The Vaccines: We're entering a whole new creative chapter
Photo by Jesse John Jenkins
You could call the Vaccines the "accidental rock band." Flashback to 2009 when lead singer Justin Young, then known as Jay Jay Pistolet, was working on a solo career that wasn't going anywhere.
"I was playing guitar in his band," explains Freddie Cowan, the Vaccines' lead guitarist on the line with Gimme Noise from London ahead of Saturday's show at the Triple Rock. "We had this friend in common who said 'maybe we should start a band. We could do something pretty different.'"
Young started playing keyboards, while Cowan picked up the bass. "We were all playing instruments that we'd never played before," he continues. "We had become disillusioned being musicians in London so we thought: 'Screw it. Let's do something with no strings attached.'" Though their mutual friend departed, the Vaccines had essentially been formed. Árni Arnason and Pete Robertson soon came on board to round out the present lineup.
The roster set, they quickly started gaining attention after uploading a demo version of the song "If You Wanna" to YouTube in the summer of 2010. That, and a few live gigs, caught the ear of influential BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe who named the track his "Hottest Record in the World" for August 18 of that year. Their breakthrough track "Post-Break Up Sex" was released in January of 2011 reaching number 32 on the UK singles chart. "If You Wanna" wound up being the follow-up single, and made it to 35.
The band received further validation when Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes took an interest in them. Late summer 2011 found them in Hammond's upstate New York studio cutting a track called "Tiger Blood." The Strokes guitarist made the invite after watching the Vaccines open for Arctic Monkeys in Central Park. "I'm a big Strokes fan, and he's one of my idols," Cowan says. "Albert believed in what we were doing and that was quite a validation point -- that we were doing something right. And the song's really cool." It's not, however, about Charlie Sheen. "We'd never heard that," insists Cowan. "Albert joked about it. We were in Australia right before coming to New York and missed the whole tabloid obsession with Charlie Sheen."
While Young is the acknowledged creative leader, the rest of the band has a lot of input. "I've always liked the odd tracks, the odd bands," says Cowan. "I've never been one for the hits. Justin likes quite a lot of it He's pop-obsessed. I guess we bring both ends of the spectrum together." They all believe that the overall sound of the band should be minimalist. "We're really into the idea of making it linear, straight-forward, and as simple as possible. You don't even notice it when you're a musician, but it's very easy to get carried away. Really the hardest thing to achieve is simplicity, so that is really our focal point."
Most of the songs on the band's first two albums were penned by Young, but now the rest of the band has taken an interest in writing. "We have a whole new batch of songs," Cowan reports. "We're entering a whole new creative chapter and it's really exciting." Many of the b-sides for the latest album, Come of Age, are being recorded as the singles are released including the flipside of the forthcoming "Bad Mood," a song called "Living Out Your Dreams Backwards," composed by Cowan. "I recorded it with my brother [Tom Cowan] from the Horrors, and I produced it. It was a really cool thing to do because it busts us out on our own. I've never overseen production on my own songs."
With two acclaimed albums behind them, Cowan says the Vaccines' third effort is going to be an important milestone in the band's career. "We want to figure out how to take the basic elements of what we do, and whilst maintaining them, flip them on their head. I'd really like to find a way to use the guitar in a way that it's never been used before." He adds that they don't want to make a record for the sake of making it. "You really make a record for yourself."
For now though, the accolades keep coming as "Teenage Icon," from Come of Age, landed at number 14 on Rolling Stone's top-50 singles of 2012. Their current tour of the US is finally giving them some much deserved exposure in the US.
The Vaccines perform Saturday February 9 8 p.m. at the Triple Rock 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are $18.00. triplerocksocialclub.com 612.333.7399
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