For most bands, the first flush of success usually means greater name recognition, but for INXS, it just brings another round of pronunciation problems. Case in point: How many casual listeners will make the connection between the group they hear announced on the radio as "in excess" and the jumble of letters that appears in the print ads for Sunday's show at Merriweather Post Pavilion?
"It's always been a problem, getting people to say it right, or to realize that it's not two bands, but one," says singer Michael Hutchence. "But it's kinda good, really, because it makes people think about it. Or talk about it, anyway."
Not that there aren't other reasons to talk about the band: INXS is the latest in a string of Australian bands to make a mark in the United States, and "Listen Like Thieves," its fifth and latest album, has been on the charts for the better part of the last year, fielding two singles and going gold in the process.
Part of the band's success doubtless owes to the rugged good looks of Hutchence, who had female fans screaming for more back when the band was still working the club circuit. Mostly, though, it has been the band's ability to blend a subtle dance beat with gutsy rock guitar that makes listeners into fans.
"That's the thing, we have a sort of rhythm section-with-guitars," says Hutchence. "It's a good combination. I mean, people like noise, they really do. We like it, too, so we make a bit of noise, and a bit of dance."
The band's basic blend came about "pretty naturally," he says. "It's just the taste of each player. We let everybody do what they think they should do in terms of the song. And so the rhythm section is preoccupied with funk, I guess, and Tim Farriss and I like a lot of heavy guitar, so we're pushing for that. From the start, that's how we did things."
But some things were different back in the beginning. The band's name, for instance. Before they stumbled onto their current tag, the sextet went by a far more mundane moniker, the Farriss Brothers. Nothing unusual about that, of course, considering that the Farrisses -- Tim, Jon and Andrew -- make up half the band, with Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly and Garry Gary Beers filling out the ranks. Honest though it was, the Farriss name lacked the sparkle expected in a contemporary rock 'n' roll handle, so in September 1979, the Farriss Brothers officially became INXS.
Still, the fraternal facet of the band's personality hasn't quite worn away. Not that there's any sibling rivalry simmering under the surface; in fact, Hutchence reports quite the opposite. "It makes things a lot easier, because they've known each other so long," he says. "They've had all their little 'brother' fights years ago.
"Seriously, it's good. They can't tell each other, 'I never want to see your face again,' " he laughs. "Or maybe they can, I don't know. In any case, I'm really proud that we've lasted eight years together, and have never had any major dissension within the band."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the other three members have been part of the gang "nearly as long as the brothers." They met while in school in Sydney, and got around to putting the band together in 1977. Although the group spent 10 weeks working songs out in Perth, the bulk of its early experience came on the club circuit in Sydney.
Which, it turns out, explains a lot about the band's aggressive assurance. "It definitely was necessary to play something that was going to knock people around," says Hutchence of the band's pub period. "You couldn't get away with subtlety in those places; the audiences were pretty aggressive.
"It's changing a bit now," he adds with a chuckle. "It's hard to get into pubs to play now, because they're actually making them safe at last."
Not that INXS is seen much on the pub scene these days. In fact, the band's sound is more likely to be heard in movie houses than in public houses, thanks to its current high profile and the success of "Do What You Do" from the "Pretty in Pink" sound track. "I'll tell you, you get stuff sent to you all the time, you get rung up all the time. These days, half the movie studios are like record companies."
One thing Hutchence enjoys about writing for film, though, is the discipline.
"It's interesting to write for a specific thing, from someone else's idea," he says. "It's a totally rational approach. You have a goal to achieve. You can't just meander through your creative process; you have to get a message across that is in parallel with the movie."
At the moment, though, the band's biggest concern is assembling songs for its sixth album, scheduled for release early next year. "We just spent four days in Chicago, at a little studio there," Hutchence reports. "Andrew and I just sat down at the old piano with a pencil and eraser, and went for it. Actually, I think we've written some stuff that we're very, very happy with."