Kirk Pengilly or the Kirkster, as he’s happy to be addressed, certainly has a lot to be cheery about. When he chatted to Beat recently about INXS’ latest mega project he practically radiated sunshine. For one thing there’s the announcement of a national tour, the band’s first in four years and where the gents will headline A Day On the Green shows, for which Kirk is highly pleased. “I think so. I mean, I love wine… so how couldn’t I,” he laughs.
Then there’s the band’s latest album which heralds a new era in the group’s history; Original Sin, re-workings of many of their classics by some of contemporary music’s freshest and ultra-gifted talent.
“Yes, we’re very excited about it,” he beams. “It’s been a long labour of love, I guess. We spent about eighteen months on and off on putting it together and it was a really challenging and interesting journey in putting it together.”
The experience of which, it turns out, could be likened to a mini-series… if albums could be mini-series. “That’s true. Especially with this sort of idea of re-imagining, re-working some of our favorite songs and past hits and that; it certainly was a lot of fun to do, but challenging, ‘cos we had to try and imagine these songs in different ways after performing them for years and years the way that we had originally recorded them.
“So it really stretched our creativity.”
A diverse slew of artists volunteered to be a part of musical history including Train’s Pat Monahan, Rob Thomas, Deborah de Corral, and hip-hop artist Tricky J.
Undeniably, the album’s standouts include Ben Harper’s rendition of Never Tear Us Apart which was selected as the album’s first release, while new comer Dan Sultan delivers a kick-arse bluesy version of Just Keep Walking.
And while there was no shortage of artists wanting to partake of the project, Kirk says there was no scrapping over who’s favourites was a must include.
“Not really,” he joked. “I mean the latter part of the album we handed over to Jon Fariss as executive producer to kind of finish it all off, so he was allowed the freedom to kind of pull later things together and made quite a few of the decisions on his own, which was good. He’s done a great job.”
And when thoroughly commended for having John Mayer toss a guitar lick or three into the mix, (he features on the track Mystify), Kirk is nothing but full of praise for the media beleaguered virtuoso. “He’s definitely one of my favourites too. I’ve got all his albums and I’ve met him a bunch of times,” says Kirk, before adding that “he a great guy too.
“Unfortunately the media gives him a lot of shit, which is unfortunate, but he is an amazing musician, amazing singer and guitar player and songwriter.”
The A Day On The Green shows will also feature several different guest vocalists including their semi-regular frontman JD Fortune who Kirk credits with being a right crack-up.
“He’s a great front man,” touts the Kirkster. “He’s a funny man and keeps us in stitches all the time. Very entertaining to be around; he’s just constantly ‘on’. Yeah, he doesn’t have an off switch. He’s a great performer, a great singer and we’re very, very fortunate to have found him.”
And regardless of the criticism INXS received for being a part of the reality show that ultimately delivered JD Fortune, Kirk says it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and the band were glad to have done the show.
“We were proud of the achievement. I think it was a very classy show and I still have people come up to me regularly saying how much they loved the show and how lost they were after the show ended. It’s really a handful of perhaps journalists, shall I say, and music industry people that bagged us for it. But that’s what happens when you come up with a great idea,” says Kirk unrepentant,
But reflecting on how, at one stage following the death of Michael Hutchence in 1997, the band were at a loss to even contemplate moving forward, he reveals the doubt that plagued one of Australia’s most successful bands ever.
“I think we were all not sure what we were gonna do,” he recalls. “I think everyone had a sort of different feeling or different opinion and everyone, I guess, went through the grieving process in their own way in their own time. I think initially we weren’t sure that we could continue or wanted to really, but I guess a lot of peer group pressure occurred in that 12 months after,” admits Kirk.
“In fact it was actually Jimmy Barnes and Mushroom that coaxed us into dusting off the cobwebs on all the gear and getting out and we performed at that 25 Years of Mushroom concert in Melbourne. And that sort of reignited the spark. We’ll always miss Michael; he was a brother and a family member to us and it’s a sad thing what happened, but we still wanna play music and that’s sort of what we do.”
Kirk says the excitement of their latest project engendered a hankering for the lads to continue performing and create new music. In fact they’ve been kicking around some new ideas, which they plan to focus on after touring Original Sin, which will continue on to Canada and onwards. So all in all, life’s pretty sweet.
However, there’s another reason why the Kirkster is Mr Cheery personified; he casually reveals he recently tied the knot with Aussie surfing champ Layne Beachley. “Yeah, we actually only got married just recently, but we’ve been together for about eight years.”
INXS play A DAY ON THE GREEN with Train, Baby Animals and Sean Kelly of The Models at Rochford Wines Yarra Valley, on Sunday February 6 and All Saints Estate, Rutherglen on Saturday February 12. Tickets and info at adayonthegreen.com.au and ticketmaster.com.au and 136 100. INXS’ new re-imagining of their tunes, Original Sin , is out now through Sony.