The Vaccines have been celebrating their fifth UK Top 5 album with ‘Back in Love City’ and frontman Justin Young is on tour in Exeter with bandmates Freddie Cowan, Timothy Lanham, Árni Árnason and Yoann Intonti when we speak to him (over the phone).
Their latest album was recorded in a small town outside El Paso, Texas, in 2019 so it’s fair to say that there’s been a bit of a wait between finalising the euphoric ‘Back in Love City’ and actually getting it out so fans could hear it and engage with it. Justin says, “It’s just such a relief to finally have it out in the world. We recorded it in 2019. I think the plan has always been to wait a little while, but definitely not to wait nearly two years so [it’s great that] that people can now listen to it and consume it and hopefully fall in love with it and connect with it. It's really cool.”
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Human connection is a major theme on ‘Back In Love City’ but not necessarily a new fascination for Young, who is also the chief songwriter. ”Everything I write about really is entwined with this idea of human connection, or the desire to connect more deeply and the pain and perils that come with misconnection, and disconnection.” “These are definitely not new themes,” he adds. “I think we explored them quite deeply, particularly in on ‘English Graffiti’ and I started to think about… particularly as so much of our connection and our communication is through the medium of text. I started to think about words and how they convey emotion in some ways, great ways; in other ways, quite reductive ways.”
He continues; “I started thinking really about how effective words really are at helping us to connect with each other and what their shortcomings are. I started thinking about love and hate, anger and hope and anxiety and fear and excitement… And really what those words mean.”
‘Back In Love City’ appears to be a concept record, but The Vaccines are hesitant to label it as such. “I would say it's loosely conceptual,” Young tells us. “It's definitely not a concept record in the way the big prog opuses of the 1970s were... We didn't set out to make a concept record, but I think we'll concede to the fact that it's loosely conceptual.” “I think just having a concept has really helped bring some focus to the creativity.” He admits that having a concept for the album was “a guiding light more than anything else”.
So what is this mysterious Love City that they speak of? One thing’s for certain. The album is definitely steeped in escapism and the term was inspired by a fictional city. “It's whatever you want it to be really. I think it's different, you know, it means different things. In the same way love is something different to everybody, I think that Love City looks different and feels different and is somewhere different. I guess it's a place where you go to feel, because you can no longer feel anywhere else, but then, I suppose, it's probably the something as simple as someone's loving embrace.”
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‘Back In Love City’ has distinctly Americiana influences. Young says, “I've always been obsessed in Americana. It's quite hard not to be. I think we're all raised on a diet of American pop culture, aren't we? Increasingly, throughout my life I’ve spent more and more time there. It's very filmic and poetic -the Americana references immediately transport you somewhere.” He describes the idea of America as “seductive” and says that he is drawn to it,” before continuing, “In our musical DNA, there's always been surf guitar, there's always been American '50s, rock and roll and stuff. We were quite conscious of that, on this record, that we wanted to have that. We wanted we wanted to kind of interject the record with that, because we think it's quite core to our DNA.”
During The Vaccines’ last album ‘Combat Sports’ there were all kinds of fallings out between the band members and there were even rumours of fist fights. Not the case with LP5. Young says: “We've grown up a lot around each other. We are kinder to each other now than we were.”
Thankfully, recording LP5 was a much more pleasant experience for the band as a whole. “We had the most fun we've ever had making a record. Sonic Ranch is really special place. It was like very immersive. Very inspiring, and a really happy time - just either working, sleeping, eating or laughing. It was amazing.”
The inspiration for Young’s witty and playful lyricism is something rather introspective and personal for the singer. He says, “[The lyrics are] definitely from within…I go to great pains to make sure I always write them [down] when they come to me … A lot of people have quite busy minds, and I definitely do. I'm lucky to have the ability or the desire to turn some of that noise into words.”
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Look at any Vaccines social media post from the last 2twoyears and there will surely be a comment from at least one fan: ‘Release Jump Off The Top’. The track was performed live pre-pandemic and became an instant hit with the fans, who were desparate for a recorded version. Well, their prayers have now been answered as The Vaccines’ latest single is none other than the song they have been requesting all this time. “We were all a bit nervous that people wouldn't like the recorded version, because obviously, it's been like a fan favourite - live - for a while, but it's nice [that it’s been released as a single]. It's great. I'm glad it's finally out.”
Young describes how the band “really come alive” during the live shows so they are clearly enjoying being on the road again. ”We've obviously already missed it. It's such a big part of what we do. I really believe in us as a great live band, so we really come alive. There's a real catharsis that we get from performing but, more importantly, connecting and having that community and that communication.”
This year also marks the 10th anniversary since the release of their epic debut album ‘What did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ and is being marked with a one-off show at Kingston’s Pryzm next month. “In some ways it feels like yesterday [since the release of ‘What did You Expect From The Vaccines?’] but, in other ways, it feels like 100 years ago”.
Thinking back on their career, Young says: “If you had told us 10 years ago that we'd still be having Top Five albums, like selling out gigs [and all that sort] and enjoying it more than ever and feeling like we were getting better every day, then I think we would have like we would have, we would have – I don’t know - praised the Lord!” he laughs.
Once their tour is over, you would think it would be holidays all-round for the guys. Nope. They’re heading straight back into the studio. “We're recording an EP when we finish the tour in two weeks. And, hopefully, that will come out in time for the big April tour next year.”
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'Back In Love City' is out now.
Words: Narzra Ahmed
Photo Credit: Frank Fieber
Catch The Vaccines on tour next April:
14 Manchester O2 Victoria Warehouse
16 Leeds O2 Academy Leeds
18 Portsmouth Portsmouth Guildhall
19 Birmingham O2 Academy
21 London SSE Arena Wembley
23 Newcastle-Upon-Tyne O2 City Hall
24 Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom
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