In November 1997, as they spread the ashes of late INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence into Sydney Harbor, his bandmates were startled by “a clap of lightning and thunder,” recalls guitarist Tim Farriss, 48. The Australian band awoke to similar weather in Los Angeles last September 20, the day they picked former Canadian Army radio operator J.D. Fortune, 32, as the winner of CBS’s Rock Star: INXS—and Hutchence’s successor. But can lightning really strike twice? To find out, PEOPLE Los Angeles associate bureau chief Cynthia Wang sat down with Farriss, his brother Andrew, 46, and Fortune to discuss their latest album (the aptly named Switch), the nearly sold-out tour they kicked off in Vancouver Jan. 18 and how Fortune—and his Canadian accent—are fitting in.
What was it like going from the show to recording Switch in only six weeks?
Andrew: We didn’t really know whether we were going to have a guy or a girl [as the singer], so I wrote a lot of different material. When J.D. became our singer, we knew, “This is what we’ve got to do.”
Tim: There was a certain level of the band just dying to make a record because we hadn’t recorded in so long. It was like dogs off a chain.
How do you deal with the mix of old fans and the new ones who embraced the band after watching the show?
Tim: One interesting thing is that the “fans” we had before are now turning up in droves going, “You know, I was always your biggest fan.” Well, where were you? [laughing]
Andrew: Our audiences not only know all the songs and words, old and new, but I don’t feel that we have to prove anything.
Do you feel they’ve accepted all that’s happened to the band because you have?
J.D.: I’m discovering who Michael was and how he is viewed by the band now. It’s kind of weird. It doesn’t feel “errr,” it just feels good. It feels okay.
Andrew: I so agree with that. But it’s really interesting having J.D. up on-stage speaking with a North American accent. We’re so used to [Michael] saying, “Have you been bitten by a spydah, mate?” So now when J.D. speaks, it’s like …
Tim: “What did he say?”
Andrew: People here probably instantly relate to his dialect because he’s not talking in Australian colloquialisms. But Australians embraced J.D. when we were down there.
And J.D., how’s your relationship with actress-model Estella Warren? (The new couple met on the set of the band’s “Afterglow” video.)
J.D.: Mmm … Estella is a really good friend. She’s a fellow Canadian, and a big fan of our music, so that’s cool.
Are you back to the same camaraderie and teasing on the tour bus as before?
Tim: And beyond! Well, I don’t know about teasing. We are all more macho than teasing.
J.D.: There are lots of things thrown on the bus. It’s rowdy, it’s rock and roll. Lots of cellophane on the toilet seat.
Andrew: I broke a bottle of wine last night; it fell off the ledge. But the main thing is—
J.D.: You didn’t spill a drop!
Andrew: I got it before it hit the floor. So we party, but we’re also professionals and we’re sticking to what we do. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
J.D.: That’s why we’ve got lots o’wine!