The Sydney Morning Herald

After the Meltdown

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Text: Bernard Zuel

Published: July 12th, 2008

THE FIRST time I spoke to the Vines, six years ago, they were about to be the biggest band in the world for five minutes. For the next year or so after that, you couldn't speak about them without referring to the magazine covers, the hype about them as leaders of the "new rock" movement and the backlash that was surely coming.

The last time we spoke - two years ago, as the band launched its third album - all the talk was about whether they could come back from what seemed to have been a terminal moment. There had been a two-year break after a lukewarm response to the second album, erratic behaviour and accusations of outright dangerous behaviour, singer-songwriter Craig Nicholls's diagnosis with Asperger's and a sense that the world had moved on from "new rock" and, therefore, the Vines. To be honest, all every editor at the time wanted to know was, "Did you get the Craig being mad bit?"

Today, there are none of these extraneous angles. Not one gossip item, no psychological or medical report, no financial statements. Nothing but the music and the band.

"A comeback? We did that last time," says drummer and voluble co-spokesman Hamish Rosser (whose phone ringtone is the Beatles' Day Tripper). "The meltdown? We did that one. We're just going to go and get arrested, keep everyone on their toes."

Maybe, at last, the Vines can be just like any other ordinary band. That's got to be a good thing, right?

"Yeah, I think it's a good thing," says Nicholls, from behind huge sunglasses. "I wouldn't want to underrate fame, because it is definitely a part of what we do and what I strive for. But, yeah," he grins, "the music, I guess, is all right, too."

The rest of the band laugh along but only Rosser seriously gets involved in any discussion. Guitarist Ryan Griffiths and bass player Brad Heald make extracting quotes almost as hard as extracting apologies from Central Coast politicians.

However, it is clear that unlike the deliberate strategies involved two years ago - when management and band members were acutely aware of the need to shield Nicholls from the full blast of media attention - these days everyone is much more relaxed. Not that Nicholls is a smooth media operator. He is at best idiosyncratic, at other times, well, odd. Ask him what he wanted to do with this new album, called Melodia, and his answer begins clearly and then gets hazier.

"It's about songwriting, the band, mythologising, stupidity," Nicholls says. "It's very stripped back, like we are a guitar band again. It is a rock album. On your fourth album you want to be able to try different types of songs. We've been trying to do that from the beginning though.

"And," he says drolly to much guffawing from around the table. "there's no myth whatsoever."

Is there, perhaps, a bit of myth-making in the collage-like album cover, featuring band pictures, leaves, branches and instruments, which was partially designed by Nicholls? "It's fantasy land, it's art, to be enjoyed," he says.

Rosser offers to provide some background to the various pictures but Nicholls stops him. "No, don't. The mystique and the mythology," he reminds him. "That's for us. The [cover for the] last album was virtually all black because that's how I felt. I felt like I had died and I've come back to life, spoke to some of the dead, hung out with a few of them, spoke to God. He didn't have much to say, so I said, 'I'll catch up with you later, maybe."'

There is silence, then Nicholls casually throws in: "There's no question to me that we are one of the most important Australian bands of the last 10 years. No doubt in my mind. I was there, I was in America doing the awards, whatever, Conan O'Brien, David Letterman. People who have a question about it, they'll never understand."

So he wants to leave a mark?

"As an artist I think it should be the first f---ing thing on the list. You want to do your best … Bands that don't have great ambition, I do think they'll never reach greatness."

Melodia is out today.