INTERVIEW: Andrew Farriss (solo artist, ex-INXS)

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Andrew Farriss

 

2020 has delivered one of the most frustrating & difficult years for artists all across the globe with tours, album releases & even the ability to get together in the studio near on impossible for some.  For ex-INXS songwriter, ARIA Hall of Famer and most recently a Member of the Order of Australia Andrew Farriss, it was to be an exciting year that was to see him release his long-awaited debut solo album, following on from the success of his first two single releases ‘Come Midnight’ and ‘Good Momma Bad’.  The pandemic forced Farriss to drastically rethink his plans and take a slightly different path but having a long & decorated career spanning over forty years has it’s benefits, as over that period of time Andrew had written and collected a catalogue of songs and collaborations that had sat dormant waiting to surface when the time was right. 

Well, that time was October 2nd and the result is the wonderful EP ‘Love Makes the World’, a collection of five very different tracks with collaborations from artists such as Suzi DeMarchi (Baby Animals), Ciaran Gribbin, Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams) and close friend Jon Stevens (Noiseworks & INXS) and is a very different feel & vibe to what is expected on Farriss’s delayed debut album which is expected to be released in 2021. 

The Rockpit has had the pleasure of following Andrew’s solo journey since the release of ‘Come Midnight’ back in August 2019 and once again we spoke to a jovial Farriss while at home on his working cattle farm near Tamworth in New South Wales and found him eager to talk about how the EP came to fruition, discusses a couple of the tracks in more detail and tells us a bit about his wonderful hats.

 

AF:         Hey Sean.

Sean:     Good morning Andrew, how are you doing?

AF:         Yeah, I’m good thanks.  How are you going?

Sean:     I’m very well thank you.  Before we start, I just wanted to wish you and your Marlina a belated happy anniversary.  I saw the little vid clip you posted where you were mouthing the words to one of your own songs [laughs]

AF:         [laughs] Thanks, I appreciate that.  We’ve had quite a ride Marlina & I and I’m lucky to have her in my life.  That night was sort of funny and sort of not [laughs].  I had just released ‘All The Stars Are Mine’ and the next minute we were having a couple of days off together, doing whatever we were doing walking around in the bush up in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and spending some anniversary time together.  We went to dinner and the restaurant staff recognized me, they were really sweet, and they put the EP on.  Well, let me tell you it’s not the most romantic thing when you are taking your wife out to dinner and she looks at me and says, “That’s your bloody music!” [laughs] and that’s why I was being a goon and singing to her because I had to do something to lighten the moment.

Sean:     It was wonderful to see you share that.

AF:         Ah good, good and how have you been?

Sean:     Very well thank you.  We’ve been extremely lucky over here in the West with a sense of some normality especially with live music and venues being able to be open.  Original music seems to have been supported better than ever and a lot of shows & gigs are selling out due to restricted numbers.  It’s still very much in the back of your mind that things can take a turn for the worse very quickly if we don’t stick to the guidelines & advice but to see original music being supported like this is very refreshing & encouraging.

AF:         I’m really pleased to hear that, in fact I’m really jealous.  I wish I could come over to the West, in fact talking of our anniversary Marlina & I usually come across to the West because we love it over there and because I’m originally from the West.  I would probably would have moved there again except that I have three adult children who I love very dearly and who live in New South Wales.

Sean:     And of course, your farm.

AF:         Yeah, there you go and that [laughs]

Sean:     Well, congratulations on the EP ‘Love Makes the World’ and you’ve thrown me more curve balls because once again it’s quite different to the first two singles you have already released.  I suppose with that in mind, my first question is are these five tracks songs that were never expected to go on the album that was due out last May?

