It seems like “the vaccines” are all anyone talks about these days, so we decided to join the conversation: Today, The Vaccines’ frontman Justin Young celebrates ten years of ‘What Did You Expect from The Vaccines?’ with an in-depth dive into the indie rock band’s critically acclaimed debut album.
‘What Did You Expect from The Vaccines?’ – The Vaccines
The Vaccines are gonna save 2021, one way or another.
It’s an interesting time to be a band called The Vaccines.
You both are and aren’t in high demand; everyone either loves you or hates you, and people often mistakenly reach out to you with important health questions.
“A lot of people will tweet at the World Health Organization and us, asking for information or potentially directing a degree of hatred and animosity towards us,” chuckles Justin Hayward-Young, lead singer and guitarist of English indie rock band The Vaccines. For what it’s worth, Young and his bandmates knew what they were getting into ten years ago. After nixing “Young Mothers” and “The Catholics,” the still fresh West London four-piece of Young, Freddie Cowan (lead guitar, vocals), Árni Árnason (bass, vocals), and Pete Robertson (drums, vocals) finally settled on “The Vaccines,” reasoning that they could mold the name to fit their sound.
“The thing that’s great about The Vaccines is, it is this kind of empty vial you can fill with whatever you want,” Young explains. “The name is kind of meaningless, but you can fill it with whatever you want. It’s not a particularly provocative name, but I quite like that.”
The Vaccines uploaded their first demo to YouTube in August 2010. By the end of the following year, they were one of Britain’s buzziest acts – with the biggest-selling debut by a band in 2011. It’s a one-in-a-million whirlwind success story, and it’s theirs to tell.
Released ten years ago on March 11, 2011, What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? is a thrilling thirty-six minute soundtrack of youthful abandon and indie rock bliss. Produced by Dan Grech-Marguerat and released via major label Columbia Records, The Vaccines’ full-length introduction to the world rises and shines with bursts of bright, bustling garage rock, surf punk, and post-punk revival influences that continue to withstand the test of time.
From the recklessness and dynamic explosion of opening songs “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” and “If You Wanna,” to the beachy gleam of finale “Family Friend” and the hushed, muted tones of hidden track “Somebody Else’s Child,” What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? charms the ears with wave after wave of refreshing indie rock. The Vaccines’ sound is one of controlled chaos: Unbridled passion mixed with unbridled energy.
“I’m so proud of it,” Young says, reflecting on the band’s debut. “I actually think it was perfect; it was a real moment for us as a band and individuals, and it was this culmination of luck and hard work and the stars aligning. I’m really proud of that time.”
He adds, “I do think it’s aging well, in a way that I feared it wouldn’t.”
Ten years on, What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? is a staple of the modern indie rock diet.
The Vaccines’ debut is now a bona-fide classic, and the tracks “If You Wanna,” “Post Break-Up Sex,” “Nørgaard,” and “Wetsuit” remain some of the band’s most-streamed songs of all time (“If You Wanna” looms over the pack, with a staggering 79 million Spotify streams).
“I think with any song’s popularity, it becomes kind of self-perpetuating, and I think it’s now of an age where it’s nostalgia-inducing,” Young says of “If You Wanna” – which peaked at #35 on the UK Singles Chart in 2012. “Maybe for a certain group of people, it captured a moment and a mood, and maybe it takes them back to that place. I think it’s a great indie rock song.”
Well, I don’t wanna wake up in the mornin’
But I’ve got to face the day.
That’s what all the friends I do not like as much as you say.
I don’t wanna do things independently
But I can’t make you stay.
That’s what all the friends I do not like as much as you say.
But if you wanna come back it’s alright, it’s alright!
It’s alright if you wanna come back!
Do you wanna come back? it’s alright, it’s alright!
It’s alright if you wanna come back to me!
Well, I don’t wanna see you with another guy
Whatever that magic is – some combination of talent and luck, we suppose – the stuff that made their debut resonate has continued to carry The Vaccines through the past ten years, through ever-increasing tours and three more studio albums that have seen them evolve as artists and experiment with new styles, sounds, techniques, and beyond. The band recorded their fifth studio album prior to the pandemic, and plan to release it within the next year.
