Last Thursday's U.S. debut was only the beginning for The Vaccines. Since August, the U.K. four-piece have been generating great buzz on both sides of the pond. The reason is simple -- straight-forward, enthusiastic pop-rock songs that are classic as well as catchy.
The group consists of lead singer Justin Young, Freddie Cowan on guitar, Árni Hjörvar on bass and Pete Robertson. Together they have their debut album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, ready for your ears. As you probably know, this isn't Young's first stab at music, having done solo work under the name Jay Jay Pistolet.
Before their Bowery show, I talked to Justin about finding the band's identity and the crafting some of the most exciting new music of the year. I would like to welcome Justin Young to this space.
Obviously, a lot has happened since the last time I saw you.
You can say that.
Were you satisfied with the music you making before you started the Vaccines?
I never was. I was always searching for that satisfaction. It seemed that other people were more excited about my music than I was.
Was there also frustration that your style of singer-songwriter folk music wasn’t taking off?
I was frustrated that nothing was happening. I was questioning whether that style of music was right for me.
You and Freddy decided to form this new band. Did you have a clear idea of what the band wanted to sound like?
Not at all. It wasn’t calculated. It happened quite naturally. We actually decided not to play our main instruments to see what we can come up with. I was on keyboards and Freddy was on bass. Ironically, the birth of the Vaccines didn’t include any guitars. Freddy wanted to change to guitar and I didn’t want the band to be guitar-based. It’s funny how we gradually got to where we are today.
You could have been like Keane, a guitar-less band.
[Laughs] Yeah, that would have interesting.
Were you still writing songs when you finished with your solo work?
Yes. To be honest, I’m still writing songs the same way. I start with an acoustic guitar or piano. I do like dynamic, challenging music, but I’m a firm believer that to make direct pop music, it has to sound good in a basic form. I like writing in that stripped down form before we dress it up.
"Wreckin’ Ball" was the first song I heard from the band. It has tremendous drive and has that stadium anthem quality where you can feel a massive amount of people shouting along. Do you get that feeling as well?
I hope so. When I first wrote it, I did feel rather excited about what it can become.
"The angels gave us F. Scott Fitzgerald, the evening news and the morning herald." That’s pretty awesome. I hate asking this, but where did you come up that? It sounds like a stream of consciousness.
Quite often I’m sort of thoughtful when it comes to writing and I want the song to mean something to me, but that was a stream of consciousness.
The songs you’ve created are direct and to the point. Many of the songs on the album are under two minutes. "Norgaard" is another song that’s short and is very much in that 60s garage rock sound. Did you ever feel that you need to give some of these songs a little more length?
Not at all. Those two are the shortest ones. The last one ("Family Friend") is about six minutes long. We didn’t feel the need to mess around with the songs. We didn’t realize how short some of these songs were until we recorded in the studio. They feel complete. And the long ones didn’t feel that they needed to be shortened. The length of songs seem secondary to us.
Is there a song on the album you are particularly proud of?
I’m trying to think … There are a couple I enjoy playing live. A Lack of Understanding came out really well. It’s hard to say what you're proud of because you're completely involved with creating the music.
This album came together quickly. Was that by intention?
Yeah. We wanted to capture what the band was at the time. There was a lot of energy and excitement early on. We had been working on the songs a long time before we introduced ourselves. A few of them fell by the waist-side. We had 11-12 songs that we felt were ready to be recorded, so we wanted to hit the studio right away.
You ended up with a 29-minute album, so I guess your set is about 20-25 minutes long?
Yeah, around that. I think for the U.S. shows we’ll play a few b-sides and maybe a cover. You got any suggestions?
You can’t go wrong with Fleetwood Mac.
Maybe. Which song?
“Dreams” is the first song that pops in my head, but I think for “Tusk” is more suited for you.
Okay, we have a few hours before the show to learn that. [laughs]
Let me tell you how I found about the band. I was in London at Rough Trade East. I was chatting with the staff about what’s good and what to look for. They brought up that you had started a new band and that the songs you had were really solid. Then I went to Brussels, and I was chatting to some people and they brought up The Vaccines. So I said, “Wow, that’s twice in 3 days somebody has mentioned that band to me.” I think by the time I got back to the U.S., you had already been signed and you hadn’t even played a proper gig yet. That first gig you had, people were lined up around the block. That must have been a good feeling.
Yeah, It was a new feeling as well. The great thing was that everybody wanted to be there. For me, it doesn’t matter how big the room is, as long as people show up. It’s a really good feeling to play to a room full of people.
It’s also different for you before now you’re the lead singer in a rock band and you have to sort of play the part. Before, it was just you and a guitar. It’s a different vibe in terms of the response.
Indeed. I think it boils down to creativity as well. No matter what you do as writer, artists or whatever, you need to change up and do the opposite of what you were doing. Sooner or later, you’ll come to a dead end in your creativity. So for me, it was just feels fresh to be in this band.
Was there a point where you realized that the band was going to take off and succeed?
I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re sort of in limbo right before the album comes out. It feels more and more likely as the days go on. It is really exciting now. We feel good about the album and hopefully everything remains fun and people are enjoying themselves at the gigs.
Do you have any hopes or aspirations for this year?
We do want to work hard at being a really good live band. Hopefully people will connect to the album, and maybe we can start to think about a second album by the end of the year.
What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? doesn't have a U.S. release date yet. In the U.K., the album will be out March 21st. The band will be at SXSW, but no further U.S. dates have been planned as of yet. Once I know, you'll know.