More about: The Vaccines
“‘If You Wanna’ was written about one person,” says Justin Young of the decade-old song that is still The Vaccines’ biggest. “But” he adds, “throughout the years, I’ve stood on stage thinking about various people [when singing it].”
Many of The Vaccines’ songs are songs of lust and love, but ten years is a long time and Justin Young hasn’t had just one partner since the band’s beginnings in the 2010’s. “The reason why one song speaks to hundreds, thousands or millions of people is because they’re almost like these empty emotional vessels that get filled” he says. Even for the songwriter himself, cuts like ‘If You Wanna’, ‘Want You So Bad’, ‘I Always Knew’, ’Your Love Is My Favourite Band’ and, with their latest album Back In Love City, ‘Headphones Baby’, can mean whatever you want them to.
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Love, of course, is in the very title of the band’s fifth album, which completed a solid five-out-of-five streak by hitting the Top Five in the UK charts last week. In it, thirteen new tracks join a discography of emotional vessels that fans have been filling for the past decade. This time around, The Vaccines paint a candy-coloured backdrop on which to cast their shadows, providing an adventurous, spaghetti-Western record that returns them to the kind of heady youthfulness of their debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
“We felt rejuvenated and inspired and excited” Justin says of the run-up to recording Back In Love City: “We were ready to get in and capture some of that positivity”. Following the “struggle” that was the making of 2018’s Combat Sports, The Vaccines eventually came up with something they were “really happy with” and soon embarked on two years of touring it. “We really fell in love with touring and each other again" Justin says of that space between Combat Sports and now: "We fell in love with being a band again. Every day felt like an adventure”.
Back In Love City is the natural end to that rejuvenated love. The natural, futuristic, thrilling, sugar-high end. “I sort of imagine [Love City] looking and feeling a little bit like Tokyo” Justin muses, “and being somewhere like Vegas or Tijuana: a mega-metropolis in the desert”.
Towards the beginning, when What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?—which itself tracked like a fantastically dramatic night out in Manchester or London—power-jumped the band into the limelight, things became a little more Scunthorpe for a while. “The reality of being in The Vaccines suddenly hit and with it came anxiety and fear and, strangely, anger and resentment. A lot of our mental state was dictated by fear and anxiety” Justin tells me. “Once the eyes of the world started watching we didn’t really know how to deal with that. All of a sudden everything started to feel quite real.”
“If you’ve only been in a band for six months and you read, even just a comment under a YouTube video: ‘this band will be nowhere in 6 months’…that’s fucking shit. We let a lot of that fear dictate a much bigger chunk of our lives and creativity than it should have done.”
Happily, the albums that came in the years following that initial uncertainty proved any ill-wishers wrong: Come Of Age (2012), English Graffiti (2015), Combat Sports (2018) and Back In Love City (2021) all charted in the UK Top Five. All statistical winners, some of these albums have been received more warmly into the hearts of the population than others: English Graffiti, I point out, is rarely cited as a favourite, though it is a solid release—in its brooding, stylish varnish, arguably one of their best.
“We had really big aspirations for English Graffiti and we were definitely disappointed at the time that it wasn’t a bigger record” Justin agrees, “but I think something that I always try and remind myself of is that great music doesn’t last the duration of release week. It outlasts the people who make it; good music lasts forever”. He considers for a moment, before continuing: “We exist in a time when what we do is slightly out of step with the tastes of not just the mainstream but counter-culture as well. I have faith than in 20, 30, 40, 50 years people will still be discovering different songs on those records and going ‘wow this is crazy! I can’t believe this wasn’t a bigger song!’”.
There are many a song within The Vaccines remit that this could absolutely happen to: Justin’s output as a lyricist and creator of melodies is quite extraordinary. There’s nary a skip among his band’s entire back catalogue and the creative juices continue to need additional receptacles to flow into. Even when Justin is driving, he’s thinking of lyrics and ideas. “I was in Cornwall with Tim and Johan this weekend. I was driving, and every two minutes I was like: ‘Johan can you write this down in my phone for me?’” One can only assume Johan is used to it: “I’m really obsessive about any idea. If you were someone that wanted to go to the beach and look for fossils, you wouldn’t walk past it if you found one, would you? That’s how I feel about lyrics when they come to me. I’m very obsessive about writing them down”.
While rhythms, lyrics, ideas are repeated throughout these albums—as any one individual is bound to do—Justin and The Vaccines still achieve a distinctive persona for each song and the albums that contain them. “But”, he adds, “I definitely think a lot of the themes and ideas I’m exploring lyrically on this record are not new. Even though you change a lot over the course of many years, it’s funny the sort of meanings and ideas you constantly get drawn towards.” ‘Paranormal Romance’ for example, may remind fans of Come Of Age single ‘Teenage Icon’ thanks to its rhythmic comparison between what Justin is—and what he wishes he was. Back In Love City lead track ’Headphones Baby’ meanwhile, smacks of the metaphors explored in Combat Sports track ‘Your Love Is My Favourite Song’. “You talk about English Graffiti” Justin adds: “That was very much a record about connection and misconnection—as is Back in Love City”.
Connections to the past, to the future, between old memories and new romances, The Vaccines are not satisfied only in being one of our finest live bands, but are forging a confident path towards becoming one of our most reliably-catchy hit machines too. If you’ve ever danced around your room performing a Vaccines song into the mirror, perhaps using a hairbrush as a microphone, perhaps turning the music up a little too loud a little too late, then you should know that, à l'Alone Star': you are not alone. Many of us have done it. Justin Young did it himself, though not to The Vaccines songs of course.
As a teenager, it was grunge (“Nirvana changed my life”), tracks palmed from The OC soundtrack and second generation-emo that had him performing alone at home. “When I was a teenager and listening to music in my bedroom I didn’t spend much time learning guitar. I spent a lot more time dancing around with a hairbrush essentially” he says. “There’s an incredible catharsis [in it] for me….letting go and being transported somewhere completely different. Being made to feel something different, finding that euphoria and sadness, completely letting go in ways that you can’t in any other way of life”.
Now armed with a great many songs of his own—songs that he can sing into a real microphone in front of crowds of thousands—Justin feels "incredibly lucky" to be able to continue playing live. As new generations become old enough to fill the emotional vessels that are The Vaccines' songs, an ever-growing legion of music fans await more records and fill venues around the country. With songs like these, the possibilities are endless.
See The Vaccines live:
14 - Manchester, O2 Victoria Warehouse
16 - Leeds, O2 Academy Leeds
18 - Portsmouth, Portsmouth Guildhall
19 - Birmingham, O2 Academy
21 - London, SSE Arena Wembley
23 - Newcastle, O2 City Hall
24 - Glasgow, Barrowland Ballroom
Back In Love City is out now.
More about: The Vaccines