A lot will happen in-between March ‘21 and that album release, including the recent release of an EP of cover songs The Vaccines had been teasing for months. “[It’s] called Cosy Karaoke Vol. 1, and I think we’re probably gonna do a Vol. 2,” Young says. “In fact, I know we are because it’s recorded, but I don’t think we’re gonna release it ’til after the record comes.”
“It just felt like a fun thing to do: A way for us to make music together whilst being on all four corners of the globe and a bit of a palate cleanse, ’cause we haven’t really released any music for a few years now so that was like a bit of fun or something.”
There’s also the What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? ten-year anniversary re-release, set for April 2. To commemorate the milestone, the band have been releasing a series of early recordings, including demos of “If You Wanna” and “Wreckin’ Bar.”
So yes, it is an interesting time to be a band called The Vaccines – for more reason than one.
”Ever since we started really, we’ve always had kind of the odd, confused or snarky comment – and then obviously now we’re kind of flooded with them,” Young says. “It’s good. I spent the last 10 years kinda trying to tell Spanish and Japanese reporters what The Vaccines meant. I guess now I probably won’t have to do that.”
Young’s outlook is hopeful; he looks forward to reclaiming his band’s name soon enough. “At the end of every year, they have those kind of words, don’t they? ‘The words of the year.’ I imagine “vaccines” will be one of those words in 2021, right? And then hopefully 2022 will be ours and everyone will be vaccinated and we’ll be the most popular Vaccines again.”
Justin Young dove into the depths of What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? to commemorate the album’s ten-year anniversary. Read on for an in-depth, first-hand take on The Vaccines’ stratospheric debut.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE VACCINES
Atwood Magazine: It’s great to connect with you, Justin! Thank you for your time today First of all, how have you, the band, and your families been throughout this pandemic?
Justin Young: Yeah. All things considered, we’re all doing fine. I think everyone’s experienced it in quite a different way, really, ’cause Tim, our keyboard player and guitarist is in Australia, where he’s from. So he’s remained pretty unaffected. Árni lives in Reykjavik in Iceland so he’s pretty unaffected and then Yoann is in Paris, so his experience has been quite similar to ours here in London and yeah, family… Yeah, up and down… I think like most people… I know people have been… Family members that have died from COVID and then others who have managed to escape it but I feel cautiously optimistic that maybe we’re turning the corner. I don’t know.
I'm glad to hear everyone’s been safe on your end. It's been a nice plus to be able to continue to make music, I'm sure, for you guys.
Justin Young: It’s been difficult honestly being all around the world. It’s weird. I haven’t seen a couple of them for over a year now. It’s the longest I’ve ever been really without seeing them. It’s crazy.
You’ve been releasing a series of cover songs lately.
Justin Young: Yes! Yeah, exactly. They are coming out on an EP called Cosy Karaoke Vol. 1, and I think we’re probably gonna do a Vol. 2. In fact, I know we are because it’s recorded but I don’t think we’re gonna release it till after the kind of record comes but I don’t know, it just felt like a fun thing to do in a way for us, like you say, a way for us to make music together whilst being on all four corners of the globe and a bit of a palate cleanse, ’cause we haven’t really released any music for a few years now so that was like a bit of fun or something.
How do you end up coordinating for these recordings?
Justin Young: I think normally we’ll start with rhythm track with bass and drums and maybe a bit of keys or rhythm guitar. Tim and Yoann and I’ve been doing the bulk of that. It’s been a bit of a… What’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t know. It’s been a bit of a jigsaw puzzle that we’ve been trying to put together through the Internet, which is actually very easy.
I've been impressed by just how varied these songs are. You're taking from modern, classic rock, and beyond. There's no rhyme or reason: It seems like you're pulling from whatever you feel like making that day!
Justin Young: Yeah and I think a lot of it actually was the stuff that we were listening to when we were making this record, which as any, I suppose music fan will tell you, was quite a varied, diverse picture. It’s funny. I saw a few people who were worried that maybe the new record was gonna be as chilled or limp or something but I can assure you, I can assure them that it’s actually no reflection of how the new record sounds, despite it being what we’re listening to as we were making the record… I think they’re just worried that there’s not gonna be any punch or something. There’s plenty of that.
Well, if there's one thing The Vaccines know, it's punch. I have to ask, what's it been like being a band named The Vaccines in 2020 and 2021?
