Andrew Farriss is undoubtedly one of Australia’s finest songwriters of the last couple of generations. The brains behind INXS’ synth-funk ethos, the Perth-born musician penned some of the band’s most enduring tracks, including ‘Original Sin’ and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’.
Having sold over 50 million records with his band, Farriss has, of late, decided to pursue an interesting musical foray into country territory. His latest EP, Love Makes The World, showcases Farriss’ prolific expertise not only as a musical craftsman, but also as a keyboardist and guitarist.
With the EP out now, we spoke with Andrew over Zoom to learn about the making of Love Makes The World, his approach to songwriting and some of his favourite INXS memories.
“When I was a kid growing up in Perth in the 1960s, I used to listen to a transistor radio underneath the pillow at night. In those days, there was no FM - everything was AM radio - and they used to play every kind of music. They’d play pop music, classical music, some jazz, and some country music. I used to like listening to the country music back then when I was a kid.”
A man of many musical influences growing up, Andrew recalls one concert that spurred his desire to become a career songwriter.
“The first band I ever saw was The Beatles, and I think that pushed a lot of buttons with me; that was in London in 1964. I saw them with my brothers Tim and Jon, and I think that had a hugely profound impact on me and my brothers."
What’s fascinating about Farriss’ songwriting is that no matter the genre, nor the era, it’s so discernibly trademarked with his own unique amalgam of synths, guitars and earworm-like melodies. Love Makes The World - while composed decades after many of his INXS-era chart toppers - is permeated with these very same hallmarks.
“What I’m doing is I’m starting off with the old school instruments, playing the songs on acoustic guitars and pianos… I’ve worked with some seriously talented musicians both in Australia and in Nashville. ‘First Man On Earth’ [the last track off the EP] I actually recorded in London quite a few years ago now when I was working with Guy Chambers, who’d written and produced a lot of stuff for people like Robbie Williams.
“Guy had a family commitment that morning when we were supposed to be doing some more songwriting together, so I walked into the studio and I knew how to use a lot of these old school synthesisers he had. So I started messing around with what became ‘First Man On Earth’ and he came in and said ‘What’s goin’ on?’ and I said ‘Have a listen to this!’”
Farriss describes Chambers’ delight at hearing what would become the eight-minute long EP closer: perhaps the most sonically and structurally intriguing of all five songs.
“The funny thing about that track is that it started off as a very technology-driven song. But I started thinking about it and I started adding some more organic slide-guitar, some congas, and the like. Because that whole song is about how human beings are embracing technology all the time - whatever we think is very modern today will seem like we’re like dinosaurs in 20 years time.”
Love Makes The World, while sonically defined by an otherworldly mix of synths and lap-steels, is punctuated by some profound lyrical themes: these pertain to the loss of loved ones, not to mention the importance of preserving one’s own mental health by speaking openly about these experiences. Andrew tells us about co-writing one such song - ‘My Brother’ - with Jon Stevens of Noiseworks, and its significance.
“Both Jon and I have unfortunately had to deal with severe loss… people losing their lives very quickly, and we talked about it one day and wrote a song about it. Men aren’t good at talking about loss anyway, so we decided to write this song. I wouldn’t say it was an easy song to write, and it never felt right for me to share it with someone till now, until the pandemic.
“So many people have lost their lives and had their lives changed. You’ve got people on the front line of our health services putting their lives in danger every day; all this stuff’s happening all around the world and I thought: ‘You know what? ‘My Brother’ makes sense now.’”
Many would argue that Farriss’ use of technology throughout the ‘80s with INXS - whether that be drum machines, synths, and so forth - still sounds as fresh today as it did nearly 40 years ago. He talks a bit about the composition and recording of one of band’s most timeless tracks, ‘Original Sin’, and what it was like to work alongside the likes of guitar deity Nile Rodgers.
“I knew at that point, when I was working on ‘Original Sin’ - INXS had done a big tour of the US for six months - that when we came back our success was on the incline. And I started thinking: ‘What were people doing around late ’83, early ’84?’ And everything was just straight eighth notes. So I went back and started experimenting and listening to guys like Nile Rodgers from Chic, these funk-masters, and what they were doing. Then I started programming a demo that’s virtually identical to how we ended up tracking ‘Original Sin’.
“So I came up with that riff and tracked it, then I played it for the band. And Michael said ‘Oh, I really like that!’ And then - would you believe - Nile Rodgers came to us backstage in Canada and goes ‘I saw you guys on MTV and I’d love to record with you in New York.’ And we’re like ‘Sure, we have to!’ I already had the groove going, and Michael penned the lyrics. In the end, Nile Rodgers produced it, and he played the riff on it.”
Andrew recalls being in New York recording the song, while another seminal album had just finished its recording process in that very same studio.
“I’m standing there at the power station where we were recording the song, and we literally moved INXS’ equipment into the studio the day after David Bowie moved all his gear out from recording Let’s Dance. Nile, who produced that album, asked me if I had a chord chart for ‘Original Sin’, and I had a panic moment - that’s when I learnt that I should have done my classical studies on the piano!
“I sat down and wrote out a primitive chord chart the best I could, and he got me to hold it for him while he played the riff. And I remember standing there going: ‘This is one of those moments that’s etched in my mind forever.”
Love Makes The World, the new EP from Andrew Farriss, is out now via BMG.