyrics.
Andrew: Yeah, I am a big fan of Ross Wilson and I think he is fantastic. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever met Ross, and I’d like to…and sure – I agree with Ross with that…and the antenna is important. In fact, the taller the better and sometimes if you have an antenna that’s flying, it still wouldn’t be big enough (chuckles).
Sheldon: And I see you collaborated with the person behind Robbie Williams?
Andrew: The track, First Man on Earth is a pretty long song, is like 8 minutes and 8 seconds long…but a lot of people really like the track. That’s the track I co-wrote with Guy Chambers in London. Yes, he’s behind Robbie Williams, The Angels and has written huge hits for Robbie. I’ve worked with him before. He’s an amazing song writer and he has had an amazing career, and that song is about human beings and their relationship with technology.
Sheldon: Finally, moving onto tear jerkers, something that you mentioned before…one of my favourite songs is My Brother. Was it difficult to write something as deep as that song, given what had happened to Michael?
Andrew: Well that is part of the story. The other side of the story is I co-wrote that song with Jon Stevens (Noiseworks, INXS 2002-03), and I’m a big fan of Jon and he’s my friend as well, and we’ve worked together before. I had been talking about a very sensitive subject which is about losing someone in my life who is close to me, and Jon started to talk about losing someone that is close to his life – a male figure who is very important to him, and so it’s not a song just about Michael. It is about Jon’s experience as well, and we felt it was fitting to share a common feeling or emotion of what it feels to lose a male figure; your brother, your father, your son…or a good friend with someone that you cared about. So is a more general song, a song about lost.
Sheldon: You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to but when I had a chat with Garry Beers (bass player of INXS) he mentioned that Michael was a sweetheart, without any ego in real life, loved people and animals and so forth. I’m sure you share the same sentiment.
Andrew: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think Michael was a very sensitive soul, and was a very caring sort of person. He would be reaching to people who were really struggling…like Garry, I really missed our friend. He was a good guy.
Sheldon: And you guys were like brothers since growing up in high school?
Andrew: Yeah we were mates and we used to laugh a lot too and it wasn’t all sad and tragic. A lot was really happy, and we had a really good time.