As he gears up for a summer of festivals, we hooked up with Justin Young from The Vaccines
With a refreshingly raw garage punk sound, The Vaccines tore up the charts when their debut album, What Else Did You Expect From The Vaccines, was released in 2011. It was the best-selling debut of the year and won them favourable comparisons to The Strokes, The Ramones and The Stooges.
Since then, The Vaccines have become one of the most successful bands in the country. With a new EP due for release in May and a third album in the pipeline, they’re at the height of their powers.
We’ve always been huge fans of The Vaccines, [and we’ve met Freddie (guitarist) before] so when we got the chance to hook up with frontman Justin Young, we were thrilled! He told us about the band’s upcoming O2 concert, why he’s writing songs for One Direction and how to be a better songwriter. Check out the chat below:
So, you’re about to play the O2 – how does that feel?
It’s really exciting. When you start a rock band with three friends in a room half this size and you rely on three chords and £180 guitars, you don’t think that in three years you’ll be playing those songs in front of an arena crowd. It’s weird but exciting.
How do you keep a gig that size intimate?
It’s difficult. We try making big rooms intimate by creating our own intensity. We don’t rely on production or anything like that – so it has to come from us. It involves giving every ounce of energy you have and projecting everything – your feelings, your energy, anger and excitement to the back of the room. I don’t know if that’s possible but we always to do our best.
You’re doing the Gentlemen of The Road thing too… what’s that all about?
They [Mumford and Sons] are putting on their own festivals. We’re playing one in Sussex and we’re doing a bunch of them in the US too.
They’re playing in places that people wouldn’t normally come to. The one in Sussex is in Lewes, which is where my family is from, so it’ll be really exciting.
Cool. What about the ones in the states.
They’re planning one in Guthrie – but I hadn’t even heard of a few places.
Who else is playing?
Lots of different people. They’ve got Alabama Shakes and Fun… a whole bunch of bands. We’re one of the only bands playing the whole tour though.
You played with Johnny Marr and Ronnie Wood. What was that like?
Yeah – three days ago. I’ve never been as nervous in my life. I sang with him – I felt like it was his moment and I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself so I just stood there and sang. It’s surreal because I grew up listening to him. It’s one of those things that whatever happens I’ll take it to the grave with me… Getting a phone call from a boyhood hero asking if I’ll sing onstage with him is incredible.
Bad Mood is released soon… it reminds me of Iggy Pop’s Raw Power which is Johnny Marr’s desert island disk… What would be your desert island disk?
I usually say the White Album, there’s something on it for every mood, but it’s a changeable question.
So, how did you write Bad Mood?
I wrote the riff on an acoustic guitar. It was a lot more chilled and then Freddy played it on electric guitar. It’s my favourite song on the album – I love how it sounds.
You’ve been writing with One Direction… how did that happen?
You expect bands in the guitar world to automatically snub that stuff. I think traditionally there’s been tribalism but now peoples’ tastes are more varied. Always – from the word go – I’ve loved pop music and I’ve always said I wanted to write pop music, so when the biggest band in the world asked me to do it I was like “YEAH!”
How did it work, writing with them?
It was a really great creative process. I want to be the best songwriter I can be and write the best songs I can. I’m always in my bedroom trying to write good pop songs and where they come from and what they mean changes from artist to artist, but working with One Direction is only going to help me do that.
I didn’t realise those guys wrote…
I don’t know if they always did, but yeah, they do now.
When can we hear it?
I honestly don’t know…
Bowie is releasing his new record now – how do you feel about that?
I’m a fan. I often talk about people growing old with dignity and I think his comeback single where are we now get like a beautiful dignified track. It felt like it was written by someone of his age. I’m very excited to hear the record.
I’m excited that he’s back. The single was harping back to Berlin and it was quite reflective. But it’s nice and it sounded like it belongs in 2013. He made a classic sound modern.
What’s your history with Roland and Boss?
I don’t really use pedals – I’ve never really relied on them because of my philosophy towards songwriting. But with The EP in May and going into the third album, I want to expand sonically and become a better songwriter. I want to broaden my horizon and get to trips with more than just a guitar and an amp.
You’ve got a keyboard too…?
We’ve had a Juno G since the word go… I was doing solo stuff and there was one in the studio. I fell in love with it and for my 20th birthday my parents got me the JUNO and I’ve loved it ever since.
I use it for writing. It’s refreshing to use it when you re writing, It’s so user-friendly. It’s a songwriter’s keyboard and a great studio keyboard. There are just so many sounds on it.
I didn’t realise you wrote on a keyboard?
It’s refreshing to go from one to the other. If you’re working around the same chords it’s good to go from guitar to keyboard.
What about the RC-30 Loopstation you got recently?
I don’t know what’s going to come of it. It’s a new toy. Freddie uses this sort of stuff so I’m playing catch up.
I’ve read that you sometimes have sleepless nights about songwriting, What’s keeping you up? Anxiety? Or are you dreaming of stuff?
It’s everything. It’s all-consuming. It’s all I have to think about. It worries me when I have something; it worries me when I don’t. I have dreamed about songs in the past too. More than anything it’s the infinite possibilities… I still just want to be a great songwriter.
Do you think there’s always something better round the corner?
I find it an easy process but you never know if you’re getting better.
Do you put pressure on yourself?
When you put pressure on yourself it weighs down your creativity.
What tips would you have for people starting up?
I always think the best lesson I ever leaned was even though you can learn a lot from other people, there’s no point trying to write a song like Neil Young or Paul McCartney – you’re not that person. You have to write what you feel. I really wish I was like so and so but I’m me and I’m good at writing certain types of songs. You have to know what you’re good at.
If you try to do it like someone else you can misinterpret what makes a song good. You just have to do what comes what comes naturally,
You’re playing loads of festivals over the summer? How do you feel about playing so many – does it ever get samey?
There’s such a variety you never know what to expect. You get different reaction everywhere you go and that keeps it fresh. A lot of festivals have quite a unique character.
Bob Dylan once said a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does exactly what he wants to do… does that apply to you?
It’s easy to say, but it’s not very practical. It’s how I would like to live my life but I think it’s quite self-serving and impractical.
You’ve got a line: “Life is easy when you’re easy on the eye”. I think that’s simple and genius. I love it…
It’s definitely how I feel. People always pick up on the “I wish I was a girl” line – but that line is the key line in the song. I often wonder if life is easier for people because of how they look. We all get sad, but their stars align for them more than they do for other people… but beauty isn’t permanent is it?