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TAS In Session (SXSW Band): The Vaccines


The Vaccines  are not only causing a stir back in the UK, but the London-based indie rock quartet has also managed to kick off a mighty buzz in the States. It's fair to say that they're one of the most anticipated bands to hit the SXSW Music Festival in Austin this week.

These post-punkish, pop-loving blokes, who released an EP Stateside earlier this month with three tracks, including "Post Break-Up Sex,"  will drop their debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? on May 31 via Columbia Records

Not long ago The Vaccines - Justin Young (vocals, guitar), Árni Hjörvar (bass), Freddie Cowan (guitar), Pete Robinson (drums) - visited The Alternate Side and chatted with Eric Holland about their love of The Zombies, misquoted lyrics and the place of politics in their music.

If you happen to be at SXSW and want to see the band, they'll be playing the following announced gigs, subject to change:
March 16 - Emo's, 5 p.m.
March 16 - Club DeVille, 10 p.m.
March 17 - Cedar St. Courtyard, 3 p.m.
March 18 - Stubbs, 2:20 p.m.
March 18 - Stubbs, 8:30 p.m.


Eric Holland: Tremendous excitement about you guys. Your first show in New York was at the Bowery Ballroom.

Justin Young: It was the biggest show we’d ever done, capacity-wise.

Eric: That’s a 550 person venue. I’d assume you’d start at Mercury Lounge.

Justin: We actually did, but we sold it out, unbelievably. So they bumped us up, it was amazing.

Eric: Your first single was “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” which came out around Thanksgiving and you’ve got a new single called “Post Breakup Sex.” Justin, there’s an F. Scott Fitzgerald reference in there?

Justin: That’s true, yeah.

Eric: And I learned at your show that you must dig Minor Threat. A couple of touchstones there. Was there a Gang of Four reference in a song you did?

Justin: That’s also true.

Eric: It’s fun to spot those clues about important bands for a group. Tell us about that.

Justin: Well, I don’t like Gang of Four. That was a reference to it actually. But I love Minor Threat. We’re not actually a punk band, we’re really a pop band but what I like about all that early 80s DC hardcore is not just what they play but how they play it and I think a really important thing for us as a band is, when we were starting and now as well, is to play things with conviction, energy and excitement and I think that goes a long way. I think as well, with punk rock and hard core and whatever, the songs are simple. They’re completed by the energy and the way they’re played as opposed to getting caught up in creating masterpieces. They’re just sort of about having fun, releasing energy and being positive. That’s sort of what we try to do with our music as well.

Eric: Can we draw a line from Minor Threat to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements?

Justin: Yeah, well, I’m not so much into Hüsker Dü but I like The Replacements. I don’t know. There’s lots of bands we like. Hardcore is not a massive influence on the band. We like so much music and I don’t think we’re really a punk rock band at all. It’s something that has influenced us.

Eric: You could say a band like The Ramones was between punk and pop. They really married the two.

Justin: Exactly. And another band that keeps coming up when people talk about us is The Jesus and Mary Chain and that’s another band who loved all of that perfect pop from the 50s and 60s, the same way The Ramones did. And the same way that we do. We love 50s rock ‘n’ roll and all of the 60s girl groups. Just the idea of mixing that kind of punk rock ethos, not necessarily in life, but playing with perfect pop songs, catchy upbeat pop songs.

Eric: Back to that F. Scott Fitzgerald mention. I know a lot of musicians are inspired by other musicians, but also writers and painters. What about you?

Justin: To be honest my attention span … well, these guys read a lot. Árne is always reading. My attention span is too short to read as much as I should. But F. Scott Fitzgerald, I really like him because of the universe he creates. I believe it, I buy into it and I’m a bit of a romantic, so that’s perfect for me. In the same way that you listen to a song and you feel that you can relate to the character in the song. When I read literature that’s what I sort of look for. Something I can relate to. I can’t really escape with it because my mind’s active. You read, don’t you Árne?

Árne Hjörvar: It sounds like you’re telling me off!

Justin: No, I’m not!

Árne: You read. You’re so boring (laughs).

Eric: You’re a London band and I learned that Árne, you’re from Iceland. Did you move to London to find these guys? Were you looking for bandmates?

Árne: Yeah, I moved to London because it’s a logical step from Iceland if you want to go anywhere out of the country.

Eric: And Justin, you grew up in the city?

Justin: No, I grew up outside the city. Freddie grew up in the city, Pete outside of the city as well.

