Back In Love City is out now!
Image: Frank Fieber.
As they celebrate 10 years since the release of their debut album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, UK rockers The Vaccines have treated us with their fifth studio album, Back In Love City. We caught up with front man Justin Hayward-Young to chat the release, building their own metropolis on the record, how the band have evolved since their debut and so much more!
Congratulations on the new album, Back In Love City. It’s really cool because this year also marks the tenth anniversary of your debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, creating a nice full circle moment. You’ve had five albums in the 10 years, so obviously there’s been a lot of life in between that. What new knowledge and experience are you bringing into the sessions working on the new record, that differs from creating your debut album and subsequent albums?
Good question. I mean, probably to do that question any real justice, you'd have to give me 10 years to answer it. But I will say that every time you sit down together as a band and decide you've got another album in you and you can do better, and you still believe that you're on this sort of like process of refinement and stuff, I think you sort of question what you did, right and what you did wrong the last time. I suppose as well, you have to believe that you're capable of better. And I definitely think, certainly with this album at least, every part of the process, the writing, and then the arranging and then the recording, and then actually like building on the concept and all the visuals and stuff afterwards, it all came like very easily and very sort of like in quite a free flowing manner and it was really fun. I think we all felt like we were kind of, you know, we were operating on a level we never had before. Like, I think that we felt like we were playing better. We were writing better lyrics. You know, we were writing better hooks. We were like, our production chops were better. And actually I think really, of course every record you make is reacting, you know you're just like reactive and reacting to the last record, depending on how you've come to feel about it, and maybe even how the world has come to feel about it. So it's all, you know, you're always going to go into it with a slightly different mindset. You're going to be making it probably in a different place with a different producer. In our case, absolutely. That was probably just waffle wasn't it. But I think every record is different essentially, I guess, and some, I think for the better and some maybe not. But with this record, everything felt different and everything felt great.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting when it comes to making an album?
The first Vaccines album was the first record any of us had ever been involved in making like start to finish. I think we'd all play it on friends, albums, or we'd all, you know, like kind of, sort of dipped our feet into recording music, but we'd never kind of made a record start to finish. We're with this big producer and this big studio, and we're all like, you know, pretty young and I think that because of that, and because we had kind the label coming down every day, managers coming down every day, perhaps, you know, we didn't always fight for our sort of, you know, maybe there were certain things we had conviction about that maybe we didn't fight for strong enough. I mean, that being said, it's hard to, you know, again, it's hard to sort of look that far back and, and, and question it too deeply because I am sort of proud of particularly the first record. I do remember the second record actually sort of wishing that I'd been a little bit stronger when it came to fighting my corner over sort of like creative decisions and stuff in the recording process, because you've got to live with it right? You know, like a producer, the producer turns off the computer at the end of the last day of recording and then probably never really thinks about it again. The same can be said really probably for labels and managers and all that sort of stuff. But you're the ones that I guess have to live with it. It's your legacy.
Exactly! You're the one who then goes on the road, you tour it, you play it every night. So exactly. Within Back In Love City, your own view of a metropolis is built, inspired by fictional cities. How did that conceptual approach to making this record come about?
Well, I was sat on this very sofa writing, and I wrote the song Back In Love City, and it was a phrase that sort of like fell out of my mouth and I wasn't really sure where it came from. Sometimes that happens, you know? I found it quite immediately intriguing as a sort of idea and I started to think 'where is this place and what might it look like and what might it have an offer' and all that sort of stuff. Pretty much the day I wrote that song, we'd decided to name the album Back In Love City, and everyone sort of agreed. What it really did, which you don't always get, is it sort of acted as a kind of, I guess like a compass or an anchor or something, you know, I think that the possibilities are endless when you're making music or when you're making art. So to have to have this sort of like loose concept to build upon, or this idea about where the music might be taking place and what it might sound like, and, you know, the world that might exist in, I think that really helped bring some focus to the project basically.
The album examines your own thoughts and fascination with emotions as commodities and the need for human connection. It’s super interesting that the record arrives after a year of distance and isolation felt world wide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but you actually wrote the songs before the pandemic correct?
Yeah, we did. Indeed. We wrote and recorded them pre-pandemic. And in fact it was December 2019 we finished making the record, and until about three weeks ago, that was the last time we'd all been in a room together as well.
That's so wild! What are your thoughts listening back to the album now, after everything the world has been through since you wrapped up working on it?
It's funny because it's obviously like reframed it and sort of recontextualized it and there are certain songs and verses and lyrics and stuff, or even just moods where I'm like, 'oh, wow, that's crazy that that sort of was pre pandemic' because it feels like it was written in a response to everything we've been through in the last 18 months. But I will say that, you know, whilst COVID has been this kind of like earth shattering, life changing event, like on a scale none of us could have even begun to imagine 18 months ago, in many ways it hasn't really necessarily like changed things. It's just expedited them or heightened them, and actually a lot of the stuff we were confronted with during the pandemic, you know these new ideas of how we connect with each other and how we don't and feeling isolated and feeling confused and anxious and scared in the world and confronting change and all that sort of stuff. I suppose that those things are sort of ever present right? So actually those aren't new ideas
How did the album evolve and change as you were creating it, and were there any tracks left on the cutting room floor that you think might have a life in the future?
