The Vines

2006 Biography

It’s an album that no one ever expected to hear.  And it comes accompanied by a truly remarkable backstory -- hidden inside a blast of pure rock and roll.  The release of Vision Valley not only marks the return of Australian sensations The Vines from the brink of collapse, it actually solidifies their standing as one of the world's most exciting bands.

“It’s more raw, less produced than our first two albums,” says Vines singer/guitarist/songwriter Craig Nicholls of Vision Valley.  “It still sounds alright, just a little more real."

The Vines (their name taken from a '60s band called the Vynes, which featured Nicholl's father on guitar) were one of the leading lights of the Great Rock and Roll Renaissance of 2002, but they were the hardest of that wave to pigeonhole. Though they seemed like an overnight success story to the outside world, the truth was that the songs were the result of more than five years that Nicholls had spent writing and recording material with no idea whether it would even see light of day. Drawing from British-invasion garage-pop, high-octane punk, and swirling psychedelia, The Vines had created their own thing, with an energy and a diversity that instantly stood out from the bands to whom they were compared.

Their 2002 debut Highly Evolved, powered by the blistering single "Get Free," shot them to worldwide stardom, including the covers of magazines from NME to Rolling Stone (the first Australian band to reach that slot in twenty years) and a legendary appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman." The 2004 follow-up Winning Days demonstrated the full musical range of the quartet from Sydney, from folk to punk, retro to futuristic.

But then, as fast as they rose, everything seemed to collapse. In the tour that followed the release of Winning Days, Nicholls' behavior - which had earned him a reputation as a wild child from day one - began to spiral out of control.

Things came to a head in May 2004 when he was charged with assault after an onstage incident at Sydney's Annandale Hotel. In the aftermath of that episode, which also resulted in original bass player Patrick Matthews leaving the band, Vines guitar tech Tony Bateman mentioned a medical condition known as Asperger's Syndrome - a neurobiological disorder which is a mild form of autism.

People with AS are generally considered exceptionally intelligent (and often obsessively focus their attention to music or art), but have difficulty reading social situations and coping with change.

Nicholls was subsequently examined and diagnosed with Asperger's, but the universal assumption was that this was almost certainly the end of the Vines.  Nicholls, with the help of his family, needed to concentrate on how to manage his daily lifestyle, and had to spend time away from his music. Remarkably, though, drummer Hamish Rosser and guitarist Ryan Griffiths held out hope, and stuck by Nicholls through this most difficult period. By the spring of 2005, he had worked up some new songs, and it was time for The Vines to rise from the ashes.

"Most people thought the band had broken up," says drummer Rosser, "so the expectation was zero as far as I'm aware." And with that freedom came a chance to completely start over. The trio went into a Sydney studio with veteran Australian producer Wayne Connolly (best known for his work with local heroes - and Vines favorites - You Am I), and instantly knew that they were firing on all cylinders. In fact, the two opening tracks on Vision Valley - the powerhouse rockers "Anysound" and "Nothin's Comin'" - came from these very first sessions. "They were intended as demos," says Nicholls, "but they were so good we couldn't lose them."

Sessions went on over the next ten months at a variety of locations, and the band's full palette was revealed. "A lot of the songs are coming from a pretty dark place," says Rosser, while Nicholls counters that "it's kinda dark, but with some color in it as well." The first single, "Don't Listen to the Radio," is an anthemic slab of garage-pop, while Nicholls describes the title track as "laid-back and very peaceful." The 75-second-long "Gross Out," meanwhile, "assaults you," says Rosser, "it leaps out of the speakers at 100 miles per hour."

Perhaps most notable is the closing track, a six-minute epic titled "Spaceship" that gives full rein to the band's proclivity for psychedelia. "It starts mellow acoustic," says Nicholls, "and winds up space-rock." Producer Connolly takes pride in the song's "wild, insane sound," saying that it features a "psychedelic fuzz mandolin - there's hundreds of things like that layered in." Guitarist/keyboardist Griffiths says that Connolly's presence at the sessions was "almost therapeutic - he could calm things down, but he also has a good punk ethic."

Even before the album's release, the music press began to take notice of the Vines' new music. "They're back!," trumpted NME in a review of "Don't Listen to the Radio," adding that Nicholls is "back to full songwriting fitness."

With the completion of Vision Valley comes the next challenge in the Vines' rollercoaster career. Obviously, Nicholls is unable to tour or do much in the way of promotion since the consistency of routine is the most critical part of managing his Asperger's Syndrome.   But the truth is that this is an album that doesn't need a lot of fancy marketing to convey its power. This is music that speaks for itself.