The Vines formed in Sydney in 1994 under the name Rishikesh, the location in India where the Beatles attended TM sessions with the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960’s. The band evolved around Craig Nicholls (guitar/vocals/keyboards), who with Marist College schoolmate Ryan Griffiths (guitar) and fellow McDonald’s (Hurstville) co-workers, David Olliffe (drums) and Patrick Matthews (bass/keyboards) became the original Vines lineup. At this time Nicholls (born 1977) was an undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer, who was existing on a diet of fast food and marijuana, while also becoming the creative songwriting force with the group. Nicholls father Terry was a former singer/guitarist with the 1960’s band the Vynes, who introduced Craig to the music of the British Invasion bands and taught him to play guitar. The classic Vines lineup became: Left to right Hamish Rosser (drums), Patrick Matthews (bass/vocals), Craig Nicholls (lead vocals/guitar), Ryan Griffiths (guitar/vocals).
The group’s debut single released in 2001 was Factory, a Craig Nicholls song with a bouncy reggae-inflected beat and catchy guitar riffs, which showed that the Vines weren’t just one- dimensional garage-punk thrash merchants.
The song was hailed by the New Musical Express as the Song of the Week in November 2001, the band were now signed to the EngineRoom/Capitol labels and headed to Los Angeles to record their debut album at the Sound Factory, Hollywood (Calif) with producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Powderfinger, Kisschasy).
Drummer Olliffe was replaced during the recording sessions by session drummer Joey Waronker, but this did not seem to derail the creative process, as the adrenaline-charged, pummeling of the title track Highly Evolved, amply demonstrated.The song crammed into 90 seconds a lot of what was memorable about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, but also added a touch of Ray Davies (The Kinks) charm, Craig Nicholls vocals were at once raw and assured, the opening track was indeed a brief but memorable sugar hit: “ If you feel low / You can buy blow/ From a pay phone/ I don’t feel low,” – and it led into what was an impressive debut album, which was a solid hit, #11 USA, #3 UK, #5 Aust, and sold over 1.5 million copies globally.
Like the band’s debut single, Highly Evolved was also confirmed by NME as the Single of the Week in March 2002, it charted #32 in the UK and the band featured on the cover of the October 2002 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, the first Australian band to do so since Men At Work in 1983. The headline “Rock Is Back” Meet The Vines” grouped the band with the Strokes, the Hives, and the White Stripes as “bands that combined old-fashioned punk and adrenaline-fueled riffs … and would be “the saviors of rock” – a prediction that most bands would find impossible to live up to – and unfortunately they did.
Get Free was the second single lifted off the album and it showed its Nirvana influences as Nicholls channels Cobain’s raucous vocals, supported by the chanted chorus of “come here” which is repeated 33 times, in the insistent and unrelenting backing vocals. The band mixed 70’s punk with 90’s grunge, and threw in a nod to Blur’s Song 2 (Woo Hoo) at the same time, to produce a monster riff that was contagious. It was the biggest hit for the band charting #44 Aust, #24 UK, and #27 US Alternative charts, and took out the ARIA Award for Best Breakthrough Single in 2002.
The music video was directed by Roman Coppola and showed the band standing on a hill, surrounded by huge spotlights in a lightning storm. Lightning bolts strike the ground near band members, until during the final chorus lightning strikes all three sending Matthews and Nicholls flying into the air, leaving drummer Rosser sitting behind the skins.
Outtathaway was another garage rock anthem with raw vocals, gutsy guitars, and a visceral intensity that threatened to tip over into dystopian oblivion. Opening guitar strumming gives way to swaggering exuberance which then descends into demented chaos and unhinged hedonism, primal screaming and trashy thrashing takes us to the outro, it climbed to #38 in Aust, #19 US Alternative Charts, and #20 in the UK.
The music video, directed by David La Chapelle, shows the band performing in front of a debauched crowd, who drink, stage dive, and crowd surf, while one fan slaps his face with his sneaker. Nicholls appeared wasted, and contorted his face in a demented way, these scenes are intercut with vision of the band backstage stumbling along a corridor, dancing with fans, and ultimately becoming engulfed by them.
The band released their second album Winning Days (2004) which charted creditably, #23 USA, #7 Aust and #29 UK but no singles impressed, future albums included Vision Valley (2006), and Melodia (2008), and by this time both guitarist Griffiths and drummer Rosser were sacked, and while the band essentially went into hiatus, Nicholls continued to write and record.
Over time Craig Nicholls behaviour had become increasingly erratic and abusive, in 2002 the band were kicked off the Jay Leno Tonight Show after Nicholls damaged the set during rehearsals, in 2004 he physically threatened a Triple M photographer and the group were banned from future events staged by the network, and there were violent confrontations with his parents, when Nicholls was arrested for injuring a policeman and threatening his mother Noreen with a kitchen knife in 2012. Tours were cancelled, albums kept appearing but flopped until the band’s record contract lapsed, the album Future Primitive was self-funded by Nicholls and released in 2012 but failed to chart.