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Dublin: 14 °C Friday 29 August, 2014

9 questions for INXS’s new Irish frontman

Ciaran Gribbin on Limerick gigs, stage fright and his alter-ego Joe Echo…

Image: INXS

ROCK BAND INXS announced yesterday that they have a new frontman – Irish musician Ciaran Gribbin.

The Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter took some time out of his busy rock schedule to talk to the TheJournal.ie … that is until lead guitarist Andrew Farriss called him away for his dinner.

Before that, Gribbin gave us the low-down on his upcoming gigs, filling Michael Hutchence’s shoes and how he had almost quit performing when he got the call from Australia.

1. Congrats on the new job! How have people reacted to Tuesday’s big announcement?

It’s just been unbelievable. To be honest, it has all been a bit overwhelming and hard to take in.

On a personal level, the crazy wave of support from Ireland has been amazing. The goodwill coming from home is great – even people who don’t know me have got in touch to say ‘well done’ and wish me well. It means a lot.

Last night, I was exhausted and emotional from it all.

On a professional level, it is overwhelming as well – even just seeing my name in Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines.

It is all very surreal. It was not that long ago that I was driving back home from gigs in Limerick and thinking, “Why the hell am I putting myself through this?”

2. The last lead singer who performed with the band was chosen after a reality TV show (Rock Star: INXS). Was your appointment more organic?

You’ve hit the nail on the head – the word is organic. It was very natural how all this happened.

I met Andrew Farriss two years ago at a party in Sydney. A few people started to play a few tunes and it ended up that me and Andrew played ‘Mystify’ together.

From there, we hit it off as friends. He would come to my gigs in Australia and I saw INXS play as well.

I never saw it going anywhere else. He was a hero of mine who happened to turn into a friend. Growing up, I listened to INXS and some of their albums were key to my musical education. So, even hanging out with him was an honour for me.

Then six months ago, he called me from Australia and said he was free for a month and I should come down to do some song-writing with him.

“Get me on a plane,” I thought.

3. What happened next?

Even at that point, I didn’t think anything else would come of it.

Actually, I had made up my mind that I was on my last legs as an artist. I had been doing well with other stuff. I thought I should give up gigs and concentrate on films and songwriting.

I was also becoming a father as my wife was pregnant. It was a real crossroads moment in my life and then the call came.

Andrew didn’t mention it but secretly he may have been thinking about me singing with the band.

He knew I could sing, he knew my range and musical background but primarily he thought of me as a songwriter. He had done a complete check on my history.

4. So, what are the band actually like?

I’m in the studio with them right now and it is very calm here. They are a lovely bunch of fellas and they’ve made me feel very welcome.

Andrew is all about the songwriting. He is the man behind all the band’s hits. We hit it off straight away obviously.

He is a quiet, modest, shy and lovely man. You would never pick him out of a line up of rock stars.

It was a more daunting task to meet the rest of the band. But within a week we had written and recorded demos for five songs and they were just blown away [by the partnership].

The first time we were all together was at a dinner and it was like the weirdest job interview ever! Although it wasn’t actually an interview, a lot of questions were asked.

5. The band has had multiple “guest singers” since Michael Hutchence died in 1997. Do you feel like the band is still filling his shoes?

I don’t think anyone can replace Michael Hutchence.

I am here to pay my respects to him. I am aware of the history and the legacy of the band and when I walk out on that stage I hope the fans know that.

I am as big a fan of Michael as everyone who will be coming to the gigs.

I genuinely want to perform those older songs the way they should be performed – with passion to entertain a crowd.

As for the band, they really want to prove they can get back out there again and mix it with the best of them. They have taken a lot of slack over the past 10 years about singers and who is in the band.

But you have to take your hat off to them – losing a charismatic singer like Michael is the worst thing that can happen a band. They have taken all those knocks on the chin and they still want to make music.

6. There are plenty of tour dates coming up soon (starting 3 November in Peru). Are you nervous?

I am more excited that nervous.

It is great that the first two gigs are in South America because they are massive. The first is to 12,000 people in Arequipa in Peru and the second will be in front of a 30,000-strong audience at Buenos Aires in Argentina.

I have never experienced anything like that in my life but at least I won’t be able to see the whites of people’s eyes.

I’m hoping I won’t get stage fright. If I do, I’m sure I’ll get a kick from one of the other band members who will just tell me to get out there and enjoy it.

7. When are you bringing the rest of INXS back to Ireland?

I think there are plans for an Irish gig. Andrew has been taken aback by the level of excitement coming from Ireland.

I’ve already told management that they need to get an Irish date as soon as possible. There are some European concerts coming up before Christmas. If they could squeeze in an Irish gig, I would be a happy man.

8. What can INXS fans expect from your frontmanship?

The bottom line is that this is the entertainment business and I want to walk on the stage and sing with passion.

There will be new music in the new show but we’ll be playing the old stuff as well.

If Nirvana band members were to tour again, it would be weird if they didn’t sing Smells Like Teen Spirit. We will be playing all the tunes that fans want to hear.

The telephone interview is briefly interrupted by a shout in the background. It’s guitarist Andrew Farriss calling his new frontman to dinner – not before he gives him a hug and tells me I’ve been keeping him too long.

“You two must have hit it off,” he jokes. “I thought he’d gone missing.”

Just one more question, I promise him…

9.  We want to know what happens now for Joe Echo (your performance alter-ego)?

I don’t know what will happen him. We will let him sit on the fence and smile over my shoulder for a while. I’m proud of him and all the work I have done before this.

He might make an appearance some day. Who knows? Never say never with Joe Echo.

But this is my dream job and I am 100 per cent committed to it…until they kick me out.

Read: Irish musician becomes new INXS frontman>

Listen to Tiny Summer, INXS first demo track with Gribbin>

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