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The Fits and the Fury

I wanted to hit Craig Nicholls. I had determined that the

I wanted to hit Craig Nicholls. I had determined that theVines’ 27-year-old leader was a hopeless, infuriatinginterview subject, and I had traveled 8,000 miles to conduct amajor question-and-answer session in which he’d directlyrevealed…almost nothing. There are al-Qaeda detainees at CampDelta who are more likely to give up information to theirinterrogators.

Iwanted to hit Craig Nicholls. I had determined that the Vines’27-year-old leader was a hopeless, infuriating interview subject, and Ihad traveled 8,000 miles to conduct a major question-and-answer sessionin which he’d directly revealed…almost nothing. There are al-Qaedadetainees at Camp Delta who are more likely to give up information totheir interrogators.

But one’s desire to hurt Craig Nichollseventually subsides. After spending some time in his company, observinghis various tics and waiting out his pauses, I soon discovered, as domany of the people who deal with Nicholls (his bandmates, hisrecord-label reps, his managers, possibly his new girlfriend,definitely his producer), that there are ways of understanding andcoexisting with him without resorting to violence. Even when he resorts to violence.

First, you must realize and — despite your cynicism — actually believethat even when it’s quiet, as it is on this muggy, lazy summerafternoon in the Southern Hemisphere, there is loud, whollydistracting, ostensibly beautiful music in Nicholls’ head. He preferslistening to it than doing just about anything else. Second, you mustindulge this. If you happen to be a journalist, you have to wait, oftenseveral minutes, maybe longer, for him to speak. And don’t make anysudden movements. Greeting him with an innocuous “Good to see youagain” might prompt a short nod of recognition or a vacant stare. “Youhave to be onstage in ten minutes, and after the show there’s ameet-and-greet, then we take the tour bus to Houston — that’s inTexas” might conjure a whirlwind of flying furniture, beer bottles,deli platters, ashtrays, and bong water. Both verbal engagements posethe same threat to Nicholls. They interrupt his beautiful inner noise.

“Craig is addicted to the combination of smoking pot andlistening to music,” observes the Vines’ even-tempered bassist PatrickMatthews, a longtime friend of Nicholls’ who as a teen had flippedburgers with him at McDonald’s. “That’s become, like, his life,”hesays, adding, “Pot unlocked music for me to start with, but then thenoise in my head got to be too much.” Those closest to Nicholls havegotten so good at abiding his fixation that frequently they don’t evenflinch when the debris starts flying. “Sometimes we’d be at a venue,and Craig would start throwing chairs around, and someone from therecord company would say, ‘Oh, my God! Is he all right?'” the band’sblond surfer-dude drummer Hamish Rosser says. “And the other three ofus would be sitting around, going [pretends to yawn], ‘Eh, is he throwing chairs again?'”

Inthese moments of lucidity, Nicholls can also be manipulative, evendishonest. For example, I was told that I should try to bond with himover the videogames that he supposedly enjoys playing for hours in hisbedroom. I don’t play videogames, but it seems like a harmless way toget a pleasant chat rolling. When I mention them, he stiffens and looksaround nervously to see if anyone’s listening. Then, in a hushedstammer, he replies, “I’m sure I have played videogames. I can’tremember. I guess they’re all right. I don’t want to say anything badabout videogames,” before surveying the area for eavesdroppers. Itshould be noted that we are sitting on a hilly section of a sprawlinggreat lawn. With the exception of an ibis and the folks riding paddleboats and water taxis in Sydney Harbour, there’s nobody within 25yards.

Videogames are legal in Australia, as they are everywhereelse. Marijuana is not. As his bassist attests, Craig Nicholls smokes alot of pot. “I don’t smoke pot,” Nicholls says, when I bring up thesubject, noting his symptoms of classic stoner paranoia. “I don’t seehow anyone could smoke pot every day and still have any sanity left intheir brain. I almost find that insulting.” He stares at me hard.Suspiciously. Then, again at the invisible spies. I assure him that Iam not a cop. “I’m a rock journalist.” It doesn’t ease him a bit.

Nicholls knows that sitting on hills with rock journalistsis necessary when there’s an album to promote (the Vines’ sophomoreeffort, Winning Days, on Capitol), but he doesn’t seemconcerned with how he or the band will be portrayed. “I don’t care,” hesays, pulling up grass and staring at his black sneakers. “Obviously,it’s good for us if people like our album.” I already know he’sfibbing. That morning, I received a call from the band’s managementasking me not to tell Nicholls that I’d interviewed Rosser the previousevening and am set to fly to Melbourne for a sit-down with Matthews(second guitarist Ryan Griffiths never gives interviews). It’s implicitthat informing him of this might jeopardize his participation. It seemsthat Nicholls would be more comfortable if he were the only Vine beinguncomfortable with the press.

“Are the Vines democratic?” I ask him leadingly (hey, it’sbetter than clocking him). “Or is it just unequivocally your band?” Heponders this for a moment. A smirk crinkles his boyish face. “Well,there’s part of it that’s my band. Like the vocals.” Sensing myfrustration with his vague responses, he’ll later admit, “I’m acompulsive liar. I don’t even know myself when I’m lying, so it’s veryconfusing.” It’s during such moments that Craig Nicholls becomes a muchmore interesting interview.

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