LOS ANGELES — The night INXS named J.D. Fortune their new singer, it was raining in Los Angeles for the first time in months. Drummer Jon Farriss instantly thought back to a day in Sydney, Australia, eight years ago when it rained for the first time in just as long. It was the day of the funeral of Michael Hutchence, INXS' original singer.
"I think there's something a little spiritual and beyond the realms of what's happening in front of us that's at play here," Farriss said Monday during a break from recording with Fortune at the famed Westlake Studios. "There are a few angels who got together and are hanging out, I think."
When INXS decided to replace Hutchence, who was found dead on November 22, 1997 (see "Hutchence Death Ruled Suicide Under The Influence of Drugs And Alcohol"), through a reality show, longtime fans were far from thrilled. So perhaps they can take some solace in the words Farriss uses to describe the discovery of Fortune through "Rock Star: INXS," which include "magical," "organic" and "100 percent the way it was supposed to be."
In fact, the highlight of the entire process for both parties had absolutely nothing to do with show producer Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Apprentice") and his cameras (see "INXS Rebuilding 'Family' With Televised 'Rock Star' Audition").
"As soon as J.D. was announced the winner, we played a couple of tunes on the CBS set and the minute we got off the stage we took J.D. into a room and popped some champagne and we locked the door," Farriss said of the festivities on September 21. "It was the first time we had a chance to just be alone and everyone was like knocking on the door, 'Let us in.' Like, 'No, this is our time, we're a band now.' We were just all hugging in a group saying, 'Yeah!' "
"That was the best moment in my life," said Fortune, whose smile from that night seems as permanent as his tattoos. "The energy was f---ing awesome, man."
On the show, Fortune sparked controversy early when he told INXS he was the only contestant of the 15 who already knew all their songs, and then throughout the season constantly reminded everyone he was there for no other reason than to become the lead singer of INXS. Since he dropped out of high school to join a rock band, he's gone from a '50s and '60s tribute act to being an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, but he insists INXS have always been his favorite band.
"If this was [to join] any other band, if this was competing for 10 bajillion dollars on an island somewhere, there's no way I would do it," Fortune said. "That reality TV show was the hardest experience of my life because I had to really confront myself, but if they asked me, I'd do it a thousand times over to show them how badly I want to be a member of INXS. And I just followed my heart, and a true heart never needs to make an excuse for what it does, 'cause it's true."
Farriss echoed his new singer when the conversation turned to their new album and he was asked if INXS were trying to reclaim the dance-rock sound from bands like the Killers and the Bravery.
"We're not trying to do anything, we're just being who we are," he said, explaining that the band's signature "edgy rock tracks with pretty melodies" will be prevalent.
Hoping to ride some momentum from "Rock Star," INXS set a November 29 release date for the album, titled Switch.
"Andrew [Farriss] and Garry [Beers] and myself have been collaborating with other artists to just have a huge pool of songs ready," said Jon, name-checking producer Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams, Nick Lachey). "We weren't sure if [our new singer] was going to be a woman or a man, so some of the keys were written around a lady's voice and some keys were written around a guy's voice. And we just sat there madly pulling songs and J.D. goes, 'I like this one, this one's great.' Obviously it's really important that J.D.'s involved."
J.D.'s also been writing with the band on tracks that might still make the cut, and the first single is the tune he wrote on the show to INXS' music, called "Pretty Vegas."
"That song reminds me of when I was in Toronto and I was driving this really crappy car and I pulled up [to a stoplight] and there's a guy that pulled up in a brand new Mustang. I was looking at his car and I'm like, 'Wow, that's really nice,' and he couldn't even look at me," J.D. explained. "And then this guy pulled up in a brand new Ferrari right next to the Mustang and that was like the one-up from him. ... Basically, there's always a bigger fish, so just be happy with my car and let's get to the next light."
INXS are shooting a video for the song in Los Angeles this week.
"We haven't initiated [him] yet ... so J.D.'s gonna jump out of a few planes," Farriss joked.
"Not dressed as Elvis, though," the singer replied.