Justin Young: It’s been weird, I suppose. It’s not a totally new thing, because there’s obviously that, as you’ll know as the North American, there was that kind of, for the last 10 years or so, there’s been that fringe kind of anti-vax movement. So there was always, ever since we started really, we’ve always had kind of the odd, confused or snarky comment and then obviously now we’re kind of flooded with them. It’s good. I spent the last 10 years kinda trying to tell Spanish reporters and Japanese reporters what The Vaccines meant. I guess now I probably won’t have to do that.
You have the benefit of general knowledge on your side now. Do you find you're the most sought-after band or you're the most controversial band?
Justin Young: Good question. A lot of people will tweet at the World Health Organization and us, asking for information or potentially directing a degree of hatred and animosity towards us. [laughs]
What do you do?
Justin Young: I just forwarded on all the posts to the NHS. I imagine at the end of every year, they have those kind of words, don’t they? Like the words of the year. I imagine vaccines will be one of those words in 2021, right? And then hopefully 2022 will be ours and everyone will be vaccinated and we’ll be the most popular Vaccines again.
I'm being cheeky, mainly because what else can you possibly do? But from a serious perspective, you can only hope for the best. You have to stay positive, is my take on it.
Justin Young: Well, The Vaccines are gonna save 2021, one way or another.
I love it, there you go. This month marks the 10th anniversary of What Did You Expect from The Vaccines?, the biggest selling debut by a band in 2011. Take me back to 2011: Who were you before this album came out, and who were you after its release?
Justin Young: Well, I think probably I was the same person. I think all four of us were the same people in many respects but I think when you’re put through a process as amazing and as intense as that, I suppose the character traits and the flaws and the strengths, all that sort of stuff become amplified or whatever. I don’t know, anxiety being a good one, I suppose. You may always be an anxious person but then when you’re flown around the world like 10 times in the space of six months with no sleep and plenty of other things, then anxiety is gonna become heightened and then it’s gonna manifest in lots of different ways. So I suppose I can’t quite often think about that time as we didn’t necessarily change but we just kind of got turned onto overdrive as people and then I think that album allowed us to see the world and meet so many more people and go so many more places than we ever imagined or dreamed of and so it definitely, I like to think, widened our perspectives and broadened our horizons.
How long had you been a band before you released the debut?
Justin Young: We had been a band for 18 months. That’s not very long, is it? That’s not very long at all. You know, it’s crazy really. We wrote the songs so quick. That’s the mad thing is, we wrote the song so quickly and I remember when we signed to Columbia Records, we’d already finished the album. There was no A&R-ing for them to do as it were. The songs had all been written. We gave them a finished record and that happened very quickly. That happened while some of us were still studying at college. So it wasn’t even our full-time pursuit or anything. It was something we were doing after school.
Had you guys had any experience recording music before?
Justin Young: Yeah. I think that’s the thing is that a lot of people at the time would talk about how quickly it happened for us and it obviously did as a band but I think as individuals it was a really long time coming. I think Pete and Árni were like 25 when the band started. So it’s not like they were 16 and they’d never been in a band before. We’d all been in touring bands. They were doing session work in the studio or on tour. We’d all had other projects, so actually, it’d kinda taken four or five, six years to come good. It’s just in the form of the guys in The Vaccines, it kinda happened overnight.
And you'd been doing a lot of songwriting before that – did you have experience there?
Justin Young: Yeah. I think that I probably wouldn’t have been ready for the world to hear my songs until that point. Maybe wasn’t good enough. It takes any, I think, singer or songwriter or musician to find their voice. Even though we were heavily referential and I guess we still are. I still think of The Vaccines as us having found our voice and, yeah, there’s that whole Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 Hours thing and there’s the kind of like dirty water out of a rusty tap. I think you’ve gotta build momentum creatively, if that makes sense.
It does. Do you feel like you found your voice on that record, or are you saying you feel like you're still continuously finding your voice?
Justin Young: Well, always looking and constantly refining and I think every time you release a record, when you go back to the drawing board, the next record is almost reactionary. It’s like, what did we do right on the last one, what did we do wrong on the last one. So I think that’s a never-ending process of refinement and searching for greater things and at the time… It’s weird because there was this paradox. It was hard to not be proud of it, because you go everywhere and there’d be people singing it back and singing all the words and songs back to you and it was hard to be mad at the record because it was a affording us all these amazing opportunities and this amazing connection with so many people but then on the other hand, I was a little bit embarrassed and I thought maybe it had happened too quickly and we hadn’t really had the experience that we needed as a band.
