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-- Gil Kaufman

Still trying to get over the Strokes? Well, brace yourself for the Vines. Only, instead of paying homage to the Velvet Underground and Television, these hard-rocking Australians have brewed up a frothy mix of grungy angst and Beatles-esque pop that has already caused British music magazine NME to dub them nothing less than "the future of rock."

Singer/guitarist Craig Nicholls, 24, met best mate/bassist Patrick Matthews when the two high schoolers were flipping burgers at a Sydney McDonald's seven years ago. They bonded over their love of the Beatles, the Kinks and Nirvana, and within a year began jamming with original drummer David Olliffe (who has since been replaced by former Kinks cover band member Hamish Rosser due to Olliffe's aversion to touring).

After trying out such monikers as Rishikesh and the Spastics, Nicholls decided that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, so he picked a nice family name.

"I would hope he wouldn't sue me, because I sort of told him instead of asking him," said self-taught guitarist Nicholls of his pops, whose '60s garage band was called the Vynes. Luckily, the elder Nicholls gave Craig his blessing.

"I thought it sounded wholesome and natural, like something that wouldn't hurt you," Nicholls said with a laugh.

The group undertook the usual bar-band ritual of playing a mix of covers and, increasingly, their "dodgy" originals to unimpressed groups of a few dozen fans at local pubs. But as Nicholls' songs grew less dodgy, people started paying more attention and the group signed with the U.K.'s XL Recordings. Before long, the always-ready-to-anoint English press took notice, and the band's first release garnered a "single of the week" slot in the NME.

While recording their debut, Highly Evolved (July 16), at the famed Sound Factory in Los Angeles (Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones), Capitol Records president Andy Slater got wind of the Vines' sound and quickly signed the band to a worldwide deal on his label. To Nicholls' surprise, the group, which also features rhythm guitarist Ryan Griffiths, went from fast food to the fast track to stardom before even breaking the 80-gig mark. In fact, their first-ever headlining show was this past February at a cramped Sydney pub called the Vic on the Park.

Nicholls, who is already intensely focused on writing the songs for the next album — which he said will likely feature more modern, electronic touches — has no problem with people harping on his band's sometimes eerily familiar sound. Such throat-shredding songs as the 90-second title track and the whisper-to-a-scream blast of punk fury "Outtathaway!" do more than just evoke the memory of late Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain.

"For a while that was the only band I was listening to," Nicholls said of the grunge godheads. "It would be impossible for that not to come through in any way. That's how we came to be in a band, we played a few different bands' songs and when we write our own, [they sound] a bit like that." But, given the band's musical range, Nicholls has no worries that the Vines will suffer the same fate as fellow Aussies Silverchair, who were initially tagged as pale grunge imitators.

The dreamy ballad "Autumn Shade" tempers the chaotic hard rock stomp of the first single, "Get Free," with some sugary, multi-tracked vocals and lazy acoustic guitar. "Factory" takes off in an entirely different direction, with a unique blend of two-tone ska and Kinks-ian working-class pop. Nicholls called it a "sarcastic character assassination" of a faceless factory drone, but also of himself, as he compares the labored writing of the song's second verse to assembly line-like drudgery.

Mix in the sludgy, psychedelic album-ending guitar epic "1969" and you have a thoroughly modern 12-song suite that pays homage without losing Nicholls' unique, multifaceted voice. Which is exactly what he intended.

"All the songs are like these little paintings to look at," Nicholls explained. "When we started out, all I wanted to do after making our first demo was to make a record. When I heard those first four songs, from that moment, I was obsessed [with making music]. And I wanted to make [the songs] as colorful as possible, so when it's angry, it's really angry. And when it's mellow, it's really mellow. Everything is exaggerated."

Having just played their first major American show at the Coachella festival (see "Review: Bjork's Pit, Beck's Set Among Few Surprises At Risk-Free Coachella"), Nicholls said he didn't know much about the U.S. before they came, and he had no idea how the Vines might be received halfway across the world.

Although it freaked him out, one of the lessons he's learned should serve him well. "Sometimes, I can't see the real stars in Hollywood," he said.


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 The Vines
"Get Free"
Highly Evolved
   Photo: MTV News