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Music, Etc.: The Vaccines—Charting New Paths

The Vaccines released the critically acclaimed album "English Graffiti" in May, their third album in four years. Produced by Dave Fridmann and Cole M. Greif-Neill and recorded at Fridmann’s studio in upstate New York, "English Graffiti" is a refined and polished recording.

The Vaccines are on a roll. Having released their critically acclaimed English Graffiti album in May (their third album in four years), the band has already toured the world, opening for The Rolling Stones, Muse and others while selling out mid-sized halls around the U.S. Produced by Dave Fridmann and Cole M. Greif-Neill and recorded at Fridmann’s studio in upstate New York, English Graffiti is a refined and polished recording.

Artistically, it is a beacon of hope for anyone who feels that the alt/indie scene has lost its footing, with each song exposing a fresh dimension of an extraordinarily prolific band. Pro Sound News sat down for a virtual pint with frontman and principal writer Justin Hayward-Young, who provided 20/20 perspective on the band’s latest effort.


We are all really happy with this record. Honestly, there were so many special moments that occurred during the recording, and that’s one of the things that makes it so scary when you have to give it up for the world: Nobody will ever know how special it felt creating it. A record is never perfect, but now that we’re playing it out, it is a lot more deeply rooted in our hearts and minds. Only recently, we’ve begun asking ourselves, ‘Where do we go from here and how do we build on this? What will we do differently next time?’


There was just a lot of material because there were so many songs stored up over time. The irony is that that some of the songs that maybe sound more like the Vaccines, such as “20/20,” “Handsome” and “Radio Bikini,” came last and adopted ‘our formula,’ so to speak.’ There were many songs that we were stoked about, but they just didn’t have very simple pop songs at their core, And I think that whatever we do, we always have to start with great songs at the core. It is all very well to start a song with an interesting beat, cool production idea or a weird sound, but if there isn’t a good song at the core, it’s certainly something we don’t do well. We ended up starting with the songs and putting weird and wonderful things on top of that.


I am not a great player or very technical, but I have a lot of stuff in my head and sometimes I am able to get it out by happy accidents; other times, I am not. As far as vocals are concerned, I have this awareness of how I’ve sounded in the past and how I want to sound moving forward. For this record, I just wanted to sound close and personal, so I recorded most of the vocals in pitch black, in the smallest space I could find. For the higher falsetto stuff, I was normally lying on my back. Generally, I just wanted to feel good while laying down the vocal tracks. I used a single mic on pretty much the whole thing: a Sennheiser 421. It is funny, because I demoed a lot on it as well—but we went through about three or four of them before we found one that felt really great.


We recorded English Graffiti at Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York, not too far from Buffalo. Half of the year, it is lush and beautiful and the rest of the year, there is snow. Honestly, when you see his surroundings, all his records make sense—you can see why someone would look up to the sky and wonder what’s up there and make music that sounds like it came from up there. Then there is also this icy isolation and harshness to the environment, which I think is kind of an embodiment of his sonic palette.


The chemistry in The Vaccines is one of brotherhood rather than friendship. It gets tense and people say things they don’t always mean, and people aren’t always great at expressing themselves in certain situations, but I think we have a common love and a common goal. There is a bond that I think is far deeper than friendship, and at the end of each session, we can always laugh about it after it has gone down. We love working with each other—that’s why we’ve made three albums in four years because we enjoy each other’s company.


We didn’t want to work within a framework and wanted to feel like anything was possible. And I sort of felt like it was, to be honest. We spent so long listening to Buddy Holly and Mick Jones thinking ‘How can we get the guitars to sound like they do on Combat Rock? Or, ‘How can we get our guitars to sound like Buddy Holly?’ And then I realized, those guys weren’t looking back 30, 40, 50, 60 years. They were looking forward and thinking ‘How can I get a guitar sound like nothing that’s been done before?’ On this record, a lot of people think we used a lot of synths—but apart from a single Juno we used, it’s all guitars. We wanted to try to make noises on our guitars that people have never made before.


I always wanted to do music, and studying at university was just a way to get to London. Turning professional was never a scary thing for me. In fact, the idea that it wouldn’t happen was pretty scary to me—I was very lucky that I made some demos and got a manager as I was just finishing university. Pretty much the day I put the pen down, we went off on tour.