Building on the immediate success of your first album can be a difficult thing, particularly given the vicissitudes of fortune endured by many guitar bands in the modern age.
For London four-piece The Vaccines the answer to the platinum-selling success of their debut record What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? was to attempt to repeat the successful garage rock formula in its follow-up, Come of Age.
It worked to an extent – the album reached Number One – but it received neither the plaudits nor the sales in this country that its predecessor did.
For album number three the band realised it needed to ring the changes. The electronically-enhanced English Graffiti, released in late spring, signalled if not the reinvention then certainly the reinvigoration of The Vaccines.
“I think we all felt those parameters weren’t inspiring to work within and actually felt quite limiting even when we were making Come of Age,” says singer and guitarist Justin Young of the restrictions the band had imposed on themselves.
“I think this record was about setting ourselves free. Actually I think we came full circle. There’s a lot of stuff like Handsome and 20/20 and Radio Bikini which actually came late on in the process.
“For about 18 months I think we were doing everything we could to break away from that sound and then I think it took us quite a long time to a) feel comfortable with it and b) realise it was what we wanted to do; part of what we did and made us great were these simple, classic pop songs played with conviction and energy and spirit.”
In between the band rejected “a lot” of the songs they’d written. “There were lots of great ideas but there weren’t great songs,” says Young. “It took us a while to realise that you need to start with a good pop song and then you can have all these ideas to colour it in and embellish it.”
Young sees an overarching theme between The Vaccines’ records. “The first one feels to me like quite a vulnerable record then the second one almost an angry record. Those both make sense to me, when I think back, as snapshots in time because that’s how I felt as a person at that point. Whereas this record, even though it’s one of love and love lost, misconnection and disconnection, because it was written over a much longer period of time there’s a real spectrum of emotions there, it’s almost like a circle of life.”
He credits the sonic “genius” of American producer David Fridmann, who’d previously helmed recordings by Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney and Mercury Rev, for guiding English Graffiti. “What reverb or distortion is to him they’re so far beyond what they mean to so many other people. He’s kind of out there in this quite isolated environment [in New York State] and it really impacts on his sonic choices.
“Going out there made me understand why his records sound like they do. He spends six months of the year under six inches of snow in the middle of nowhere with this very isolated, icy, almost like paranoid sound, then you look up at the stars you’ve got these skies like you’ve never seen before. He believes in aliens and you can see why living where he lives.”
Young said earlier this year that he felt like The Vaccines have “finally become a rock band”. Today he explains he never really felt any common cause with bands in the indie genre.
“I didn’t really grow up listening to indie music and I never really aspired to make indie music.
“If you think about what indie really means, or what it meant, it’s a positive thing to the people that coined it but from my perspective I want to connect with as many people as possible on a large scale and I want to be on Columbia Records and I want to play arenas. We’re aspirational, we’ve never considered ourselves to be indie.
“Nothing about what we do is DIY. We want to be a big rock band and have a connection on a large scale and mean everything to everyone.”
The Vaccines play at O2 Academy Leeds on November 29. For details visit www.academymusicgroup.com