Music interview – Justin Young on recapturing the spirit of The Vaccines

The Vaccines. Picture: Brad Elterman
The Vaccines. Picture: Brad Elterman
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Justin Young has a confession about the music he makes that doesn’t end up going onto a record for The Vaccines; he puts them all together under the auspices of fake band names and dreamed-up side projects on his computer, an alternative universe of songs.

“I’m constantly moving them from one imaginary group to another!” he chuckles. “They go back and forth between these carefully curated folders and would-be albums.

“There’s loads of really great tracks that don’t necessarily feel like Vaccines songs, but they all still exist, ready to go if and when the time is right.

“I’m working on a bunch of different things at the moment, so I’d like to think that they will see the light of day soon.”

The Southampton-born frontman is gearing up with his bandmates to put out their fourth LP Combat Sports, their first without long-term drummer Pete Robinson who amicably left at the end of a 2016 American tour.

He makes no secret that the dynamics of the album were altered by his departure; equally, he is keen to stress that the arrival of his replacement Yoann Intoni and the permanent addition of touring keyboardist Tim Lanham.

The Vaccines. Picture: Brad Elterman

The Vaccines. Picture: Brad Elterman

“Losing Pete was a massive moment,” he notes. “We did a lot of self-reflection and soul-searching after that.

“We were all at a point where we really didn’t know where we wanted to go; once Yoann and Tim came in though, they breathed new life into the creative process.

“They brought an energy and an excitement that helped us recapture some spirit and energy we’d perhaps been missing.”

Its pugnacious, confrontational title wasn’t the original moniker either, with Young having initially preferred the name of a track from the album, Your Love is My Favourite Band.

FM radio rock is like grown-up punk to me, which makes no sense chronologically. It’s a little more cooler, colourful and thoughtful.

Justin Young

“I really liked that one, but over time, as the sound of the record started to come together, it felt a bit too generic and airy.

“I don’t do any combat sports myself, but that felt like, sonically speaking, it spoke of the more visceral, primal and combative elements on show.”

With last outing English Graffiti dabbling in the aesthetics of Eighties power-pop, the group have turned their gaze to the influence of Seventies FM radio rock for Combat Sports, with Young looking to emulate what he calls the “straightforward, conventional musicality” of its sound.

“It’s like grown-up punk to me, which makes no sense chronologically. It’s a little more cooler, colourful and thoughtful.”

He pauses. “I’m always looking for… markers in the sound, things to inspire me. FM rock had certain things in common for me with our output.”

Following a stint living stateside, Young has returned to London, and though Combat Sports is not strictly influenced by his time away, he acknowledges that it has had some bearing on the album. “Making a record is always an intensely personal thing, so where you make your home does impact hugely on your life and output. I was living too much in New York and it almost stymied my sense of creativity; I never really got centred whilst there. I always felt like I was on holiday, every day, to an extent. Being back in London feels like being in real life again.”

The Vaccines come to Sheffield’s O2 Academy on their upcoming tour before heading north to headline Live at Leeds festival. Though the band will also play Reading and Leeds in the late summer, Young admits he has a more-favourable opinion of metropolitan music events. “People can go home at the end of the day! I think that’s actually a great thing. As a fan, I can commit 100 per cent to these sort of shows because I know that I won’t have to survive over a three-day period.

“I love cities, I’m a big fan of them; we’ve been lucky enough to play some amazing festivals around the world where it provides the backdrop, like Shaky Knees in Boston or Clockenflap in Hong Kong where you’re just looking out over a vast metropolis. It’s wild.”

Young has plenty to be going on with then, and a further accolade he can add to his songwriting resumé now is a television theme tune too, having penned the title theme for the CBBC series Dennis and Gnasher Unleashed, based on the famed characters from children’s comic The Beano. “Freddie (Cowan, guitarist) loves The Beano! I read it too, when I was a kid. It’s funny, because the song we gave to them we’d already discarded from the record – it was called Billionaire of Lust, so it’s especially weird to think what it’s become now.

“It’s a great example of why you do things; namely, because you want to do it. We didn’t make anything seriously off it – but there’s no need to. Rather, it’s something to be proud of, and that’s very much important to our ethos.”

The Vaccines play at Live At Leeds on Saturday May 5. Their new album, Combat Sports, is out now. www.thevaccines.com; 
www.liveatleeds.com