AF:         Yeah, that’s a good question and your right.  When we last caught up, I was in the process of releasing my self-titled LP and of course I had already released ‘Come Midnight’ and ‘Good Momma Bad’ and then the pandemic kicked in around March and the record label called me nervously and said, “Look Andrew, we love your album but…” and at first I thought to myself, “uh-oh”, you know and they said, “…we really think that a lot of people in the offices within Australia and the United States as well as Europe have all gone home to self-isolate so we just don’t have the people to promote it properly for you.  We suggest you just pause it.”  I felt that was pretty good advice, but I was frustrated because that meant changing my plans and then I thought what you just said.

Luckily, I had recorded some other songs which were a very different sort of flavor to what I think my album is and so I was walking around thinking those songs like ‘Love Makes The World’, Tears In The Rain’, ‘My Brother’ they are very sort of emo songs, I guess is a good word.  They are kind of emotional based songs, ‘First Man on Earth’ and all that and ‘All The Stars Are Mine’ so I took the idea to the label and said, “Look I’ve got these other songs and I think they really suit what we are all going through right now.  Do you think it’s a good idea to put them out?”  I honestly thought they would say no they wouldn’t do that, but they went, “Yeah, we love it!” and then next thing here I am doing it.

Sean:     What’s great about this EP release is that fans of your music have been blessed with something a little extra that we may not have got to hear if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.

AF:         Your right.  Actually, you’re quite correct.

Sean:     When we received the press release with the track listings and names of who you had collaborated with, I noticed ‘My Brother’ was a co-write with Jon Stevens so I dropped him a text saying I was looking forward to hearing it and he replied almost immediately, “So am I!  We wrote it back in 2002!” [laughs]

AF:         [laughs] Yeah, I know right.  Jon and I have been communicating quite a bit recently.  We’ve always stayed friends and he’s such a talented guy… an amazing talent really and when I grow up I hope I can sing like him [laughs] but I was going to say we worked on a few songs actually back a long time ago and one of those was ‘My Brother’.  But you know Sean, I never felt entirely comfortable with putting this song out because I wanted to make sure Jon was ok with it too because to me it’s not just about me, it’s about him in the song too, you know.  I was a bit hesitant about releasing the song and one thing I don’t do is jump on a wagon train of people in a funeral procession.  I’m not one of those people but I felt with this song and with what we’ve been going through… people at this moment in time are experiencing loss with this dreadful virus that has people literally passing away, people can’t see family, they can’t visit anyone or travel anywhere so I figured with that song being about loss it was about time it came out.

Sean:     It’s increasingly prominent too with the highlighted increase in mental health issues that have worsened due to the pandemic and which in some instances can lead to that most difficult of subjects, suicide.

AF:         Yes, it’s a dreadful thing.  All I can say about all of that is that often the warning signs are very subtle.  You don’t really know what is going on with anyone.  You can be talking to someone straight to their face and then the next day they are gone.  Probably if you were trained as a psychiatrist or professionally medically trained you may pick up certain signs but when you are in the course of life and everyone is busy, and you’ve got responsibilities it so difficult.  I think the most important message I would say to anyone who is struggling with depression or that sort of thing is, and I know this is going to sound really odd, but change your diet, eat properly, eat fruit & vegetables, try and look after your physical health, exercise a bit and you’d be surprised.  Also try to talk to someone about what you’re going through and let someone know you are struggling because sometimes verbalizing your inner fears or concerns is worth its weight in gold.

 

Andrew Farriss - Love Makes The World

 

Sean:     I know we have R U OK? Day but maybe we should make that every day?  I think that’s so important.

AF:         That’s it.  I’m sure we all go through life where we have ups and we have downs.  I think it’s how we handle both extremes and without sounding like the Dalai Lama but to calm the farm and live in between is where you’ve got to be.

Sean:     So true.  I know it’s a sensitive subject so thank you for touching on it.  One of the tracks that really intrigues me is ‘First Man on Earth’.  I don’t want to tarnish my Rockpit reputation by announcing my secret love of Robbie Williams’ music but some of the songs that Guy Chambers wrote at their peak together were epic.  How did you and Guy get together?  I’m guessing this was mid-2000’s when you co-wrote this track?

