The Vaccines can lay claim to being one of the most successful bands the UK has produced this decade. Since forming in 2010, debut long player What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? has gone on to achieve platinum status while its successor, Come Of Age gave them their first number one in 2012.
Having spent the ensuing twelve months on the road, the band went into a self-imposed hiatus. Now, eighteen months later, they're set to release their third LP -English Graffiti - in May.
Beforehand, they've just embarked on a run of shows and DiS caught up with singer/guitarist Justin Young and bass player Arni Arnason prior to their sold out show at Nottingham's Rock City.
DiS: It's the first night of the tour this evening. Are you excited to be back?
Justin: Yeah, we're very excited. The last time we played at Rock City we were the first band on the bill for an NME tour three years ago and it was the biggest room we'd ever seen at that point. Whereas coming back today it felt quite comfortable. But then saying that, we haven't really played properly for about a year and a half so it still feels quite daunting being back. We spent a lot of that time in a self-imposed wilderness questioning whether or not we were ever going to be able to play in rooms of this size again.
DiS: You've just come back from playing South By Southwest in Texas. How were the shows and what kind of reaction did the new songs receive?
Justin: It was amazing. Our first shows back were in India, Vietnam and Hong Kong and it was also the first time we'd ever been there so it was a new experience all round. We found there was an element of people at the shows because they like The Vaccines and an element who were there out of curiosity. So the new songs went down as well if not better than most of the old ones, purely because we were a new band in many people's eyes. It was actually quite refreshing as it meant we could start almost with a clean slate. I've been thinking about this quite a lot. When a band has been around a few years and has a couple of albums worth of material, some songs can become a bit tiresome so it actually takes a few of the newer songs to bring the older ones back to life if that makes sense?
DiS: Definitely. Your third album English Graffiti is out at the end of May and once again seems to herald a change in musical direction for the band. Was that a conscious move or did the songs just develop organically?
Justin: I don't think any artist really wants to make the same record twice as I'm sure they'll all tell you. The difference between this record and the two before it was we had the benefit of time, retrospect and exploration. As a result, I think we have made a very different sounding record. 'Handsome' is quite misleading even though a lot of people were very happy with that song because it sounded similar to the songs on the first record. So I think they're going to get a bit of a shock when they hear the album. Equally, we've never hidden the fact that we want to be a pop band. We were listening to a lot of pop radio for two hours every day when we were driving to the studio, so it definitely had an impact on the new record. To me, indie is a bit of a dirty word. It's synonymous to lacking ambition. The more you achieve, the more you want to keep achieving.
DiS: The progression from songs like 'Norgaard' on the first LP to '20/20' on the new one is there for all to see and hear. At times it actually feels like listening to two different bands, even though it isn't.
Justin: I like that. I want to look back on our output one day and know we kept on pushing ourselves. Who would want another twelve songs like the first record? Certainly not us!
DiS: You worked with esteemed producer Dave Fridmann on English Graffiti. How did you become involved with him and are you fans of his other work?
Justin: At the beginning, we spent a long time on the record with the intention of producing it ourselves. We did a lot of exploring and in hindsight, maybe took a few wrong turns. So we made this wishlist of producers we admired and as we progressed with the record, there were a few moments where we thought it sounded quite Fridmann-like. It got to the point where it made sense for Dave to be a part of what we were trying to make. So Freddie (Cowan) and I went to meet him and it turned out he really liked the band and wanted to be involved. We fell in love with him and the place where we ended up making the record. Both our previous albums sound as if they were made in a garage whereas we wanted this one to sound as if it had been made in outer space. Dave is a sonic wizard. He's a mad scientist at what he does. So Dave co-produced it with Cole MG-N who I'd met in LA in January 2013. I'd done some stuff with him and really liked the way he worked. Plus, we wanted to make a record that was more of an embodiment of the times we live in, and the future as well, and Cole personified that for me. I think he is the sound of the future, or at least one of the people that will help define it. He comes from a very different world as well. He's from a more leftfield, esoteric background. He produced the last couple of Ariel Pink records and he's got his own band, The Samps.
