INXS SWITCH ON!
March 15, 2006 | Author: Greg Phillips & Steven Rosen
In a small club in inner suburban Melbourne INXS quietly but confidently launched their new album ‘Switch’, their first featuring new front man JD Fortune. Greg Phillips witnessed first hand the band’s newly found enthusiasm when he sat down with bass player Garry Beers and guitarist and sax player Kirk Pengilly to discuss the new album, new singer, the band’s past, present and future. To complete the picture, respected US scribe Steven Rosen experienced the band live at one of their first gigs of the new tour and filed an exclusive report. Launch pics by Marty Williams. Gig pics by Hali McGrath
THE LAUNCH – by Greg Phillips
The year 2005 could have gone so terribly wrong for INXS. For many music industry critics, the career of Australia’s most successful international recording and touring band had already ended on November 22, 1997 with the death of their enigmatic lead singer Michael Hutchence. Deciding to play on with part time vocalists such as Terence Trent D’Arby and Noiseworks’ Jon Stevens did nothing to detract those critics from their views. Then early last year the band surprised all when they signed on to create a reality TV show, Rock Star: INXS with Mark Burnett, producer of world conquering shows like ‘Survivor’ and ‘The Apprentice’. The idea of the show was to put unknown singers through their paces on camera as they vied to become the band’s new permanent lead vocalist. In Australia, where the show only made it to pay TV, it was initially thought that the band had finally lost its marbles. America however, land of reality TV, accepted the concept with open arms. The show rated its socks off and credible rock music legends lined up to offer their support to the project (Bob Dylan offered to come in for a workshop, and Michael Stipe placed a couple of calls to the television studio asking for versions of REM songs that had been performed on the show). In the end, INXS found their new singer, Canadian JD Fortune, and recorded a brand new album “Switch’ which became the bands’ highest ever debuting disc in the states. In short, the TV gamble worked. America hadn’t forgotten that this band had sold over 30 million albums and had achieved 17 high charting hits, and afforded the band the respect that they deserved. In January 2006, the ‘Switch’ world tour began. In America initial tickets sales were strong with additional dates being added immediately. Soon the tour hits Australia and it’s hoped that the same enthusiasm for the newly invigorated band will permeate through the minds of their hometown fans.
Finding a new lead singer through a reality TV show was the band’s idea. They were the ones that approached Mark Burnett, not vice versa as many have thought. INXS, along with their astute management, had always been about making their own decisions, creating their own destiny and consequently being responsible win or fail for their own actions. The years following Michael’s death had been tough times for the band. Not only had they lost a ‘brother’, but it took a long time to sort things out. The band’s financial paperwork had been neglected, individual members had settled in different parts of the world going through their own personal dilemmas and the line of communication was not what it used to be. Prior to the creation of the TV show, keyboard player Andrew Farris had been writing with ex Baby Animals singer Suze De Marchi and one option for the band was to go with Suze as their new front person. Fate would see the TV concept come to fruition first, and JD Fortune, despite initial band reservations, was deemed INXS’ new lead singer.
“We were getting to know these people through the television show” explains Garry Beers. “JD was great for the TV in that he was controversial, and creative editing made him even more controversial. So we got to know him through TV thinking what a dickhead he was. Then we got to meet him finally and set up to play live in a rehearsal studio with him and the other finalists, and realised what a great guy he was and how well he fitted in with the band.”
JD makes no secret of the fact that he has always been a fan of the band, and it’s no surprise that he sounds a little like Hutchence and has a similar attraction to the opposite sex, but according to Pengilly, that’s where the similarities end. “I guess in a lot of way he’s kind of got it all like Michael did in that chicks love him and he’s a great performer. I think where he really differs is that Michael was very fluid and feminine and very relaxed. JD has a lot of nervous energy and can’t sit still. Michael was kind of like a cat, whereas JD is more like the Tasmanian Devil,” said Kirk.
More than the new vocalist or album, the most symbolic gesture signifying the end of one era and the beginning of a new one for the band was the synchronous release of Anthony Bozza’s book INXS: Story by Story, the first ever book to be authorised by the band.