AF:         Yeah, it’s interesting because what happened was quite funny.  Someone said to me the other day, “Hey Andrew, I see you have a new EP out.  You know EPs are really old fashioned.” And I said, “No shit, right! [laughs] I know they are.”  I told him the idea originally was that I wanted to put out four tracks on vinyl but then the vinyl factory shut down… I was full steam ahead doing all this and then the label suggested that as I had a really strong EP to go the whole package and put one more song on there that was a bit left of centre.  My wife Marlina reminded me that I had this song ‘First Man on Earth’ that I’d written all those years ago with Guy Chambers and when I played it to the label they said it had to go on there and then the vinyl factory closed so it went digital on the DSP platforms.

How it came about though was that I was writing a few songs with Guy at the time.  I had gotten on to him because as song writers I had heard of him and he had heard of me so there was this mutual respect thing going on there.  What actually happened with this song in particular was that I think Guy had a family commitment or something like that one morning and so I came into the studio early because I like to work early in the morning… I’m a bit strange like that compared to a lot of people in the music industry.  So, I came in early and he had a room full of analogue synthesizers and I thought, “I know how to work these.” [laughs] So, I said to the engineer to just roll it and record it.  Guy walked into the room and asked me what I’d been doing, thinking I would have come up with some snappy three-minute pop song and I said no and nervously played him what I’d been doing [laughs] and he was like, “What?” so he sits down and we both grabbed a pencil and paper and we put the lyric together.  I love the lyric because ‘First Man on Earth’ is really talking about the fact that whether we like it or not we are still biological human species but we seem to be ever increasingly interested in technology and that’s what this song is about.

Sean:     When I first listened to the track, and I know a really bad human trait we have it to compare something we hear with something else and your brain automatically tries to work out where you’ve heard that sound or riff before.  The first thing I got was Jean-Michel Jarre from the opening segment and then it gave me a bit of a Pink Floyd vibe as I got deeper into the song.  It’s one of the standout tracks for me – I love it.

AF:         Cool.  It’s been a rough sleeper as a song goes because Guy always told me he liked it too but its eight minutes and eight seconds long for God’s sake [laughs]. Yeah, it sounds great anyway but who wants to spend eight minutes and eight seconds listening to a song when we have the attention span of a bird these days with technology.  It’s a miracle it’s out at all really but a couple of people have also said the Jean-Michel Jarre thing to me and I have had a couple of Floyd things too but I take it as a great compliment given that I had to try and play a Dave Gilmour style guitar solo at the end of it [laughs] which was challenging, put it that way.  For me what I really love about the song is the lyric.

Sean:     Did I hear bongos underneath the guitar?

AF:         [laughs] Yeah, there are congas on there.

Sean:     Ah, I thought I heard them.  Something I noticed on this EP is how the different instruments that you use change the feel & style of the music.  That might be blatantly obvious to most people, but I noticed it more on ‘Love Makes the World’.  If you removed the uke and the more country style instruments that are on there it would almost change that song to a completely different genre.

AF:         That’s exactly right.  A lot of what I originally set out to do, even from when we started talking about what I’d been doing, I deliberately set myself a challenge to try wherever possible on all of the rest of the recordings I’m making to use more traditional style instruments and not rely so much on some of the pop thing or rock thing but just to work with the old school instruments and try to navigate them as much as I can and to get the same sort of feel I may get from more technical instruments.  We are going through a lot of transition in the world at the moment and I don’t just mean the pandemic, I mean its even really hard to work out where things musically are going at the moment.  I would hate to think that the next generation of musicians don’t know how to play old school instruments but just know how to push buttons – it’s pretty weird.

 

Andrew Farriss

 

Sean:     I can definitely pick up instruments like the fiddles, the lap steels in there and some of the slide guitar work is beautiful.  It’s so subtle in places, it’s wonderful.  In fact, I purchased a copy of the EP off your site the other week and it arrived the other day with a lovely signed note from you, so thank you for that.

