In 2010, four boys in West London formed a band called The Vaccines, which was soon set to become one of the biggest indie rock acts from the U.K., with top-charting albums such as Come of Age and English Graffiti.
This March, they released their fourth studio album, Combat Sports, following the departure of original drummer Pete Robertson and the recruitment of two new members: Timothy Lanham (keyboard) and Yoann Intonti (drums). The “refurbished” Vaccines have been touring together for over two years now, and recently brought their act to Hong Kong’s Clockenflap festival in November.
Billboard Radio China had the chance to sit down with founding members Justin Hayward-Young and Freddie Cowan backstage to talk about the music, the band, and their infamously short songs.
When asked about how they dealt with the change of dynamics within the band in 2016, Cowan answered, “We didn’t really have a choice. Peter left very early on in the writing process for Combat Sports. We kind of had a moment where we thought for a second, ‘Is this meant to be? If we are going to keep making music,’ and we very quickly decided that we did want to do that… Tim was already playing with us live, when Tim came on board, it just changed the energy. It was lucky, and it was very fortunate.”
Lanham and Intonti injected “a new lease of life into the band,” Hayward-Young said, allowing the new album to come to fruition.
Combat Sports dropped in February, hitting No. 4 on the U.K. Albums Chart. The Vaccines manage to successfully produce catchy pop tunes, in part through following their own writing process: “Someone will bring a song that’s essentially finished … and then we kind of create the Vaccines song from the skeletal being,” Hayward-Young explained.
On the other hand, they also keep working on refining their sound. Compared to English Graffiti, the band went back to the more familiar Vaccines sound with Combat Sports. Hayward-Young gives his perspective on how they decided to change things back around: “Every time you make a record, you’d think that you’ve found the winning formula or that you are righting the wrongs of the previous record, no matter how proud of it you are. I think that’s the only way that people continue to create art: You have to believe that what you are doing now is better than you were doing before.”
What people find constant about The Vaccines’ songs is that they are often quite short — many are less than 3 minutes — with their debut single, “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” only about 90 seconds. “It’s not a conscious thing … it just comes naturally,” explained Hayward-Young. “A lot of the great pop music in the ’50s, ’60s, and then the great punk rock and hardcore of the ’70s and ’80s was all sub-3 minutes. I think the origins of pop are of that nature.” But he also jokingly admits, “I’m quite A.D.D. I think we are the iPod generation; we like instant gratification.”
The Vaccines left Hong Kong to continue their tour in Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok and Tokyo before heading back to Europe. They also played their just-released single, “All My Friends Are Falling In Love,” to the Clockenflap crowd, an upbeat punk-pop solution to the frustrations of single people that are still finding love while third-wheeling their friends. Check out the full interview on Billboard Radio China.