“We knew we would be starting again to some extent,” said Kirk whose personal diaries formed the basis of Bozza’s research. “The main reason for the book was to honour and close off on the twenty years we spent with Michael. There have been a stack of books that have come out and none of them have ever been authorised by us. Most of them are crap and we thought it was time to put our book out and tell it like it really was.”
With new singer on board, the band gave themselves a short sharp month to record an album and get it out and about in order to capitalise on the buzz created by the TV show. The time restraints also contributed to the sponteneity of the project, giving the band a freshness it hadn’t experienced for many, many years. Kirk elaborates,
“In the past we would do half an album and take a break, look at what we had and what we needed and send Michael and Andrew away to write some more songs. There was always a lot of analysing, which was good and bad but what we found was that this time it was fresh, there was no time for that sort of thing. None of us really even knew what the songs sounded like until they were mixed because we were all working in different studios at different times. We never really got to hear everyone’s bit until it was on it, so it was kind of weird, but exciting too.”
INXS has always been at the cutting edge of new technology. They were the first band to tour with an AKAI MPC-60, sequencer and sampler, the machine that made sampling the huge phenomenon it is today. They were also one of the very first recipients of Yamaha’s DX7, the synthesiser that helped define the eighties sound. However, the new album was much more a back to basics affair. While ‘Switch’ was recorded 2006 style … all on Pro Tools, it certainly didn’t render the finished product devoid of sonic idiosyncrasies.
“If you record with Pro Tools, you spend a day cleaning it up, getting rid of all the noise, ” said Garry Beers of the studio experience. “We didn’t have time for that. So what you are hearing is almost like it’s off tape anyway. It’s got all the ambience, all the yelling in the background, not so much warts but all of the excitement of what we did. We all thrive on computers. It was interesting that both engineers that worked on the album, had never worked with tape. Never touched tape. So if I wanted to slam the drums and bass down on 2 inch tape, they were like … how?”
Beers originally intended to experiment a little with this recording, taking a bunch of new gear into the studio including a Tim Kill produced 5 string upright stick, a unique sans-body bass. However it soon became obvious that time restraints would prevent anything out of the ordinary. The immediacy of the project also quickly wiped away any cobwebs surrounding their musical chops.
“We were doing things like changing keys at the last moment,” said Beers. “All of a sudden Guy Chambers (album producer) would say drop it down a tone because it has to suit JD to get that note. So you transpose and it was a real mind f#@k. I loved it. I did five bass tracks in one day and with three of them, the keys changed and I had to retune and write out charts for myself because I had to retune the bass to suit the song.” “Real musician stuff,” added Pengilly enthused at the challenge the album provided. “That was one of the most outstanding things about the rock star show too. The house band featured a couple of guys from Prince’s band and Chers … unbelievable, heavyweight players. All the singers each week had a board with the songs up there, and they would have to write up which song they wanted etc, with all the politics and games and all that. They basically had an hour each with the band to rehearse the song. The house band could just switch keys so easily. They would have to because they wouldn’t know who was going to sing the song. They’d always be right on it. Astounding musicianship.
Garry and the other guitarists have re-connected their endorsement deal with G&L, a company that loyally supported them in the past. He explains his current G&L bass and Ampeg amp set up. “I’m still using the old SVT’s and still got the boxes I designed for them almost twenty years ago … 1540’s like an HM box but with 15 in the bottom, so still got them and the big SVTs. As far as P Basses, I’m using G&L LB100’s and been using those live. I’ve got my old P Bass for the studio. I have a black LB100, I dropped it in the studio. I was telling someone how indestructable they are in the studio and I dropped it and broke the neck. But they replaced the neck and it just sings again.”