AF:         You’re welcome mate.  Do you want me to pay you back? [laughs]

Sean:     [laughs] No, that’s very kind but it’s worth every penny.  One question I’ve been meaning to ask since we first spoke last year is where do you get your fantastic hats from?

AF:         [laughs] People do ask me that.  Well I’ve got to be honest I get them handmade for me because when I first started looking at wearing a hat… first of all where I live out in the bush is about four and a half to five hours inland from the coast, so it doesn’t feel as beachy and certainly not a lush as other places I’ve been to in my life so I’m more in the bush and getting out more towards the outback.  A lot of the people who live around me dress as though they are in the country music industry, which is quite funny to me in one sense, but that is their natural way to dress.

But you have got to wear a hat when you’re in the bush firstly and secondly I began to recognize when I started trying on all these different hats that I needed an education in hats and as I began to buy hats I began to recognize that a lot of my journey is that same as the instruments, I began to get interested in to how these things turned into cowboy hats.  I began to realize, if you watch a lot of the older westerns like ‘Tombstone’ that a lot of the older didn’t have the curled up lips on the hats, they were flat brimmed and they had round tops on the quite often, not the dented typical cowboy hats and that’s because a lot of the hats originally came from Europe or they were campaign military hats.  They weren’t a fashion item… well I guess they were but didn’t look like a modern cowboy hat and that intrigued me.  So I get my hats handmade for me, I suppose that sounds a bit posh but that’s what I like to do and it means if I walk into a room, no one else has got one [laughs]

Sean:     Can you actually walk into a room wearing them because some of them have huge brims [laughs]

AF:         [laughs] Yeah, if I take a crowbar with me, I can fit through the door but mostly I’m pretty good with all that and they are great because they keep the sun off your head.

Sean:     I think it was last time we spoke about the comparisons with the cowboys of the wild west and the Australian bush rangers so living where you are must be the closest thing you can get to the wild west in the US.

AF:         Well exactly.  Literally I drive into the small town where my farm is and there are still bullet holes in the door of one of the pubs from a bush ranger years ago, you know.  That’s the area where I live, and I just love that.  I couldn’t foresee when we first spoke to each other the craziness of the world right now with this pandemic.  I couldn’t see it coming.  I’m sure other people couldn’t either, which is why we are in such a mess but I think back then what I really didn’t understand either was that coming from three years of having severe drought out in the bush areas where my neighbors & I live then dealing with the catastrophic bush fires and now going through this pandemic and hopefully coming out the other side of it because it’s been raining pretty well this year.  I’m just hoping that next year, please dear God that he is going to give us some solace & comfort, you know, and it will be good for everybody.

Sean:     The east coast of Australia has certainly been dealt some pretty difficult hands so let’s hope things improve.  Andrew, once again we have run out of time and this always happens when we chat because I always have so many things to talk to you about, but one question I would love to finish with is one of my regular ones if I may.

AF:         Of course.

Sean:     If you could be credited with writing any song ever written, what song would you choose?

AF:         Hmmm… I’m confused as to what the song is actually called.  ‘Scarborough Fair’ or ‘Canticle’ by Simon & Garfunkel.  I love that song.  Its beautiful.  I love the way the lyric morphs into being about a soldier going off to war.  It starts off and you think that it’s a pretty little song and then you realize nearer the end that it’s actually quite dark.  But it’s such a beautiful song.

Sean:     I didn’t know that.  I will need to revisit this song now.  Andrew, once again I just thank you for your time.  It’s always an absolute pleasure to get to talk to you.  I’m looking forward to the album even more now.

AF:         Thanks mate.  Look just be careful out there Sean and hope we chat again soon.  That would be great.

Sean:     Likewise, and when you finally get to come back over to WA hopefully, we can catch up and have a proper chat.  It would be great to see you.

AF:         I’d love to do that.  Thanks Sean.

 

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