Interview: The Vaccines’ Justin Young on the Space Between Reality & Expectation in ‘Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations’

The Vaccines 'Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations' © Wrenne Evans
The Vaccines 'Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations' © Wrenne Evans
The Vaccines’ frontman Justin Young dives into love, loss, and everything in-between through a sun-soaked lens on the English indie rock band’s sixth album, ‘Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations.’
by guest writer David Roskin
Stream: “Heartbreak Kid” – The Vaccines

I definitely struggle in life, never really knowing if I’m looking ahead of me or behind me.

Under a grey British sky, The Vaccines’ frontman Justin Hayward-Young reflects on creating his band’s sixth record, Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations.

A record so sun soaked and tinged with California’s influence, it’s a far cry from London’s harsh winter.

Talking from London, (“Good place to be for Christmas, you know?“), we’re just a few days from a Christmas break and a couple of weeks from the record becoming property of the world.

Having teased fans with the first single, “Heartbreak Kid,” a brash Vaccines classic (debuted during an intimate show in London last summer), the band challenged what we knew about them with subsequent releases.

Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations - The Vaccines
Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations – The Vaccines

The British indie band have come a long way since their debut, 2011’s What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? – a record that changed indie landfill and their careers forever. Their first album was filled with teenage confidence, angst, and a touch of vulnerability, while their latest effort sees them flipping this structure on its head.

In fact, Pink Carnations‘ closing track, “Anonymous in Los Feliz,” feels like a continuation of their last album Back in Love City’s “Heart Land,” expressing a love for stereotypical American culture that Brits grow up admiring, and especially of What Did You Expect’s “If You Wanna,” with both tracks expressing a desire to reunite with a lover – but Young taking two vastly different approaches – the veiled, “If you wanna comeback, it’s alright,” vs the record’s closing line, “Show yourself to me, come on back for me.”

When asked if the connection to their debut record was intentional, Young muses that it probably did cross his mind once or twice, but it definitely wasn’t at the forefront. “It’s probably just that the themes of my life continue to be the same,” he smiles.

The Vaccines © Wrenne Evans
The Vaccines © Wrenne Evans



Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations is, as put by Young quite simply, “about loss and coming to terms with that loss.”

As with all of The Vaccines’ work, it peels this experience back further, to look at loss from all angles, “not necessarily grieving for it, but trying to get a new understanding of it,” he says.

The record is the next stage in the evolution of a band unafraid to reinvent themselves or their sound. Young’s writing has always showed a degree of vulnerability, increasingly so throughout his career, culminating in a record featuring all lyrics spoken directly to another party, or back at Young himself. “Primitive Man” tackles the loss of self and a desire to be something more (“I’m at your wedding now, you’re not taking my name“), and “Sunkissed” is painfully grounded, painting a picture of a tragic reality beneath a beat that could decorate most Americana movies (“We were lying on the grass of reality, we were surfing that wave of anxiety“), contrasting with the fantasy world Back in Love City exists in.

Young talks about how the artwork teases the audience: The rearview mirror represents his confusion as to whether he’s looking ahead or behind at what’s happened. “I definitely struggle in life with never really knowing if I’m looking ahead of me or behind me,” he says. “I really liked the artwork because you see this rearview mirror, but you can’t see if I’m looking ahead or behind. I think we do have a tendency to romanticise the past, and I’m definitely a sucker for nostalgia, and kind of misremembering and reconstructing things like loss and really living life, rather than just existing.”

The record sees Young laying it all out there, his deepest thoughts and feelings: The album starts with him softly calling out, “I’m caught in a good fight, but I start to feel small,” in the brutally honest, classic rock inspired “Sometimes, I Swear”:

I’m caught in the good fight, I start to feel small
When the gravity hits me, I’ve got nowhere to fall
I’ve got nowhere at all
sometimes, i swear, it feels like i don’t belong anywhere
i swear, sometimes, it feels like i don’t belong anywhere
sometimes, i swear
sometimes i don’t belong anywhere
you can’t keep your day job and you can’t find your feet
say your best work’s behind you, still you hate looking weak
more gods than the greeks

“I think it was really about trying to be in the moment and experience whatever it is you’re experiencing, rather than running to or from something,” Young says about his vision for the record. Every track is present, direct, and littered less with clever wordplay that recent efforts from Young – including The Vaccines spin-off project Halloweens – have been known for. His writing comes into its own, embracing and owning his mistakes, admitting his anxieties, and refusing to pull punches.

