One of the few Australian bands to make it big worldwide consisted of the same six members for almost 20 years. They opened the Australian segment of Live Aid, courted controversy with overtly sexual promo videos, found themselves catapulted into the tabloids by the sex life and tragic death of their lead singer and took part in a reality TV show to find themselves a replacement front man.
Before they became INXS, singer Michael Hutchence, guitarist Tim Farriss, keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, bassist Garry Beers and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly played under another name...
The Farriss Brothers
The roots of INXS can be found in various high schools in the French's Forest district of Sydney, Australia. Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss had met at Davidson High School, where they'd joined the band Doctor Dolphin with bassist Garry Beers. Andrew's brother Tim was in another band with singer and guitarist Kirk Pengilly, who he'd met while attending Forest High School. A jam session involving the various members of both bands led to the formation of a new act, where Michael, Andrew, Garry, Tim and Kirk were joined by 16-year-old Jon, youngest brother of Tim and Andrew. The six musicians became The Farriss Brothers and played their first gig together at Tim's 20th birthday party on 16 August, 1977.
Even in their early days, the band had become extremely close, so much so that in 1978, when the Farriss family moved over 2,000 miles away from Sydney to Perth, the rest of the band followed. As they waited for Jon to graduate from High School, the band worked on new songs while playing gigs in pubs. The band returned to Sydney after Jon's graduation where they were eventually picked up by Gary Morris, the manager of Midnight Oil. But after a few months of touring with Midnight Oil, the Farriss Brothers decided to end their partnership with Morris. Soon after, an offer came their way to sign with Chris Murphy of MMA, and through him to the Deluxe label. At around the same time, the Farriss Brothers changed their name...
The Birth of INXS
On 1 September, 1979, the newly-named INXS played their first live gig in Toukley, New South Wales. They recorded their first single, 'Simple Simon' the following year and in October, 1980 their first album - INXS - was released, along with a second single, 'Just Keep Walking'. Though these early releases didn't exactly rock the world, they helped the band build a following for their tours, which often saw them playing every night of the week for months on end.
The following year, they finally broke the Australian Top 20 with their third single, 'The Loved One', which peaked at Number 18. Sadly, their next single, 'Stay Young', stalled at Number 21. After a second album, Underneath The Colours, and one more single, entitled 'Night of Rebellion', the band decided to part company with Deluxe.
In June, 1981, INXS signed with WEA. Their next single, 'The One Thing', reached Number 14. Their third album, Shabooh Shoobah, was released. Despite successful album sales (all three of the band's albums up to this point had sold enough copies to go gold) and extensive touring, the band's singles continued to under-perform. By January, 1983, INXS had moved to Atlantic Records, released 'The One Thing' as their first single for sale in the USA and begin an American tour that saw them play on the same bill as Adam Ant. MTV began to play their videos1 and their return to Australia at the end of 1983 came just weeks before the band finally scored a Number One single and album in their home charts: 'Original Sin' (a song that featured American Soul singer Daryl Hall on backing vocals) was the single and their fourth album, The Swing actually entered the Australian charts at Number One, staying in the charts for over a year. By the end of 1984, INXS's position as a major international band had been consolidated by a world tour and chart success in countries across the globe.
In 1985, INXS finally received limited exposure in the UK thanks to their appearance on the Australian segment of Live Aid. Their next album, Listen Like Thieves was released in the UK, though the singles from it - 'What You Need', 'Listen Like Thieves' and 'Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)' failed to break the Top 40. Still, back home the album went triple-platinum and 'What You Need' became the band's first top-5 release in the US.
The release of the Kick album in 1987 rocketed INXS's fame and critical acclaim even further. The single 'Need You Tonight' became the band's only Number One single (to date) in the US and later picked up five MTV Music awards. In the UK it was also their only single to break the Top 10 (reaching Number Two in November, 1988 after a first release that peaked at 58). Other singles from the album - 'New Sensation', 'Devil Inside', 'Never Tear Us Apart' (all of which went top 10 in the US) and, in the UK only, 'Mystify' - extended the band's portfolio significantly. To promote the album, the band began their biggest tour so far, covering South Africa, Japan, North America (including Canada), Europe and the UK, before heading back home to Australia.
After over a year on tour, some of the band members decided to focus on projects away from INXS, Michael Hutchence starred in a feature film, Roger Corman's low-budget horror movie Frankenstein Unbound2, while Andrew Farriss and Garry Beers separately produced works for other artists. By the end of the decade the band was ready to reconvene for their next album. Now that they'd found international success, the pressure was on to top what they'd done before.
X and Welcome To Wherever You Are
INXS's first single of the 1990s was 'Suicide Blonde', released in advance of the band's seventh album, X. While 'Suicide Blonde' would do well for the band, both at home and internationally, its ironic foreshadowing of the private life of the band's lead singer would lead to it becoming an uncomfortable inclusion on later Greatest Hits compilations.
