While INXS were always a band of six people and run on democratic lines, it was inevitable the global media would focus their glare on the group’s singular frontman, Michael Hutchence. While it’s undeniable that he was extremely photogenic, even the briefest look at any Michael Hutchence quote proves he had the charismatic personality to match. During his illustrious 20-year career, the much-missed Australian rock star gave literally hundreds of interviews for magazines and television shows around the world, and in every one of them his articulate nature, fierce intelligence and dry wit shone through.
Following the course of a remarkable life which delivered him from poetry-loving teenager to the iconic figure that U2’s Larry Mullen Jr referred to as “the consummate pop star”, uDiscover Music trawl through two decades’ worth of interviews to present the INXS frontman in his own words, courtesy of the best Michael Hutchence quotes.
On the embryonic INXS and becoming a singer
“In my mind, I thought I was musical when I was growing up. Word-wise, I used to write poetry. I didn’t have the rock star mentality, I had the ‘serious young artist’ mentality. I was actually more into poets and things like that, and that attitude and that scene, [writers such as] Ferlinghetti and Bukowski. I thought it was pretty interesting so I started reading a lot of the stuff.
“Andrew [Farriss] was originally the singer, the front guy. I really started when he didn’t feel like singing anymore. He gave me the mic one day and said, ‘Do you know this song? Just sing for a while, while we try out this drummer.’” (Spin, US, 1988)
On INXS’ early days and building a following in Australia
“We played every bar, party, pub, hotel lounge, church hall and mining town – places that made Mad Max territory look like a Japanese garden. We’d have to suck away at oxygen canisters between songs just so that we could keep playing.” (The Sun-Herald, Australia, 1993)
“You know if you’ve got 200 people who’ve been drinking on the beach all day, it paints a pretty ugly picture, but it’s actually unique. It’s quite a good scene to lay music in. But if you get on stage and start playing sophisticated, subtle music then it’s not going to happen. So you’re kind of forced into trying to wake the audience up a bit. Moving out of the pub scene was hard for us in a way because it’s part of our appeal and charm that we have a ‘pub sensitivity’.”
“You [English music fans] have a different concept of a pub band. To you, a pub band is this jukebox band playing to 150 patrons. In Australia we have maybe two or three thousand people going to pubs with an 80-foot bar – It’s a lot of Foster’s, man. I think the British have got to reappraise their concept [of pub rock].” (Record Mirror, UK, 1987)
On developing INXS’ unique sound
“We always thought it strange that nobody was up on that stage playing soul stuff. Maybe people were playing it in their garages, like us, but they always reverted to pure rock when they got on stage. But we got up there and decided to stick to this mix of power chords and funk and that’s where it really started for us. In having the courage to take that decision. To take a gamble not just with our music, but our lives.”
“Our music is like a painting and the main things we want to have are very distinct patches of bright and dark. By that, I mean we want to include songs that lyrically cover subjects ranging from the heaviest things we’ve ever done to light-hearted experiences that can best be presented through sentimental bluesy ballads that are usually good for a chuckle or two.” (The Sun-Herald, Australia, 1993)
On their eclectic tastes
“Great things rise to the top. A great ABBA song is just as worthy as a great Joy Division song. We don’t need record-company people standing around going, ‘C’mon, guys, write a hit.’ That pop mentality’s in the band already.” (Rolling Stone, US, 1988)
On political content in his lyrics
“I’d rather articulate my own position on things in an interview than in a song. Because I think it can be a compromise. I’m not a great political lyricist, and I don’t claim to be. I don’t like knee-jerk politics. Anybody can read the front pages and write down, ‘It’s bad, it’s bad, it’s bad.’ This is probably the most educated, conscientious generation in history. They’re not stupid. Why tell people something they read in the newspapers last month?
