Archive for the Interviews Category

Vines Frontman Craig Nicholls: ‘I’m Using Art and Music as a Drug’

Posted in Interviews with tags , on 09/28/2018 by kurtorzeck

(Originally published in MeanStreet Magazine in March 2004.)

“Yeah,
Well,
No,
Yeah,
Uhh,
OK,
Yeah,
All right,
Yeah.”

Uhh, yeah, that’s Craig Nicholls from The Vines. Not the most intelligible of rock stars, all right, yeah. You see, Nicholls prefers to use sounds, but not necessarily words, which makes a “conversation” with him less an exchange of solid ideas than a loose swapping of vague reassurances.

“Yeah, all right, yeah, uhh,” he says.

It feels only natural to coo back: “Cool, yeah, OK, right on, yeah.”

A lot of interviewers haven’t looked too favorably upon Nicholls’, uhh, unique mode of conversation. “I wanted to hit Craig Nicholls,” began an article in Spin. “[He] has all the makings of a rock star,” went a Rolling Stone article, “good looks, great songs, serious mental problems.”

In less polite articles, Nicholls has essentially been billed a bratty, snotty stoner who doesn’t take his music seriously and has no respect for his fans. And has control issues. And fires band members on a whim. And batters small animals.

“I’m extremely serious about what I do,” Nicholls told me two years ago, responding to the assorted allegations. “I’m very focused — I focus all my energy into the band, if not with songwriting then with recording and playing what we’re doing now. We don’t fuck around. I don’t want to get into drugs. I don’t drink. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with doing that; for me, I think I’m using art and music as a drug.”

In his defense, a lot of the animosity directed at Nicholls has been excessive. With Fred Durst having run for cover and Billy Corgan out of sight, the age of the artist ego appears to have finally dissipated. But that leaves the press hounds hungry. So ravenous that they start to prowl, licking their chops and waiting to tear down anyone who comes across as even slightly pampered, anyone who gets even a small nibble of success.

But let’s face it: Craig Nicholls is no Fred Durst. He doesn’t tell girls at shows to show him their tits. He doesn’t have a clothing line. It’s actually kind of hard to hate someone like Nicholls, someone who’s spaced out most of the time. Besides, it’s not like he’s unwilling to talk — no, this isn’t J Mascis.

And so what if Nicholls is a bit aloof — aren’t rock stars supposed to be that way? After all, it’s nothing personal.

“I’m really stuck up and pretentious,” Nicholls mockingly confides in a dry, silky swagger during a conversation held last month. “And I don’t go out.”

He fancies art galleries over soirees. Painting instead of talking. Listening to The Stone Roses on headphones instead of going to check out your shitty band. He screams his opinion through 30-foot Marshall stacks instead of engaging in a lively debate ‘round the roundtable.

This spring finds The Vines touring with three other sizzling Australian bands — The Living End, Jet and Neon — three groups that just about everyone in the Land Down Under knows. Except for Nicholls, of course.

“It’s not like we’re old buddies or whatever,” he is quick to point out. “I met the singer of The Living End and we met Jet a few months ago.”

For a city with a music scene as contained and confined as Sydney’s, the fact that Nicholls hardly knows his peers is staggering. But then again, it isn’t, when one takes his personal philosophy into account. “I think socializing is evil. It’s a weird way of looking at things,” and then, in his trademark trail-off, “but…”

Nicholls may not have all the answers, but one thing is certain: the publicity and marketing machine behind The Vines’ second album, Winning Days, is stronger than a steel train hurtling at breakneck speed across a set of red-hot railroad tracks. In a day and age in which record labels are grappling for solutions — even the made-up kind — the young Vines already appear to be a durable, winning roster talent.

With The Vines, the equations are simple. New album equals guaranteed radio single (then “Get Free”, now “Ride”). New album equals touring, which equals additional revenue. New album equals new interviews, which equals new gossip, which equals new notoriety.

And the Vines sell. Better than The Strokes and better than the Stripes. Bucking the notion that all the hype behind its 2002 debut, Highly Evolved, was little more than a wave of inflated British sensationalism, the record went platinum-and-a-half in the U.S. and earned the band several mainstream TV appearances — Letterman, MTV Awards, the whole bit.

Highly Evolved was like a chunk of chocolate — it appealed to just about everyone and inflicted a sort of guilt-ridden lust that threw into submission anything in its path. The auspicious Aussie debut mined the familiar loud/soft, verse-chord-verse territory, but with the excitement and awe of musicians discovering the beauty of the formula for the first time.

