“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but there’s a rumour that Quentin Tarantino based Bill from Kill Bill on him,” Justin Young says, scrolling through his phone to find a picture of Tony Rancich, the owner of Texas studio Sonic Ranch where The Vaccines have just finished putting together their fifth studio album. “And he drives a bright blue Lamborghini!”
If working with people who have inspired iconic movie characters isn’t evidence of how you’re still killing it in the game after a decade, then the ability to still draw in scores of fans for a simple livestream should provide the extra kicker.
Flash back a few months to mid-July, with the temperature hitting 30 degrees outside and the sale of portable fans across the UK sky-rocketing. On a boiling Sunday, 22,000 people neglected the cooler outside air in favour of watching their favourite band on a small laptop screen. “I felt guilty,” Justin laughs a few weeks later. “But it was awesome. Before we went on and after coming off stage, I really felt that camaraderie that I’ve missed, and that brotherhood. It felt really nice to have it back.”
The virtual gig, streamed via Twitch from London’s Lafayette as part of the There is Light series, was The Vaccines’ first semi-proper gig back in nearly two years, and is likely the longest time that the group haven’t played together since forming back in 2010.
The arena-sized online crowd, then, is a testament to the band’s longevity. Having just this past March ushered in the 10 year anniversary of their electrifying debut ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ nobody, it seems, is more surprised than the band themselves. “If you’d have told me that people still wanted to talk to us about our music 10 years later, I would definitely be pretty happy,” Justin smiles. “Shocked as well.
“But I suppose when it happened it was all quite unexpected as well. It was obviously something we always wanted; I mean, I moved to London to make music when I was 18 - that’s all I ever wanted to do. You know, with every year that goes by, I pinch myself more that we’re still able to do it.”
Metaphorically now covered in bruises, the band have managed to stay at the forefront of the indie scene since that opening manifesto, with four albums under their belt (their debut joined by 2012’s ‘Come of Age’, 2015’s ‘English Graffiti’ and 2018’s ‘Combat Sports’) that have now cemented their status as indie legends. But what’s their secret?
“I think even from day one, we were sort of outliers slightly,” Justin notes. “There are plenty of bands from that era who are probably as big if not bigger than The Vaccines, like Foals and Two Door [Cinema Club]. But I don’t know… I like to think it’s because we keep releasing good music!” And armed with LP5, ‘Back In Love City’, they’re ready to continue doing just that.
“I think we’re still finding new ways to stay inspired and stay interested, as well as interesting.”
— Justin Young
A concept album surrounding the titular Love City, where people go in search of feelings rather than for commodities and experiences, Justin has a solid mental image of the dystopia that they’ve crafted. Picture somewhere similar to Borderlands, situated in a place like Tijuana, but looking more like Shibuya in Tokyo, and you’re on the right track.
“The idea was that everyone had run out of natural feelings and they were these finite properties,” he explains. “And so you could go and plug in essentially, and remember how to feel again. Feel love, hate, fear. But then actually go one step further and the protagonists aren’t as serious as that and believe that real love can be found anywhere, but you just have to know where to look for it.”
While the creation of their fictitious utopia allowed the group the opportunity to explore creatively, it also helped in streamlining their ideas too. “I think that sometimes endless possibilities can be quite exhausting and fear inducing, because you could go anywhere!” Justin laughs. “If you think about listening habits as a fan, they’ve completely changed in the last five-to-ten years, and I think that’s the same with writing music. On any given day, it’s quite hard to focus one’s attention onto a certain sound or certain direction, and so having this loose concept of this place and world we were trying to create definitely helped. Like, ‘Oh this exists in that world. This doesn’t, so let’s put it to the side.’”
Writing for the first time in their current formation as a five-piece - Justin is joined by OG Vaccines guitarist Freddie Cowan and bassist Arni Arnason, as well as keyboard player Timothy Lanham and drummer Yoann Intonti who entered the band in 2017 - the creation of ‘Back In Love City’ marked a stark contrast to their previous output.
