Q (UK) - - The Vaccines -

There’s a sub­dued morningafter vibe in Ari­adne’s Nek­tar this af­ter­noon, largely be­cause lo­cal res­i­dent Damon Albarn hosted a drink-up here yes­ter­day un­til the wee hours. It was here also that The Vac­cines par­tied to the dawn, af­ter they’d played a mind-bog­gling head­line show across town at Lon­don’s O2 Arena. That was on 2 May, 2013 – a date that Justin Young re­mem­bers, be­cause it was his 26th birth­day. “Most arena acts are in are­nas by the time they’re 25,” he notes – the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing, it ac­tu­ally hap­pened pretty slow for him. Both he and Cowan con­cede, how­ever, that the O2 gig messed with their minds. “The whole thing felt ab­so­lutely sur­real and un­be­liev­able,” the guitarist muses. “Even while it was hap­pen­ing, it was hard to take on board. You spend so many years be­ing re­jected, then it hap­pens so quick, you al­most feel like you don’t be­long there.” Like Oa­sis and Arc­tic Mon­keys be­fore them, The Vac­cines clocked through each stage of ca­reer suc­cess at breath­less ve­loc­ity. What Did You Ex­pect…? yielded no less than six sin­gles, and, within 18 months, their hastily cre­ated fol­low-up, Come Of Age, went in at Num­ber 1 in the UK. “Suc­cess is quite ad­dic­tive and in­tox­i­cat­ing,” says Young, “so once the ball started rolling, it was like, ‘Aw, this feels fuck­ing good’, but along­side bouts of anx­i­ety and in­se­cu­rity.” “It never felt good enough,” adds Cowan. “Like, what’s next? We played Alexan­dra Palace, and then im­me­di­ately it was, ‘Right, now we’re book­ing the O2’. It was this hunger that you could never sat­isfy.” Writ­ten on the hoof, and recorded un­der colos­sal pres­sure, Come Of Age isn’t an al­bum they’re fond of. They’re just proud that they didn’t buckle, but got it made and thus kept their mo­men­tum go­ing. Af­ter cap­ping off the cam­paign at the O2, the roy­al­ties from its pre­de­ces­sor started land­ing. “La­bel and man­age­ment were go­ing, ‘Take some time off, and spend some of the money you’ve earnt – en­joy your­self!’” Young re­calls. He re­sponded by buy­ing an apart­ment in New York City’s Chi­na­town, and burn­ing the can­dle.

“I got fucked ev­ery day for three years,” he con­fesses, grin­ning un­re­pen­tantly. “I ate two cheese­burg­ers a day, and drank all the Corona in New York, and ended up putting on three stone. This is me stand­ing out­side an ice-cream van to­wards the end,” he says, call­ing up a pic­ture of him­self, look­ing bearded and porky like Brian Wil­son in the mid-’ 70s. “You look mis­er­able,” notes Cowan. “That’s be­cause I’m hav­ing to queue for my food,” the singer ex­plains. Young had hoped that the rest of the band would also move out to the Big Apple, and that they’d en­ter into this ex­cit­ing new Transat­lantic chap­ter in their band’s nar­ra­tive to­gether. “Like, ‘We’re a gang, let’s all go and do this!’” he says, with char­ac­ter­is­tic bright-eyed op­ti­mism. Only Cowan fol­lowed, as Ár­na­son went back to Iceland, and Robert­son started a fam­ily in Hamp­shire. “I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Wow, we’re re­ally scat­ter­ing. Two of us are here try­ing to find in­spi­ra­tion in this big scary amaz­ing city, and Pete’s liv­ing in the town he grew up in, rais­ing kids. I don’t mean that as a slight, it was just peo­ple want­ing to go in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions in their lives.” Things didn’t im­prove when they came to record their third al­bum, English Graf­fiti, in NYC. Dur­ing his care­free State­side sab­bat­i­cal, Young had also spent time in Los An­ge­les, blast­ing out con­tem­po­rary R&B as he and his bud­dies hopped from party to party in an open-topped hum­mer. He was full of ideas of mod­ernising The Vac­cines’ sound, with the at­ten­dant dream of hit­ting the pop jack­pot on both sides of the At­lantic. “Gui­tar mu­sic had never seemed less rel­e­vant,” he says, “so I just wanted to make mu­sic for those peo­ple I was par­ty­ing with.” Ob­sessed with pop cross­over, he even did some co-writ­ing with Niall Ho­ran and Harry Styles for One Di­rec­tion’s Mid­night Mem­o­ries al­bum (the tracks were shelved, as the tee­nie idols opted not to rock up their sound). For English Graf­fiti, they’d cho­sen pro­ducer Dave Frid­mann for his mod­erni­sa­tion of flat-out gui­tar bands such as Mer­cury Rev, and soon en­listed Cole M. Greif-Neill, a shad­owy LA mix-avatar as­so­ci­ated with Ju­lia Holter, Beck and Ariel Pink, to take them deeper into the pop-synth zone. Con­se­quently, con­cedes Young, “Pete felt marginalised by the process, be­cause we wanted the drum­mer to be like a ro­bot, not a hu­man.” The al­bum per­formed hand­somely at home, reach­ing Num­ber 2, but while tour­ing the al­bum, says Young, “things be­came more strained. We’d all put every­thing we had into this big-sound­ing pop record, and we all thought it would bring us to the next level. So, when you’re four weeks into a US tour, and you’ve all got the flu, and the same 500 peo­ple come to see you in Min­neapo­lis as three years ago, when maybe you were hop­ing you’d be in the lo­cal arena for three nights – that’s when the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion doesn’t live up to your hopes and dreams. “The last sin­gle, Give Me A Sign, was us go­ing all-out pop. I thought it was ex­cit­ing, a big risk, but watch­ing peo­ple’s faces when we were do­ing it live, it was like Spinal Tap do­ing Jazz Od­dyssey [ sic] – ‘what the fuck are you do­ing?’ We were cheat­ing our­selves.” In June 2016, a month af­ter tour­ing con­cluded, they an­nounced Robert­son’s de­par­ture. Young and Cowan had to face some home truths be­tween them­selves. “I’d al­ways thought Justin had a real idio­syn­crasy to his song­writ­ing that no one else had. You have to be your­self, and be brave enough to deal with the con­se­quences, and I felt that we’d lost that.” “I was aim­ing to be too uni­ver­sal,” agrees Young, “where you kind of paint over every­thing – the same shade of beige as every­body else.” Sum­marises Cowan: “From day one, we had some­thing price­less, and you don’t throw that away.”

“I got fucked ev­ery day for three years. Two cheese­burg­ers a day. I ended up putting on three stone.” Justin Young

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