Pengilly too is a G&L man, but it was his saxophone, an important ingredient in the INXS sound that I was eager to enquire about. “Actually I have to make a phone call about the first sax I ever bought which I donated to the Hard Rock Cafe in Sydney, an SML and I’m going to try to talk them into giving it back. It was the one I used on the first album. But ever since then only Mark VI Selmers, which are from the sixties era. To me they always make the best sound. Unlike a guitar where the neck wears down, with a sax you are doing constant maintenance on them anyway. You change the pads you change the springs and all the things that move. You have to re-adjust, and unless you drop the thing, they will last forever,” said Kirk.
It was clear at the band’s local album launch that singer JD Fortune was enjoying his new found fame, and seemed to have no trouble fitting in with his recently adopted INXS family. Kirk was taking JD away to his farm to get to know him before jetting back to the US to begin rehearsals for the tour. The band is determined, enthused and focussed, elements that haven’t been associated with the band for a while. By the time INXS arrive back in Australia to tour they’ll be a well oiled machine, firing on all funk rock and groove cylinders … just like they always have.
THE WORLD TOUR – by Steven Rosen
INXS guitarist Tim Farriss uses the alias Frank Lee while on the road. Currently the band is touring in support of their new album, Switch, and to showcase new singer J.D. Fortune. The pseudonym is a tacit declaration of the Australian’s outlook on life and his approach to music – an honest and straightforward take, frankly speaking, on the world around him.
And those very elements were revealed when the band rolled into Los Angeles recently for one of their first stops on the new tour. Australian Musician was there, beating out dozens of other media outlets all scrambling for tickets and passes. INXS danced about on a spartan stage adorned with a gangway situated in the rear and down which virgin singer Fortune first made his entrance. Though there may have been some scepticism on the part of American audiences with the introduction of the new singer, J.D. fit in seamlessly. The six-piece cut like razors with incisive and crisp versions of “Suicide Blonde,” “New Sensation,” “Mystify Me,” “Dirty Vegas,” “Afterglow,” and a sweet hour’s worth of others.
This was a show borne of drama and determination and anyone caught in the headlights of this sonic circus will be blinded and moved by it.
The sextet has been making music now for several decades, a no gimmicks, organically grown sound based on rhythmically complex instrumental parts and harmonically adventurous vocals. Their stopover in Los Angeles proved that the group is as relevant and edgy as they ever were. Frankly, there is no one else who sounds like INXS and here brother Tim attempts to explain why.
SR: Your show here in California was really truly remarkable and a real testing ground for J.D.
TF:Well, it’s like we’ve been through it all and for him it was welcome to our world. In many ways, J.D. becoming our singer has been like a fire of baptism. Like my brother Andrew said, he didn’t grow up in the pubs and clubs of Australia which is probably one of the toughest, but best, breeding grounds for a band. We expect a lot and demand a lot and have a tough work regime and we practice hard, play hard, and all those things have to happen. And he’s learning really quickly about that. But he’s doing a remarkable job and he has real passion as a singer and as a front man he’s great. We weren’t looking for a Michael replacement; well, actually I guess that’s not true. We weren’t looking for a Michael look-alike or sound alike or anything like that. It wasn’t until we actually went into the studio and started listening to mixes, that we started to realize in some way or another, I don’t know how, but he suddenly started to sound a lot like Michael. And the great thing about J.D. is he does all the songs in the original key.
And what was it like working with J.D. on the new Switch album?
Well, we didn’t really have a whole lot of time to think about it. It was just let’s do it. Literally the day after the show, he and I got up at 5 A.M. and did satellite television interviews around the world and went straight from the television studio to the recording studio. And had a twelve-hour day in the studio. We had something like four studios at Westlake (major recording facility in Los Angeles) going at once; recording everything from band tracks to overdubs and vocals and whatever was going on. It was insane and at the same time it was a really great way to make a record because you didn’t have time to second-guess things. I have to take my hat off to Guy Chambers (producer) for holding the throttle. We were writing all the way through the television show and we continued to write during the recording process. He co-wrote ‘Hot Girls,’ ‘Devil’s Party,’ ‘Never Let You Go’ and of course ‘Pretty Vegas’ (the group’s first single). For ‘Pretty Vegas’ he had lyric ideas which he wrote during the course of the television show and then he had lyric ideas for ‘Devil’s Party’ and ‘Never Let You Go’ which I think live is one of my favorite songs to play. And I’m also enjoying some of the older songs like ‘Taste It’ where we do this big breakdown and Andy, my brother, plays this great sort of guitar solo. And then I kind of back the guitar solo with what I’m doing but from a musician’s point of view it’s just a lot of fun.
