by Ian Patterson
Andrew Farriss once modestly remarked to me, “I am just an incredibly lucky guy who happened to have a genius as my best friend.” It is my belief that Michael’s collaboration with Andrew was a unique relationship of complementary talents that both found hard to replicate in other writing partnerships. There was a mutual respect and relationship there that was not always easy to find in an INXSless context. This is not to diminish the great heights Michael’s creativity soared to in Max Q and his final solo album, nor in anyway to deny the greatness of such collaborators as Andy Gill, Ollie Olsen, and Danny Saber, to name just a few.
Michael had an amazing ability to take a recorded chord sequence, fashion a unique melody on top of it, and then add the lyrics. Sometimes he would write down the lyrics when a creative burst fell upon him (which could happen at anytime). Richard Simpkin reports that he observed Michael on many occasions writing lyrics in his well-worn song book that he took wherever he went and he would us the lyrics as the starting point for composing a song. If he didn’t have his book close by anything handy became fair game including the official hotel stationery. Often his first draft became the final draft much to the amazement of the other guys in INXS.
Initially he used a small mini cassette recorder to shape melodic and lyric content. He also used a small Sony Dictaphone to sketch down ideas whenever he was travelling in a car, out walking or sitting in his hotel room. He would even use the telephone answering machine if that were closest. He also used his studio in France which initially was equipped with a Fostex R8 (8 track tape recorder), a 4 track cassette recorder and later digital recorders including multi track and mastering DATS connected to an Alesis 8 bus ADAT system through an 8 bus Mackie 24 track desk. (For the musician/technical buffs) Most of this equipment unfortunately may have been sold off after his death. A box of instruction manuals and some dedicated patch cables were all that remained to complete the jigsaw.
Below we have for the first time anywhere in the world, released some audio files that show the various methods Michael used to fashion a song. We are indebted to INXS, Tom Tom Club (Talking Head’s Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth for the use of their sequence to illustrate Michael’s approaches.)
Method One: “Give me chords and a feel, man”
When Michael was living on the other side of the world, one of the things Andrew would do is record his ideas onto a DAT (digital to analog tape) and send them to Michael. Andrew may send a well produced chord sequence and call it “Where the Sun Always Shines”. Michael would then listen to it over and over, applying himself and eventually creating the melody and lyrics and renaming it into something quite different – “Don’t Lose Your Head.”
Once he had molded a melody it would take on that Hutchencesque quality of subtle melisma (vocal slurring across different pitches), pitch bends, note drop offs, subtle vibrato and characteristic vocal inflections and tonal qualities. So intentional were these inflections and melodic nuances that Michael would painstakingly refine them in the recording process. Not everyone could easily emulate these subtleties. When Ray Charles was approached to sing “Please … You’ve Got That…” on Full Moon Dirty Hearts album, Michael was there in the studio to teach him how to produce the Hutchencesque vocal style. “Mr. Charles,” Michael respectfully addressed him, “…it (the melody) goes like this … (Michael sings the line and Ray Charles attempts to imitate it). After many attempts Charles says, “Sir (Michael), I know I will eventually get it right” …and of course he did.
Listen to the following excerpts that show a song in the making.