Interview The Vaccines: ‘I’ve Finally Realised How Fucking Horrible The World Is’

Frontman Justin Young talks to Jimmy Blake about how The Vaccines’ world has changed in the lead up to ‘Come Of Age’.

In a summer consisting of well over thirty summer shows - including an impressively high billing at Reading and Leeds - The Vaccines have found time to bulk up, musically and emotionally, to release a second album, ‘Come Of Age’.

The record follows in the powerful wake of debut ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’, and despite conscious efforts to rein in momentum, the London four-piece’s latest single, ‘Teenage Icon’ has effortlessly broken in to the top forty.

DIY caught up with frontman Justin Young during a rare break on home soil to find out how he deals with consistent hype, being a spokes-band for the so-called ‘revival of guitar music’, and what happens after you come of age.

It must seem bizarre to have a split second spare after the summer you guys have had?
I suppose you could call it time off, we’re in New York and LA next week, but for today we’re in London and we don’t have a show! But yeah, it goes without saying that it’s been amazing, but at the same time all a bit surreal. Last summer we spent all our time in tents, and this year we’re on main stages looking out at a sea of people. As weird as it has all been, we’ve tried to adapt to make sure we can still entertain the person that’s half a mile away or on the top row in some obscure Eastern European stadium.

How do you feel about making that sort of step up so quickly?
I think I’d be lying if I didn’t say I found it a very weird experience. But I think from day one, performing to a room of fifty people, right up to walking on stage at Reading or supporting The Stone Roses, we’ve always felt comfortable. We’ve always felt like we can fill the space and had enough confidence in ourselves, and I think that’s key. Sure, it’s been intimidating at times but you’d want it to be, wouldn’t you?

Did you ever feel things were happening too quickly?
No, not really. We haven’t forgotten how much we were striving to get home, or pining for our guitars and notepads, and we realise the opportunity we’ve been given and we want to grab it. You can really get caught up in the notion that all you are is an entertainer, going from place to place, and getting stuck at that level. We’ve always felt like we have to push ourselves inside and outside of the band to get better at this thing we’re dedicating our lives to.

I think we’re all wise enough not to build our houses on sand, and we’ve seen that happen to other bands. We turned down magazine covers and some pretty big shows, and we did try to slow it down to an extent, but there was also a lot of hunger. The success of The Vaccines didn’t come from us posting a weird video on YouTube or hiding our identity, it came from people wanting to buy our music and wanting to come to our shows. We felt like we’d made a good record, but we could make an even better one really soon afterwards, so we wrote the [new] record in the spare ten minutes we had.

Ten minutes for a second album isn’t bad!
People keep asking us how we had time to do it, but when we’re on tour I wake up at eleven or twelve and don’t have to do anything until ten o’clock at night! Often you’re surrounded by four white walls which are in turn surrounded by a town in the middle of nowhere, but occasionally you’re forty stories up in New York or Tokyo and that’s when you realise how far your creativity has brought you and it makes you want to carry on writing.

So is the presence of bulkier guitar riffs and more personal lyrical content on ‘Come of Age’ a personification of you wanting to build on what you had and realising your potential as a band?
I’m not sure if it is to be honest. The whole ‘come of age’ reference worked nicely because it was a bit tongue-in-cheek and just made sense to take a lyric from the first single and name the album with it, that’s how we did the first album, too. I think that sums The Vaccines up quite nicely. There’s a bubblegum surface to us but at the same time, one would hope [laughs], there’s a deeper emotional sentiment to it.

‘Come Of Age’ is more of looking at us as human beings. In your early twenties people expect you to know what you want to be and how you want to get there and I really don’t. I feel like I’m finally coming to terms with how fucking horrible the world is and that’s what the record’s about.

If we needed more time to produce the record we would have taken it. We put pressure on ourselves to make a good follow-up but we never wanted to let the media pressure us into rushing anything.

With a more personal approach to this record, did being flung into the mainstream so fast, when perhaps that isn’t the approach you were looking for, affect you as a band?
I think it bought us closer together. I really do feel like we’ve become a proper gang over the last two years but I really hoped the level of exposure we’ve had wouldn’t change our outlook on songwriting, and I don’t think it has. I don’t think this album sounds like were trying too hard to impress anyone or that we’re aware of the fact we have a much bigger audience and that’s something we really wanted to avoid. We don’t want to make music to fill bigger rooms. In many ways I think we’ve reacted against having a larger fan base and it’s made a more exciting album because the first album had to be much safer than this one.

That’s clearly carried over to rhythm section that’s had a noticeable beefing up. You were champions of the fact that guitar music isn’t dead. Did you feel a responsibility to prove a point with the album?
Not really! There’s a great irony in the Vaccines being called a guitar band. When we first wrote ‘If You Wanna’ and ‘Wetsuit’ we didn’t have a guitar in the band - Freddie (now the guitarist) was playing bass and I was playing keyboard. We had that set up because we wanted naivety and simplicity in the band. Becoming a guitar band happened because we wanted to reach our full potential and we could do that by playing our strongest instruments and I think this record is an extension of that move away from those more linear three chord progression constraints. We wanted to show there was more character and more self expression to us. We’re more comfortable like this and that’s why we had more confidence when we were recording the album.

Did that confidence continue this week when the album was released and you finally get to see what people think of it?
I’ve actually come off the internet this week! I find it very affirming reading the good reviews, very hurtful reading the bad ones and very frustrating reading the mediocre ones. I’d rather talk to someone face to face about the record, it interests me a lot more. Seeing the reaction of people who buy the record and come and see us play is probably my favourite way of finding out what people think. The best part of being in a band is going to new places and heading back to the places you’ve already been and doing it all over a again, we can’t wait!

So what happens after you come of age?
I don’t know because I don’t think we have, and I’m not sure if we ever will.

The Vaccines’ album ‘Come Of Age’ was released this week.

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