Love them or loathe them, it's pretty hard to ignore The Vaccines these days. Critically acclaimed second album ...Come Of Age - which Didz Hammond awarded a respectable 7/10 here on Drowned In Sound - capped a remarkable year for the band by reaching the coveted number one spot in the UK album charts upon its release in September.
Despite the hype that preceded their arrival two years ago, no one could have predicted their elevation to the status they currently held as one of the UK's biggest guitar bands. Indeed, the first time DiS met up with them in November 2010 they were about to support Wild Nothing at Sheffield's Harley. These days, they're more likely to be seen sharing stages with The Stone Roses at Heaton Park or flying high up the bill across numerous festivals.
Never mind what the haters say, yours truly has witnessed the band blossom into one of the most enthralling live acts on the planet in recent months. With a relentless tour schedule that isn't set to finish until May of next year, DiS managed to catch up with frontman, guitarist and all-round gent Justin Young and bass player Arni Arnason prior to their recent set in Castleton's Peak Cavern as part of Jack Daniel's birthday celebrations. Here's what they had to say...
DiS: Things have certainly progressed for The Vaccines since the last time we met up at the Wild Nothing show two years ago. Did you expect to become one of the UK's biggest guitar bands at that point?
Justin Young: Absolutely not! That was a fantastic gig too, we had so much fun that night. That's the kind of touring that we aimed to be doing, opening up for bands we liked. That's where we wrote the music for. I mean, going back to the original question, there was never any expectation on our part. Even then, I remember you speaking to us and the reason most people were talking to us at that time was because of what had been written about the band. I don't think anyone ever dreamed we'd be propelled to the level we currently find ourselves at now.
Arni Arnason: The night after that gig I remember we played the Captain's Rest in Glasgow and it was absolutely mental. I think our aspirations have grown over time with the growth of the band.
DiS: It has been an incredible year for the band. A number one album, the Stone Roses gig at Heaton Park, several high profile festival appearances and a UK tour that literally sold out in hours. What's been your personal highlight so far?
Justin Young: I know this sounds like base level but releasing two albums in the space of a year ranks as a highlight for me. I started my first band when I was eleven or twelve and then I toured for about seven years before I started The Vaccines, and the same applies to making a record, which I don't think any of us thought we'd be lucky enough to achieve. I still remember that feeling when we finished it, and then with the second record it was like, "I cannot believe we've made another album!" The main stage slots at Leeds and Reading this year were really exciting. We were nervous when we realised just how quickly we'd been put there. I think it would have been a mistake if we'd walked on and there wasn't a very big crowd but the fact both were rammed I guess kind of affirmed it. I remember walking onstage at Reading and looking out and going "Fuck!" What I've really enjoyed about this whole process...
Arni Arnason: ...is that we've never been caught out.
Justin Young: And also that we're where we are because people like our music and it's really interesting even if you go right back to when people first heard us and there was a big split between those that said we were great and those that said we weren't; I mean, there were some side issues but it always centered around the music. It was never about what we look like or whether our videos were on You Tube or what's this culture they've created. It's always been straight talking with no bullshit. Either I think they're awesome or I think they're fucking shit, but it's always been about the music and that's what excites me, people becoming impassioned by our music.
DiS: It's interesting you say that because from my own experience I'd say The Vaccines are definitely something of a "Marmite band." Do you still feel you're constantly having to prove yourselves to some of the doubters?
Justin Young: No not at all because I don't come across them every day. I find it quite hurtful at times reading stuff about us so I don't tend to go on music websites any more. I think we're quite a Marmite band in the indie world but in the real world people either celebrate us or ignore us. It's hard to get too hung up on what some indie schmindie person thinks about us on a forum when we're walking out in front of however-many-thousand people every night.
DiS: There certainly can't be many other bands who've prospered to a similar level at the same pace as The Vaccines, especially in the current climate. Are you looking towards the next step up now, albeit inadvertently?