And so I wasn’t in love with the record when we were going through that at the time but now I look back and I actually think it’s aged really well. It’s definitely… I don’t know if it’s my favorite Vaccines’ record. In terms of how it sounds to me now, I think it may be my favorite Vaccines’ record, not necessarily ’cause I think the song’s the best but just because there’s a complete… Aside from our new record, I should say obviously, ’cause that’s mind-blowing to me, how excited I am about that but if I’m honest with myself, I think there is a magic now that when I listened to that first record that I maybe couldn’t hear at the time and maybe you never really get back, I guess.
What was your vision going into this album? Did The Vaccines have intent behind it, and did that change throughout the writing and recording process?
Justin Young: There was always intent there. I think that definitely changed as well and it grew because I think that success is very intoxicating and also very… What’s the word I’m looking for? Eye-opening or something, so once you have a little bit of it, you want a lot of it and I don’t think when you start something, you’re ever expecting to get any at all and so I think that there was a degree of intent to begin with. I remember the unwritten kind of mantra or the unsaid sort of mantra, was… I just remember thinking and I think we all thought that there were all these kind of great bands that we were listening to at the time that felt like they had almost great pop songs or were almost great or something, or maybe were actually really great, but didn’t wanna be a huge band.
They were very left-leaning and I think that we were like, “Why don’t we take some of that DNA and mix it with our own and let’s not be as left-leaning as that, let’s not be as apologetic as that. Let’s try and fill arenas with this, let’s like… ” And I remember there was a quote at the time on that I think it was like the first NME cover we did, where it was like, “We want indie back in the charts,” or whatever and I think that was much maligned as a statement but I think that was kind of our MO, it was like let’s take all the stuff we love that is critically adored but commercially not really doing anything and let’s flip it and let’s try and become a huge band and playing what’s essentially like a nod and a wink to all this stuff that we love.
I always think back to Coldplay, whose first album Parachutes is still one of my favorite albums because it is just so raw. Where they signed to a major label? You betcha, but they didn't make that as a part of the system.
Justin Young: I know what you mean and I think, I remember at the time, we were talking to independent labels and stuff as well and it was just clear that our vision wasn’t aligned with theirs. They already had a dozen great bands in that lane or whatever that we could… Maybe we… I was gonna say that we could comfortably fill but I don’t think that’s true but that’s why we signed to Columbia because we thought it was the biggest, best record label in the world and we wanted world domination and I have to say that obviously to a degree we got it and obviously to a degree we didn’t. We didn’t become Coldplay, but we definitely achieved 10 times more than we ever thought we would.
I understand what you mean, and there's always this new album, isn't there?
Justin Young: There’s always this new album. Another roll of the dice.
That's incredible to hear about this album and it's very... I find some folks, like you were saying, find it off-putting to talk about wanting success, but anybody who puts out music is doing so because they want other people to hear it – to consume it.
Justin Young: Yeah, they wanna connect with people and they wanna connect, I think, with enough people, that it means they don’t have to go into work every day and to do a job they don’t wanna do and…
So when you're making this record, it's not in a vacuum. Was What Did You Expect all made before The Vaccines played a lot of live gigs, or were you already starting to get out there?
Justin Young: I think we had the majority of the record written before we did any shows, like certainly eight or nine of the songs would have been there before we’d even played a show. So I think intent really shifted though once we started playing live and once we saw that they were connecting with people and once people started writing about us and playing us on the radio. Then I think were were like “Oh! Okay.” ’cause we just thought we could maybe play like… I remember and again I said this before but I remember thinking it would be amazing if we could play the Barfly in London, which I think was like 200, 300 capacity and I was like, “That means if we can sell that out, it means we’re like a proper band. We’re an established band.” and needless to say, we did sell that out but then the shows kept bigger and bigger and bigger and then way beyond anything we ever imagined or dreamed of.
What were a couple of the first songs that you wrote for this record?
