- 22 Jan 20
To celebrate what would have been his 60th birthday, we're revisiting our 1993 interview with Michael Hutchence.
If this is Friday it must be Chester. Or is that Cheshire? Michael Hutchence does not seem entirely certain. "It's that part of the tour, you know?" he croaks apologetically down the phone.
INXS are drawing to the close of a three month hit and run tour of small venues and the title of their last album, Welcome To Wherever You Are, is beginning to make sense. The 38,000 tickets for the 19 shows on the British leg of this back to roots operation sold out in under an hour - even though their fans who bought the tickets did not know where the group would be appearing. This is a magical mystery tour, with the stadium rockers playing one to two thousand capacity venues. Tickets declared the time, date and town but nothing more. The crucial details have not been announced until the day of the gig via a network of local radio, record stores and newspapers.
Chaos, not unexpectedly, reigns supreme. In Amsterdam, some local jokes stuck 'CANCELLED' stickers over all their 'INXS SOLD OUT' posters. The show went ahead . . . until a power failure two thirds of the way through made the notices curiously prophetic. Some European journalists have berated the band for cheating their many fans by playing such small venues. In Australia, the press cynically expressed the view that INXS were back-tracking to disguise their falling popularity (although sales down to three million - which Welcome To Wherever You Are did - most bands could live with).
You just can't win. Until you get on stage anyway. INXS have been calling it a "world pub tour" and, although a two-tier 1,500 capacity venue may not seem much like your local watering hole, you've got to remember that these men hail from the land down under, where you are more likely to do your drinking in a warehouse with sawdust on the floor. These are the kind of venues where INXS learned to dodge glasses and hone their craft and they seem to genuinely relish this return to the close contact sport of raucous rock'n'roll.
And INXS are about as good as it gets, masters of rock dynamics, the sexiest thing on twelve legs. They pump it out until the sweat is pouring out of the walls and most of the audience, at one time or another, have invaded the stage to hug Mr Hutchence, the most handsome man in Australia (official).
Even in a small room, nobody does stadium rock quite so well. Enough lighters come out for the ballads to burn the place down. But what's remarkable about this tour is the dirt, the grunge and the fuzz tone on the guitar. Sometimes INXS have seemed like the shiniest artefacts of modern pop, the ultimate conclusion of 35 years of rock'n'roll, all style and no substance, held together by surface tension. Visions of motorcycle men and Vogue models. Everybody frowning like they're afraid of getting oil on their clothes.
Welcome To Wherever You Are put a little grit back in the mix: it was broader, dirtier and not quite so radio-friendly as Kick or X, their previous outings. The Get Out Of The House Tour continues the process of rediscovery and reinvention. While U2 are taking rock and roll into the future, INXS are trying to find a future for rock and roll in the past.
You with me? Well, never mind. I'll try and get Michael Hutchence to explain. Or you can see for yourself when INXS get out of the house one last time at the Féile next week, going from 1,500 to 50,000 without a blink.
I should have interviewed Michael after their London, Astoria gig but by the last encore he had lost his voice. So I caught up with him by phone when the vocal chords returned. He has a jocular and easy going telephone manner, perhaps not surprisingly since he must conduct much of his relationships with such famous women as Helena Christensen, Kylie Minogue and Patsy Kensit down one. "Yeah, I give good phone," he chuckled when I asked him the secret of long distance relationships.
So dial INXS. This is Michael Hutchence at the end of the line.
Neil McCormick: Let me clear something up right away. Is it Michael or Mick Hutchence?
Michael Hutchence: Mick? (Laughs) Only in Ireland! It's Michael or Hutch usually. Hutch being short for Hutchinson, and nothing to do with Starsky. It's very Australian to cut people's surnames down.
In Ireland, we tend to add an O to the end of someone's name.
So call me Micko Hutcho (laughs). My mother's Dad is Irish. There's a lot of Irish in Australia. They're pretty similar cultures in a way.
It's a cold, wet British summer; you're in the middle of nowhere; you've got a sore throat and you've got to go onstage tonight and play to a thousand people when you could have just done one stadium gig and been seen by all your fans and fucked off back to Australia. Do you ever regret having started this world pub tour?
No, not at all. Not at all. Honestly, it's been one of the best tours we've ever had. It's been more of a gang mentality from the band, you know? You're not so separated from each other. You're travelling around in vans, you're in small rooms backstage, you're in small rooms out front. We can talk to each other on stage! It's been very good for our playing as well. Because when you're in a small room you just tend to work better as a unit. You can be in contact with each other instead of 'Kirk, you take that ten thousand, Tim you take that ten thousand and I'll take the lump in the middle.'
Has it reignited your musical enthusiasm?
Yeah, absolutely. It gives you a more simple definition of what you do in the first place. When you take away, for a little while anyway, the arenas and the complexities of that organisation: the 8 trucks and the 80 people and everything that goes with it, when you take it away and reduce it down to the band, there's the rub, that's when you find whether you do actually like to be on a little stage where nothing fits and there's a pole in the way. And we've found out we really don't care. We love playing the music. It re-establishes that feeling. And if it didn't, if by now we were sitting round saying 'I really hate this, then, we'd know we'd been fooling ourselves.
Of course, you do get to stay in nice hotels and have roadies carry your gear.
Well, that's true. That helps. But there's been a couple of nostalgic hotels as well as venues, I can assure you. And I've managed to carry a few things around, but nothing like we used to. Then again, I don't really think I carried anything before anyway. I used to duck out the back and leave them to it. I'd say, 'It's not my bloody amplifier, is it?' I'd take my microphone and split.