Oh yeah, always. There's actually only one song that we recorded out in Texas that didn't it onto the record, but it's in my pile for the next trip to the studio as it were. Actually, Alone Star, which is one of the singles on Back In Love City, was written for the third album. We couldn't figure it out for English Graffiti. We couldn't figure it out for Combat Sports. We finally sort of like cracked the code on this record. So, you know, I actually never give up on a good song. I think you can always keep chipping away at something if you think there's a little spark or something in there.
Could you give me your top three tracks on the album, that if you played to someone who hadn’t heard your music, would make them an instant fan and why?
You know, it's very difficult because I guess that's the kind of, 'what's your favourite song on the album kind of question', right? I always struggle really, because I guess that's why we made a record. I'm trying to think it's. It's a real chocolate box of songs as well. I think it's quite a kind of diverse sounding record and on different days, depending on what mood I'm in, I sort of connect to different songs more deeply. I'm really proud of Pink Water Pistols. I think that's like a really pretty song. I love People's Republic of Desire because I love how sort of heavy and urgent it is, and I think that is often what Vaccines do best. And I don't know what else. I mean Jump Off The Top is fun I guess, and like classic Vaccines. It's quite tongue in cheek. I really don't know.
Is there any like particular lines and lyrics from the album that you find at times could be stuck in your head?
That's a good question. Well, it's not like the cleverest of lyrics, but I suppose like a kind of overarching, all encompassing lyric is the chorus of El Paso, "who wants to live like this?". I quite often think that to myself. I Certainly have over the last year or so.
Throughout your whole career, you guys have consistently released great music videos and visuals for your music. How important are the visuals to you when it comes to representing the story and concepts present on the songs?
I think that's so important. I mean that, you know, I don't always feel we've got it right, actually. But I do think that we, as I imagine most people do, put a lot of like time and effort and love into that sort of stuff, because it's an extension of your art. It's an opportunity, I suppose, to create these visual accompaniments and deepen your creation and expand your world that you're trying to kind of get people to come live in. So all that stuff's really important, and it's sort really fun as well.
You’re hitting the road this month around the UK! What can audiences expect from this run of shows?
A very excited bandI think. Very grateful and happy to be back on the road. Obviously there will be, I guess, lots of new music, but then of course lots of old music, and I think, you know, the set will probably pay homage to the fact that it's 10 years since we released the first record. I don't know, you know, hopefully a nice balance of new and old and I think an excited excitable band ready to tear the place to shreds.
Sounds like it'll be so much fun! The past eighteen months have taken its toll on the music industry, specifically the touring sector, but also in terms of making that in person connection with audience members and creating a shared feeling and experience. How important do you think live music is not only for yourselves as musicians showcasing your art, but also for the audience members who resonate with your music?
Oh, I think it's so important. I think it's the one time you truly like tangibly get to connect with each other, you know, with your favorite artists and in turn with your fan base. I know there's a stage and often a barrier with security stood in the middle, but really you're there to connect with each other and you're sharing each other's blood, sweat, and tears, and actually, it's a congregation of sorts, right? It's the most, you know, going back to that idea of connection, human connection, and wanting to be part of something bigger and, you know, you see it in places of worship, right? Or you see it in sport stadiums and all that sort of stuff. It's this basic human need, I think, to feel like you're part of something bigger and it's such a kind of, I really I've really felt like, you know, I've sort of been in mourning over the past kind of 18 months. So no, I think it's so important.
Biggest musical influences?
Probably, I mean, lyrically, it would be Leonard Cohen.
Good question. Because he's such an insane insanely talented person, I would love to see what being in the studio with Kanye West was like for a day.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
Nirvana Nevermind probably changed my life, I guess.
Best song of 2021 so far?
Hey, do you know what I'm going to say? It's actually Australian. I love Parcels' single Coming Back.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
Oh, Miley. Yeah. She's sick.
What was the first song you loved to sing?
It was Hound Dog, Elvis Presley.
First concert you went to?
The first concert I ever went to was Pulp.
Best concert you have been to?
Good question. Do you know what, it would have been any number of artists on Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury when I'm like off my face with all my friends.
Would you rather be a Spice Girl or a Backstreet Boy?
What would your spice nickname be?
Most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
I mean, probably playing the O2 Arena in London on my birthday.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
Good question. I don't know, Dr. Dre I guess maybe.
What advice would your current self, give your future self, for a year from now?
I hope you're enjoying yourself.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
You know, I think it's when I first heard music, to be honest with you.