Like The Strokes’ Room on Fire — or, let’s face it, most follow-up releases — Winning Days isn’t the coup de grace everyone was hoping it would be. It’s a set of 11 well-crafted, well-honed rock songs: hooky, lively, a bit more sonically and lyrically substantive than its predecessor. But it is not Nevermind. It is not Damaged. It is not the sophomore effort that will throw drowning, struggling rock music a life preserver. It is simply the second Vines record — solid rock songs, a bit more advanced than the first batch.

“There is more confidence,” bassist Patrick Matthews says of the recordings, and the band in general. Lending credence to the belief that the first album title is actually more appropriate for the follow-up and vice-versa, Matthews says that on Winning Days, “We’re more refined and less primal. I mean, we are still primal, but we wanted to be more adept, more skillful. Craig is a better singer — I think he learned a lot from the first record.”

The backdrop to Winning Days is the stuff bands dream of. The band again teamed with one of the hottest producers on the block, Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith), but this time opted for a more unconventional location in Woodstock, NY, as opposed to the compulsory L.A. studios.

“It reminded me of Sydney a little,” Nicholls muses. “Lots of trees, bears and deer and turkeys. It was summertime [2003] and there was a stream next to the barn we were recording in and it was really peaceful, yeah.”

“It had almost a spooky vibe to it,” he adds. “It was like The Blair Witch Project … I really enjoyed being there.”

Matthews also enjoyed the retreat, which gave him much-needed relief from the swooning masses back home.

“When I went back to Sydney, everyone suddenly knew me,” he says. “Everyone was my friend. I was part of a scene I never even knew existed before. It was all about thrusting my so-called fame in everyone’s face. I got sick of that, spending too much time in taxis and becoming unhealthy. So I dedicated my time to jogging and calisthenics, instead.”

A foreign band recording in the boondocks of upstate New York is a strange concept in and of itself, but a wholly appropriate one when one considers The Vines. They are, after all, a band that thrives on contradiction. Hard begets soft. Lulls of silence are followed by quick, roaring bursts of feedback frenzy. Nicholls — some sort of a passive-aggressive/obsessive-compulsive hybrid — cries scornful moans, then balances them out with cool, slick enticements.

Winning Days’ fourth and fifth songs, in particular, speak to the album’s greater, overarching dichotomies of love and hate, peace and violence, calm and aggression. “Autumn Shade II,” the first acoustic track on the record, is a quiet tune, sweetened with Nicholls’ soft harmonies. “Sleeping in the autumn shade / You are white and I am grey / Sleeping in the autumn shade, oh yeah / Oooohhh wooohhh.”

Its immediate successor, “Evil Town,” is an alternately booming and stripped-down, progressive-minded track heavy on the drums and electric guitar. The slurs are so thick and the moans so deep, words can hardly be deciphered. It’s a crashing number, a nasty afterbite to the relative smooth of “Autumn Shade II.”

Naturally, an acoustic song follows after that, in the form of the title track; it’s that type of call-and-response interplay that propels the album from one song to the next and keeps the listener on his toes. Let the Nirvana knock-off jokes roll.

With this in mind, is it fair to say that Winning Days was predetermined? Nicholls wouldn’t like you to think so — he notes that his approach to the album was purely casual. “I was kind of lazy with it,” he says. “I wrote a few songs at a time … half-finished one, then went to the next one, then came back to the first one a few weeks later … some of them I wrote in, like, five minutes.”

Five minutes per song … 11 songs … OK, so that’s about an hour of work. So does that mean Winning Days was recorded in a day, then? Or a week, tops? Try three months on for size, folks. And that was just the time spent in the studio — keep in mind that Nicholls had written all the songs before the band even arrived in Woodstock. And yet it wound up taking them the better part of the summer to craft the album.

“Writing up there would have been impossible,” Nicholls admits.

“It would have taken us over a year if he had!” Matthews chimes in.

Scroll back to August 2002, when “Get Free” was booming on radio stations from here to Tallahassee, and Nicholls said in an interview: “I want to do the next one really quick … I want to get it out next year, because I can already hear it in my head. I want to be as productive as we can be.”

So what happened?“I was very eager to get the album done,” Nicholls explains. But, “I was also prepared to be p atient as far as weighing out the overdubs and all their worth, their necessity. I just don’t write well under pressure.”

Dodgy? To put it mildly. Honest? Probably so. Again, supporting the idea that it’s the band’s second album, not the first, that deserves to be called “evolved,” the game plan shifted during the making of Winning Days. What Nicholls aspired to be an electronic-based record turned out, in the end, to be an album with electronic elements.

“We put some Moog on,” says Matthews. “But that was mainly to create some weird sounds. We didn’t go over-the-top with it — there’s not anything that’s bass and rhythm, which is what I’d call electronica.”

Nicholls hasn’t abandoned all hopes of delving into electronic music, though. Calling to mind a second, equally lofty goal, he says: “I definitely want to try doing electronica, but I don’t know if it’s going to work, because I also want to make a country-rock concept album. If we could do both, maybe that would be something.”