Justin Young: “If You Wanna”. I remember really well we had a practice space, actually around the corner from where I live, where I’m sitting right now. We had a practice space that it wasn’t ours. Our friend had a band and they had this practice space and they let us use it when they weren’t using it, for free and we went in the first day, we didn’t have any songs. So was I like I should probably try and write something for tomorrow and then I wrote the intro and the verse of “If You Wanna” and I then that drop-down, pre-chorus or bridge which goes like, “All alone, all alone… ” That kind of bit. That was like, maybe that could be a chorus or something and then I just remember day two, as a joke to try and make the others laugh, I started singing the chorus of “If You Wanna.” It just came out and they’re like, “That’s kinda good. We should keep that.” So that was day two of being in a band. [chuckle] I hear so many other stories like that where people’s biggest or best or best-loved songs just came so early on and so accidentally. Yeah.
I'll never forget how Guns N' Roses “Sweet Child O' Mine” began as a practice loop Slash used to play to warm up on guitar. What a great way to warm up, but it's also made me aware of what I’m playing, even when I'm just practicing! You never know what might come out.
Justin Young: Certainly. I know. What just sounds like a dumb practice loop to him…
…Yeah. Who knows? Was The Vaccines always the working title for the project?
Justin Young: Had other names. Our first demos were in my iTunes library as Young Mothers and then we just thought that didn’t really make sense. It wasn’t really reflective, obviously, of who we are or how the music sounded and then for a while, I think we played one show as The Catholics but then there was obviously the Frank Black thing and then we’re not Catholic. Not all that matters. Again, I think that in a way, the thing that’s great about The Vaccines is it is this kind of empty vial you can fill with whatever you want. So you can kinda become… And I just thought of that right then. That’s good, isn’t it? The name is kind of meaningless but you can fill it with whatever you want. So I think it’s not a particularly provocative name, if that makes sense but I quite like that.
Yeah. It becomes whatever sound you make – and you really do define that sound. One of the things that's stunning about your debut, I think, is the energy behind it. A lot of bands strive to capture this energy and you did it on the first go. Can you talk about the way in which you guys went about getting this big sound into such a small space?
Justin Young: Well, I remember we were petrified of not being able to capture the energy and we worked with Dan Grech, who’s an amazing producer and mix engineer but hadn’t made any particularly energetic or aggressive sounding records, so we were constantly, as a team – Dan included – we were constantly aware of the fact that we might fall short. So we were always going the extra mile. My friend gave me a little practice amp, like this big, a little Danelectro, probably cost like 25 quid. I think it was his dad’s and we used that on a lot of the record. It was broken. It was like blown-up. I recorded all the vocals on an SM58, which is not a studio. It’s like a mic you use to play live through an amp.
Again, I remember at the time feeling like it didn’t sound aggressive enough and we got Michael Brauer to mix it, who is a mixer for Coldplay’s records, like a big New York mix engineer, and it was coming out on Columbia and we were constantly fearful of compromising and like I said, I remember at the time being like, “This doesn’t sound particularly aggressive” or “It doesn’t sound lo-fi enough for my tastes.” Maybe aggressive, that’s not the right word but “rough around the edges” or something – but now I listen back and I’m like “Whoa!” I think it probably was, particularly when I hear the way those songs sound now and I’m like “Wow. That’s crazy that these songs got played on the radio.” [laughs]
Well, if you didn't think you were loud then, I think I can come to understand and appreciate a little bit how you ended up getting to Come of Age and English Graffiti, in terms of just wanting to get bigger and bigger in terms of the sound. I can appreciate it.
Justin Young: Totally. I think… No disrespect to anyone involved, but Come of Age still to me feels like a creative misstep and I’m really proud of English Graffiti. I’m proud of parts of Come of Age, but my feeling now is that it was too soon and that we weren’t really ready to know what kind of record we were supposed to make and I think there are good moments on that record but I sometimes wish I could erase it from our discography because I feel like we weren’t ready to make another record and I actually think that so much of what was great about us and what was that our call was kind of like these monotonous loops and this reverb and we stripped that back because we wanted to be a bigger band. That was against everything we’d stood for literally a year before and I sometimes kick myself for that.
I actually discovered you guys through the song “I Always Knew,” off Come of Age. That riff will always have a special place in my heart.
Justin Young: I actually love that song, funny enough, it’s probably… Maybe not as a bit of writing my favorite song on that record but certainly as a mood, it’s my favorite song on that record and I actually think of everything on that record. It’s something that has the biggest part of… It shares the most in terms of DNA with, I think, our strongest moments as a band and actually, I think there’s moments on the new record that kind of acknowledge, “I always knew this kind of sound and importance.”