Justin Young: I find it hard to believe we're where you are today. You just never know what's around the corner, so I guess part of me is just willing to enjoy and be grateful for what we've achieved. I do think this band can get better, even though I'm really proud of our live show and the records we've released so far. With success comes ambition, and it's like Arni was saying earlier, our aspirations have grown since we first started. But at the same time, I've always been content just by playing live. We were content when we were opening for Wild Nothing at the Harley. I also think we're pretty realistic, and unless you're The Rolling Stones things reach a plateau and then slow down. For now our ambition is simply to get better. We believe we're a good band but by no means a great one. There's a lot of pressure on bands these days to arrive fully formed, and then there's people that have already formed opinions on new bands without really getting to know what they're about or hear much of their music. We're under no illusions. We don't think we're the best band in the country but we'd love to be so we just want to keep making records and improving. If we become bigger and bigger off the back of that then great but at the same time, even if it goes the other way I'd still feel quite content if we were making better records. I'm really proud of both the records we've made but I know we have an even better record in us, and I'm just really excited about that.
DiS: You've spent the majority of the last eighteen months touring so in many ways it was a surprise when ...Come Of Age appeared. When did you start working on the record? Do any of those songs date back to the same period as What Did You Expect From...?
Justin Young: They're all post first album but then I don't think I ever really stopped to be honest. Songwriting isn't something you can make yourself do, it's just something you do. I think it's pretty obvious as well. Songs like 'Teenage Icon', 'No Hope' and 'Change Of Heart' do sound like the first record. They're almost like a bridge between the two albums. 'Aftershave Ocean' was the last song we wrote on this record, and I think you can almost hear it progress chronologically. It's quite a searching record as well. I think What Did You Expect... was so heavily referential and we were really looking to find our identity. With this album we kind of stopped listening to a lot of music so I guess it's us exploring our own creativity a bit more. You can often find yourself in quite sterile environments when you're on tour but then you can also end up in a room thirty storeys up overlooking Manhattan or something and that's quite invigorating. Most of the album was written on the end of a bed, overlooking somewhere!
DiS: Some of the lyrics on ...Come Of Age seem very self-deprecating. Songs like 'No Hope', 'Teenage Icon', 'Lonely World' and 'I Wish I Was A Girl' for example. Was it a difficult period of your life?
Justin Young: No, no it was an amazing period! I think the whole album is a kind of character assessment, me looking inwards rather than outwards. I think whatever happens no matter how big or small you are, you still go to bed at night feeling the same person. You still get your heart broken, you still feel like an idiot, you still feel insecure, you still get ill. I think being in your twenties is a weird time because you're just starting to realise how big and bad the world is, and suddenly all your friends are at different points on the same path. Whereas until you reach your twenties you're all at the same point. Now I know people who live with their parents, people who are parents. It's just this scary thing of finding out who you are and where you want to be and how you're going to get there and I just find the whole thing really terrifying.
DiS: It's also interesting hearing you say ...Come Of Age is referential than its predecessor as for me there are reference points, just perhaps a lot less obvious. For example, 'I Always Knew' is similar to Elton John's 'Crocodile Rock' while 'All In Vein' reminds me of George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' then 'Lonely World' has a Blue Bell Knoll Cocteau Twins feel about it.
Justin Young: I guess it's ironic that it's so easy to draw comparisons but we tried to make it in a really classic way, and in the majority of cases I came up with a melody - just like the purest one I could find - and then the band would provide a backbone. There was never an intended plan of let's do this, let's do that; we just provided what we thought was right at the time so I guess it's subconsciously our record collections swirling around. One thing they all have in common is that kind of sentiment you just talked about. The way they're played is similar in style of expression. They're all just really simple, straight-up pop songs.
Arni Arnason: We always wanted our songs to speak for themselves on the first record. Just make a vehicle for each song to be as pure as possible, and then the post-production of that record it became slightly more monotonous, whereas with ...Come Of Age we allowed the exploration to be a lot more song-based than anything else. We weren't thinking about it in the context of the other songs on the album. We never actually went back and listened to the record until it was finished. Providing a suitable vehicle for a great melody is essentially all we were trying to do.
DiS: One thing that always stands out whenever I see the band live is the audience response to many of the album tracks. Songs like 'All In White', 'Lack Of Understanding' and 'Tiger Blood' are as well-received if not better than some of the big singles, which I guess kind of amplifies the statement that your fanbase really do care about The Vaccines music.
Justin Young: I do feel it's reached that point where fans of the band are fans of the albums. It's scary when you're a pop band and a Radio One band. It can worry you that people are only there for the big singles. But then every show we play there's people singing back all the words to songs like the ones you just mentioned and that really makes me happy. It kind of vindicates our existence that people genuinely like the albums.
