As a founding member and bassist of INXS and with over 50 million in worldwide album sales, Garry Beers should need no introductions. He has returned to the scene with AshenMoon, alongside Toby Rand from ‘Rock Star: Supernova’ and guitarists Jimmy Khoury and Sebastian Gregory. Now based in LA, Garry took the time out to talk to us about living under lockdown in LA, what people can expect from AshenMoon, as well as tales from the road with INXS.
How is lockdown in LA going for you?
Yeah, we’re fine. We locked down about a week before everybody else because I was going to take the kids out of school for a week and go on a road-trip, but we’ve been locked down for ten weeks now. We’re one of the lucky ones, we’ve got a nice house, a nice property under the clear California skies. One good thing is that pollution is gone. The skies above Los Angeles are really clear, which is very rare. I’m sitting here looking up at the palm trees now. It’s a horrible time, and I wish everyone all the very best. I hope everyone gets through it. I think it’s the planet giving us a big kick up the butt. We don’t look after the planet, we don’t look after ourselves, and this will teach us about humanity and looking after the planet and ourselves.
One of the few uplifting aspects about lockdown is the “return of nature” and animals going rogue through empty villages. There was a video that went viral of sheep that had taken over a deserted children’s playground in Wales, and the farmer filmed them on the roundabout!
(laughs) Exactly! There are a lot of things to take from this situation that we are in; first and foremost don’t eat bats! Just respect animals, respect what you eat and respect the environment.
California is regarded as quite a forward thinking state. With America being the most divisive that it’s been for a long time, does a musician have a relevant voice when airing their opinions, or is there a fear that they will alienate 50% of their audience and therefore best to remain on the fence?
I don’t really have that much of a platform to be political, but these are the most political times that I’ve ever seen in America. We had a wonderful eight years of Obama, where he was basically hamstrung by the Republican party, and now we’ve got a buffoon who calls himself a “wartime president”, but he’s in fact a showtime president. It’s really scary! It was amusing at first, but now that we are four years into it, it’s just like crazy time. I really hope that he doesn’t get another four years, because if he does, then I’m going to really have to think where I’m going to live! There’s no defence for Trump. The whole world of politics has gone nuts! Crazy times bring the crazies out.
Crazy times indeed. Now, onto AshenMoon… Is the band the bare bones of your previous band Stadium?
Yeah, I had met our singer Toby (Rand) at a party, and he joined the band. We mostly played corporate shows and private shows, just for fun. I met our guitarist Jimmy (Khoury) at the first industry party that I went to in LA, fourteen years ago. Jimmy and myself had never played together. He was in the Beth Hart Band, and when that ended, he didn’t want to be in a band again, so it took us a long time to get Jimmy involved and Stadium was a good way to ease back into it.
The three of us just decided to try some original music, so we started listening to each other’s original stuff. We’re all passionate about music, passionate about writing, and when we sat in a room together, we discovered that we were really onto something. It did come out of the bare bones of Stadium, but it became a whole new project. AshenMoon is the band now.
When the three of you sat down and put the band together, did you have a plan, or was it a case of “let’s see where this takes us”?
No plans, we’re musicians! It was very organic. I’ve got a tiny little shed/studio at the side of my house. It is actually a garden shed! I had a hard drive full of music that I brought over from Australia, a couple of songs that didn’t make it on various INXS records. Stuff that I wrote for other projects. We sifted through it, an old fashioned way of grabbing a few acoustics and started writing. I produced, recorded and engineered it. We didn’t have a time limit, we just took our time letting the songs grow. One day, Toby would come in and say, “I really don’t like the chorus on this particular song”, so we wrote a new chorus. There’s no record company leaning over our shoulders, we are the record company that made the record. Then we signed with Golden Robot Records who are going to release it.
It became a project that we would have liked to have heard other people doing. We just want to make music that we would like to hear!
You’ve just released the tracks ‘Dustbowl’ and ‘Mosquito’ as a double single. ‘Mosquito’ is a killer track that just builds and builds, and ‘Dustbowl’ is different, in the sense that it has a slight electronic feel over the intro. Is the difference in tracks an example of all the different influences within the band?
Different influences, different statements that we felt needed to be said at the time. On ‘Dustbowl’, Toby started the synth thing at the beginning, I put some loops and some bass on it, then Jimmy put that amazing guitar solo on it. Wait until you hear the full album version of ‘Dustbowl’. It finishes off with a three minute guitar solo… it’s brilliant. We did a radio edit, and that’s the version that you can hear now. I moved the solo to the middle and cut it down. ‘Mosquito’ was something that I had from years ago, and Toby loved it. He just grabbed an acoustic guitar and wrote all the verses, then Jimmy came in and put all the heavy guitars on it. Everything just grew, as it should. The whole album is like that. It has thirteen strong songs, and they’re all very different. As a collection of songs they make a great record, a good old-fashioned record that takes you on a journey.
You had me at “three minute guitar solo”!