It's one of those songs that, when you listen to it, you're surprised it didn't exist for 50 years.
Justin Young: Awesome.
What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? opens with the hard-hitting punk rock of “Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” and “If You Wanna,” which we've been talking about. Both of these songs have so much energy packed into a total of three and a half minutes. Why open this way?
Justin Young: I guess… You really have two choices when you open a record, you can start slow or fast. [chuckle] I think at the time, we wanted to make our intent known and again, this is well-documented but at the time, we were very much into ’50s rock and roll and ’60s pop and girl-group stuff and then hard-core punk. So much of our favorite music was like sub-two minutes and also coming from that iPod Touch generation of skipping through stuff and getting bored. Yeah. I don’t know. We just wanted to make a record for erratic minds or something. I don’t know.
I did the math on here. “Wreckin' Bar” is 81 seconds. “Nørgaard” is 98 seconds. It's incredible how short some of these songs are. Do you feel you've become more comfortable writing longer songs? At the same time, have you maintained an appreciation for a short two- or three-minute tune?
Justin Young: Definitely. Maybe it’s just an increased level of self-indulgence but I certainly don’t get bored. I can often write a song now that’s four and a half minutes and not be bored and be like, “Oh, my God. How did that happen?” But that being said, I think there’s at least one or two… There’s probably two songs on the new record that are early sub-three minutes. I quite like having a sub-three minute song on every Vaccines record. I think there is one so far.
Great Dane’s cheekbones
You’re a God-send
Do you want a boyfriend?
Crazy crazy, easy tiger
Her mind’s made up, she don’t want to go steady
She’s only 17, so she’s probably not ready
I saw you on a cover on cross bay boulevard
We talked a little bit about “If You Wanna.” It's your most popular song on streams by far. To what have you attributed this success? Why do you think people are attracted to this song?
Justin Young: Well, I think with any song’s popularity, it becomes kind of self-perpetuating and I think it’s now of an age where it’s nostalgia-inducing and I think… Can never underestimate that. I think the way music’s consumed now… I think that unless you’re lucky enough to have a record that has this kind of like a Zeitgeist moment, I think most people are essentially releasing new songs and new records and then best case scenario, two are making it into there, like that de facto, best-of basically. Because me too, when I listen to my favorite bands, there’s a 50% chance I’ll go to record but there’s also a 50% chance I’ll just hit play on the top song and so I think it does become this self-perpetuating thing but I don’t know, maybe for a certain group of people, it captured a moment and a mood and maybe it takes them back to that place. I think it’s a great indie rock song.
I definitely agree. So, you’ve been active for ten years’ time. What are some of the changes you've seen in the music industry over the past decade?
Justin Young: Ooh! That’s a tough one. I think for me, the most noticeable thing is how much music people have to release now before they’re given a shot at releasing a record. It seems to me and I’m not passing judgment here because I don’t really know what I think about it actually but it does seem to be the case now that people have to release like 11 singles and like three EPs before you get a record. Which is maybe a good thing but it’s obviously completely different to how it was a decade ago, when you kinda got signed by label and three to six months later you probably had your first record out.
I'm especially curious to hear your experience as a rock band. What's it been like to be a part of that scene?
Justin Young: Yeah. It’s been… It’s weird because I obviously think about this a lot, particularly as a music fan because it’s not… I don’t spend all day listening to rock music and I wonder if I was starting out now, if I’d start a rock band. I don’t know, because my musical journey would obviously have taken a very different path, probably from age eight upwards but I think in some respects, there’s a bit more of an open lane, [chuckle] less rock bands so I don’t know if that helps or hinders but I think that the whole time The Vaccines has been a band, rock music has remained largely obsolete culturally and particularly rock music that exists within its kind of self-imposed framework and we largely operate within that and I don’t always know why.
So that’s not necessarily a conscious choice. It’s just the synergy, it’s just what happens when the five of us make music. I don’t know, it’s just what feels natural and of course, we like pushing ourselves and trying to operate in a different… It’s really hard for me to talk about actually without kind of… I don’t know but I…
I know that rock music is very uncool and I know that it has… There’s a danger of it. Jazz essentially dad music basically and I think rock bands have a responsibility for that not to happen and then rock’s a very strange, almost like self-limiting way because I don’t know… I don’t even know what rock is anymore but maybe that’s actually a good thing. I don’t know. I don’t know. I really don’t know. [chuckle]
I feel the exact same way. You're clearly so passionate about it and you wanna talk about it, but like, “What are we talking about?”
