An Excess of INXS - Biography

INXS Biography

First Printed in Contemporary Musicians
December 1989, Volume: 2
by Elizabeth Thomas

Note: Some information was outrageously old, and has been updated - nk

Personal Information
Band started in 1977 as the Farris Brothers; briefly called the Vegetables; became INXS (pronounced "in excess") in 1979; consists of Michael Hutchence (born c. 1960, in Sidney, Australia; father's occupation: an importer; mother's occupation: a make-up artist; unmarried; home--Hong Kong) lead vocals, also group's lyricist, appeared in film Dogs in Space; Tim Farriss (born c. 1958, in Perth, Australia; married with two sons; home--Sidney, Australia) lead guitar; Andrew Farriss (born c. 1959, in Perth, Australia; married with one son and two daughters; home--Sidney, Australia) keyboards, group's primary composer; Jon Farriss (born c. 1961, in Perth, Australia; married; home--Los Angeles) drummer; Kirk Pengilly (born c. 1959; unmarried, one daughter; home--Sidney, Australia) guitar, saxophone; Garry Gary Beers (born c. 1957; married; home--Sidney, Australia) bass; musical speciality: rock-funk, pop.

Record company--c/o Mercury Records

Noted for their blend of rock and funk, Australia's INXS is still composed of the same members who started the band in 1977-Michael Hutchence, Tim, Andrew, and Jon Farriss, Kirk Pengilly, and Garry Gary Beers. After struggling for years on the Australian pub scene, the group began to attract international attention in the early 1980s and had what Rob Tannenbaum labeled in Rolling Stone a "breakthrough hit" in the United States with 1986's "What You Need." This taste of fame was small, however, compared to the phenomenal popularity INXS experienced after the release of their 1987 album Kick. Aided by wide music video exposure on networks such as MTV, Kick's first single, "Need You Tonight," thrust INXS, and especially lead singer Hutchence, into the limelight. As critic Cathleen McGuigan announced in Newsweek, INXS has "a hard-driving, irresistibly danceable sound and a sexy, live-for-the-moment attitude--tempered with just a dash of social consciousness." She concluded that the band possessed "all the right ingredients for late '80s success."

Perhaps part of the reason that INXS has remained intact long enough to reach that pinnacle is that half of the group is composed of family members. Tim Farriss on lead guitar, Andrew Farriss playing keyboards and writing most of the group's music, and Jon Farriss on drums, are all brothers. The Farrisses grew up in Perth, Australia, where their early interest in music was supported by their parents. Tim, the eldest, told Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone: "When we were really young, we used to stand around with tennis rackets and mime records, the three of us. ... Like 'Don't Sleep in the Subway' and 'Mr. Pleasant,' by the Kinks--and the Monkees, even Herb Alpert!" Later, their father bought them instruments "and made sure that we could play them, that we got taught," Tim added. By the time the Farrisses had moved to Sidney and all of INXS's members had joined together, Jon Farriss explained to DeCurtis, their parents were still "exceptionally helpful in accommodating everything we needed. If Kirk's parents or someone's parents were against it, they'd have them over to stay the night so they'd feel really kosher about it. They'd allow us to play until eleven at night so we could develop."

Michael Hutchence was born in Sidney, but spent much of his childhood in Hong Kong while his father was in the import business. During a return to Sidney at the age of fourteen, he met Andrew Farriss, and, after Farriss rescued Hutchence from the persecutions of a neighborhood bully, the two became good friends. As Hutchence confided to Tannenbaum, the relationship was based on "hanging? around living rooms and recording? obscure music on this four-track recorder and trying? to impress girls with this." Despite the fact that Hutchence moved to Los Angeles, California, a year later--his mother became a make-up artist there after his parents were divorced--the boys remained in contact with each other through a steady correspondence. After a year in the United States, Hutchence returned yet again to Sidney. He recalled for DeCurtis: "The day I got back, I rang Andrew, and he said, 'Yeah, great, come around.' It was funny . ... Most people fifteen, you split them up for a while and they come back completely different people. We still had a strong friendship."

Hutchence and Andrew Farriss began playing in a band that also featured bassist Garry Gary Beers; meanwhile, Tim Farriss, who, according to Tannenbaum, had been "a Christian youth-group leader until a copy of Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure 'changed [his] life,'" was performing in a group that included guitar and saxophone player Kirk Pengilly. In 1977 after both groups broke up, the five young men joined together, and invited Jon Farriss, the youngest, to serve as their drummer. Though they were not yet INXS--early names included the Vegetables and the Farriss Brothers--all concerned felt sufficiently committed to the new combination to move to Perth rather than lose Jon, who, because of his age, had to go with his parents when they decided to return to the family's earlier home. When Jon graduated from high school in 1979, the band decided to come back to Sidney and start playing in pubs--and used its moniker for the first time. Tim Farriss recounted for Steve Dougherty in People: "Our record company suggested 'In Excess.' But without a record out, it seemed people came to shows if your name was really big on your posters. We wanted ours huge, so we shortened it [to INXS]."

While playing pubs throughout Australia, where audiences were so rough that success was based on whether or not a band was peppered by hurled beer bottles, INXS also managed to release a few albums, including INXS and Underneath the Colours. They had attracted more widespread attention (and better arenas for their concert performances) by 1984, when they recorded The Swing and its single "Original Sin." Featuring the controversial theme of interracial love, "Original Sin" was denied airplay by many radio stations. INXS followed The Swing with Listen Like Thieves, which included the hit song "What You Need." But most critics agree that 1987's Kick is the band's best effort. In addition to the hit "Need You Tonight," songs like "Devil Inside"--which Hutchence has been known to dedicate in concerts to televangelist Jimmy Swaggart--and "Guns in the Sky" help make up Kick. Though Hutchence, who writes the words to most of the group's songs, made clear to DeCurtis that he was "not a great political lyricist" and that he dislikes "knee-jerk politics," "Guns in the Sky" is a protest song against the United States' proposed Strategic Defense Initiative.

The success of Kick and the sex-symbol status that it has gained Hutchence as INXS's lead singer have led to speculation that he would separate from the band. True, he has outside interests--he was featured in the Australian film Dogs in Space, in which he played what Dougherty described as "a feral, half-naked junkie who spends most of his time crawling around the floor of a squalid commune." But Garry Gary Beers assured DeCurtis that Hutchence "has gone out of his way to make us all realize that INXS is his number-one priority. I feel more confident in him than ever." Hutchence himself summed up the band's probable future for DeCurtis: "We've got a lot more to say, a lot more to do and a lot more songs to write."

Selected Discography
INXS, Atco, 1980. Underneath the Colours, Atco, 1982. The Swing, Atco, 1984. Listen Like Theives, Atlantic, 1985. Kick (includes "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside," "New Sensation," and "Guns in the Sky"), Atlantic, 1987. Also released Dekadance and Shabooh Shoobah.

Newsweek, April 11, 1988. People, July 11, 1988. Rolling Stone, January 14, 1988; June 16, 1988

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