“I think we’re very direct, and I think this record sounds quite classic and simple, but hopefully of its time as well,” Young says, musing on this point in the band’s career.

More so than ever, the world feels burned out, annoyed at the unknown – can we afford rent, our electricity bills, can we plan a trip that won’t get cancelled due to so much in life being out of our hands and out of our control in the not-so promised ‘post-COVID’ world. Young looks critically and deeply at what he can control, face up to and challenge, making his most personal writing the most relatable.

Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations‘ deep lyricism is offset by a mixture of classic Vaccines musicality: High-paced, energetic, angry and (usually) fueled by confidence, with a classic-rock-meets-surf-rock sound, anthems you can imagine blasting from a Mustang scorching down the Pacific Coast Highway in 1972.

It’s their most atmospheric world created yet, soaked in influences from Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Bowie, Nick Lowe, and more, all featuring in the playlist Young curated whilst creating the album – a process he’s followed for the last three Vaccines records.

The creative process of Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations didn’t follow The Vaccines formula in bigger ways; in early 2023 founding member Freddie Cowan parted ways with the band, on good terms, and the band committed their own funding to the record initially, before licensing – deciding to, as Young says, “Go off and make it ourselves and then figure out what to do afterwards.”

Self-funding “made it a better record, because everyone had like a lot more skin in the game,” Young thinks. “People really cared, we all really wanted to make the record – a record that we loved, and we could get behind and be proud of.”

The Vaccines © Wrenne Evans
The Vaccines © Wrenne Evans

We all really wanted to make the record – a record that we loved, and we could get behind and be proud of.

The first song Young wrote, “Love To Walk Away,” became the beating heart of the record.

It’s fast-paced, short (like a classic Vaccines track), and dripping with anger in a very relatable way – wishing the best for someone whilst simultaneously feeling a level of rage towards them. “It ended up as a bit of a signpost for how we were going to go with it [the record], and then it’s very clearly about loss,” he explains.

you said we should go get coffee
tell me you don’t need nobody
heard it before – photocopy
you’re so sad, so what we’re all sad
sweet thing
i hope you find that feeling
how come you’re always leaving?
you love to walk away
how are you sleeping?
it don’t look like you’ve been eating
we both know where this is leading
you love to walk away

Young sees the track, and the entire album, as quite hopeful. “I think if there’s any ill will, it’s directed at myself, rather than anyone else,” he says. Like the whole record, it exists in a gap between reality and expectation, something the band have deeply dove into this time around, reflected in an moment where the band played a major festival slot, and Young ended up finding himself back in his childhood bed, recognising it was the closest to a home he’s ever experienced.

Undoubtedly, “Love To Walk Away” will form a key part of the band’s upcoming UK and EU tours – first an intimate in-store run, followed by larger venues, including two nights at London’s iconic Troxy, a venue Young is eager to play, having only been onstage there once, joining Johnny Marr briefly. When prodded on which songs he’s most eager to take out for a spin, Young reckons that all of them will appear somewhere along the way initially.

“It’s kind of up to our fan base to figure out which ones they hold closest to their hearts and which songs they’re going to create memories with and go on these journeys with,” he notes. “I think they all have the potential to be very exciting and uplifting and euphoric live.”

2024 will also see a slew of US dates and likely a big presence across the festival season. Young and bandmate Timothy Lanham’s side project Halloweens will be back with another record as well, and Young teases other projects he’s continuing to work on now that The Vaccines’ record has been finalised.

Justin Young has an innate ability to craft lyrics and music that dig their way into their fans hearts, with lyrics from album tracks still feeling present within The Vaccines fandom dotted in pockets around the internet, non-more so than on TikTok, bringing in a host of younger fans in over a decade into their career.

The Vaccines © Wrenne Evans
The Vaccines © Wrenne Evans

Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations will be the bridge between the old fans and the new.

The Vaccines are a band with reinvention in their DNA; it’s hard not to see ripples created when every record drops, some fans too attached to previous material finding it hard to adapt, and others who thought The Vaccines weren’t for them finding solace in a place they wouldn’t have expected.

Young speaks eagerly on the record, and seems to think he’s hit the target on what they were collectively aiming for. He sums up his reflections in one tidy line, much like how he encompasses much of the human experience in this record:

I’m happy with it.

Young smiles.

Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations is out January 12th via Thirty Tigers.

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David Roskin is a London-based arts, culture, and lifestyle journalist, covering everything from the UK’s live music scene to online dating and dissecting the newest TV releases.

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:: stream/purchase Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations here ::
:: connect with The Vaccines here ::

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