Currently touring in support of their latest, INXS is a band familiar with ups, downs and everything in between, with an original lineup that has produced some of the most recognizable, successful hits ever to grace the airwaves. After taking time to deal with the death of singer Michael Hutchence, INXS regrouped and forged ahead with Rock Star: INXS contest winner JD Fortune as vocalist. The band’s latest album, Original Sin, features many of today’s top artists reinventing some of the band’s most popular songs.
Guitarist/saxophonist Kirk Pengilly, the mustachioed one, spoke with me about the album’s collaborations, touring, and the band’s state of affairs.
It seems odd to begin this way, especially after so long, but my condolences on Michael’s passing. I’m sure healing has taken some time.
It’s taken time to sort of move on. Everyone grieves in their own way, in their own time and we’ll always miss him but we wanted to continue on. We’re pretty good with it now. We’re enjoying—as we always have enjoyed—being a band. So, it’s good.
Regarding the latest album, Original Sin, I saw some videos shot with Rob Thomas and Pat Monahan during their recording sessions. I was mostly impressed by how honored they were to be part of an INXS effort. How did the album’s collaborations come about?
Each song was different and the album was recorded all over the world at different sessions, a lot of which I wasn’t present at. But I was there for a couple of them, including Rob Thomas’ and he was very humbled when he came to the studio. He was quite nervous I think. We’ve known Rob for quite some time and tried to make him feel relaxed. I think the process started really with all of us band members making a kind of wish list of vocalists together and that’s when we started to put the songs together.
In some cases we had in mind who we wanted to approach for particular songs but that didn’t always go as planned, for a number of reasons. For example: Rob, when we approached him we had “Never Tear Us Apart” in mind, and he asked if he could have a crack at “Original Sin” and that wasn’t a song that we had ever planned to do on the record. Each case was really different and it sort of evolved as it played along. We had some singers actually contact us when they heard about the project. So it was kind of different.
It sounds like both scenarios—whether INXS contacted an artist or vice versa—made for a win/win situation. INXS worked with amazing talent who, in turn, worked with an enormously influential band and remembered an iconic vocalist.
That’s certainly true. It was certainly flattering to hear that sort of stuff from our peers. And mind you, every artist we worked with we definitely have respect for, too. So, it was great, really a great feeling.
Sometimes when an artist comes, in they cover a song and put their own spin on it. Was that something you noticed while recording the album or did vocalists stay true to the songs as INXS pieces?
We left it sort of up to the artists and the singers. We recorded most of the musical beds before collaborating with the singers so everybody could hear where we were heading with these particular songs. In order to do that, we needed to up down the tracks to start with so they had something to sing to. But a couple of the songs were a bit different. For example, Ben Harper, not only did he sing but he performed on “Devil Inside,” so that was more of a musical collaboration whereas most of the other ones put their vocals down on a particular track.
But—and correct me if I’m wrong—Original Sin wasn’t an album recorded in Michael’s memory, or was it?
Not intentionally, no. I think what we really discovered when we were making the album was just how great so many of the songs that Andrew and Michael wrote really are. That’s what really became apparent. Because if you can rip a song apart and put it back together in a completely different way and it still sounds great, then that’s a testament to the song. It’s more really a display of Michael and Andrew’s writing talents. We didn’t start the album with the intention of it being a direct tribute to Michael, sort of thing, but in essence…
Regardless, hat’s off to the band for finding a way to present INXS’ catalog in an innovative way.
Plus, while watching Rock Star: INXS I never really felt that the band’s goal was to “replace” Michael outright.
Well how could you? I mean, we realized that too. You can’t replace Michael with anyone. Everyone’s sort of unique. We wanted to continue as a band and we needed a singer. We worked with a few singers prior to Rock Star, but the show seemed like a great way to get around the world and audition thousands of singers and have a sort of pick of the crop.
Plus, the TV show idea was great because it paid for it all! (Laughs) It helped us choose who would be the right singer for us. It served all sorts of purposes and was great fun to do.
There’s been some parting from the show’s winner, JD Fortune, over the years. He is on tour with you in support of Original Sin though, right?
Yes. The tour is going really well. We’re really enjoying the shows because we’ve been able to inject the Original Sin album into the set and it’s kind of making it really interesting. I think the current show is really highlighting the musicianship in the band, which is a good thing. It shows how many more colors we have to our music and the shows are going along really well.
Do you feel like the band is simply “being a band” differently now than ever before? Perhaps like things are developing organically now?
Yeah, definitely. I think we’re feeling really good with where we’re at at the moment, and have a few projects we’re looking at doing once we finish touring. It’s quite something. We’re at a good place.
INXS will be performing Aug. 3 at Wellmont Theatre, Aug. 4 at Beacon Theatre and Aug. 6 at House of Blues in Atlantic City, NJ. For more information, go to inxs.com.