Published on March 1st, 2007 | by Hans Fruck0
JD Fortune Interview
In July 2005 INXS embarked on a brave/tawdry/pioneering/ghoulish (choose your adjective) televised search for a new lead singer. The odds were stacked against them – and stacked tenfold against whichever singer they chose. This not-Michael would have very big shoes to fill. Hans talks to JD Fortune about big shoes, big balls, and rotting nerves.
In the 18 months since INXS made JD Fortune the latest replacement for Michael Hutchence, the band have covered a lot of ground. They’ve completed a world tour, played to over 700,000 people, and released their first JD-fronted album, Switch. So far, the numbers are formidable. Capitalising on the torrent of Rock Star: INXS publicity, the album has sold more than one million copies worldwide. It peaked at #15 on US charts and, at last count, had clocked up more than 370,000 sales in the US alone. This compares to a US peak of #41 and sales of 176,000 for Elegantly Wasted, the last album featuring Hutchence.
Of course, it’s hard to know how much of this success is owed to the reality-TV profile of Rock Star: INXS. Only the band’s next album will resolve that question. Talking to me from his mother’s basement in his native Nova Scotia, Canada, JD says he’s already been busy writing new songs. “I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve just finished writing twelve songs”, he says. “I’ve just exposed every aching inch and every rotting nerve of my system to these songs.” The songs may not make it onto the record, but he keeps writing because “It’s a perishable thing. The less you use the less you have of it…”
Despite touring Australia recently, INXS are poised to tour again, this time with Simple Minds and Arrested Development. The band have only recently completed 14 months of non-stop touring, but JD isn’t fazed by the prospect of saddling up again so soon: “It’s been tiring, but just fuckin’ rewarding, man. It’s awesome playing in front of people, getting to do what you want to do, you know? What you love to do. It’s great.”
He’s keen to talk; his words tumble over each other, hitching only on frequent “you knows” and “you know what I means.” It’s hard not to be won over by his transparent good humour. You believe him when he says he can’t believe the life he’s living. This is a different JD from the one who introduced himself to the world via Rock Star: INXS, where he sported a bruising win-at-all-costs persona. When I ask if he’s succumbed to the rock-star lifestyle and made any outrageous requests, he says “Au contraire, my friend,” and laughs. “I’m going through the holy shit, I don’t think I deserve any of this and everyone’s gonna find out I’m a great big fuckin’ fraud.”
No wonder it took a little while for JD to find his feet in the band. “Being the newest member of the band, it’s kinda like bringing a new animal into the house,” JD says. “You’ve got five dogs and then you bring another dog in, and everybody kinda sits around for little while. And eventually you have a few scrapes here and there, but at the end of the day we’re all just dogs, and we all just wanna eat, shit, sleep, fuck, and make music.”
“Initially, I felt like I was still auditioning,” he says. “Every night I went out, there were a lot of people (saying) ‘You better be good. Don’t fuck this up. This is our band’. And now, it’s our band. And we’re sharing it with the world … The first three months everyone was sorta holding their breath: ‘Oh my god, oh my god, are we actually doing this?’ And then, when it worked, it was ‘Thank god we’re doing this!’”
But the band accepting JD is only half the story. What about the fans? JD’s repeatedly protested that he’s not Michael Hutchence, and not trying to be. But it’s a difficult path he has to walk – be himself, but not deviate too far from what the fans expect. “I’ve tried to wrap my brain around what is that I can do to make it my own. And the only thing I could come up with was just to try to sing them the way they make me feel, you know, when I was a kid. Sing them how… like they’re my own kids. But at the same time there are a lot of fans who deserve to have them sung so that they feel as close to it as we are.”
JD’s acutely aware that more than his fate is riding on this venture. ”I had concerns about dropping a very, very, very large ball,” he laughs. “It’s probably an understatement to say very, very, very large. It would be the ultimate demise of, you know, the band’s career – and it’d be a shitty way to go – and my career. And I’d look like an asshole, and I used to get not paid for that. And I didn’t want to get not paid for that again.”
The change in JD’s circumstances have definitely been dramatic. Not so long ago, after a business venture went bust, he was left living in his car. And for a while, he paid bills by working as an Elvis impersonator and teaching martial arts. It’s little wonder, then, that he says he’s given “everything physically possible that I could… that I honestly could muster in my bones and in my soul” to this magic-carpet ride with INXS.
In an industry already jaundiced by a slew of Idol contests, JD’s selection via Rock Star: INXS – devised by reality-TV maestro Mark Burnett – was always gonna be greeted with withering contempt. When I suggest that some people wanted to dislike him and the band because of the manner in which he was chosen, JD’s philosophical.
“I would hope so, because then we wouldn’t be human, if we didn’t. I cherish the fact that people have likes and dislikes, and I welcome it all. Because what helps us, you and me, be better writers is human emotion and human experience, and no one’s shoving anything down anybody’s throat.”
This cynicism is probably what he means when he remarks that the band “had a lot of hills to climb this year”, though he’s quick to add “I daren’t say mountains because, you know what, it’s something we love to do. So it can’t possibly be a mountain. I mean, kids who are sick and dying or, you know, fatally ill, that’s a fuckin’ mountain, man. So this is a privilege, not a right, you know? This world that I’m living in.”
“We’re all in this together, this whole big blue ball, this planet thing. Hans, you’re sitting there, and I’m here, and we’re having this conversation. And we’re really, you know, we’re spinning out of control as a race of human beings. And we have to have a moment to breathe, and we have to have a moment to relax, and that’s what’s so great about reading and listening to music and … just being entertained in general. Because we work too hard to not have that privilege, and that’s what we try to do on stage”
And now that he’s living his dream, JD’s determined nothing is gonna keep him off that stage. “When I tore ligaments in my knee, I was taking painkillers to be on stage just so I could get through a set … That was a test from life and of my commitment to myself as a musician and as an artist. I’ve come this far, but frankly, the hardest thing I had to do was play injured and play like there was no injury. And that’s something that fucks your brain, and it fucks your body up. And I just hope that when I’m 50, if I make it there, that hopefully my leg will still be intact.”
“But if it’s not… Whenever anybody says to me ‘Aw, I’m sorry about your leg’. I’ll say, ‘Fuck, man, it was worth every left-footed step I’ve ever taken in my life’.”