The Vaccines: “We love success, even if it means knocking people down”

The Vaccines frontman Justin Young is feeling rather groggy after a grueling bus ride to Wales, but is compliant as he chats to PERRI CASSIE about the haters, coming of age, and DIY denim.

As one of the more recent bands to suffer from the NME double-edged sword of hype, The Vaccines overnight success has seen the band winning over new fans and fighting off the haters simultaneously. Following their self-deprecating debut What Else Did You Expect Did You Expect From The Vaccines? the group returned earlier this year with a maturer second album Come Of Age barely a year after the debut album.

They’re no strangers to Australia with their New Years visit for the Falls, Southbound and Field Day festivals (plus a few sideshows) marking their third visit here in just 18 months after their earlier visits with the Big Day Out and Splendour.

Hello Justin, how are you?

[Gruffly] I’m good, I’m good. I just got to Cardiff for our UK tour, it’s like 9:30am so I’ve just woken up, I’m a bit dazed and confused but I’m good. [Laughs] I just hope my answers make sense.

You’ve said recently that you consider The Vaccines to be a small pop band, as opposed to an indie band that got big. For you, what separates the two?

I suppose perception really – how people choose to perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. A lot of people call us indie and I think it’s quite a loaded word and I think it’s not really relevant to what we’re doing. I mean we’re on Columbia Records and have ambitions and aspirations and don’t think we’re independently minded so to speak – our mindset isn’t “Oh we can’t do this, we can’t do that”. We just want to play to as many people as possible and go to as many places as possible. And I think we’re sort of naturally inclined to write pop songs instead of more challenging satiric songs. Indie has begun to mean music that sounds a certain way, and I don’t think we have much in common with that sound.

“I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anything in the name of creativity.”

Your comments on Rihanna being as important as Radiohead have caused a bit of a stir, a lot of [Vaccines’ guitarist] Freddie Cowan’s statements about the charts and pop artists conflict with that in a way, are you happy with current climate of pop music?

Yeah I suppose. I think someone slightly misunderstood what Freddie meant, I think there’s always good pop music and bad pop music – and Rihanna is an example of good pop music. I think what’s bad at the moment is this kind of stoic homogenisation, where you listen to pop radio stations and everything is produced in the same way, everything is mixed in the same way, everything is mastered in the same way and it’s pushed really hard and it all sounds alike. But in terms of artists and songs and stuff I think there’s some great pop music out there.

So if Rihanna is an example of good pop music, who is an example of bad pop music?

[Laughs] Oh I don’t know about that, that’s too subjective isn’t it. I don’t really like talking about other people, because then it gets pulled and I get in trouble [laughs].

Would you ever consider a Coldplay-style collaboration with a pop act like Rhinna?

I’d consider it if the song was right, we’ve definitely considered [it]. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anything in the name of creativity.

Who would it ideal be with?

I love Lady Gaga.

How have The Vaccines “come of age” since What Else Did You Expect Did You Expect From The Vaccines??

I think there’s a much sort of deeper connection between ourselves as musicians and we’re better songwriters, better players, better live. When you write songs together everyday I guess you’d hope that you’d progress along that path. I feel like we’re becoming a better band, and we made a better record in Come of Age, and I think we’ll make a better one next time around, and I feel like we are just growing as a band, and we’ll keep going at it.

I’m into denim cut offs at the moment too, how did you choose this as the look for your current tour? Do you cut the sleeves off denim jackets, or do you cheat and buy them in-store?

Yeah I cheat and buy mine… no, wait! I cut the sleeves off mine, but I’ve fucking lost it and it’s really annoying. I think often it’s good, I did it myself, and now I’ve started cutting the ends of my jeans, which has been a bit interesting. I basically went a bit mad and cut up like five pairs and now they’re all overly mutilated. I have to say the matching denim doesn’t really work for me.

You’ve obviously enjoyed Australia, because this will be your third time here in 18 months, what’s been your favourite experience on our shores so far? And what are you hoping for on your next trip?

It’s just been a really great experience coming in your summer when it’s our winter at home and it’s all fucking doom and gloom. Everyone comes out and people are happy and excited that it’s summer and I feel everyone is more up to party when it’s warmer. Australia, I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I do, but we’ve just had so much fun there

So you used to be a folk singer I understand, is that something you’ve kind of turned your back on these days, or do you still do stuff for yourself in your own time?

Not really because I still write in a very similar sort of way, like I still write using the same feelings, and I write on an acoustic guitar so it’s basically the same. So while they may get dressed up and stuff, the actual creative process hasn’t actually changed.

Would you ever consider doing some solo stuff now that you have a claim to your name?

I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but I’m so focused on the band at the moment.

You’ve been quoted as saying you wish you could re-record the first album, what would have you have done differently to it?

I think a lot of bands would feel the same, it’s just because the songs grow and evolve and change as you’re playing them over and over again night after night. I feel like they’ve become different songs now to when we recorded them, I think they were a bit soft and now they’ve got a bit more bite and I’d just love to go in and redo them, and see what they sound like.

You have had three major operations on your throat, what sort of lifestyle changes have you had to make since the procedures?

I try not to go out if we’ve got a show the next night, and if I do then I take it easy. I have all these warm-ups now too. I guess at the end of the day I guess I’ve just got to take what we’re doing seriously because before I was just sort of naive. So I have to take it easier, like someone said to me “you have to remember you’re a vocalist”.

You had a quick turn around on records, and I’ve seen that you openly admire the olden days where people were releasing an album a year, is that something you want for The Vaccines?

Obviously we don’t want to rush records, and bands spend a lot more time on tour these days which makes it a lot harder to do. There are all these label release plans and touring commitments and stuff. We’ll release an album in six months if we’ve got a better one, and we’ll wait six years if we don’t. We felt ready to make another record, we believed it was a better one and couldn’t wait for people to hear it. So when we feel we have an albums worth of songs we’ll put them out.

“We love success, even if it means knocking people down.”

The Vaccines have their loyal fans, but they also seem to have a group of people who are actively aggressive about you? What do you think that comes down to? Is it the cost of early success? And does it bother you?

Yeah I think that’s exactly what it is. People don’t like being told what to like and I think the way we came about, which was quite quickly, I think people were suspicious and stuff like that. We love success, even if it means knocking people down. But when you’re playing to however many hundred or however many thousand people a night; it doesn’t really keep me awake at night.

You were compared to The Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys, or any band NME could draw minor similarities to, was that annoying?

It was flattering but annoying at the same time, I mean those things you can’t really control; I think we were just grateful to have people talking about us after spending so much time as musicians in the wilderness. Whatever people said about us, good or bad, it was always about the music and people came to the shows and it turned into something real, and that’s proof enough that we’re a big band, and we’re a band where it doesn’t matter what people say.

The Vaccines tour:

Saturday, December 29 – Festival Hall, Melbourne (w/ Two Door Cinema Club)

Sunday, December 30 – Falls Festival, Lorne

Monday, December 31 – Falls Festival, Marion Bay

Tuesday, January 1 – Field Day, Sydney

Thursday, January 3 – Hordern, Sydney

Friday, January 4 – Southbound, Bussleton

Monday, January 7 – Tivoli, Brisbane (w/ Two Door Cinema Club)

Tuesday, January 8 – Tivoli, Brisbane (w/ Two Door Cinema Club)