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The Vines Conquer Insanity

Fame has not been particularly kind to Aussie rock outfit the Vines.

In the four years since the band helped usher out the boy bands and forge a path for indie rockers to easily scoop up label deals, the Vines have witnessed the near self-destruction of lead singer Craig Nicholls (which they later discovered was due to the neurological disorder, Aspergers), alienated fans, the media, and each other, lost their longtime bassist, and somehow, put themselves back together again.

In April, the band released Vision Valley, an album of tight rock tracks, pumped up punk songs, and a few melancholy ballads. While the project is arguably their best, the band can scarcely promote it, since Nicholls is notoriously testy with journalists and his condition prevents him from touring extensively.

Enter drummer Hamish Rosser, one of Nicholls’ biggest supporters and the member of the Vines who has stepped up to speak out on Nicholls’ slow descent, his slower repair, and how the band plans to pull through it all. Despite all the problems the Vines have had over the last two years, Vision Valley is a solid album. To what do you attribute that?
Hamish Rosser: Well, I think a lot of the songs are coming from quite a dark place. I think every song except “Candy Daze” was written after the Winning Days touring finished. So I think it all came from Craig’s mental state which, when the songs were written, was probably as bad as it’s ever been. It’s since improved now. He’s stopped smoking pot and everything else so it’s better now. That’s what you can attribute the songs to really. There’s a lot of songs about death and loneliness.

Was there more pressure this time?
Much less so than before. We’d stopped doing press a long time ago so there weren’t really any articles in the papers about us. Capitol more or less left us alone. We said we wanted to record another album and they said, “Okay,” and sent us a budget and left us to it. This time we had a lot more control than we had previously and that took the pressure off. A lot of people thought the band had broken up anyway so that takes the pressure off as well.

Was there a point when you realized Craig’s behavior was getting out of control?
He was always teetering on the edge of falling apart. We’re always trying to manage Craig, to make things as comfortable for him as possible and give him his space or give him what he needed. This was before we found out he has his condition, Aspergers. When we found that out it all sort of made sense. Right before that infamous gig in Sydney [where Craig smashed a camera, called audience “sheep”] we were in Japan, he wasn’t happy and it was all sort of deteriorating. Him giving up pot sort of helped things out.

Craig’s therapist reportedly said, given his condition, being a rock star was the worst thing he could do.
That’s the irony because with Asperger’s people are usually focused on one particular thing. Craig is obsessed with music and writing songs. So that’s the irony. He’s a great musician, a great songwriter, but then the actual touring side isn’t good for him. In his condition it’s best for him to have a constant environment, be in the same place with some sort of routine and being on tour if you’re in a different city each day of the week, yeah, it’s the worst possible environment for him. So when he was diagnosed it came as sort of no surprise and didn’t really change anything for us. It just let us go, okay, that’s what it is, and now we can handle it better.

He’s a lot more polite these days. He’s always really concerned he’s going to offend somebody. He sort of became aware that he was upsetting people and now he’s taking steps to not offend people.

Do you ever feel resentful of Craig’s condition because it keeps you from touring?
The thing I’ve realized about Craig is you can’t separate the genius songwriter from the erratic personality he has. If he wasn’t this crazy guy he probably wouldn’t write such good songs so how do you separate those things.

What do you see in the future for the Vines?
There will definitely be another album. I’m just hoping there can be more shows in between but it’s impossible to predict. There’s never been a long-range calendar with the Vines. We never really know what’s going to happen which makes it really hard to plan anything else. But the fourth album, that will happen.