"It's great to get away and not have to deal with traffic or anything," says Vines singer Craig Nicholls who, after a year of non-stop touring, is happy to be hunkered down in a recording studio. Since late May, the Vines have been working on their second album at Bearsville studios in the serene and somewhat remote town of Woodstock, New York.
To Nicholls, it's the perfect setting. "It's really peaceful here," he says. "It's a place where I can have time and space to work by myself. It's very much in the music zone -- that magic space."
Last we saw the Vines, the Aussie rockers' debut album, Highly Evolved, had been certified gold in the US and the band seemed hell-bent on becoming their county's greatest export since AC/DC. To meet the challenge of a follow up, they decided to stick to familiar territory and re-enlist producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith) to man the boards. The pairing obviously works for Nicholls, who, while recording Highly Evolved, developed a reputation for being an unrelenting perfectionist in the studio. During those sessions, it was rumored that vocal takes could go all night.
"We considered just re-recording the last album," Nicholls jokes. "No, seriously. When I listen to music, something I can't ignore is the vocal track. Some things, I'll get the first take, some will take a few more . . . I have a lot of ambition. We want to keep moving forward and up. Not up in terms of record sales, but in terms of overall satisfaction. That's important to me."
Schnapf acknowledges that Nicholls logs in longer hours than his bandmates -- bassist Patrick Matthews, guitarist Ryan Griffiths, and drummer Hamish Rosser -- not only because he is the Vines' primary songwriter, but also because his trademark screech is the focal point to their sound. Still, Schnapf adds that their latest session let out at two in the morning and that all the tracks for six songs have already been completed.
"We have all these great toys," says Nicholls of the gear scattered around the recording space known as the Barn: a moog, organ, piano, and many guitars. "Hopefully, [the album] will be a mixture of something futuristic but, at the same time, really very raw." But for a guy who's known for making a lot of noise -- both onstage and off -- Nicholls has been surprisingly hush-hush about his new songs, refusing to allow anyone outside of those involved in the recording process to hear them, not even the record company.
Fortunately, Vines manager Andy Cassell can offer some insight. "The layering of Craig's vocals is mind-blowing," he says. "There's a song called 'Amnesia' which has so many harmonies -- even though there are other instruments, all you hear is Craig's voice." Relaxed, if not a little loopy, it's evident that Nicholls is enjoying his isolation.
Even with New York City just ninety miles away, he has rarely left the Barn, opting instead to relax and watch TV across the gravel road, in the 18th Century Victorian that houses the band. Among his late-night favorites: Chapelle's Show, Conan O'Brien, Futurama and Zoolander, though Nicholls notes, "this is only when I'm not banging my head on the piano." And despite the band's physical seclusion, Nicholls has not shut out the music world entirely. The latest releases by Pete Yorn, Radiohead, Blur, the Dandy Warhols and Suede have all been on regular-rotation in the control room. Says Nicholls, "Some people may have heard that bands don't listen to music while they're recording. I don't have much time for it myself, but I can't really ignore Blur or the White Stripes when they're putting out new albums. And did I mention how good the new Suede is?"