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Vines Do New Evolution

Aussie band recording second album in upstate New York

“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?”

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