DiS: Going back to the first album, given the power of hindsight, is there anything about What Did You Expect... you'd change?
Justin Young: As a collection of pop songs on a debut album I'm really proud of that record, and I like the arrangements as well, but at the same time I'd forgotten how tame it was until one of the songs came on the radio the other day. I think since that record was made we've found a lot more bite, particularly as a live band, so I guess I'd want the songs to breathe a bit more, punch you in the face even!
Arni Arnason: At the same time, I still believe we made the best record that we possibly could have made at that time. That's all a record ever is, a snapshot of a moment in time.
Justin Young: In April 2011 we were a better band than we were in March 2011, so it's easy with the benefit of hindsight. That's why I think given time we'll make a better record than ...Come Of Age. I've already got songs and I just want to keep moving forward.
DiS: Have you set yourself a target release date or projected timescale for the third record to be ready?
Justin Young: No not really.
Arni Arnason: We'll make a record when we're ready.
Justin Young: I think as soon as we feel we can make a better record where we're in a position to make the best one we're possibly capable of making we'll start album number three.
DiS: You've already worked with two established and highly regarded producers so far in Dan Grech and Ethan Johns. Which one would you say brought the most to your records and who are you hoping to work with on the next album?
Justin Young: We really enjoyed working with Dan. He's a pop producer at heart as well as working with Nigel Godrich. He's worked with Kylie Minogue in the past which I really liked. I think we saw ourselves essentially as an indie band before we made our first record and then came out the back of it realising we were actually a pop band. But then on the flipside we tried to make a live album with the second record even though we moved different segments in and out of it. Ethan is a very classic, old school producer. He insisted on doing everything live. On most of the songs there are no overdubs whatsoever. 'I Always Knew' was recorded after the first take and that's what you can hear on the record. A lot of it was done on the spot. Ethan's really into sounds and very good at instilling confidence.
Arni Arnason: He just makes records where you feel like you're in the room with him.
Justin Young: I really feel that he brought us to life. If there was any criticism you could level against The Vaccines after the first album it was that we'd made a slightly characterless record. Whereas I feel this is a very characterful record. You know a lot more about the band by the end of this album than you did after the first one. It's a lot more dynamic, a lot more expressive especially in the vocals. I just feel you get to know us a little better.
DiS: All four band members are also involved in the writing process, which doesn't tend to happen with that many bands these days. You're all contributing a b-side each to the singles off ..Come Of Age for example. How do you decide whose songs to use?
Justin Young: It depends who's on the artwork! The b-sides idea came about because there are four different girls on each cover and each one represents a different member of the band. So whoever's face was on the front had their song on the b-side. Whenever it comes to making a record there's no pride or egos involved. It's more about the best songs going to the top of the pile really, regardless of who writes them.
DiS: You're on tour in the UK in November and taking the excellent Diiv out on the road with you. How did that come about and are you big fans of Oshin?
Arni Arnason: We get heavily involved in choosing our support bands.
Justin Young: We've got Fucked Up playing with us on the London date as well. It's exciting for us to be in a position where we can invite bands who we really like on tour, and open them up to an audience who'd probably be otherwise unaware of them.
Arni Arnason: It almost feels like we're showcasing these fantastic bands you know.
Justin Young: And then there's also Deap Vally as well, so we're quite proud of the line-up. I look at some bills and it's blatantly obvious that some bands really don't care who's on tour with them, whereas for us it's more about creating a night of entertainment and putting on a show that we ourselves would pay to go and see. If you have good bands on before you people will end up enjoying the night more.
The single 'I Always Knew' is out on 18th November.
The Vaccines are on tour for the rest of this year and throughout the first half of 2013. They're scheduled to play the following UK shows:-
15 Plymouth Pavilions
16 Cardiff University
17 London Alexandra Palace
19 Leicester De Montfort Hall
21 Manchester 02 Apollo
22 Liverpool SU Mountford Hall
23 Doncaster Dome
25 Glasgow 02 Academy
26 Glasgow 02 Academy
27 Newcastle 02 Academy
29 Birmingham 02 Academy
30 Bournemouth 02 Academy
1 Margate Winter Gardens
2 London 02 Arena
4 Carlisle Sands Centre
5 Leeds Millennium Square
6 Llandudno Cymru Arena
For more information on the band visit their official website.