Arni: He makes a lot of beats for the Stones Throw label and he's just won two Grammy awards for his work on Beck's album.
Justin: We were all out of our comfort zones yet it all came together and really benefitted the record. I think we learned a lot from each other.
DiS: He's been quoted as saying you wanted the record to have a similar sound to Sleater-Kinney's The Woods, which he also worked on.
Arni: He lies to the press, so actually that's not true! Dave never says the truth in interviews.
Justin: I spoke to him afterwards and asked why he said that about us wanting the record to sound like The Woods? It's a good record - Arni's a massive fan - but it's not something we've ever talked about as a band. And he said, "Someone phoned me up asking lots of questions so I just spun them some bullshit!"
DiS: How many songs made it to the demo stage for the record and will any of those that didn't make it this time round be revisited in the future?
Justin: There were a lot. Over one hundred.
Arni: This time around we decided really early on we were going to write ten songs and that would be the album. We didn't initially plan to write any more.
Justin: We had lots of ideas. Some really weird shit. In fact, I've still got most of them on my laptop so I'll play you one now (Justin then proceeds to play us a track that sounds like Outkast or The Go! Team even and is totally unlike anything we'd expect to hear from The Vaccines.). I think you'd probably agree that would never have worked on a record like English Graffiti. That was just one out of about 150 demos we had for this record. Arni: But then no idea was a bad idea. When we started the recording process it was more about refining most of the songs and shaping them into an album.
Justin: I think we've been constrained in the past by this self-imposed ethos that The Vaccines are a band that just plug in and play. That we're all about being this exciting, back to basics band and if some people perceive it as dumb then fuck them if they don't get it. We wanted to be completely set free from that and make mistakes. It took us a long time to come full circle and write 'Handsome' or 'Radio Bikini', songs that make more sense in The Vaccines lineage. We have a much clearer idea and vision of where we want to go now. There was almost a fear before. An expectation that all we wanted to do was write three-chord jingles, and after a year of avoiding it I realised that's what I wanted to write again. It took us a long time to work out who we are and what we mean to ourselves.
DiS: Maybe there's an opportunity to play a set full of unreleased material in the future?
Justin: We've actually thought about it! Maybe play a set under a different name or something?
Arni: Or just do a set where we only play b-sides.
Justin: Support ourselves on tour even? Ryan Adams does that sometimes.
DiS: You've been playing a version of Nirvana's 'On A Plain' recently. What made you choose that particular song to cover?
Justin: We originally did that as part of a session for Zane Lowe. We never intended to play it live, but then thought fuck it and played it during the encore in Barcelona the next night. It feels like we've broken the golden rule in a way, because any self-respecting band should never cover The Beatles or Nirvana.
Arni: To be honest we've been breaking The Beatles rule quite a lot last year.
DiS: Which are the oldest songs that made it onto English Graffiti and which were the most recent?
Justin: 'Want You So Bad' was the first song I wrote off the record, and the following day I wrote '(All Afternoon) In Love'. Then I spent the next six months writing stuff that didn't make the album until October of last year when I wrote 'Handsome', 'Dream Lover' and '20/20' - which are also the first three singles - in space of about three to four days. So we'd nearly finished the record but knew we wanted to put one more song on there. So we wrote 'Give Me A Sign' which is without doubt the poppiest thing we've ever done. That was written literally three days before we went in to record the album.
DiS: As with previous tours where the likes of Diiv and Deap Vally have supported you, you've taken Cheatahs and Fufanu on the road with you this time. What made you choose those acts specifically and do you see it as a great opportunity for both bands and your audience to gain a level of exposure they might not receive otherwise?
Justin: Our tastes are more left field than our output. We see this as a platform we're lucky to have because of that so we like the idea of bringing along bands that wouldn't necessarily get that if it wasn't for bands like us providing that platform.