“It was the complete antithesis to the last record, which we called ‘Combat Sports’ for a reason,” Justin says. “It was a very brutal headspace we were all in and we were really questioning whether or not we still wanted to do it. We got to the end and felt like we’d triumphed. Whereas with this, it was like a punk rock summer camp the whole time. Every day was just the best fucking time.”
Decamping to Texas, it wasn’t just the music that was whetting Justin’s appetite. “Every day we’d drive two miles from our studio up to breakfast, lunch and dinner, where these amazing Mexican ladies who came over across the border every day were making these incredible tacos,” he reminisces, “It was just really surreal. Like, here we are doing these things for work.”
And is Wahaca ruined for him now? “Yeah, exactly,” he laughs. “I’ve become one of those guys now like, ‘Oh yeah there’s no good Mexican food in London, you have to go and make a record on the border of Chihuahua. That’s the only way to eat Mexican food.’”
“It was like a punk rock summer camp. Every day was just the best fucking time.”
— Justin Young
Primarily, however, their time in El Paso was a pivotal one for inter-band relations, allowing the quintet the opportunity to reconnect, while simultaneously embracing the journey that they’ve been on to get there. “We’ve really fallen back in love with being in a band and touring and playing shows and seeing the world, going to new places and meeting new people. And I think, for a while, we were quite resentful of that,” says Justin, “particularly when we first started and we were in the eye of the storm.”
He continues: “Suddenly, we were doing this thing that we’d always dreamed of doing, but it happened so quickly, and in such a way that we weren’t always enjoying it. We came out the other side, and the dust settled and the storm moved on and rained over someone else’s heads, and we were able to just enjoy being in a band without the eyes of the world on us and find that we love the majority of what comes with being in a band, and increasingly as well.
“And I also think, every time we make a record, [we get] to the end of it being like, ‘I think we could do better next time’. I think we’re still finding new ways to stay inspired and stay interested, as well as interesting. I still think we’re getting better, I think we all do.”
Now ready to unleash their euphoric new offering onto the world, ‘Back In Love City’ thrills with each exhilarating moment, from the pop banger of its title track, to the instantly infectious ‘Headphones Baby’ and ‘Jump Off The Top’’s mosh pit-ready riffs. Produced by Daniel Ledinsky, who had worked on 2018’s stand-alone single ‘All My Friends Are Falling In Love’, the record has that inherent spark of fun at the core of every Vaccines LP, with Justin noting that his Halloweens side project with Tim allowed him to “scratch an itch” before diving headfirst into the band’s next album.
“It reminded me how important it is to follow your heart and just do what you find interesting, and fun, and inspiring, rather than playing to the crowd,” he explains before pausing: “You know, I do think that often people think we are playing to the crowd, because we are quite poppy at times. But that comes from a genuine place; we’re just really drawn to that and we love that.”
While in the past, the band felt like the “approach was better than the execution” in regards to their balance of pop and indie, on their fifth offering Justin is adamant that it’s all killer, no filler this time around. And though he’s still trying to convince people on Twitter that some of their heaviest moments are still set to come, he’s hoping die-hard Vaccines fans will continue to get on board with their pop flair.
“I think there’s a group of our fans for whom ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ really represented something for them - this visceral, very raw, very straight ahead rock and roll, which I suppose we’ve never truly broken free from, and those people are perhaps not always that happy when we flirt with colour and production and pop. But, ‘If You Wanna’ is a cheesy pop song! To me, it’s no different to ‘Headphones Baby’. It’s still just as fun.
“I just think it’s a great record, and not just a great Vaccines record,” he smiles. “And it’s definitely us at our best, and at times it’s like the band I always hoped we could be. We’re getting closer to that. We’re not done, but we’re getting closer.”
Looks like, 10 years on, you still should never second-guess what to expect from The Vaccines.
‘Back In Love City’ is out 10th September via Super Easy.
As featured in the September 2021 issue of DIY, out now.