A shot in the arm

Af­ter he’d ac­cepted that his nu-folk­ish solo pro­ject wasn’t con­nect­ing with peo­ple as he’d hoped, Justin Young joined The Vac­cines – re­luc­tantly. It’s a good job for fans of ram­bunc­tious, street­wise in­die rock that he did, but why the hes­i­ta­tion, asks Lau

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

IF YOU didn’t know bet­ter, you’d think that per­haps Justin Young and his band­mates weren’t think­ing straight when they named their band. The Vac­cines? A moniker that elic­its im­ages of steril­ity and vis­its to the doc­tors in­volv­ing large, scary nee­dles?

But don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the singer of the hottest new in­die band in town. The Lon­doner has been down this road be­fore, and Young’s prior ex­pe­ri­ence in the mu­sic in­dus­try has made him all too aware of the unim­por­tance of band names. The twen­tysome­thing’s first foray into the mu­si­cal limelight – af­ter he’d com­pleted his his­tory de­gree, that is – was un­der the singer­song­writer pseudonym Jay Jay Pis­to­let. He was lumped in with nu-folk artists such as Noah and the Whale, Laura Mar­ling and Johnny Flynn, and he even shared a flat with mem­bers of Mum­ford and Sons for sev­eral years, en­tic­ing Mar­cus Mum­ford to play in his back­ing band on oc­ca­sion. Yet al­though his cur­rent role as Vac­cines front­man and chief song­writer couldn’t sound any more dif­fer­ent from his days of fey folk, that doesn’t mean he’s dis­mis­sive of his re­cent past.

“It was def­i­nitely a sort of ap­pren­tice­ship,” he agrees. “I sup­pose I was fur­ther down the line than I would have been, in terms of writ­ing songs and learn­ing how to chan­nel creativ­ity. I al­ways feel, as a song­writer, or what­ever you do in life, that you get bet­ter if that’s what you strive to do. I’d seen var­i­ous dif­fer­ent paths that var­i­ous dif­fer­ent peo­ple I knew had taken, but I’d al­ways watched from the side­lines.”

While the ca­reers of his con­tem­po­raries flour­ished, Young was left play­ing the same venues and mov­ing in the same cir­cles – so a shift in sound and direc­tion was in­evitable.

“Well, I think it’s like any­thing in life, isn’t it, re­ally? Re­la­tion­ship, work, or an artis­tic pur­suit – if you’re los­ing your drive, or your creativ­ity, or your fo­cus, then the best thing to do is to change. That said, it wasn’t like I dropped ev­ery­thing. I still write all the Vac­cines song on an acous­tic gui­tar, and they still come from the same place emo­tion­ally. I think it’s just the way they’re dressed up. It needed to be re­fresh­ing – for me, any­way. Hav­ing other peo­ple to bounce things off helps things, too. It’d be re­ally cyn­i­cal – and not true – to say that I stopped [op­er­at­ing as Jay Jay Pis­to­let] be­cause I thought that peo­ple had had their fill of folk artists, and that the win­ners had al­ready crossed the fin­ish line. But I def­i­nitely started to ques­tion whether or not I had any­thing to of­fer. It wasn’t like I thought ‘Well, those peo­ple are suc­cess­ful, so I won’t play folk mu­sic any more, be­cause no one else can be suc­cess­ful’. But I was cer­tainly aware that I wasn’t con­nect­ing with peo­ple in a way that other peo­ple were.”

En­ter Fred­die Cowan, gui­tarist and younger brother of Tom Cowan of The Hor­rors. Cowan, and a mu­tual friend of his and Young’s, had a plan: to form a rock band that paid tribute to the greats, but that also sprin­kled their own dis­tinct flavour on the songs. Yet al­though Young was ea­ger to move on from his Jay Jay Pis­to­let ma­te­rial, he wasn’t par­tic­u­larly amenable to the pair’s of­fer.

“I was quite re­luc­tant, and so was Fred­die, iron­i­cally. We sort of had to be con­vinced to start the band. I wasn’t re­ally in that place. I wasn’t re­ally feel­ing cre­ative, and I didn’t know what to do with it all. I’d lost my drive a bit. But from pretty early on it felt re­ally good. Fred­die and I just sort of clicked on a cre­ative level, so we con­tin­ued with it.”

Hav­ing ce­mented their line-up with session-mu­si­cian friends Arni Hjover and Pete Robin­son just over a year ago, the quar­tet signed a deal with Columbia and recorded their de­but al­bum quite quickly. What Did You Ex­pect from the Vac­cines? is a col­lec­tion of short, sharp bursts of ram­bunc­tious in­die rock, and al­though ru­mours abound that its re­lease date was moved for­ward by a week to avoid a clash with The Strokes, there are only the vaguest of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween both bands. If any­thing, tracks such as the bril­liantly catchy Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra) and If You Wanna have more in com­mon with the sort of melodic, street­wise in­die rock once ped­dled by Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros.

Other com­par­isons have been drawn with ev­ery­one from The Ra­mones ( Nør­gaard) to a range of Phil Spec­tor-pro­duced acts ( A Lack of Un­der­stand­ing), but the well-spo­ken Young takes such com­par­isons with a gen­er­ous help­ing of salt.

“I think you’d have to be rather nar­cis­sis­tic to think you’re wor­thy of com­par­isons like that – but I think as mu­si­cians, and as mu­sic fans, we’ve been in con­stant search of the per­fect pop song,” he nods. “We’re con­stantly look­ing back to the ’50s and ’60s. I know it’s a lazy an­swer, but we lis­ten to so much from so many dif­fer­ent eras – you’d be sur­prised at some of the stuff we lis­ten to. Straight-up pop mu­sic, punk rock . . . we

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