David Jenison contributed to this story.

Cover Story: Lord Huron

Posted in Features, Interviews on 07/15/2018 by kurtorzeck

Lord Huron screen shot

I recently interviewed Ben Schneider about his rock band Lord Huron for the July cover of Music Connection. Check out the full article here.

Cover Story: Thirty Seconds To Mars

Posted in Features, Interviews, Uncategorized with tags , on 06/11/2018 by kurtorzeck

Jared Leto cover story

I recently interviewed Jared Leto about his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars for the April cover of Music Connection. Check out the full article here.

MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser On New LP, Doing Laundry – And His Favorite Cover Of An MGMT Song

Posted in Interview Transcripts, Interviews with tags , , , on 10/27/2010 by kurtorzeck

MGMT are still young. They’ve only put out two LPs. That said, the Brooklyn group led by Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser has toured a helluva lot, behind the platinum Oracular Spectacular and the more recent (and more commercially unfriendly) Congratulations. So why on earth haven’t MGMT, now four years old, played Florida till now? Continue reading

My City Rules: Exray’s On San Francisco

Posted in Features, Interviews, MP3s, My City Rules with tags , , , on 10/27/2010 by kurtorzeck

You say your band has a big following on Facebook? Well, San Francisco’s Exray’s can do you one better: One of their songs is featured in David Fincher’s related movie “The Social Network,” which appears well on its way to a Best Picture nomination. The experimental lo-fi group just released its debut EP; here’s a downloadable song from it – along with one of the bandmembers’ contribution to “My City Rules,” a new Bad Penny series. Continue reading

Revising History: Wooden Wand On Guided By Voices, Black Flag, Rolling Stones, More

Posted in Features, Interviews, Revising History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10/27/2010 by kurtorzeck

Over the years, James Jackson Toth has quietly proven himself to be one of the more undervalued American songwriters out there. Calling to mind a broad array of characters from the canon of great music – Captain Beefheart, Willie Nelson, Sun Ra and more – the man better known as Wooden Wand has been making a case that, perhaps, eventually, he should stack right up there with those legends. For the most poetic edition yet in the Bad Penny’s “Revising History” series, Toth touched on the Rolling Stones’ “Coming Down Again,” Guided by Voices’ “Chicken Blows,” Black Flag’s “Three Nights” and other songs he wishes he had made. Continue reading

Cover Me: Dearling Physique’s Deadeye Dealer

Posted in Cover Me, Features, Interviews, MP3s with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10/27/2010 by kurtorzeck

Minneapolis’ R&B-ish electro-pop squad Dearling Physique recently released a new single. Which artists would they most like to hear cover it? For that matter, which artists would they most like to hear cover every song on their forthcoming new record? Two members of the band chimed in for the latest installment in the Bad Penny’s “Cover Me” series. Continue reading

Old 97’s Frontman Rhett Miller On Getting Married, His Literary Ambitions, ‘Total Anarchy’ With Jon Brion

Posted in Interview Transcripts, Interviews with tags , , , , , on 10/12/2010 by kurtorzeck

With the Old 97’s unveiling their eighth album this week – The Grande Theatre, Volume One, which will be followed up with part two next year – here’s a look back at a nine-year-old interview with frontman Rhett Miller. I spoke with him on August 26, 2002, shortly after he married model Erica Ihan; he very much had the wedding on the brain. He revealed how collaborator Robyn Hitchcock was partially responsible for the marriage, what it was like to record with him and Jon Brion, why his planned session with Ryan Adams fell through (booze was to blame), and why writers are usually more genuine than musicians. Continue reading

Chapin Sisters Reveal Best Songs To Get Dressed To

Posted in Features, Interviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10/11/2010 by kurtorzeck

From Revising History to Guilty Pleasures to Brushes With Greatness, the Bad Penny has had no shortage of new features as of late. But in deciding to blaze a less-traveled path, Lily Chapin of the Chapin Sisters – who have been performing live as part of She & Him’s ensemble, and opening for them too – has come up with an impressive one of her own: “Best Songs to Get Dressed To.” Here’s the list she compiled; fans of Scott Walker, the Zombies and Nico, look no further. Continue reading

Guilty Pleasures: Young Marble Giants’ Stuart Moxham On Sex, Procrastination – And Fish And Chips

Posted in Features, Guilty Pleasures, Interviews with tags , on 10/11/2010 by kurtorzeck

Cheers to Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants for sending along the second submission to the Bad Penny’s new “Guilty Pleasures” series. He took a bit of an abstract approach to the task, mostly naming general concepts instead of specific temptations (aside from fish and chips). Continue reading