Justin Young: Yeah. I haven’t spoken to enough people recently and my brain’s not functioning at 100%.
You're doing fine. Looking back now on your debut, do you feel like you succeeded in putting this one out and that it was, at the end of the day, right for The Vaccines and for your story?
Justin Young: Definitely, I’m so proud of it. I actually think it was perfect and it was a real moment for us as a band and individuals and it was this culmination of luck and hard work and the stars aligning. I’m really proud of that time. I probably wouldn’t really change a thing and I think it’s as successful… It connected on a level none of us could have possibly imagined. So I think, all things considered, yeah. I’m pretty damn proud of it.
You said earlier that this new music you're making has some echoes to the energy of “I Always Knew.” How important has What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? been throughout the past ten years for your career? Is it an album you as a band constantly look back on or reference when you're making new music?
Justin Young: I think, yeah again… The Ramones are one of my favorite bands, but I don’t wanna be the Ramones. You don’t wanna play the same riff over for 20 years and so I think that you’re always looking back but you’re quite… More often they’re not what you’re looking forward but if ever you’re looking back, it’s like, “Okay. How do we take that energy and that intent and that excitement?” If we put it all in a time machine, what would it sound like and feel like now? So I think that I’m quite often thinking about putting our old music in a time machine or in a blender and seeing what it would sound like now or in the future. ‘Cause I’m fascinated by our DNA. I’m fascinated by what makes U2, U2? Or I’m fascinated by what makes Coldplay, Coldplay or even the Beatles, the Beatles? I know it sounds dumb but like, or Madonna, Madonna or like Kanye, Kanye. What makes these people who they are when they’re constantly evolving and changing? It doesn’t matter. Like Radiohead too. It doesn’t matter how much they change, they’re always that artist at their core and so I’m fascinated by that and I think we all are but that’s…
Trying to find out what makes The Vaccines, The Vaccines. For you personally, do any other songs off What Did You Expect continue to stand the test of time today?
Justin Young: It’s funny, [chuckle] I really love “Family Friend” and it’s so simple that I don’t think I could ever write… I don’t think I’d ever allow myself to write something like that now because I’m too affected but it was in this Belushi film the other day… In the trailer for this Belushi Film and it was spliced with all this Belushi footage and, sexism aside, I’m a pretty big John Belushi fan. I was so proud and it looked and it felt so perfect. It just felt really anarchic and exciting and it felt like hearing it for the first time again. So that was quite a transportive experience.
We play them live and they evolve and so you have this energy… Sorry, you have this relationship with them live but I haven’t really listened to the record for years, so I don’t really even know what they sound like on the record but I know the relationship I have with them when we play live and the way they make me feel live and so, I think in that respect, they’ve all sort of got a special place in my heart because they allow us to connect with so many people.
Do you have any favorites from this batch that you particularly love performing?
Justin Young: I love playing “If You Wanna,” just because it always goes off. I love playing “Wetsuit”. That’s a really big live song. It’s funny, actually. I guess we’re going in deep ’cause it’s obviously about that record but “A Lack of Understanding” was never single or anything but I remember it was always one of my favorite songs and it’s kind of a fan favorite. Every now and again, we’ll pull it out the bag and people love that. I love that song.
That's fantastic. One of the questions I was going to ask you was about your relationship with this album as a whole, and if it's changed over the past decade. From what I'm hearing, it sounds like it's always, changing because the songs are still alive.
Justin Young: It’s always changing but I will say that, I’m a lot prouder of it now. I do think it’s aging well, in a way that I feared it wouldn’t – and I can’t obviously with 100% objectivity, but I definitely think it’s aging in a way that’s pleasing to me, which I suppose is in many ways the most important thing. I’m really proud of it and I love it in ways that I haven’t always been able to be throughout the years, and it’s given us a lot.
If you could go back and change this album now, would you touch it at all?
Justin Young: If I was still able to live everything that we lived through. Sure. Yeah. [chuckle]
You would touch it?! You would change something? What would you change?
Justin Young: Yeah, of course! Yeah, I would. I don’t have enough time for that. Who am I kidding? [laughs] I wouldn’t do that. I don’t always love my voice on it.