Yeah! As I said, the full solo just jams out until the track basically runs out at the end. It’s one take. I said to Jimmy, “Just play Dave Gilmour!”, and that’s one take. It’s perfect. He just did it with a couple bottles of red wine, one take, then went home! Jimmy Khoury is probably the best rock guitarist that I’ve ever worked with. INXS obviously had some great guitar playing, but as a rock guitarist, Jimmy is the best. He’s incredible. He’s an inspirational person, he’s a beautiful hippy soul, he likes his weed, likes his red wine. Just a good vibe to have around. He’s one of those guys that can pick up an acoustic guitar and make it sing. I really hate him for that! I’ve got a great collection of acoustic guitars, but for me they just look good, I can’t really play them. I’m a bass player!
Your relationship with Toby, does that go back to the ‘Rock Star’ TV program days?
Yeah. I never met him until a birthday party by one of the ‘Rock Star: INXS’ and ‘Rock Star: Supernova’ producers. His wife got Toby to be a surprise guest performer at the party, and I was also there. The producer was like, “It’s my birthday, get up and jam!”. I was trying to teach bass guitar to the producer at the time, but he’s left-handed, so I gave up. He handed me his left-handed bass and said, “Go!”. So I had to play a left-handed bass, and we started jamming on ‘Need You Tonight’. Toby said that the band had changed the key, so I was playing INXS in a different key, on a left-handed bass… and we’ve been mates ever since.
I did see a few recordings of ‘Rockstar Supernova’ and saw his talent. I keep ribbing him that if he had gone for ‘Rock Star: INXS’, then he would still be INXS’s singer today. He would have been the perfect fit. He’s a good Australian bloke. But it didn’t happen that way, and I’m very happy that I’ve got him now.
I believe that you’ve got your own range of bass guitars coming out?
Yes. I designed and patented my own pick-ups and electronics for a bass guitar. I’m kind of shocked, because the concept for a pick-up has been around since 1912. It was a piece of wire around a magnet back in the day, so I put my patent in and a couple of years later it was approved. So I’ve got somebody building the pick-ups, I’ve got a guy doing the paint work. He does such a great job, he basically makes the basses look like they’re from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and have been through the wars, but they are brand new. That’s all I used on the record. I’ve got about six or seven prototypes, and they sound great, I really have to start concentrating on getting them out there now as I have no excuses! It’s called GGB Basses and they are kind of a boutique bass. They look fantastic and play great.
What was the inspiration for you to become a bassist?
To be honest… I lost a bet! I, and my two best mates at school, all had acoustic guitars. We decided we needed a bass player, and there weren’t any in the entire area. I lost the bet, I was the worst guitar player. I knew two chords, so I bought a bass and I became known as a guy with a bass. The Farriss brothers (INXS members; Andrew, Jon and Tim) sought me out and said, “Let’s jam”. I had already gone to school with Tim. I think Jon was thirteen at the time? I ended up joining the Farriss brothers and then Michael came back from LA and we eventually became INXS… but I lost a bet, and that’s the only reason that I took up bass!
Crazy to think that it all started with a lost bet!
I know! I wanted to be Ritchie Blackmore! I wanted to be a guitar player, but I just didn’t have it. I used to listen to Deep Purple’s ‘Made In Japan’ with my headphones on and pretend to play a tennis racquet! As a kid growing up, Blackmore’s solos were just brilliant.
It was a real thrill when he put a new version of Rainbow together and pulled on that white Strat again!
Really? He’s started playing with Rainbow again?
Yeah. He has a fantastic singer with him called Ronnie Romero. He does the Dio-era material great justice.
That’s great! I saw Rainbow with Dio when I was a kid. That night, he decided that he wasn’t going to smash his Strat and the crowd rioted because he smashed it at the previous gig, but not in Sydney! The crowd were throwing chairs around, so me and my mate made a quick exit to get away. I was going to go see Deep Purple with David Coverdale, but my mum wouldn’t let me catch the train down to Victoria!
INXS were around when the music business was a proper business and people paid for music. Now we have streaming and YouTube. Are you a streamer, or do you still go with a physical product?
I am a CD kind of guy. They sound better than mp3 or downloads, and that’s what I’m used to now. I would spend a few years on the road promoting an INXS record, so I would have a portable stereo and a suitcase full of CDs with me. All the halfway houses that we stayed in, in Australia, we would get robbed all the time, we’d have a party, go to the next gig, and all our records would be missing, so I gave up on the vinyl thing. Things are different now, and when the full record comes out later this year, hopefully people will grow with us, as we are going to release a few EP’s before the full record. Hopefully, people will come on the journey with us as that’s what we are trying to create; a musical journey.
There have been a few momentous INXS reissues recently. ‘Kick’ had its 30th anniversary a few years back, and late last year the iconic ‘Live Baby Live’ 1991 Wembley Stadium gig was re-released. What do you remember about the Wembley gig?
Not much, actually! There was so much pressure on us, because we spent the whole gate money on sixteen cameras, a helicopter and all that stuff. For us, it was cool. We had just done a major tour, and then had a decent break, before heading back out for all the festivals in Europe… and then we played Wembley. We were still fresh and playing really well. I think that it caught us on a really high note. It was all wonderful, but we were under a lot of pressure to get it right. Our standards were always very high. We really prided ourselves on playing well and giving the crowd what they wanted.
