Come As You Age
The Vaccines defy indie pop conventions and deliver their second slice of pop.
Written by Jason Kenny.
Half of The Vaccines are sitting in a flat somewhere above Schönhauserallee. It’s midafternoon when guitarist Freddie Cowan leads the way down the hall into the room where singer Justin Young is lying down. It was an early flight. After an afternoon of interviews ahead of their German tour dates, they’re driving up to Hamburg in the evening. Young looks tired, but when the conversation turns to music he’s ready to talk.
The new record Come Of Age was released a few weeks earlier. The singles have been picking up attention where their debut left off. There’s the familiar indie London sounds that caught attention in 2011, striking a contrast between the melodic pop the band trade in and songs like lead single No Hope.
“I think there’s a danger of being too sweet or too depressing,” Young says. “I’ve always loved juxtaposing that.” There are plenty of examples of melodic melancholia from The Beatles through Nirvana and to Elliott Smith.
The album comes only 18 months after their debut. Most bands in The Vaccines’ position don’t seem to release their first two records so quickly. The band spent a lot of time on the road, even after Young’s vocal problems, and had enough songs after the tour.
“It’s funny because it’s such a sterile environment you put yourself in,” Young says, “but it’s also quite invigorating when you’re in a hotel 30 storeys up in Tokyo or Sydney or New York and you sit on your bed and think ‘fuck.’ You sit on your bed and look out over the world. There’s few places that are as inspiring. It got to the point where I even asked for a hotel room in London. I didn’t use it, but I like looking out over the world. So it was written on the road but only because we were on the road. It’s not a tour record.”
Come Of Age didn’t find its genesis in jamming at soundchecks, or tales of being stuck in airports after cancelled flights. That’s not how The Vaccines work. All four of the band write songs but it usually happens that the songs are mostly finished when they’re brought to the band room.
This was the idea behind the four singles from this record – each b-side is written by a different band member.
“It’s sort of showing what each of the four people bring to the table,” says Young. “It’s quite interesting because the b-sides are all quite different. They sound like the same band but they’re all components. It’s been an interesting experiment for us.”
Cowan adds: “Arni had a song and we thought it would only work if he sings it.” So they recorded it like that. The artwork of each of the singles is a portrait, of sorts, of the band member who wrote the tune. Collect the whole set, have your own Vaccines mural.
The four piece drew a lot of attention in 2011 when What Did You Expect From The Vaccines made the rounds. It was off the back of two break out singles. Despite the indie scene the four piece seem to emerge from, they don’t feel the label is so accurate.
“We don’t want to be thought of as an indie band,” Young says. “There are so many bands that I love, people like Abba, who were writing such great songs and they’ve aged wonderfully. I’d rather see ourselves as a small pop band rather than a big indie band. I agree with a lot of the indie ethos but not the aspiration. When you first pick up that tennis racquet when you’re ten, you’re not staring at your shoes, are you? You want to be on top of the world. We always write artistically instead of for other people. We’re fortunate that we’re drawn to songs that are art and entertainment in equal measure.”
Young points out that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were considered pop bands in their day, or in the Stones’ case – their first days.
“I just think we’re a pop band,” he says. “We’re straight up rock’n’roll. A lot of the best pop is rock’n’roll and a lot of the best rock’n’roll is pop music.”
When it came to recording album number two, The Vaccines turned to production mastermind and friend to bands the world over, Ethan Johns. Johns’ name turns up on a good portion of any decent music collection through work with Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown, Laura Marling, Kings Of Leon, Rufus Wainwright and a heap of others.
“He was an inspirational guy to have around,” Cowan says. “He’s always working on something. He was really helpful to me, as a guitarist, to find the right sound. He’s just got good ears.”
The band holed themselves up in a studio in Brussels, travelling to Belgium specifically for the studio, then concluding recording in Bath. It was a stripped-back session, focusing on the band playing. The songs were recorded live with just one guitar and one amp each. In a time of large recording budgets and studio mastery, it was a different approach.
“It didn’t need any more time,” Young says. We had four weeks to do eleven songs. Once you’re set up, you just have to press record.”
And record they did. Lead single No Hope immediately got a reaction when it was released in July. It set off the tone of the record – that of coming of age.
“Less the band really going through it,” Young explains, “but as individuals. You might be the same age as your friends but you’re all in different places. Some are parents, some people are living with their parents. You’re expected to know who you are and where you want to be and how you’re going to get there. The title is taken slightly out of context just for that bubblegum kind of title, but it’s hard to come of age. It sums up the album.”
See The Vaccines coming of age at Postbahnhof on Monday 22 October.
Come Of Age is out now through Columbia.
Article by Jason Kenny