Interview: The Vaccines

Interview with The Vaccines

The Vaccines


From BBC Sound of 2011 hopefuls to entertaining thousands at Reading Festival, indie-punk outfit The Vaccines have come a long way in the last year. We caught up with lead singer Justin Young about the journey so far and the inspirations behind latest album Come of Age.

Questions and answers

You’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time. How are you enjoying the ride so far?

It’s been amazing. For the band, it happened really quickly, but for us as individual musicians it took years and years, really. And so to finally hit the nail on the head – creatively and in terms of connecting with people – is just massively rewarding.

What’s been the biggest perk of being famous?!

Probably the main perk is that I don’t actually think I am! It’s weird, people quite often ask me that, but I don’t think we are famous really because it doesn’t affect my day-to-day life: no-one’s going to stop me if I go down to get a can of Coke from the shop, you know?

You’ve had a few issues with your voice over the past year, haven’t you?

Yeah. It’s mended now, but it’s not something that will ever go away, and might well need to be looked at again. I had three operations on my voice last year and I do sort of live in fear of that happening again but I’ve altered the way I live on a day-to-day basis a bit. And I’ve also altered the way I sing: I think I’m a lot more considered now, just ‘cause I can’t just shout recklessly, I guess.

So, Come Of Age is arriving relatively soon after your debut. Are you naturally fast workers or did you feel some pressure to deliver the follow-up fast?

Erm, not really. On the first album we trusted our own instinct, so I think we had to on this one too. We constantly write, and for us a record’s really only a snapshot in time so it’s pretty important to us that we’re being represented by something we’re happy with.

There’s a song on this album that I wrote a couple of weeks after the last one came out. And by the time we got to about Christmas [2011] we had enough songs to go into the studio and make a better record so, actually, I think we did it at our own pace. Put it this way, if we didn’t feel ready then I don’t think we would be releasing it.

Do the opinions of critics matter to you?

It doesn’t matter because ultimately it’s one person’s opinion, but when I do stumble across them I do find it either exceeds my egomania or feeds my crippling self-doubt. It can be really hurtful and it can be really flattering, and I think if you believe one, you have to believe the other.

So what were you setting out to achieve sonically with Come Of Age?

I think just progression, really. We made the first album live but we cheated a bit, choosing the best vocal takes and the best words, and playing to the click and stuff. On this album, all the instruments were recorded at the same time, because we really wanted to make a more human-sounding record. A genuinely exciting and, I guess, imperfect record that felt real.

What were your musical reference points this time round?

Well none, actually, because I think we’d been so heavily referential on the first album that it was quite important to us that we tried to find our own sound, y’know? If anything, we made a conscious effort not to listen to too much music. It’s really important to us that in 20 years’ time bands are being compared to us, rather than us continuing to be compared to people.

What’s the story behind the title?

The title’s taken slightly out of context because it’s a lyric from ‘No Hope’ which goes,“It’s hard to come of age”. And I think that sums up the lyrical sentiment, really. It’s about this weird, confusing, hard period that you experience in your 20s, where you have to work out who you want to be and where you want to go and how you want to do it, and it’s not always that clear.

Was it your decision to work with Ethan Johns?

Yeah, he’s someone who’s made a lot of records that we were big fans of. He fulfilled all our hopes, really. He’s a very classic producer, in that he instilled us with a lot of confidence and taste, and he helped us see through the ethos we started with. He was great at capturing sounds, and I think he really brought our guitarist Freddy out of his shell. The one thing all his records have in common is that there’s a lot of character: I feel like you really get to know the people making them.

Do you have a favourite track on the record?

I think my favourite track to listen to is probably ‘Bad Mood’, because I really like primitive, fun, punk-rock. In terms of songcraft, maybe either ‘Aftershave Ocean’ or ‘Lonely World’.

You’re all writing the B-sides for the singles separately, aren’t you?

Yeah. We wanted to show all the different elements that go into making The Vaccines. I really like the idea of people being able to emotionally invest in the band, so I think for people to get to know each character in the band – stylistically and creatively – is good. It’s really nice to give everyone a voice.

Can we expect four disparate styles of music?

Erm, yeah. They all sound how I would have expected them to sound. I think Freddie’s into musicality, and I think Peter’s into the way people put music together. Arnie and myself are slightly more meat-headed about it: we like simplicity, and three chords and good fun.

So, you recently opened for The Stone Roses, at their comeback show in Manchester. How was that?

It was a massive thrill. If you’re into any form of alternative music in the UK, you’re aware of their influence on the musical landscape. We missed them first time round, so to be able to be part of their second coming was amazing. We didn’t actually meet them on the night but I have met a couple of them on a couple of different occasions, and they’ve always been really nice.

We’ve spoken to quite a few bands this year who’ve toured with you, and they’ve all said how nice you are too.

That’s nice to hear. I think it’s really important that when you invite a band on tour, they know that you’ve invited them firstly because you like their music. But it’s also important to us to make people feel welcome. You’re all in it together when you’re on tour and it’s a great way of making new friends.

So what’s the plan for the rest of the year?

Touring the record and having more fun, I guess! We’re touring the US and Europe, and in the UK we’ll be taking DIIV, Deap Vally and Pale on the road with us.

What’s been your favourite album of 2012 so far?

The last record I bought was Holograms, and I really like that. It’s just a good punk-rock record. I think the lead single from it, ‘ABC City’, is a really classic punk-rock single and I like the urgency and the mood; it excited me when I first heard it.

What’s been the highlight so far?

My musical highlight would probably be playing Reading and Leeds last year. It was the moment where, after all the speculation and prediction, it all felt real for the first time. You can’t really argue with 20,000 people chanting your name.

Another highlight was when we were given Access All Areas [passes] to Universal Studios in Singapore. It was like having your own theme park; I felt like Eric Cartman. (Laughs)

What’s your ultimate ambition for The Vaccines?

I think people often misinterpret our aim. We want to be successful but in terms of artistic success and fulfilment. We really want to just keep making better and better records. And if commercial success is a by-product of that, then that’s something that really excites us. But we just want to have fun, really. Honestly, if we were back playing The Barfly this time next year I’m sure we’d all still be pretty f*cking happy.