Eric: I spent some some time in London when I was in college in Notting Hill Gate and I loved the vibe of the city. Saw bands like Wedding Present. How’s London these days?

Justin: It’s really good. It’s still a hub of creativity and it’s an incredible place for musicians and artists. That’s why I went to London and Árne and Pete went to London. And why Freddie didn’t leave. It’s as good as ever if not better. It’s thriving in the same way that any big city should.


Eric: [The lyrics] in “Wreckin’ Bar” - is that getting into the class structure?

Justin: No not really. It’s just a lot of opportunity, I suppose. But not necessarily about class. It’s an interesting point.

Eric: I feel like in English society that’s always a presence even though there’s myriad problems in the States that’s not one of our things.

Justin: Yes, you don’t have a class system like we do, but to be honest, the class system in the UK isn’t really an issue or a problem. I think it’s kind of romantic. Meritocracy has been thriving for at least 50 years in the UK; it’s not something that I really concern myself with. If you want something enough you can go get it, can’t you?

Eric: And there’s a natural segue to politics. You mention Jay Jay Pistolet, when you were working under that name, you had that song where I think you rhymed “shot” and “proletariat.”

Justin: I actually rhymed “cap” with “proletariat” [in "Bags of Gold"] and I always had an issue with that fact that the Guardian called that a bad rhyme and then I met the journalist [Paul Lester] the other day and I told him off for slagging me off. I said I wasn’t rhyming those two words and he apologized. (laughs) I had my revenge.

Freddie Cowan: You should have asked for a written apology.

Justin: I tried, but he said no.

Eric: So do you think there’s a place for social commentary?

Justin: I don’t really think it’s the place of musicians to comment on politics because to be honest there are people far more well-informed than them. Well, maybe not some musicians, but certainly us. I wouldn’t want to preach through music. I don’t know enough.

Eric: You're 23. I read in an interview you did that you’ve been doing gigs for 12 years?

Justin: That’s actually true. I couldn’t really play guitar. My dad taught me how to play bar chords and I had a little punk band and we got some gigs in the local area. It got some attention that we were really young. I was actually 12 but our bass player was 11.

Eric: When did you hook up with these guys?

Justin: I hooked up with Freddie over a year ago and Árne about a year ago. Pete came on board in May. So that’s six or seven months.

Eric: Was “If You Wanna” the first song you wrote for The Vaccines?

Justin: It was actually. It was the first song that remains in the set. We really like it as a pop song and it made us sit down and think that maybe we should see what happens and write some more songs. It felt good.

Eric: At that point, were you still Jay Jay Pistolet?

Justin: No, I hadn’t really been doing that for a while. I sort of put down my guitar. There wasn’t really any crossover. I’d been lying dormant for a while.

Eric: As Jay Jay Pistolet you had some big gigs hanging around people like Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling and I know you were praised as a folk singer. I heard some of your stuff and it was very earnest and different from this band. You hit a wall creatively?

Justin: Yes, that’s true. I lost my drive really. I think that happens if you are creative. I think if you want to find that creativity again you have to do something completely new and fresh otherwise I think it’s going to be much harder to find. Completely changing the sound and what we do wasn’t calculated or contrived. When I write the songs I still do it on an acoustic guitar. It’s just that we like putting them together this way. That’s how we think they sound best.

Eric: Is it possible that JJP could reemerge?

Justin: Oh, there are people crossing their fingers. All 12 people who bought the EP on iTunes. No, I don’t think so (laughs).

Eric: When you recorded this album you did a song a day in the studio?

Freddie: Actually, we were doing two most days.

Justin: That’s true. Two a day.

Eric: And how about recording? I saw you were working with Dan Grech who was Nigel Godrich’s ….

Freddie: Engineer. He’s a really, really good engineer. Good at what he does and we wanted someone who didn’t necessarily want to put his stamp all over it but would be really good at capturing a moment. He was perfect for that. We just wanted to capture where we were then.


Eric: Do you write any songs on your phone?

Justin: No, I like to put it on Garage Band and then I turn the reverb up to 100 and then writing that way. It sounds nicer.

Eric: What song do you wish you’d written and why?

Justin: I think one of my favorites songs of all time because it’s so beautiful and simple is “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies. It’s a really underrated song. Everyone who has heard it, its up there on their top songs of all time.

Eric: Who do you wish recorded one of your songs, dead or alive?

Justin: I think I speak for all of us - I can’t imagine anything much more beautiful than having the Beach Boys scatter their harmonies across a song we’d written.