X reached platinum status in its first week of sales in Australia. The release was helped along by the beginning of the next INXS world tour, dubbed 'X factor', which took in Queensland, four sell-out nights at Wembley Arena, The Point in Dublin, two nights in Mexico (where they became the first international band to play there since the Doors), Brazil, Argentina, Los Angeles and Sydney. En route they collected two awards from the BPI3 and released the singles 'Disappear', 'Bitter Tears', 'Good Times'4, 'By My Side' and 'Shining Star'.
In March, 1992, the Concert for Life at Centennial Park, Sydney played host to over 70,000 people eagerly awaiting performances from Australia's best acts. Top of the bill was INXS, playing a set that included songs from their next album, Welcome To Wherever You Are. On release in the UK, Welcome To Wherever You Are went straight in at Number One and later produced the singles 'Heaven Sent', 'Baby Don't Cry', 'Taste It' and 'Beautiful Girl'. Controversy swamped the release of 'Taste It' due to the highly sexual nature of the promo video, with various female models depicted licking Michael Hutchence as other band members sat and watched. Less controversially, 'Beautiful Girl' was used for an American TV awareness campaign about anorexia.
Full Moon, Dirty Hearts and Elegantly Wasted
1992 saw INXS taking a long-earned rest from recording and touring, waiting until the end of the year before beginning work on their next studio album, Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, which they completed recording by February, 1993, well in time for mixing and a November release. Just two singles came from this disc, 'The Gift' and 'Please (You Got That...)' (the latter featuring special guest Ray Charles). In 1994, the band released their first Greatest Hits compilation, which also produced a new single, 'The Strangest Party (These are the Times)'.
By 1996, fans might have noticed the gaps between albums getting that little bit longer. The fact was various members of the band had different reasons for not being available at the same time. While Tim Farriss worked on his own solo CD (ultimately released under the title Deep Inside Tim Farriss) and gave encouragement to an up-and-coming local band called Hoopsnake, Michael Hutchence had become involved with British TV presenter Paula Yates, whose relationship had (according to some sources) begun less than an hour after he had appeared as Paula's guest on the Channel 4 show The Big Breakfast; Michael and Paula's daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Yates-Hutchence, was born on 22 July, 1996.
At the same time, work had begun on the band's next album, Elegantly Wasted. In September, 1996, the band made their first live appearance in two years, at the Australian ARIA Awards, and four months later they gave a preview of their new album for just 100 people attending an intimate live event at the ABC TV studios in Sydney.
The title song from the album Elegantly Wasted was released as a single in March, 1997, and though it only just made it into the Top 20 in the UK, it gave the boys a Number One in South Africa. The album eventually came out in April that year, with a second single 'Everything' lined up for release in the summer ahead of the beginning of another world tour, which began with a show in Capetown.
On 16 August, 1997, INXS took time out to celebrate both the band's 20th anniversary and Tim Fariss' birthday. The following month, as they reached the end of another tour of the USA, they released the single 'Don't Lose Your Head'. Returning home to Sydney, the band members began rehearsals for a tour of Australia. However, their anniversary celebrations were cut short when, on 22 November, 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead in a hotel room. The cause of death remains inconclusive, though the two likeliest causes - suicide or accidental auto-asphyxia - divide his friends and family to this day.
Michael's fellow band members were understandably stunned by the news and took a long time to come to terms with the death of their friend and frontman. It would be over a year before they were ready to play as a band again; their appearance at a 25th anniversary gig for Mushroom Records was made possible when Jimmy Barnes stepped in as lead singer for their set, while in 1999, INXS played at an event to mark the opening of Sydney's Stadium Australia where Terence Trent D'Arby took the microphone for four songs. But more and more, the band members worked on solo material or on projects with other artists.
A New Sensation
During 2000, the band acquired a new lead singer for live concerts in Australia and New Zealand. Jon Stevens had worked with Jon Farriss on a composition for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and stood in as singer for a couple of gigs that spring and again later the same year. After a few small-venue gigs across Australia (dubbed the 'Just for Kicks' tour), INXS did their first tour outside of their home country since Michael's death; Jon Stevens had by then become a permanent fixture in the band.
In 2002, the band released another compilation CD. Definitive INXS (aka Best Of INXS in the US and The Years 1979 - 1997 in Australia) was accompanied by a DVD of the same name, featuring interviews with the band members, personal introductions to each of the promo videos and selected footage from live shows and other performances.
The following year saw INXS undertake 32 arena shows in Europe; each night sold out. Sadly, the end of the year brought more upheaval for the group as Jon Stevens decided to return to a solo career. Stevens' departure prompted the band to undertake a major new direction in the form of a reality TV show. INXS - Rock Star was an open audition to find the next INXS lead singer. In 2005, thousands of hopefuls from across the globe attended the auditions, while the final heats, recorded in Los Angeles, culminated in 31-year-old Jason Dean 'JD' Fortune emerging as the winner. With JD given a record contract, INXS were ready to produce their first new album as a band since 1997.
JD has a slightly dangerous edge and will bring a sense of spontaneity to our live show... We're a complete band once again.
- Tim Farriss