Arni: Whenever me and Justin go to a gig we always make a point of watching the support bands, so I think it's important to bring acts we like on tour if possible. Its what makes the whole night great.
Justin: Arni goes back a long way with the guys from Fufanu.
Arni: It perfectly embodies how ridiculously small Iceland is. I used to work in a youth centre at the time the singer of Fufanu was starting his first band. He used to be in a punk band called Capybara and the first single they released on Bad Taste was entitled 'We Are Arni's Little Punks'. Fufanu's drummer is also one of my oldest friends and the sound engineer is a good mate. Cheatahs we know through Little Death and Marshall Teller Records. We both used to play shows with KC Underwood from Little Death and that's basically how we got to know them.
DiS: Are there any other bands you've been excited about recently?
Arni: I stopped reading the music press a while ago. I'm more excited by new music coming to me than having to go and search for it. The best band I saw at South By Southwest was Mile High Club. They're very hazy.
DiS: Justin, I believe you're based in the States now? Does that create a problem when it comes to writing, recording and rehearsing together?
Justin: Both me and Freddie have been spending a lot of time in New York recently. Pete (Robertson) and Arni are based in London. It doesn't really make a difference to be honest as we've always tended to write and record in a solitary manner. We're always sending files backwards and forwards to each other and then when things start to materialise we have a concentrated period where we all spend a couple of months living together. It has given me a different perspective living in a new environment. I'd spent the previous seven or eight years in London and was starting to feel very apathetic. The hunger I had when I first moved to the city was suppressed. I needed to go somewhere outside of my comfort zone. The thing about moving to New York is it's not the same as moving from Sussex or Berkshire to London. Even moving from other parts of America it is still thousands of miles and I think that creates an energy like nowhere else. I find it a really inspiring place.
DiS: Has relocating to New York influenced your songwriting?
Justin: The songwriting has definitely been inspired by how small the world is. But at the same time, not directly. For me, songwriting is more of a cathartic process and I'm way too selfish to be worrying about where the others are!
DiS: With the General Election coming up in May, do you feel motivated or inspired by what's happening on the political front?
Arni: I'm not allowed to vote.
Justin: I try very hard in interviews not to talk about politics. Not because of my own political views, but more because being prescriptive when you're in a band can be very embarrassing. I've been able to vote for ten years now and feel more uninspired by the choices in front of me than I ever have. It's really depressing. Even four or five years ago it felt as if some of those people stood for something. Now more than ever it's impossible to know just what you're getting. I don't think that's a reason not to vote. I think it's an excuse that people use. But nonetheless there's not much to be excited about.
DiS: This tour's been billed as a warm up to an arena tour later this year. Will the set be more comprehensively drawn from the new record and your back catalogue next time around?
Justin: I wouldn't call this a warm up tour. I guess these shows are more conservative and we are meant to be coming back in the autumn although nothing's been confirmed yet but we don't treat any of our shows as warm ups. The set will always be a fairly even match of material from all three records. We don't want to play too many new songs at this stage because most people haven't heard the album yet so the set will be four or five songs from each album.
DiS: You're confirmed for numerous festivals this summer. Are there any you're particularly looking forward to?
Justin: Kendal Calling should be good, Latitude too and Liverpool Sound City. We're also playing a lot of overseas ones like Fuji which should be great. The last time we played so many festivals in 2013 we were burned out by the end. At that point we never wanted to see another festival again. I remember getting into bed after that last show and feeling so happy. But now it's been so long since we have played I've really missed it, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there again.
DiS: Finally, do you have any advice for young musicians and new bands just starting out?
Justin: Never listen to advice from people that are offering advice would be my biggest piece of advice! I think there's nothing worse than people giving you advice. Every piece of advice I've ever been given I've always found really disheartening, confusing and in no way true.
The album English Graffiti is out on 25th May.
For more information including tour dates visit their official website.
Photo by Shaun Gordon.