When The Vaccines returned with two rowdy, intimate gigs and their ‘Handsome’ track earlier this week, everything felt like business as usual. Justin Young and co. were back to proudly sporting fizzing rock ’n roll, sending UK venues into customary sweat-pits before 2015 had even decided to get going.
But in many ways, ‘Handsome’ marked something of a surprise. By-the-numbers Vaccines in the very best sense, it’s in a completely different territory to 2013’s ‘Melody Calling’ EP, which many dubbed the beginning of a new chapter for the London four-piece. Here they were lording it up in LA, flicking a switch from their everyday sound into something way more laid back and, with no coincidence, melodically sharper.
Question is: When attention turns to their third full-length ‘English Graffiti’ - out this Spring - which direction are The Vaccines going to head towards? Is ‘Handsome’ the standard-bearer or a red herring? Do their hearts belong on California beaches or in grubby English bar venues?
It’s a series of questions that makes for one of 2015’s most-anticipated new albums. DIY’s decided to refer to trusty evidence and plain old speculation by asking: What do we really expect from The Vaccines this time round?
A higher calling
If 2013 EP ‘Melody Calling’ ever goes down as one-off in The Vaccines’ career, it’ll be a crying shame. Sure, the lead single didn’t go as far as making the UK Top 50, but for hardcore fans and chin-stroking critics alike, it put the band in different territory. Suddenly they went from arena-ready giants with nothing standing in their way, to a more intriguing prospect, experimentation leading the way. It’d be foolhardy to follow the EP’s lead entirely, but ‘English Graffiti’ ought to include at least a trace of what preceded.
Speaking to DIY at the time, Young explained how the band wanted to escape categorisation with ‘Melody Calling’. “I think we’ve often, purposefully, been constrained by the fact that we’ve got two electric guitars, a bass and drums; we’ve tried to be quite classic and straight up, and that’s always provided the backbone. In the past, we’ve just gone in and pressed play, but we didn’t do that this time.”
With their new studio mentality, they worked with Rich Costey on their richest, most outward-looking release yet. However, he dubbed the EP “a snapshot of time”, saying: “I find it difficult to be judged upon something we recorded eighteen months ago. I feel like, for better or worse, we’re moving forward and I’d like people’s perception to move with it.
“If you’re a painter, you don’t want to paint the same picture over and over, so whatever your art, you’re looking to expand and explore, going off in different directions. We’ve been pretty clear from day one that we didn’t want to spend twenty years playing three chords and singing rama lama ding do.”
‘Handsome’ isn’t exactly “rama lama ding do,” but it’s arguably a compromise between the first two records and this dramatic shift of an EP.
If ‘Handsome’ represented anything remarkable, it was an accompanying video, showing Justin, Freddie, Pete and Árni being mobbed by a bunch of kung fu-sporting, flute-playing monster aliens. Could ‘English Graffiti’ exist on a different planet altogether? It doesn’t seem unfeasible.
Work on the new album has been taking place at Tarbox Road Studios, New York. In a new interview with NME, Justin calls the record “future-sounding,” stating to Leonie Cooper that “we wanted to make something that sounds amazing next year and then terrible in 10 years!”.
If anything characterised ‘What Did You Expect…?, ‘Come Of Age’ and even ‘Melody Calling’, it’s a timeless quality. In many ways, this is what’s dogged the band from the beginning, shifted them a few steps away from outright critical acclaim. Dagger-sharp and brutally simple rock ’n roll can’t always push the boundaries, but as The Vaccines progress and mature, it looks like they’re finally ready to get brave with their output (saying that: In this day and age, sticking to the rules can often be the riskiest move - see Foxygen as an example).
Aside from working with Dave Fridmann and Cole MGN - like that wasn’t enough of a clincher - there’s a chance that these four will expand their boundaries to start working with other artists.
Last year, rowdy Madrid four-piece Hinds (then called Deers) were barely one single to the good before Freddie and Árni invited them over to London for recording sessions. The collaboration continued - earlier this week, Hinds were the opening act for The Vaccines’ London comeback at Village Underground. It’s an exciting meeting of minds, one of the UK’s most established acts linking up with Europe’s brightest prospect.
Speaking to DIY last summer, Carlotta Cosials from Hinds listed The Vaccines alongside Ty Segall and Mac DeMarco as their biggest influences. And during their first ever London show at Sebright Arms, Freddie even ended up helping to replace a broken guitar string on stage. “They were at Primavera Sound Fest and we spent the whole night together and then they came along to Sebright Arms,” Carlotta recounted.
Chances are ‘English Graffiti’ will be a Vaccines-only affair, but it’s not difficult to envisage the band going several steps further and releasing a couple of one-offs. “It’s difficult in this day and age - with label release plans and touring schedules - to release as much music as perhaps, they might like to. I think, for all the time you’re writing, if you can orchestrate a way to get the music out, then it’s important to do so,” Justin told DIY in 2013. Keep those eyes peeled.
‘English Graffiti’ is due out this spring on Columbia. Read the DIY verdict on ‘Handsome’ here.