During a horseback riding trip with his wife along Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains near the Mexican border, all Andrew Farriss initially thought was, “this is going to hurt.”
“We’re all pretty soft,” jokes Farriss, after riding for six hours a day for nearly a week. “Our body isn’t used to that hammering on a saddle. It’s a whole other deal.”
Exploring the vast open land, the couple connected with Craig Lawson, the late owner and wrangler of Hideout Ranch in Portal, Arizona, who knew the surrounding trails inside and out. Lawson took the couple back in time, regaling them with stories of the people, the land, and even some of the more tragic lore of the region.
Moving through Apache Pass, a small, remote town with its lone-standing boarded-up church, and on through Fort Bowie, a former U.S. calvary barracks, as hawks circled above, Farriss felt the desert heat beating down on him. There was nothing cinematic about the location of the dilapidated military base, nor how the west was won, as the harsher realities of life on the frontier set in.
“There was nothing there, just this desolate rock area” says Farriss. “Suddenly, what started to happen, as I stood there, I stopped thinking of the experience like a Hollywood film and was feeling the heat from the desert, and I was thinking [about] what would this have been like for the people in that era. It really hit me.”
At night, more woeful sounds and scenes were running through his mind. “When I would go to bed at night, I had these really sad melodies in my head from riding all day and feeling the emotion that runs through that area,” shares Farriss. “It was a curious mix of freedom and oppression, war and peace, and you have the tombstone stuff, the cowboys, and everything else that was all going on there at the same time.”
When Farriss returned home to Nashville – where he splits his time between his farm in New South Wales, Australia, with his wife Marlina Rae Neeley and their children – the nearly week-long experience spurred a collection of imagery and stories. Those memories and tales stuck with him and developed into songs for his first self-titled solo album.
“My mind was on fire with all these stories from the area,” says Farriss, who remembers passing through the areas over the decades while on tour with INXS. “Even though I had driven through there in the old days on tour buses and played gigs, this was different. It was grittier.”
Returning back to the same area a few more times, Farriss ended up with a collection of demos and began positioning the songs around the stories of the American old west. Finishing the album before the pandemic, Farriss held off the release until 2021, instead sharing the first batch of songs with the 2020 EP Love Makes the World.
“As I began to stylize and re-recorded these demos, I suddenly realized what the body of work was, and it became like a chessboard,” says Farriss. “I started to repurpose the album based on the last two songs I had written—‘My Cajun Girl’ and ‘Son of a Gun’—because I realized what the lyrics were beginning to read. The whole album and story were beginning to work together.”
Throughout the 12 tracks of the outlaw-and Americana-inspired album, Farriss placed himself in another time – from the opening space of sound, the desert wind blowing, and the screech of birds that follow through on “Bounty Hunter – Hummingbird.” Touched up by flamenco-slanted guitars, the instrumentation sets the vivid imagining of more intrepid days—the desert sky / I’ll be your tumbleweed / I’ll keep moving on / Rolling on and on.
Perceptions of ruthless times past are revived in the roots-y “With the Kelly Gang,” and into the more hopeful rock jaunt of “Run Baby Run” and the pensive homage to the spirit of old Geronimo and ghosts of “Apache Pass.” Fitting more soulful toe tappers in between, Farriss continues his wild west narrative through “Starlight,” “Son of a Gun” and the electrified “Good Momma Bad.”
Backed by a collection of musicians, the album is a gumbo of sounds. The intricate instrumentation of the countrified “My Cajun Girl,” lives up to the musical allusion of the album in its lyrics—the band had a fiddle and a mandolin / Guitars that hammered on / A funky rhythm section … Little bitta bluegrass / Little bitta country / That’s what turned her on. Later, the bluegrass-rock anthem “You Are My Rock” closes the record.
Still exploring country and peripheral sounds, Farriss wants to continue experimenting with future arrangements, from funk and reggae and beyond. “A lot of it is also me choosing the right instrument I want for a song,” he says. “On ‘My Cajun Girl,’ I recorded two versions: one version that’s on the album that’s pretty straight country and another one that’s more funky. They’re completely different. I’m gonna try a little bit more of that this time around where I might take something that I’ve been working on some time ago that may be funky and make it go really country—not the country can’t be funky.”
Farriss adds, “In the pre-electricity era, you had this incredible fusion of music with blues to jazz and even classical music and encouraging all these was different styles coming together—and that’s exciting.”
Farriss was inducted into the Australian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016 and has collaborated with artists in Nashville and with a number of Australian acts as a producer and songwriter. For Farriss –also the primary songwriter for INXS, along with late singer Michael Hutchence, since the band’s inception in 1977 – the transition from pop-rock into a more country and Americana sound was still an organic one.
“I’ve always been a songwriter, and because of that I have respect for other writers, particularly country writers,” says Farriss. “Someone said to me, ‘Oh you’re going country, welcome to the dark side,’ as if there’s no darker genre. I think lyrically, especially if you think back to earlier times, whether it was songs about a circle being unbroken or a funeral, those aren’t topics a pop writer would sing. It’s getting right into your heart and soul, and it makes you a bit emotional.”
Moving into the newest era and building on his solo career, Farriss still has some untouched musical land to find.
“I’m still very passionate about it,” says Farriss. “I’m definitely not finished with this journey that I’m on.”
Photos: Courtesy of 2911 Media