Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Vines interview


“It’s pretty hard to live up to being called The Beatles crossed with Nirvana and the coolest thing on the planet.”

It’s been six long years since The Vines were being hailed by the music press as the saviours of rock n roll. Having subsequently endured illness, meltdowns and changes in their line-up, there have been enough dramas in the Sydneysiders’ camp to have spelt the end for most bands, so it is pleasing to find drummer Hamish Rosser in buoyant spirits as he sits down to chat about this week’s release of their fourth long-player, Melodia. “We felt really confident going into this one. Recording [third album] Vision Valley was a bit of a strange one after [vocalist] Craig [Nicholls] got diagnosed with Aspergers, but now he’s really sure of himself and I think that shines through in the songwriting.”

As would be expected from a Vines album, its 14 powerful songs are squeezed into just over thirty minutes, and Rosser is ebullient about how the record sounds. “It’s just better songwriting than what we have done for quite a while; lots of catchy hooks, choruses and cool riffs,” he beams. “Most of the songs are just over two-minutes long. That’s Craig’s style; no need for an extra chorus or that repeated verse. Let’s hit them, get out and get to the next song.”

In capturing that distinctive Vines sound, the band travelled to America to once again work with Rob Schnapf, who produced their acclaimed debut Highly Evolved and its follow up, Winning Days. “It was really great to go to The States to record because LA has got some of the world’s best studios and equipment. Rob knows the band and understands our strengths and weaknesses. He’s got good results from us before and I think we’re much better players now than the last time he worked with us. He even said as much,” Rosser laughs.

The group was prolific in its output during this time, and ended up with so many songs for the album that at least ten had to be discarded. “All the band had our own favourites and what we thought ought to be on there, but Rob - with the fresh ears of a producer - cast the deciding vote on quite a few songs,” Rosser tells me when I ask him how they decided which ones wouldn’t make the cut. “He sees the album as a whole rather than picking which songs might be the coolest or catchiest, so that you get as many different sides of the band as possible. He had a vision of the bigger picture.”

The quartet will be supporting the album with a countrywide tour that will run over three weekends. While they have learnt from experience that extensive time on the road is not a possibility, their distinctive raw onstage energy levels remain as high as ever. Even songs from Highly Evolved are still delivered with the same venom as they were back in 2002. I ask Rosser how difficult it is to maintain such vitality. “Oh, they’re such short songs, you know,” he shrugs. “It’s a short burst - a sprint to the line. I have seen bands that are sick of playing their hit songs, but that hasn’t been the case for us. I still find new and different ways to play Get Free. You haven’t got to fake it when the crowd is jumping up and down. It’s real.”

It was this visceral energy that caused NME and Rolling Stone to wet themselves over The Vines in the first place, which leads me to ask whether they felt the need to almost re-prove themselves once the hype died down and the inevitable backlash kicked in. “Sometimes we couldn’t live up to the hype. With expectation that high, people did walk away disappointed in the early days, but we’re still around so I don’t know if it was detrimental to the band. If anything we were probably under-prepared for the attention because, while some of the gigs were brilliant, some of them weren’t so good,” Rosser admits with a chuckle. “Since then we have become a lot better as a band just through playing and experience rather than through dedication to prove someone wrong or to prove a point.”

Regardless of whether The Vines have been able to live up to the crazy media hype that weighed heavily on their shoulders, they’ve left a lasting impression, with The Killers, Lightspeed Champion and Arctic Monkeys all recently stating they are fans. “I’m glad we’ve cast a shadow long enough to have influenced other bands and it’s really flattering for a band like Arctic Monkeys to say they were influenced by us.” Rosser pauses for a second, before adding: “Well, actually, if anything it makes me feel old.”

Interview by Rob Townsend. Top photo by Cybele Malinowski.

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