“We don’t make any great claims to change the world, but hopefully somewhere in our lyrics we are prodding people. For example, the inspiration for [Kick’s opening track] ‘Guns In The Sky’ was pure anger. I wouldn’t call it a political song, I’d call it an anger song. I was reading that they spent $2 million a minute on arms in the world in 1987. Two million dollars a minute. How much money did Live Aid raise? Seventy million dollars? So in an hour… That’s when I started getting angry!” (Rolling Stone, US, 1988)
On celebrity and the pressures of fame
“I know who I am and what I do. I manage to scrape together a private life, despite the press. You need a sense of humour. The English press are so nosy, and the English seem to love that eavesdropping.
“In my position, the situation is that you either do exactly what you want and accept they’ll take photos and write bulls__t, or you try and change your lifestyle completely. I tried to balance the two approaches and it didn’t always work. It’s a drag and an infringement, but they’re never going to report on your true private life. How can they?” (Vox, UK, 1992)
On women as the superior sex
“Women are incredible in groups together. Terrifying. Men have nothing on them. Men aren’t very good to each other – in fact, they’re terrible to each other. Men should stop competing with one another; clapping each other on the back and killing each other. They’ve got to start expressing things being more open the way women do about anything and everything. There are a lot of confused men out there. They don’t know what to do with themselves or women anymore.” (The Face, UK, 1991)
On touring and live performance
“Basically, after a while, the rock’n’roll touring lifestyle becomes boring, but even in our wild days we were never heavy metal types. I know people like that who have the sort of wild times that I wouldn’t even get near. There’s a certain point where you have to choose whether you’re going to be a cliché or whether you’re going to discover new things about yourself.
“Jim Morrison studied Nietzsche, the Superman theory, you know to teach him how to communicate to crowds. Well, I’ve read all the textbooks too and you just have to do it your way in the end.
“I get pretty terrified, to be honest, when I’m on tour. You really have to muster a lot of ego to go out there, which I find rather draining. In fact, you have to muster an enormous ego to go out and be bigger than a huge crowd of people. It’s hard enough to do that with four or five people, let alone 20,000. You know sometimes I just want to curl up on stage and just lie there for a while.” (Sky Magazine, UK, 1990)
On the concept of stardom
“There’s one thing that working in Australia a long time doesn’t prepare you for, and that is what they call in America ‘becoming a star’. We don’t really have a star system in Australia. It doesn’t exist. There’s no use in becoming one, or acting like one, or pretending you’re one, because it doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, it’s really the worst thing you can do there.” (Rolling Stone, US, 1988)
“Every actor I know wants to be a pop star. John Hurt wants to be a pop star. He loves it. The whole point of acting is to lose yourself – that’s why people in music want to become actors, because you can become anything. With music it’s a little different. Music takes you somewhere. We’re always trying to clarify. We don’t have a chance of doing it – that’s what makes you a poet, makes you drink – but you’re trying. You never will. You can be very close. There can be 20,000 people over here who go, ‘Yes! He did it. That’s exactly how I felt but I never knew how to express it.’ And another 20,000 people go, ‘No. That sucks. I disagree with that.’ That’s the price you pay.” (Spin, USA, 1989)
On musical reinvention
“The level of success we’ve achieved has been on the back of the pop horse. I’m doing my best to circumnavigate that pop thing and hopefully find something with a bit more depth. I was talking about this with U2 when they were mixing Achtung Baby. We were faced with the same kind of dilemma, that if we didn’t find some way to reinvent what we do then we were going to be nowhere. I mean, how many bands from the early 80s survived intact? Very, very few.
“Welcome To Wherever You Are was quite a diverse album, and it received the best critical acclaim that we’ve ever had. We really wanted to do that. Try a lot of different styles again, which I think we’re pretty capable of… Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, is nothing like that. It is very uncomplicated. It was done quickly and there’s no orchestras or extras. It’s six guys. It’s a pretty tough album.” (Hot Press, Ireland, 1993)
On the importance of artistic integrity
“I still haven’t come to grips with our success. I’m pleased that we’ve been able to build a career for ourselves, and not just have one big album out of the blue. There’s something intrinsically Australian about a bunch of brothers and school friends getting together as a band at a very young age and all pulling together as mates to make something happen. It has nothing to do with the music business or record companies or charts or anything like that. There is an integrity to INXS, in the music, that makes it worthwhile.” (The Australian Way, Australia, 1991).