Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Ciaran Gribbin has been announced as the new frontman for Australian rock band INXS. Gribbin, who hails from Ireland, has previously worked with artists including Paul Oakenfold, Groove Armada and William Orbit. At the end of 2010, he received a Grammy nomination for Madonna's worldwide hit "Celebration", which he co-wrote with Madonna and Paul Oakenfold. Recently, he was asked to score the music for the film Killing Bono, co-produce, write and perform songs for both Philip Ridley's award winning dark fantasy movie Heartless and also for Love and Suicide, the first film to be shot by an American in Cuba since 1959. Ciaran is currently in the studio co-writing with INXS for the next album and soon to start rehearsing for upcoming INXS live dates.
Ciaran, you've just been announced as the new frontman for INXS. Massive congratulations, wonderful news! How did the opportunity come about?
I first met Andrew Farriss [the main songwriter in INXS] two years ago at a house party in Sydney. And at 3am after a few drinks, all the guests had a sing-song, and Andrew asked me if I knew any INXS songs. I sang Mystify and it was a really special moment for me. Over the next year Andrew and I kept in contact via email, and then six months ago he called and asked if I'd like to do some co-writing. I flew to Sydney for ten days and we wrote and recorded four songs. The other band members of INXS loved the songs when they heard the demos, and I met them casually over a Bar-B-Q. It was all very natural…we all bonded very easily, and the guys in the band asked me if I'd like to try out singing some INXS songs before I went back home to Ireland. It was an amazing feeling standing in front of this great band singing all those wonderful hits...and thankfully the guys loved my voice!
Photo Credit: Adrian Cook
Your respective songwriting styles mesh so well. Was it a natural progression from co-writing to being asked to join the band?
Yes very natural. Co-writing is all about chemistry, and Andrew and I both knew on the first day of writing that something special was evolving. I never once felt intimidated when writing with him, and although I was nervous when the band wanted to meet me, once in their company I realized that they were normal guys with no egos so it felt great to make music with them for the first time. We even tried out some new songs in the rehearsal space, which was amazing.
The process of songwriting is a personal journey, clearly something that's very important to you. How has it been collaborating with a band that has written so many iconic songs?
Writing and working with INXS is a dream come true, and it's an honor to be co-writing the next INXS album. I'm very proud of everything I have done in my career so far, but nothing prior to this even comes close. I grew up with INXS, and I have no doubt that as a young singer songwriter I was inspired and influenced by the band and the great irreplaceable Michael Hutchence.
What can we look forward to in the next INXS album, and do you have a release date yet?
To be honest I'm not sure what the next INXS album will sound like. Both Andrew and I are experimenting a lot with different styles and instruments at the minute, but I can say that the new music from INXS will be bursting with passion, no matter what style or genre of music we settle on. I also think that we will continue to release singles and maybe an EP before an album.
You come from Ireland – a country with a rich heritage in music. At what point did you realise that you were destined for a career in music?
I wrote my first song at seven years old and I haven't stopped since. My family are all very artistic. My younger brother John is a great singer and songwriter and is making massive waves in New York City, and also every other member of my family is either a musician or an artist. I guess it's in the blood. So I never really thought about doing anything else but music.
When you started out, who were your musical heroes and influences?
At a very young age I was influenced heavily by my Dad's record collection. Irish/folk music like Planxty, The Chieftains and Luke Kelly & the Dubliners. Then at about ten years old I was blown away by classic rock music, from my uncle's record collection. Bands like AC/DC, Led Zep, Hendrix, and later when I was 15, MTV introduced me to bands like INXS, Talking Heads and the Eurythmics. At 20, I went back to study music and got into all sorts from Nirvana to Herbie Hancock to Chemical Brothers, Radiohead and Bach... I'm still learning.
You're an "in-demand" writer for many different artists and songwriters. Why do think that you're able to step in and out of these projects so successfully?
I suppose I have always tried to push myself into things that I'm not comfortable with. I'm not happy unless I'm exploring new areas in music and in life and general. My personal manager Bob Young has been a great constant support and always pushing me into different co writing situations. That was a great help in helping me deal with different styles and personalities.
I notice that most of your works remain unpublished, is this likely to change?
Yes, I'm sure this will change soon. Four years ago, I left Leya, the band I'd been with for some years, to follow a solo career path. I wanted to enjoy the freedom to write what I wanted and work with as many different co-writers that I thought might be interested in working with me. I hoped by doing this, it would stretch me to write in many different styles and genres and therefore give me an opportunity to hopefully grow and become a more versatile writer. I'd like to think this has worked for me. It certainly helped me when I was writing and recording all of the songs for the movie Killing Bono, which needed various styles from punk to pop to full-on rock, to be delivered under a reasonable amount of pressure. It's also helped me deal with the discipline of writing quickly to brief for some of the synch opportunities that have come my way. I think now that I have the past three or four years under my belt and I'm working with Andrew Farriss on the songs for the new INXS album, it's time to find the right home for my songs, a publisher who's passionate about everything I'm doing. (Coincidentally, I did sign with Mushroom Music Publishing for Australasia only, after my first visit to Oz eighteen months ago when I was touring with Paolo Nuttini. Ian James and co were keen to work with me. It all felt good…they made me feel really welcome and at home, and they were the right people to be with Down Under.)
You're about to start rehearsing in Australia for the upcoming live shows. The chance to perform to large and dedicated audiences must be an exciting proposition. Is that something you relish?
Walking out on stage with INXS will be the proudest moment of my musical journey. I understand the history of this band and know how important Michael Hutchence was to the fans of INXS. So every night I will sing those hits we all know and love with every ounce of passion in my body and hopefully pay tribute to the legacy of one of the greatest rock stars to have lived. I'm also so excited to be helping the band go forward with new music and hopefully win some more fans along the way.
What is your current favourite INXS song to sing?
Without a doubt it's "Never Tear Us Apart." I think it is one of the greatest soul songs ever written.
Prior to this, what's the most unusual thing that's ever happened to you out on the road?
Last year in Hyde Park I was one of the warm up acts for Paul McCartney. Back stage I was having lunch and at the same table was Dave Gilmour, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Elvis Costello… It's not every day you do that!
You've worked as a performer under the name Joe Echo, a songwriter and more recently as film composer. Are there any more upcoming projects, (other than fronting INXS!!) we should look out for?
I think for the immediate future I will be focusing on writing with Andrew for INXS and perfecting my performance on stage with the band. However both Andrew and I are prolific writers, so who knows what other projects you could find one of those songs on. Maybe a movie? Or another artist's album? The possibilities, I'm happy to say, are endless.
Any advice for aspiring singer/songwriters who want to get into the business?
I would offer a few pieces of advice. Be truthful to yourself. If you truly, hand-on-heart believe you are destined for a life in music, then never give up. Find a person in the industry who believes in you and take the world on as I did. Be prepared to take the knocks and get back up again ASAP and never stop working at your songwriting. Go for it. What are you waiting for?