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Inexhaustible INXS

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most bands don’t last long enough to paint their name on the drums. INXS will not only celebrate its 20th anniversary in August, but has sold over 20 million records of its hook-filled brand of well-crafted pop rock. The Australian sextet will return to Santa Barbara on Saturday night for a gig at the tree-lined county bowl, with the Cunninghams opening.

Starting as the Farriss Brothers in 1977, but soon changing its name to INXS, the band relentlessly played the rowdy Australian pub circuit. A million beers and brawls later, they got a deal. Their first record came out in 1980 in Australia, then three years later, their third album, “Shabooh Shoobah,” became their American debut. It was an instant hit, with songs such as “Don’t Change” and “The One Thing” paving the way for a 10-year run of hit albums and sold-out concerts.

Recently, band members took a few years off, had a bunch of kids, changed record labels and released their 10th album, “Elegantly Wasted,” which features on its cover a young lady as beautiful as she is bumfuzzled. Michael Hutchence, heartthrob deluxe among the female crowd and swaggering front man, talked things over from his home in London, where his new daughter wasn’t exactly singing in the background.

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Great cover on “Elegantly Wasted.”

Yes, thank you. We had a lot of fun with that. The album’s going good, generally, but we haven’t hit the States yet.

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How does it fit in with other INXS albums?

In some ways we return to the style we invented over the years--that funky power pop stuff with big riffs, which we haven’t done in awhile.

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What does INXS music sound like?

It’s original, an original sound we developed--that white boy funk thing.

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How do you craft a three-minute pop rock gem? You guys definitely have that figured out.

Pain, then gain. It all comes from a hungry stomach, I guess.

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Most bands don’t survive long enough to get their girlfriends’ names on the guest list, but INXS has been together for 20 years. What’s the secret?

I have no idea. I do think part of it is the fact we didn’t meet each other through an ad in the music press. We are a group of friends from school--we’ve all known each other since we were 12 or 13 years old. We’re all quite different people, which is a lot better than us all being the same.

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Why are there so many good bands in Australia?

I think not just bands, but there’s a lot of talent in Australia, like in film, in art, in literature, in dance, in medicine--all sorts of stuff. We have the feeling that other people don’t think we matter in Australia, so we have this tenacious streak. Australia can be a tough place; actually, it is a tough place. We paid our dues--we played the pub circuit for five years before we ever got a deal.

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You guys used to play 300 gigs a year?

Oh yeah, at least. At the pubs you have to be 18 to get in, but not everybody is. We come from a pretty hard place--we’re good in a barroom brawl. Those places are pretty rowdy. There’s a lot of beer drinking and beer is war food. You used to be able to pick from 200 or 300 bands in Sydney on a night, but now it’s not as good as it was because a lot of those bars became yuppie bars.

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What makes INXS peculiarly Australian?

I guess we have a certain attitude about that greasy pole of success. We keep a fairly humorous perspective--it’s not do or die with us. Australia is a great place to be. They have good food, have a little love, then go for a swim.

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You once played to one person in Perth, then soon after in 1983 ended up at the US Festival?

Yeah, then after the US Festival, I think our next gig was in San Diego with Adam Ant. There were all these teenage girls screaming at us, and they rushed the stage and the stage collapsed and we just stood there, laughing. We were in pop culture shock.

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How do you survive on the road?

Concentrate on your show. Make your day a buildup to the show. It’s those other 21 hours that can get you in trouble.

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How has fatherhood changed things for you?

I love it. I’ve always wanted kids but I suppose I was always too selfish to do it before. “Goodbye honey, see you in two years--we’re going on tour.” I’m more conscious now of my time off.

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Why is the British press so mean?

They need a good war to keep them happy, I guess. They’re always looking for someone to beat up. In a lot of ways, it’s so parochial. When you’re leaving from Heathrow [Airport], you think, “What a bunch of rubbish.” I think the ordinary people on the street are getting sick of it.

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Anything INXS hasn’t done?

To me, we’ve probably done about everything a band could do. At the same time, in the end, I’d like to be able to shake hands with everyone and walk away with a good record and still be friends, and not have some hideous soap opera ending. We haven’t played for a long time, so we’re all looking forward to this tour. The European shows were the best we’ve ever done.

BE THERE

INXS and the Cunninghams, Santa Barbara County Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas St. Saturday night, 7 p.m. $30, $25 or $22. (805) 962-7411.


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