Hampshire band The Vaccines are Back in Love City - and at Portsmouth Guildhall - on their latest tour | Interview

There can’t be many bands who’ve spent the past couple of years as spread out across the globe as The Vaccines.

Friday, 15th April 2022, 11:43 am
Updated Friday, 15th April 2022, 11:43 am

With members living in America, The Caribbean, Iceland, Australia and England, the indie-rockers have certainly been a disparate bunch.

‘We did our best to get as far from each other as possible,’ laughs frontman Justin Young.

‘We've got a WhatsApp group that's contributed to on a daily basis, though. And when we've been lucky enough to be in the same city with each other we've all hung out.’

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But now the five-piece can finally tour in support of their latest album, The Guide spoke with Young as the band were about to reconvene in the UK for rehearsals – they originally formed in London in 2010.

As Young, who has spent the last few years living in New York and Los Angeles, says: ‘I've been back here since Christmas, trying to glue my life back together!’

The band released their fifth album, Back In Love City, last autumn, and it became their fifth consecutive top five charting long-player.

Inspired by fictional cities – from Ridley Scott’s version of LA in Blade Runner to acclaimed anime Cowboy Bebop’s Fear City – as much as real world places like Las Vegas, Tijuana and Tokyo, the idea of Love City took shape.

The Vaccines are at Portsmouth Guildhall on April 18, 2022. Picture by Frank Fieber

Its 13 songs are set against the fictional metropolis of the title, with The Vaccines as the house-band in ‘a place where safety, solace and satisfaction are on offer as much as love, where mental and physical pleasure is for sale, and where nobody has to be alone.’

What this means in practice is a set of guitar-heavy, hard-driving songs, put together by a band with a newly found collaborative spirit.

‘It's kind of mad – five top five albums,’ says Young, ‘I can't quite believe it, and things are good!

‘We're all still in different corners of the world, but coming back together in the next week or so to start rehearsing for the tour, and it's going to be quite a gratifying experience finally getting to play the new record, and also mark 10 years of the first record.

The Vaccines on the Common Stage at Victorious Festival 2019. Picture: Vernon Nash (250819-069)

‘We had planned to do some shows for that last year which never happened.

‘We're just quite excited to get back together again and do what we love doing.’

Plans for a full tour to mark the 10 year anniversary of 2011’s platinum-selling debut, What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? also fell foul of the pandemic.

But as Justin says: ‘I think the moment's gone for that. But the tour will, as it always does, lean favourably to material from that record because it's so pivotal to our sound. It changed our lives.’

The Vaccines are at Portsmouth Guildhall on April 18, 2022. Picture by Frank Fieber

Last autumn the band got together for a handful of low-key shows around the album’s release as part of the Music Venue’s Trust Revive Live campaign. The trust has been at the forefront of keeping independent venues going during the pandemic.

It was a no-brainer for the Vaccines to get involved.

‘The Vaccines have always talked about the importance of music in a live setting and the part it played in us learning our craft and meeting each other,’ says Young.

‘None of us would be where we are, and the band certainly wouldn't exist if it wasn't for venues up and down the country. They're the lifeblood of their local communities.’

Young grew up in Southampton so is more than familiar with venues from this part of the world.

‘The Joiners was pivotal – and The Wedgewood Rooms! I went to see a lot of my first gigs either there or at The Pyramids.’

The band had been sitting on Love City for some time. They recorded it at Sonic Ranch studios, just outside El Paso in Texas in late 2019. ‘The plan was to release it in March 2020. I need not say any more, I guess…’ says Young.

However, the experience of recording at the isolated residential studio, which is close to the Rio Grande and the Mexican border, helped the band focus solely on the music.

‘It's an incredibly exciting and inspiring place to make music.

‘That really helped create this immersive and creative environment, where we were either eating, sleeping or making music.

‘It really allowed us to live it and go into a lot more detail than if you were making a record in a big city where people are inevitably finding excuses to leave early or arrive late, or whatever.’

It was also the first album where the current line-up had been involved from the start. Drummer Yoann Intonti and keys player Tim Lanham became official members during the making of 2018’s Combat Sports.

Has that change in personnel made a difference?

‘Massively,’ affirms Young. ‘We're a completely different band with Tim and Yo in it, and it feels like a different band and we're infinitely better for their input and creativity and their wisdom. They're just as much part of The Vaccines as the rest of us.’

The keyboards are noticeably prominent on Love City, but as Young notes: ‘Tim increasingly plays more and more guitar as well. They've undoubtedly brought a lot to what we do.’

One of Love City’s key tracks, El Paso, was actually written by Justin in LA before the band knew where they’d be recording – but ended up contributing to their choice of studio.

‘It was a little bit of serendipity. I was flying to El Paso and then on to Juarez [in Mexico] the day I wrote the song. And [producer] Daniel Ledinsky who made the record, said: “Oh, there's this amazing studio out there called Sonic Ranch”, so I guess as we were naming the song, we called it El Paso, as that was the last thing we'd been talking about...’

The song was also written on a guitar previously owned by acclaimed cult singer-songwriter Elliott Smith who died in 2003.

‘If you've been enough in enough studios, you've probably come into contact with enough instruments that someone at least claims to have been played by someone far more impressive than you!’ explains Young.

‘But it's always inspiring to hold in your hands something that has created something far greater than you're capable of creating, but I think you forget about it quite quickly. It's a nice bit of PR though.’

When they reconvened for the MVT/album launch shows last autumn, the band also recorded a new six-track EP, Planet of The Youth.

‘That was written during lockdown, as the whole EP was, and it was recorded in London.

‘We almost thought of it as being an EP being made by the Cantina Band in Star Wars – we were the house band somewhere in Love City, it's a little extension or accompaniment to the album. It's a palette cleanser before we start working on the next record.’

To that end, the frontman is confident work can begin soon on Love City's follow-up.

‘We're going to do these shows and then we've got a few festivals in the summer, and then I think we'll probably try and get in the studio and try to make another record – I hope.

‘If we feel we've got enough new songs, and there's stuff starting to take shape – I think that would be a nice thing to do.’

The Vaccines, supported by Black Honey and Aziya, are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Monday, April 18. Tickets £33.90. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.