The way you, Andrew, and Jon weave in the textures of three guitars truly is a unique quality. Can you explain how this trio of string instruments works?
It’s pretty much natural. By this stage of our career, there are certain things that you just know. I really don’t know how to describe it but you just listen to a song and you know it’s your part. Or on a song like ‘Devil Inside,” I wrote the riff and I even wrote the chorus line. I guess, having worked with some of the greatest producers in the world helps. Like Chris Thomas (worked on Listen Like Thieves; Kick; X) is an amazing man and a very close friend. He taught us a lot. Mark Opitz (Shabooh Shoobah; Live Baby Live; Welcome to Wherever You Are; Full Moon, Dirty Hearts), too. And in the eighties, bands like Queen embraced us and wanted us on their entire tour. Brian May would come into our dressing room playing his guitar and go, ‘So what kind of guitar was that you used? A Tokai?’ When we played Madison Square Garden, Keith Richards was sitting backstage in our encore room just to say hello. And Steve Stevens came by after the show and tried to buy one of my Tokai aluminum body guitars. He offered me a certain amount of money which I won’t disclose and you know what? I wish I’d sold him the guitar (much laughter). I don’t even use it anymore.
What was it about the Tokai that you so admired?
It was like a Strat setup with the three single pole pickups but they’re encased in an aluminum body so there’s no noise. I really am a Telly guy but the Strat sound particularly for certain songs on recordings with Chris and he and I had a certain thing.
What’s so intriguing about INXS is the fact that there are three guitar players and yet there is no lead player. Everything you do is based around these great riffs and rhythm figures.
That’s what Mark and Chris love about the band is that we create music together. It’s not like Kirk will do a solo, I’ll do a solo, Andrew will do a solo … it’s the rhythm patterns we play off each other that make up the texture of the song. It’s still intrinsic in what we do – not try to be individuals but be a band. I think that comes from having played together since we were kids.
Describe some of the other guitars and amps you’re using at the moment.
In the studio I go with a lead as opposed to cordless but live we use this new Shure wireless system. I use two (Marshall) JMP-1s as my preamps; there’s only one knob on the amp that works and that’s the master volume. I run those through Marshall heads. I use the T.C. Electronics G-Force and a rack mounted wah where the signal doesn’t go out front or back, it’s just a wah pedal that controls the wah. I don’t use a lot of stuff but there is a BBE effect which is my secret weapon.
On the road I use my trusty old ’72 Fender Telecaster and in the studio I use mainly that and my Tokai Talbos and my ’56 Fender Strat and my ’67 and ’63 and ’75 Les Pauls. But my main tool of trade is the Telly and it’s beat up like all hell and has Seymour Duncan single pole pickups on it. And this Kramer with a single pole pickup and one knob and man that guitar can sound as clean as or as dirty as anything you’ve ever heard in your life. What you do is back the knob off and you’ve got Mr. Clean, turn it all the way up and you’ve got Mr. Van Halen. And as much as I’m opposed to the Floyd Rose whammy bar system, I still use ‘em ‘cause I don’t have to deal with ‘em. They just rock and they just hold their tuning.
What do you see the future bringing?
All I want to do is play music with my brothers and my two best friends, Gary and Kirk. And at the moment, J.D. who’s like our adopted child. And I mean that in the best way. At this point, I can’t imagine what the worst thing could be – the worst thing that could happen is the airplane crashes. Otherwise, I’m happy with whatever happens. But I just want to keep playing music with my brothers. And I think we made a real INXS record and it sounds like INXS.
INXS’ Australian tour dates will be announced in early April 2006. Check www.inxs.com for details.
INXS SWITCH ON!