Apr 2, 2003 at 12:00 am

Imagined setting: A palatial Hollywood compound where demoralized record executives plan their latest assault on the ears, hearts and pocketbooks of the American consumer. A rotund man in a suit stalks the table chomping on a Cuban cigar and haranguing his colleagues:

“We’ve got to do something, boys,” the well-tanned executive says. “They aren’t buying that manufactured boy band/kiddie-porn singer stuff anymore, and rap-metal’s deader than Brigitte Nielsen’s career. Any ideas?”

“How about we hijack the new rock bandwagon,” says a gaunt bespectacled man at the table. “We sign a new band with no experience and make them stars. Show them the money, and give them an unprecedented opportunity.”

“Why not steal from the indies like we always do,” asks another.

“We can’t. All those bands are already familiar with how we try to screw them,” says the bespectacled man. “We need a new band that doesn’t know any better and is eternally grateful we made them stars.”

“And ourselves rich,” says the well-tanned executive. “But where will we find them?”

“The British press,” pipes in a small mustached man in the corner. “The limeys give it up for the latest new rock act more often than Winona Ryder. Here’s one they’re hyperventilating about in the latest issue of NME.”

“People still read that rag when they could buy Mojo or The Face?” asks the well-tanned exec.

“Apparently so,” continues the mustached man. “They’re calling them the next Nirvana on the strength of one single. The band’s name is the Vines.”

The Vines are a pleasant if unspectacular quintet from Australia whose 2002 debut, Highly Evolved, was greeted by more thoughtless media genuflection and hyperbole than cold fusion. The album was recorded during almost six months in L.A. — with production by Rob Schnapf (Foo Fighters) and mixing by Andy Wallace (Nevermind) — during which time the band’s drummer was kicked out. (“The record company cunts took their knives out. But how long does thirty pieces of silver last for,” he told a Vines Web site.)

The band’s led by singer/ guitarist Craig Nicholls, whose screams and yelps punctuate the album’s Pro Tools-polished mix of garage-y post-punk guitar and Brit-pop/psych rock (if you haven’t already, think Stone Roses and the Verve). A mercurial individual, Nicholls once fled an interview and locked himself in the bathroom for several hours. This probably explains why Metro Times is speaking to bassist Patrick Matthews.

Queried about an earlier article in which he suggested the most frustrating thing about the music business is “how hard you have to fight to have creative freedom,” Matthews sidesteps the question a bit.

“I didn’t really mind making our first record like that — the way it sounds like. There were a lot of processes involved, but if you want to push that you might be in trouble, like with the producer or whatever,” Matthews says. “I don’t really think we’ve had that much trouble yet.”

The band formed in Sydney after Matthews and Nicholls met while working at a McDonald’s. The band didn’t play out much, instead focusing on their music.

“There was really nowhere to play in Sydney, that’s what we felt. Plus we’ve always tried to emulate these big bands like the Beatles or the Kinks. What they did was make records. Especially the Beatles. They quit touring,” says Matthews, somewhat neglecting the steps in between. “I never was trying to make a career of it, personally. I thought it was more like a hobby, not like a ‘we’re going to make the pub scene.’”

Now, seven years after they began, with their first album under their belts, they’ve returned for one last go around the United States before a welcomed return home. Asked about what the hype has meant for the band, Matthews answers, “It’s just meant that everywhere in the world wants us to come tour, like all the record companies. So it just means we’ve been touring for a bloody year and a bit. It would be really nice for us at some point to be able to change or to stop.”

But the band can’t stop. At least not yet. They’re on the treadmill, and it’s apparent they need to keep moving as Matthews’ cell phone passes out of range 10 minutes into the conversation. Yet it was all worth it for the brief moment when Matthews wistfully notes, “I don’t think TV is good, but I would definitely say I think we’re almost a little bit perpetuating the mindlessness. I don’t know, sadly enough, that’s how I feel sometimes.”

Like after a rewarding evening of television’s “American Idol,” when one can’t help but pause and reflect on what a great country we live in.


The Vines will perform Tuesday, April 8 at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress, Detroit) with the Music. For information, call 313-961-MELT.

Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]