Interview: The Vaccines talk English Graffiti, love and love lost

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By Jasmine Lee. Photos by Winnie Surya. The Vaccines are back with their third studio album, and it’s given us a reason to be very, very excited. The album English Graffiti contains the old Vaccines sound that we love, with earworms like “Handsome” and “20/20”. On the other hand, songs like “Dream Lover” and “(All Afternoon) In Love” take on a slower pace, but don’t lose the enrapturing effect that makes The Vaccines’ music so effective. Before their show at The Opera House, we caught up with lead singer Justin Hayward-Young and bassist Arni Arnason in their tour bus to talk about English Graffiti, their dream lovers, and the theme of having love and love lost.

Did your new album English Graffiti turn out the way you first envisioned? If not, why?
Justin: I don’t think we really had anything like set. I think all we knew was that we were going to do something different and we didn’t know what that was going to be or how we were going to get there. So I don’t think we actually had anything in mind when we set out to do anything, and I actually think ironically it probably ended up different than what we expected it to but probably more like Vaccines of all… I don’t know, it was an eighteen month [to] two year period where everything was wide open so I don’t think any of us had any sort of expectations or plans, just everything went, didn’t it?

Were there any specific struggles you dealt with when writing and recording this album. If so, how did you overcome these barriers?
Justin: I think we were trying a lot of stuff for the first time, so like you ultimately come across the odd hurdle. But I think being challenged is sort of what – you kind of thrive on that. There was definitely like I think for a long period of time we were so set on trying to do something different like we would start with a new production idea or like an interesting drum beat, or weird sound, and we perhaps didn’t actually focus as much on the song writing. I think the heart of what The Vaccines do [is] this simple good, old-fashioned sounding pop songs. So I think it took us a year or so to come full circle and realize we could do anything we wanted to do but we had to start with a song first. That’s not how all bands work but it works for us.

Have you changed the way you wrote and recorded this album in comparison to the past ones?
Justin: Well we just tried everything, didn’t we?
Arni: Everything up until this point has been pretty much sort of, as [Justin] has millions of times, like [being] at the end of a bed with an acoustic guitar type of mentality, and everything that comes after that is just sort of an extra. And we always basically tried to stay out of the way of a song – there’s no instrumental hooks or anything that does detract from the main course of the song and that’s not the case anymore. Now basically you name a thing and we try it… When it came to the production of the album a lot of it was actually down to taking things away rather than adding things, because we just got everything…What works, what doesn’t?

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What have been the hardest parts of this tour and what has helped you handle it?
Justin: We’ve been away from home for the last seven weeks; we’ve been in five continents in eight days like Japan, Australia, Mexico, the UK, Europe, North America. It can get intense; you’re living in a small, confined environment so it gets hard, it takes a toll on your body and emotionally as well. But well I think we are a strong group of – well we’re a family really. Whenever you’re down you can kind of lean on the support of others.
Arni: On the more positive side, we’ve done this for years now and we’ve learned how to take care of ourselves.
Justin: Also playing shows really…that’s so fun.
Arni: That’s the reason why we do it.

For the next album, do you see yourselves starting again with experimenting with everything stylistically, or do you see yourself starting on a more focused path?
Justin: I think it’s important to build on what you already have and what you already do or else you’re not going to have an identity. But I don’t know, we’ve only really just started thinking about LP four, and we just want to make a great record – a better record than the third – which is better than the second which was better than the first one. We have been hypothesizing slightly but nothing is really set in stone yet.

How did the concept for your album cover come about?
Justin: We wanted to be on the front cover. We’ve never been on the cover and we wanted to put ourselves on it this time.
Arni: Which is brave.
Justin: And we wanted Jesse Jenkins, who we’ve done lots of videos with and shot loads of photos with before. It sort of happened accidentally; there were a bunch of cool sweater records and stuff that looked like the images of the people had been cut out and put onto these kind of like blank canvases essentially. We went and took a bunch of photos in front of this red background – I guess we chose red because we’d seen a bunch of records that look kind of cool. And yeah we just spent the day fucking around and that one picture was actually the test Polaroid, so it wasn’t supposed to be the photo. But after six hours of photos the first one that was taken was the best one.

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The Vaccines music videos have always been very creative and I can see the effort that goes into their production. How do the ideas for the videos come together?
Justin: It’s always collaborative. I mean from this record it’s definitely come from us, the idea of kind of a – you know – making these homages to cinema and different periods and genres of cinema, just because I think there’s that aspirational quality to cinema and this otherworldly escapism. But also everything we’ve chosen is quite tongue in cheek, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and I think hopefully it’s to some degree an embodiment of our music really.

What was the inspiration for the distinct Asian theme in your music video for “Handsome”?
Justin: It’s supposed to be a Hong Kong kung fu movie and it originally did come from a Japanese idea, but it switched to a sort of ode to Hong Kong kung fu. But I don’t know, I just wanted that silly escapism –
Arni: We were in New York and we wanted to be in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The Vaccines are well known for their catchy songs, but after the first album what made you go down the route of exploring slower tunes?
Justin: Well I think you just choose the best songs, your favourite songs. I think like, no one ever wants to write the same songs over and over again. I think it’s important to have an identity, but we’ve always been a songs-based band, so we’ve always just chosen our favourite songs really. I think that when we made the first record most of them happen to be three chord pop songs, but not all of them [like] All In White –
Arni: There seems to be this perception of us that’s like of a total in your face punk band, but I don’t think there’s ever really been like high-octane three chord pop-punk songs. There have only ever been like three in every album.
Justin: Well we just play them all live that’s why.

For the music video for “Dream Lover”, how was the production process of that and did it in any way connect to the song?
Justin: No, again, we just wanted to create a period of cinema that we love which was –
Arni: Shitty sci-fi –
Justin: And retro-futurism kind of stuff. Shitty sci-fi and we just wanted to shoot up some bad guys and [be] silly…It was an opportunity for us to dress up and be in a film.

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In the song “20/20”, not only does it have a catchy vibe but it also carries this message saying you don’t want to think of someone anymore. Was there a story behind it that inspired the making of the song?
Justin: Yeah of course, always but the whole record is, I think, one in the context of love and love lost. And I think that’s probably, you know, the redemption song on the record.

Can you elaborate on the theme of love and love lost in this album?
Justin: It’s about the difficulty in, I think, our generation at connecting with people and the misconnection and disconnection. I, like anybody else, fall in love with people and like anybody else can have my heart broken. So we wrote it over a two year period, so it was a whole journey really, and “20/20” was written towards the end of that journey and certain songs – well I don’t need to tell you which ones – were written earlier on in that journey. But I mean, you know with any song people can take what they want from it so I don’t want to describe it too literally otherwise it would probably becomes quite alienating.

Who are your dream lovers?
Justin: My dream lover…hmm…
ITC: Not Amanda Norgaard?
Justin: No, definitely not Amanda Norgaard.
Arni: I’ve been in a relationship so I can’t answer that question.
Justin: Well you can [laughs]
Arni: Yeah, my girlfriend for five years.
Justin: And mine would be the subject of the song, wouldn’t it? But I’m not telling you who that is [laughs].

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