White Shadows formed thanks to a chance comment. Nick Littlemore — member of Empire of the Sun, Pnau, and producer to many — had read an interview with The Vines’ Craig Nicholls, in which the frontman said he’d one day like to make an “electronic Fantasia” record. An unnatural concept to a public familiar with The Vine’s raw rock, Littlemore was instantly attracted to the idea. “I thought it would be so cool to make an electronic record with someone with such a wild, colourful voice,” says Littlemore. “We got in touch and it turned out he had this collection of songs he’d written. The music was very strong, very simplistic. So we talked about it a fair bit - what he wanted to do with it and where it could go.”
Nicholls and Littlemore decided to reinvent the songs by blowing them up widescreen. “We wanted to make a transcendental experience,” says Littlemore, “something that takes you out of the norm, which to me is what his voice does — make music to match that oversaturated feeling.”
Gathering an all-star cast of over 40 musicians inside Sydney’s 301 studios, legendary British post-punk producer Nick Launay was brought on board to attempt the near-impossible – record every musician in the room jamming to Nicholls’ songs at the same time.
“I would put it up there as one of my most favourite sessions ever,” says Launay of the experience. “The adrenalin was incredible and the vibe in the room was just absolute magic. We had people like Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil, Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint, Touch Sensitive, the Boy & Bear guys, Kirin J Callinan, Jono and Gab from Jagwar Ma. We had young punks, an older jazz musician, keyboards, marimbas, stylophones. We had a string section, kodo drums - one of the biggest I’ve ever recorded, about seven feet tall. We had an Egyptian singer. We had a child soprano, I think he was 12 or 14. It was crazy. Craig was running around very excited like he couldn’t believe it.”
Littlemore enlisted his brother Sam (aka Sam La More, whose recent credits include Peking Duck and Parachute Youth) to program the music, and co-produce and mix the album. The two began combing through the abundance of material to craft the adventurous, psychedelic experience that Nicholls' songs demanded.
The result is White Shadows - an immersive celebration of a singular, colourful dynamic: the Littlemore brother’s knack for blissed-out pop escapism and the redemptive streak of Nicholls confessionals. The potent combo turns the concept of unthinking dance music inside out: hear the slippery pulse of grand opener ‘Sun’; the regret laced marimba-tinged rave-up of ‘Slip Away’; the deep reflection that underpins summery jam ‘Everyday’, its sugary bounce offset by Nicholls' stark words: “I don’t even want to be here / I don’t even want to try / not much of a life to live in / fly."
The arc of Craig Nicholls is a wild one. As frontman for The Vines, Nicholls found himself international poster boy for the garage rock movement of the early 2000s. He played to thousands of fans worldwide, graced the cover of Rolling Stone in the US, and sold millions of records. But the whirlwind took a toll, and when the ride slowed, Nicholls jumped - retreating to focus on writing songs in private, away from the machinations of the industry. White Shadows is the fertile result of that self-imposed isolation — a unique collaboration between visionary individuals. No touring. No interviews. Just the songs and sounds.
“On first listen, if you’re not paying attention, it’s a very happy record,” says Launay. “Yet the lyrics are very dark. I hope people don’t listen to it and think it’s just a pop record. It’s not, it’s adventurous and actually the opposite to all those kinds of pop records. And I think that’s what makes it very special.”