It’s been over ten years since The Vaccines released their debut album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? and were proclaimed as the band to bring guitar music back from the so-called brink. While this label has been a kiss of death for many bands, The Vaccines peddled hard and established their name as a leading light of the genre. Now, reflecting on the journey, they are in a place where they feel more assured in their abilities than ever before.
Despite their undoubted success, the last decade hasn’t been plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination, and they almost split up following the departure of founding member Pete Robertson in 2016. Still, that spanner in the works gifted The Vaccines with a new-found resilience, spurring them on to create their most complete record since their debut in the shape of the 2018 effort Combat Sports. Since then, there’s been a new-filled sense of liberation that has oozed out of every release, and since that flight or fight moment, The Vaccines have continued to come out swinging.
My conversation with frontman Justin Hayward-Young arrives just a matter of days after their debut album celebrated its 10th birthday, with the singer insisting that “it definitely does” feel like a decade. “I’ve been speaking to people that were there at the time, kind like band members, producers, engineers and managers about all that sort of stuff over text,” Hayward-Young reflects. “Everyone’s been like, ‘Ah, I can’t believe it was ten years ago,’ but I sort of can because it does feel like a long time ago. I feel like the last four years have been one month long, but the six years before that feels like a decade ago.”
The Vaccines’ sharp rise to becoming the most-talked-about new band in the country felt as though it occurred overnight, with the group performing on Jools Holland before they’d even released an official single. Underground hype spread like wildfire about the band, and when they did eventually release their debut single, ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’, Zane Lowe named it as the ‘Hottest Record In The World’ on his Radio 1 show, and the band soon signed a deal with Columbia.
“It was a whirlwind,” Hayward-Young recalls. “It was very exciting. Very scary. I suppose like a lot of those things when you’re in the kind of eye of the storm. It’s this paradox of feeling more extreme and weird than you ever imagined, and then at the same time, it all feeling very normal.”
On being dubbed the saviours of guitar music, the frontman admits: “I think there was a lot of pressure, and I think that was tough, but it was exciting, too. There was this kind of mix of emotions, you know, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Following their debut album, The Vaccines didn’t waste any time before delivering 2012’s follow-up, Coming Of Age, which was a bigger production fit with arena-ready anthems that parachuted them to the next level. In 2013, they headlined London’s O2 Arena with indie-royalty The Walkmen supporting. To compound their meteoric rise, a support slot for The Rolling Stones arrived during the same summer, less than three years after their first tour.
It would be three years between Coming Of Age and their third effort, English Graffiti. The album is a genre-mixing piece of work that saw The Vaccines prove there was plenty more in their repertoire than people previously assumed and saw them get more expansive than ever. While it was a pleasing effort, one which showed that they were more complex than first meets the eye, Robertson’s departure the following year would leave the band briefly questioning whether they were to life as a group, but they knew what they had was too good to throw in the gutter.
“Being in a band, it’s a family, and it’s a job, and it’s a hobby, and it’s a passion,” Hayward-Young expalined. “As with all of those things, you have these ups and downs and periods of reflection and questioning periods. That was definitely a low moment for the band, but since then, I felt like it’s slowly but surely just been getting up and up to get to a point now, where I feel more excited and more proud of what we’re doing then really ever before.
“It was a tough time. I think morale was low, Pete leaving, I guess is testament to that, and we were probably a bit of a crossroads really, I guess we had to say whether or not we wanted to split up or, or keep going,” he honestly added.
After emerging from that experience, the shackles were firmly off, and The Vaccines dived in to create Combat Sports with a renewed vigour, an exercise which paid off on the record. The album wasn’t The Vaccines attempting to hide away from who they are through experimentation, a criticism that was aimed at English Graffiti, but instead, it was a celebration of their identity and saw them strut their stuff buoyantly.
“For the first couple of years, we put so much pressure on ourselves, and we felt so much pressure, and so much of that actually was just coming from us,” Hayward-Young says on the band’s collective epiphany. “I suppose it took Pete leaving to realise that that, it’s all just like fun, really, and we’re like, so lucky to be able to do it.
“Even playing shows, you know,” the singer reminisces. “I remember there was a time when I beat myself up so much about not being good enough that it would stop me from being able to enjoy it. It got to a point like a couple of years ago; I was like, fuck it, just go out and have fun every single night. Every city, you go to try and go somewhere, or do something or meet someone that is exciting, interesting and challenging. The same for the show; just go out and have fun every night. Don’t worry if your guitar cuts out halfway through a song or you fuck up a lyric; none of that really matters. Just have fun.”
Chasing fun has been a simple yet effective mantra that has oozed out of the creative exploits of Hayward-Young across the last four years. In 2020, he shared the debut album with his side-project, Halloweens, alongside Vaccines bandmate Timothy Lanham. Making music outside of the group’s parameters has been an exhilarating experience for the duo, one which can only help The Vaccines in the long run as he can flex a different part of his musical brain to the one that’s active when he’s in the studio with the band.
In 2019, they recorded their upcoming album, but the last twelve months has seen them tweak it, and it’s now ready to be unleashed. Hayward-Young speaks with an infectious exuberance about the record, despite the difficulties faced in the last twelve months.
“We’ve added a song to it, and we’ve just been doing like loads of additional production. It’s allowed us to refine it and put a few like cherries on top as it were. Even though we finished it over a year ago now, it’s definitely a better record now than it was this time last year. We’re not really sitting on it now. We’re getting going; we’ve shot a video, we’ve taken photos, we’re getting ready to go now. So it feels exciting.
“I do think it’s our best record, of course, I think it’s it’s a lot, it’s got the heaviest moments maybe ever, it’s got a lot more fast moments, but it’s also much more pop in a lot of ways. In a weird way, I feel like it’s an amalgamation of all of our records if that makes sense, but the first thing we’re releasing is probably the poppiest thing on it, then there’s some like pretty, like face-melting moments on it too. There’s like eight or nine of the songs have riffs, which is quite rare for us,” Hayward-Young said with a tangible sense of excitement in his voice.
Earlier this month, The Vaccines whetted the appetite of their fans’ thirst for new music by sharing their delectable new EP, Cosy Karaoke Vol. 1, via AWAL/Jägermeister Musik. This release provided the band with an opportunity to momentarily escape the monotony of lockdown life, handing their supporters a bone to chew on as they patiently await the first offering from album five.
Of course, being called The Vaccines amid a global pandemic hasn’t been an ideal scenario, but Hayward-Young is relieved that the online onslaught of shit jokes hasn’t been as prevalent as he expected. “There are a few jokes, and there’s a few mistakes, people thinking that we are a big pharma company or something on Twitter. But it’s not too bad, and I anticipated it being a lot worse, actually.”
The fifth album from one of British indie music’s monoliths arguably isn’t the most priority vaccine in 2021. However, if Hayward-Young’s optimism about the record is anything to go by then, it’s another reason to be cheerful, and something to tantalisingly look forward to later this year.
The Vaccines are hosting a competition with Jägermeister offering fans a chance to win a record player by creating a DIY one. To enter, simply send your effort to [email protected] and tag The Vaccines/Jägermeister or use #FunnelOfLove on a social media post by midnight (GMT) on March 23rd. All entrants must be aged 18 or over.
For more information, head here.