The story of The Vaccines goes like this: lead singer fails as a folk-rock artist (Justin Young used to be Jay Jay Pistolet) and recruits friends to make snappy indie-rock ditties instead. The said band rehearses, rehearses and rehearses for a few months, uploads a demo called ‘If You Wanna’ to the internet, and, next thing they know, record company Bigwigs are proclaiming them to be officially THE band of 2011.
But the London four piece are adamant it hasn’t been as easy a ride as their story suggests. “There are literally no shortcuts in this industry”, asserts drummer Pete Robinson, who talks something like a member of the gentry but dresses like a vagrant.
Unless you’re The Vaccines and it takes 6 months to make it, I say. “But the Vaccines aren’t the product of 6 months work. We’ve each been in a lot of different bands. For a third of my life I’ve had constant disappointment with it, which has made me very wary of the music industry”, says guitarist Freddie Cowan, who sports a fetching perm.
The Vaccines are in the unenviable position of being expected to ‘save British guitar music’ in 2011. What exactly guitar music needs saving from isn’t clear. Maybe the genre’s own predictable unoriginality? The problem with a lot of contemporary bands is that they don’t just wear their influences on their sleeves, but tattoo them on their forehead for all to see. The Vaccines are no different; in equal parts the Ramones and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the band haven’t reinvented the rock ‘n’ roll wheel by any stretch of the imagination. But ever since the Beatles aped Little Richard in the Cavern, rock bands have always tended to look to the past for inspiration. What has changed, however, is the fashionability of guitar acts. This comes in cycles and, after the flurry of garage-rock bands in the early noughties, there’s been a lull in enthusiasm for the scene in the past few years.
The line-up of the NME Awards Tour reflects this shift. The other three bands on the line up either do away with guitars completely (Magnetic Man), mask them in a haze of progressive electro pop (Everything Everything) or suffocate them with abrasive synths (Crystal Castles). For better or worse, the comeback is on and The Vaccines signal a resurgence of sorts for skinny white boys in bands, armed with Rickenbacker’s and a wealth of pop music from the past 50 years to reinvent. Or recycle, depending on your viewpoint.
When I meet the band in their suspicious-smelling tour bus, they seem giddy but also pensive. Freddie has his arms folded defensively and more than once turns my questions back onto me. On top of this, the dim Newcastle ‘sun’ is our only light source in the stationary tour bus.
So, in near-darkness, I ask what should we expect from the Vaccines? “In what respects?” Freddie answers back quickly. Expectations are there to be proven right or wrong. Do they feel any pressure? “[The hype] is something that we’ve had to grow accustomed to. It’s a double edged sword in some respects, but we don’t really pay attention to it”, says Pete confidently.
Indeed. The band has a self-imposed ban on Googling themselves, in order to counteract the buzz. “Reading articles is unhealthy, it can only serve to do you wrong, so we just try and stay away from them,” explains Freddie. Many remain unconvinced that the four-piece really are the band that we’ve apparently been waiting for. Do the band feel that there’s already been a backlash? “Do you think there’s already a backlash?” says Freddie, in combat mode.
“Oh no! This is why we don’t read articles!” laughs Pete, in mock panic. Freddie turns philosophical: “I think for every person that hears your band and likes it, there are always two people who won’t like it. There’s bound to be a backlash- but there’s nothing we can do about it”.
Pete chimes in, the more optimistic of the two. “It’s amazing for us to be able to play in front of 2000 people on this tour, and most of them seem to be really enjoying it.” That’s certainly true; the kids at the front at the NME show were having the time of their lives. Try telling them The Vaccines are just another band of rock ‘n’ roll fakers, who could be forgotten by the time next years ‘Big In 2012’ lists come through.
Intensely polite, there have been claims that they’re ‘too posh too rock’. Pete makes a quick exit, avoiding the prickly subject and leaving Freddie to fight their corner. “We’re not what people think we are. I think class is highly irrelevant. If someone wakes up and they want to be a musician, if they want it enough they’ll make it happen. Where you’re from doesn’t make it any easier or any more difficult.”
Finally, I pose the million-dollar question. The three other acts on the tour- cliff, marry, shag? “What’s cliffing?” asks Freddie, innocently. “You kill them”. “I’m not answering that. You look quite scary in the dark now…”. To calm their fears I assure them it’s not meant to be taken quite so literally. “I’m sure they won’t take it to heart”, I say. “They definitely would. We’ll stay away from that question.”
So we’ll have to answer that question ourselves. Will our relationship with The Vaccines be a happy, long-lasting marriage? A brief one-night-stand? Or will The Vaccines end up getting cliffed? The latter seems unlikely, as there’s an air of inevitability, albeit one that’s media influenced, surrouding The Vaccines, where it appears the only way is up, not down.