There were a thousand people backstage, Peter Gabriel and everyone. Trying to avoid that so you could prep for the gig was hard. The after-party was a bit of a blur too! It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I’m really glad that we spent half a million pounds on filming it.
It still stands up really well nearly thirty years after the gig..
Yeah, it sounds great. We were playing really well, and it’s wonderfully dated because there aren’t any phones in the air! The crowd were amazing, I’ve got to say. I really miss Wembley! We supported Queen there, we headlined it ourselves, and we played a lot of gigs at the arena. We used to look at the stadium and say, “One day we will get there ourselves”, and to finally get there… I mean, it was a wonderful venue; 80,000 people and it still felt intimate. The whole crowd were just going nuts, and I thanked them from the bottom of my heart, because it really was like one giant organism having fun together.
Even just the name Wembley conjures up some magical images.
Yeah. I remember driving up the hill with all the people around us. We had soundchecked the day before. On the day, I think it was Jesus Jones who were the first band on? I have actually Googled to see if there is any footage of us supporting Queen there, in ‘85 or ‘86 I think it was? Now that was a trip. Freddie Mercury coming backstage and complimenting us on our set. That showed what a wonderful human being he was. Next thing you know, we are on tour around Europe with them.
I caught Queen in Manchester on that tour, with Status Quo as well. You guys were supposed to be there, but that never happened.
We missed it because we snuck out to fly over to Milwaukee on Concorde, which was amazing, to play Milwaukee Summer Fest. You weren’t supposed to do things like that on tour, and we ended up missing the gig. We were there, but our equipment didn’t make it! The truck driver decided to go shag his wife on the way back, and then got stuck in traffic!
Really? No way!
Yeah. He got stuck in traffic, so he didn’t make it! We were there. It was so frustrating, as we got there just in time to run on stage, but the truck was ten miles down the road… and we didn’t even get to play the Milwaukee, show because a huge storm came across the Great Lakes and flooded the entire area! We had to get back in the limo, back in a helicopter, change airports, back on Concorde, back to England! We made it to Manchester, and we missed the gig! It was a very Spinal Tap moment for us!
Hello Cleveland! If I recall properly it was ‘80’s pop singer Belouis Some that took your place?
It was, yes. I remember Rick Parfitt from Status Quo having a joke saying to us, “Great gig guys! That was the best one yet!”.
Will you be adding some INXS numbers to the AshenMoon live set?
We probably will. We’re not really sure, as we had all our shows cancelled! We were due to play at a big festival in the midwest to 20,000 people, but that’s been cancelled. At the minute, because of lockdown, we’re trying to work out how to do a podcast or a livestream. When we do get out there, it will be the album and some choice other songs.
While we are in lockdown, we are doing acoustic versions of all the AshenMoon songs from each other’s homes; just acoustics and some percussion, and they sound great. So we hope to release these as well. A couple of INXS songs also. We did ‘The Stairs’ which I’ve always wanted to do with Toby singing because, to me, it’s some of Michael’s best lyrics. We’ve done an acoustic version of that, so we’ll probably get that out at some point.
What’s the timeline looking like for the album release?
Well, we’ve got an interesting problem, because the record company thought that we had too many good songs. We’re very lucky, as it’s recorded, mixed, mastered and we’ve done all the artwork. I’ve done the graphic design for the logo. We had all this good to go before lockdown, so we are very lucky in that respect. The record company said that all these great songs can’t be competing against each other, they need a life, so we’ve released two singles now, with a third one on the way and also an EP maybe late June? Another EP August/September, then the album after that, maybe Christmas? The full album; thirteen songs, vinyl… the whole deal.
I’m not being egotistical, but we really have nailed it with an album of great songs. My wife and kids are into it, and you know that you are onto something when that happens as my wife is my biggest critic!
Kids usually are the most honest. They will tell you if something is rubbish!
Exactly! The kids, they’re eight year old twins. My son’s favourite band is Deep Purple, ‘Machine Head’ is his favourite record, and we listen to it in the car. I don’t have any new crap in the car. I’m sorry, but I just can’t! To me, it’s like people throwing pasta against the wall to see if it’s cooked! I know that people are going to be listening to the stuff that I’m listening to now – Zeppelin, Queen, The Beatles, The Stones, Purple – in fifty years time.
Pop music today is meant to be throwaway – so it is thrown away. People are more into making social media posts than making statements musically. It’s just the times that we are in, and hopefully we can be part of helping to change that. It’s interesting, I watched the charity live stream that Lady Gaga recently broadcast, and it highlighted who has got talent and who hasn’t. I think a lot of people were caught with their pants down to be honest, they’re used to Pro-tools and autotune, and a fleet of writers and people to make them sound good. That’s why we are doing our songs acoustically; because a good song you can play on an acoustic guitar or a piano. They sound just as great with a full band as they do stripped back with just the three of us.
Fans will be able to embark on the complete AshenMoon journey later this year, in the meantime dip into ‘Dustbowl’ and ‘Mosquito; and check out the band here.
Interview – Dave