It’s safe to say INXS may be the first band ever to hire a tree surgeon for a music video.
A giant oak tree in a field outside Melbourne, Australia, serves as the focal point for the visual version of the rock sextet’s 10th album, “Full Moon, Dirty Hearts” (Atlantic), due Nov. 2.
The tree’s bulky trunk is littered with ornaments and empty picture frames. Director Richard Lowenstein swings the camera around from one side to the other and quickly focuses in on one frame, segueing into a video accompanying an album track and then back again. The videos, like the songs, are linked and neatly arranged into an unprecedented mini-movie.
The tree surgeon got the job done, watching over its long, flowing branches and keeping it healthy. And likewise, INXS’ family tree is still standing stand after 16 years.
“The beauty of it is,” guitarist-saxophonist-vocalist Kirk Pengilly said recently from a New York hotel room, “if it were a video of us pouncing around, it would be extremely boring. That’s why we went with the concept of sort of video vignettes with young, up-and-coming directors Richard found and giving them free rein of what they wanted to do.”
That’s the INXS way.
How many bands would endure the 27-hour trek from their home base in Sydney to the Italian island of Capri and walk 20 minutes up a steep hill to an isolated recording studio that was once a resort hotel?
“There were no distractions, no clubs, nothing open late on that island,” Pengilly said. “So there was nothing to do but work seven days a week, hang out and talk.
“I guess the main reason we went there was because we hadn’t spent a lot of time together in the previous six months or so. We recorded ‘Welcome to Wherever You Are’ the year before and decided to not to tour it, so apart from a few promotional trips, we were separated for many months.
“Andrew (Farriss) found this studio on Capri and felt that it would be at least a good way of starting out having us all together so we could discuss and focus on the direction without many distractions. As it ended up, we did the bulk of the album there, and then Michael (Hutchence), Andrew and I did a couple weeks in Paris to finish off the vocals and other things.”
After the album was completed, including duets with Ray Charles (on “Please You Got That …”) and Chrissie Hynde (title track), the band entrusted their faces to Lowenstein’s magic. One look at the mesmerizing video for “The Gift,” the leadoff single, convinced Pengilly they were in the right hands.
The band’s time of reflection on Capri also gave them an urge to return to their roots.
“We did the ‘Get Out of the House’ tour earlier this year,” Pengilly said, “which was a kind of club, pub venue tour around the world. That’s what we came out of in Australia in the late ’70s, the pubs. We were missing the scene and the audience, the situation, and also wanting to do something different, something people wouldn’t expect an arena-stadium band to do. We always like to do something we’re not supposed to.”
Marriages lasting more than five years, these days, are considered a success. How has INXS managed to survive this long?
“An initial commitment,” Pengilly said. “We grew up together … it goes back even further than 16 years in different incarnations. Tim (Farriss) and I have been playing in bands together since about 1972 or ’73.
“The band has always been about changing, about trying different styles, no formula, so therefore we haven’t been locked into a pigeonhole of any style of music.
“If we were a heavy metal band, we might not have lasted two albums, because we would’ve been completely bored with two albums of it.
“It’s still very creative … there’s still much music, much more life in us. And the bottomline is, we still enjoy playing music together.”
BWF (before we forget): The body of lead singer Michael Hutchence was found Nov. 22, 1997, in his room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Sydney. Authorities said he hanged himself. He was 37. Hutchence and the group were in Sydney to prepare for their 20th anniversary tour. INXS had returned in 1997 with its first studio album in four years, “Elegantly Wasted” (on Mercury). … Originally formed in 1977 as the Farriss Brothers (Tim, Andrew and Jon), INXS – with Hutchence, Pengilly and guitarist Garry Beers – had the same lineup from day one. … Fans can access INXS on the Web @ www.insx.com. … The INXS album discography – “INXS” (Atco, 1980); “Underneath the Colours” (1981); “Shabooh Shoobah” (1983); “Dekadance” (mini-LP of remixes, 1983); “The Swing” (1984); “Listen Like Thieves” (Atlantic, 1985); “Kick” (1987); “X” (1990); “Live Baby Live” (1991); “Welcome to Wherever You Are” (1992); “Full Moon, Dirty Hearts” (1993); “The Greatest Hits” (1994); “Elegantly Wasted” (Mercury, 1997).