You could always pull a Taylor Swift and re-record it all.
Justin Young: Exactly. Or a Jeff Lynne, who I think… Someone told me he’s re-recording all the old and she’s got good reason to I suppose, but… I’m not sure I do.
One of the things I really appreciate about The Vaccines is that you've experimented with your sound a lot over the past decade. Then 2018 comes around and we have Combat Sports, which a lot of people hailed as a “return to form.”
Justin Young: I didn’t like that. I really hated that umbrella term that was being used. I was trying to find the source of it. I was like, I hope that wasn’t in our biography, ’cause it got used on everything but I felt like it was a slightly misleading intro.
Because it suggests that you were somehow not in form for the past however many years?
Justin Young: Right. To me it felt like defeatist or something. Like we’d tried a few things and we realized that it didn’t really serve us very well, so we’re just gonna go back to playing it safe, which wasn’t at all the situation. I just hoped that people didn’t misinterpreted it as such.
Is being in a band for eight years really long enough to say it's a “return to form”? I imagine you don't want to pinpoint your sound, but would you say there's a particular approach or philosophy that defines the band?
Justin Young: Yeah, I suppose. I don’t know. Again, I think that’s constantly evolving and being refined and we’re constantly reacting. I do think at our core there is this kind of kinetic, frenetic sort of energy and excitement and simplicity. Maybe there’s like a euphoria there or something. I don’t know. Is that happy? Sad? It’s another thing I think of a lot and I don’t know. Again, I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m not sure. More questions than answers for you, unfortunately.
It's fun to look back on something like this – I don't know if you did any preparation knowing that we were going to be talking about the album today.
Justin Young: Do you know, I didn’t, because I just thought it’s so indelibly marked in my mind, even though I haven’t had to talk about it for a very long time. I think that even though we’re marking the occasion, I don’t think we’re gonna go too heavy on the press and stuff. So it’s really nice to talk to you about it, ’cause I don’t know how many people I am gonna talk to about it, to be honest to you.
Well, I appreciate it, thanks! One of the key aspects of this record, I think, is how fun it is. It's a big explosion of energy. Every time you hear this record, it’s an onslaught of electric guitars and a voice yelling in your ear, essentially –a good kind of yelling.
Justin Young: Yes, yes. I appreciate that. Thank you.
We’ve eluded to the phrase “classic Vaccines,” and I hate to use the term, but you're forever defined in part by your debut album. From your perspective, is that a good thing?
Justin Young: Well, I think we’re lucky enough to have a record to be defined by. Ultimately, you constantly want to do bigger and better things. I think if we didn’t believe we couldn’t, then we wouldn’t still be a band. I think we feel like we are better in every respect at the moment and we’re energized and in some ways that feels like being a new band but I think just the very fact that we have a record that, to some people, does define us, means that we’ve done something right. So, I think that’s pretty fucking cool, actually.
I would agree. One of the things that's interesting to think about is that this new upcoming LP will be your first one of your second decade. You've hit a big milestone and now it's like a new chapter...
Justin Young: I’m scared.
It's only scary if you want it to be! Is this a pre-pandemic record?
Justin Young: It’s a pre-pandemic record. We obviously mixed it and mastered it last year and we did some additional production and actually, I haven’t told anyone this, that’s for sure. We did finish it pre-pandemic but we did write and record one extra song last year. So there is one song… It’s not really… It’s certainly not reflective of the pandemic. [chuckle] It was a pandemic-era song, I guess.
I have mixed feelings about people calling different things “pandemic records” – I don't care for it; I just don't.
Justin Young: It will be… Well, I suppose it’s like BC AD, isn’t it? That’s how we’re gonna be referring to things now.
Oy, right. So I spoke to Irish band The Coronas earlier last year, and I’m speaking to The Vaccines this year. When's the collaboration coming?!
Justin Young: Good question! I think they’ve ridden that storm out now, haven’t they? It’s become a germ but over there it’s become COVID now, so I think that they’re on safer ground now. [chuckle] I felt for them at the time… My heart went out to them, but I think they’ve ridden the storm.
They're a great band – as are The Vaccines! Justin, it's been fantastic. Congratulations on ten years of a fantastic debut.
Hopefully 2022 will be ours and everyone will be vaccinated and we’ll be the most popular Vaccines again.
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📸 © Roger Sargent
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