And there have been other major changes since you were playing venues of this size. For one thing, most of the band are now married with children.
Yeah. It doesn't look quite the same backstage! There's certainly a lot of kids about.
You still seem to be carrying the torch for more traditional rock and roll values. Is sex, drugs and rock and roll still a valid way of life?
Well, I suppose. Maybe not in exactly the same scenarios and quantities it once was. People's priorities change. As you grow up you get other things on your mind. Probably a good thing too.
Does rock and roll let you grow up?
I think everybody's managed to grow up . . . to a point. It is an adolescent kind of world in some ways. As long as you understand that and you're not living in a fantasy world all the time, and being indulged in one, you experience much the same things as everyone else. It's a myth that you don't. But the adolescent fantasy is part of the charm of it really.
Why do rock stars seem to date supermodels?
Do they all? (Laughs) It's the rule. It's in the contract. It's kind of embarrassing actually. I don't know how to put this. Helena (Christensen) and I think it's pretty funny too. Just similar lifestyles I guess.
In a recent Q interview, you made some pretty wild claims while, it seems, under the influence of alcohol.
I'd made them anyway. I stand by them sober.
You said, and I quote, 'I really am a fucking great rock star. The others are pretenders." Who are the pretenders?
(Laughs) They're quite obvious really. The ones who get a lot of help from their choreographers, make-up artists and managers. I'm not trying to start some Rock Star Wars. But it all seems to be getting into some rarified territory with rock and roll these days. They get in from jogging or from their therapist before going on stage. I was just putting up the flag for good old fashioned . . . sex, drugs and rock and roll. That's a little shallow. But something along those lines!
Well, let's take them in order. Talking about sex, are you really, as the article intimated, the best hung guy in INXS?
(Big laugh) No, no, no, no, no. It's surprising. There's others even more enormous.
OK, let's move onto drugs. I know you had a big acid house phase. You have even confessed that your infatuation with ecstasy was almost the break up of the band. Do you think your brand of rock and roll still has a relevant place in a world where the youngest and hippest are tripping out on E and acid house?
They're quite different. House is much more anonymous music. You don't really know the faces behind the music. You don't really know their personal lives and what they had for breakfast. People aren't interviewing them. They aren't on the cover of Time. And that's what's good about it. It's kind of a selfish musical scene in a way. You just go along and have a good time by yourself, really. I mean, people don't even touch anymore. At the start of the rave scene people used to touch each other and then they'd sort of stare at each other maybe and now they just give lingering looks into those disco mirror balls. It's a whole other world.
What's your stimulant of choice these days?
Ha! Tobacco. The most evil, dreaded one really. The whole band's given up. I'm the last smoker in the band. It's terrible. What's happened to rock and roll? Guys in bands with nicotine patches!
What has happened to rock and roll? You seemed to achieve the heights of success with a really polished brand of rock and now appear to be forsaking it for a kind of grunge.
It's quite complicated. 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. The new album (due out later this year, tentatively titled Full Moon Over Dirty Hearts) and 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.
While U2 and INXS both seem intent on reinventing themselves, you seem to be going in entirely opposite directions. U2 have embraced the new technology and gone for a multi media extravaganza while you've chucked out the technology and gone back to your roots.
Well, one's cheaper than the other (laughs). We had to do it this way for ourselves. It suits us. And from here on in we'll build. Anything could happen.
Another famous Michael, one of your acknowledged influences, Mick Jagger, just turned 50. Will you still be getting it on when you're that age?
I've no idea. If you still love the music I don't see why not. But who's to say what shape or form it would be in? I've a lot of passion for music, obviously Mick Jagger does too. It's good for white boys to get old and play rock and roll. It's OK for everyone else. No one questions it about James Brown. When did Mick Jagger turn 50? I'll have to send him some flowers. He's older than the president of the United States, isn't he? Amazing. Maybe that says more about the president. I think everbody's older than him. I'm getting close.
One more question about sex and rock and roll. No drugs this time. What do you make of the decision to ban the sale of condoms at the Féile?
I hadn't heard about that. Well, ehmn . . . I guess it gets into religious areas that are very tricky but I find that incredibly irresponsible. What's the prevailing logic? It's strange that they would do that at a festival, especially since it will be full of 50,000 people who most likely should have one in their back pocket. Maybe I'll throw some of my own out.
Do you practise safe sex?
Oh, very safe. Very safe. Clean sheets, the lot, you know? (Laughs). I had issue a few years ago with the premier of Queensland in Australia. He had a strange reputation in Australia. He's gone now. But basically because of his high almighty moral stance about something or other he ran around ripping the condom vending machines off the walls of university campuses. And there was no legislation allowing him to do it. At the time I thought that was a very, very irresponsible act. It seemed very blind to me. And I was chucking buckets of condoms out at the audience while we were playing there until I got arrested.
You were arrested for condom distribution?
Well, that wasn't so much against the law but I was explaining how to use them and also saying a few choice words about the guy who was pulling them off the walls. And I got done on a few charges but in the end they were all dropped because basically I was right. That's all I can say about it really. Cause I really don't want to get arrested again (laughs). It's the last show of the tour and I wanna go home! But I don't really understand. If it's legal to sell them now then why aren't they selling them? There's a good reason for them.
Nobody really understands Ireland. Not even the Irish.
It's complicated, eh? Just like Australia.
Any last words for the young people of Ireland?
Use a condom!