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March 22, 2001
We've all heard a million stories about a million bands that became overnight sensations, only to find out later that the band in question has a couple albums under it's belt and has been touring for several years. Well, that's not the case with Sydney, Australia's The Vines. The Vines have existed in theory since 1994-when guitarist/vocalist Craig Nicholls began recording songs on a four-track with bassist Patrick Matthews, both teenagers at the time-but have only recently fulfilled the requirements of becoming a proper band. After adding since-departed drummer David Oliffe and inheriting their name from Nicholls' father's former band The Vynes, the band was born.

Hampered by a lack of venues in a dying Sydney music scene, The Vines were forced to take a rare, but logical, approach to the music industry. Lead by a prolific and talented songwriter in Nicholls, the band went on a seven-year songwriting journey that would end with a mountain of material and a focus on the radio airwaves-a shift that required product first, live show second. Matthews explains: "What we liked most about music wasn't going to see bands but buying band's CDs. Craig was writing songs and sort of focused on that. He was still planning on us being a proper band. [But] he saw the way you get people to come to your shows was to get on the radio and the way you get on the radio is to record songs."

The Vines prefer the studio to the stage, focusing on songwriting and witnessing their ideas become complete songs during the recording process. "Craig is the songwriter," continues Matthews. "He will give you ideas of the chords, and [the direction] the songs should go, and the melody and the structure, but he lets me do whatever I want with the bass. He lets Hamish (Rosser, The Vines' current drummer) do whatever he wants with the drums. Other bands have one musical director that says, No do this here!, but Craig's not some sort of Paul McCartney-type. He's way more John Lennon. Like I don't think John Lennon was in there telling people every note [to play]. We used to rehearse a lot and we used to talk about stuff, then we would do it, and stuff would happen, just by magic."

When the musical magicians blended a little of their own rock and roll hocus-pocus with the influences of Pavement, The Kinks, the Beach Boys, Beck, The Beatles and Nirvana the band wound up with a solid demo that led to a contract with Capitol Records. Capitol then released the band's debut album Highly Evolved, which has sold around a half-million copies to date. Highly Evolved does well to bridge the gap between Nirvana and The Beatles, ultimately allowing The Vines to simultaneously break into both the UK market (with The Beatles vibes of "Factory") and the U.S. market (with the Nirvana-like "Get Free").

"'Factory' to me is like one of those flamboyant weed songs, which is perfect for England because more of what they like is the unusual and the novel," Matthews elaborates. "And we were not completely naive in knowing that 'Get Free' is definitely an American-sounding song. The band always planned on that sort of being the single from way back when, really, before we even had a record deal."

The impact of The Vines' first two singles, backed by heavy MTV rotation, launched the band from total obscurity to world popularity in a matter of months. While the band always felt they would be successful on an international level, none of them could have predicted the rapid pace with which fame would smack them in the face. "We were sort of working toward being successful which I guess meant being famous, being big. But, that's only because we thought we had something-the music to back up the actions. It's very strange, all the American people waiting to see you and selling all these records. It's hard to wake up." Matthews pauses, a bit overwhelmed by his response. "I guess I am in shock but you can't walk around the whole day like, 'What the hell is happening?'"

The question remains, will The Vines be as successful in front of an audience, considering they've played only a smattering of shows in the Sydney area and performed their first headlining show in February of this year? Nicholls, a TV addict who has been accidentally researching "the live show" for several years, apparently has something up his sleeve. The Vines' live show adopts a "let's break some shit" attitude that would destroy most bands who've been on the touring circuit for many years. "It's just a general anti-social behavior," says Matthews in reference to the band's live show. "I think Craig has watched a lot more TV than anyone I ever met. He watches music videos, movies he likes, and bands performing on David Letterman, for example. He must've watched 100 bands do that show. So when he goes out there to play on David Letterman he knows what's going to be entertaining. Maybe the most entertaining thing isn't to just run through your song and sing it properly. Maybe the most entertaining thing is to just go berserk."

SEE ALSO: www.thevines.com

--
Lyle Hodges
An infrequent LAS contributor based in New York City.

See other articles by Lyle Hodges.

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