It’s 2011 and I’m in the cramped NME/Radio One tent at Reading Festival about to see the most exciting band of the year take to the stage. As the then-quartet wow the crowd with one of the best sets of the weekend – rife with moshpits and people screaming in their friends’ faces to “put a wetsuit on” – it was clear to see that what was happening was the making of Britain’s next great band. But what else would you expect from The Vaccines?
Flash forward seven years, and the band still hold the same spot in the nation’s indie-dreamboat-loving heart. Now boasting a different line-up following the departure of drummer Pete Robertson in 2016, when I meet up with (read: fangirl terribly over) the London-based band, it’s the eve of the release of their fantastic fourth LP, Combat Sports.
An incredible record, it sees the group – made up Justin Young, Freddie Cowan, Árni Árnason, Tim Lanham and Yoann Intonti – full of that same fire that made them so overwhelmingly compelling back in 2011. “I think at its core, it’s a very Vaccines sounding record.” Justin tells me. “I think people who really believe in us, in what we do, in what we say and how we say it, I think they’ll be really happy. I think the record’s mood, energy and message are very in line with what people want from us, so I’m excited about people hearing it.”
Their first new music since 2015’s English Graffiti, the band felt the need to reconnect with themselves and what they loved doing when creating their newest offering. This resulted in the quintet driving back to their rock’n’roll roots, filling Combat Sports with punchy guitar riffs, fesitval-ready anthems and biting yet beautiful lyrics.
“I guess [it’s about] life.” Justin explains of the record’s inspirations. “We always try to be personal in the way we write – those age-old subjects of love and love lost and friendship and anger and lust and confusion and lots of stuff. But also we’ve been doing this for seven/eight years now, so it’s a step forward musically. It’s a more focussed, lean-sounding record.”
“I think it’s a very honest record in terms of what we wanted to get from it and what we really connected with ourselves.” Guitarist Freddie continues. “I feel we just did what we really deep down felt like doing and connected with what we loved about the band and what we enjoy doing as individuals, which is actually quite a difficult place to arrive to because you have to kind of navigate your way out of all the other stuff and reconnect with things.
It’s not necessarily to find out ‘what would The Vaccines do?’ but what would we be happy to tour for 18 months? A big thing for me is when we do signings and someone is really excited about the album. Am I gonna be happy to sit there, look them in the eyes and know that I did the best I could? You know what I mean? It’s a real thing! You can be there like ‘I wish I hadn’t done it like that.’ You’ve got to know that you did everything to the best of your ability. It’s important that you can tell yourself that you’ve done the best you could, you’ve given all of yourself, and it’s also something you had fun doing, something you enjoyed.”
Released at the end of March, Combat Sports has been met with critical acclaim and undeniably shows The Vaccines at their best. “I think it’s only 30 minutes of music but it still comes with a lot of emotions.” Justin says. “The best music is the music you can put on when you’re sad, when you’re happy, when you wanna dance, when you wanna be alone, when you wanna socialise. I think in a good record there should be a song for every mood. Obviously you’re not writing with that in mind, but for me, my favourite records are the ones that I can take something from whatever mood I’m in.”
“To me, it’s a real record of perseverance.” Freddie adds. “I guess it’s a bit victorious. The idea of internal combat sport, the battling of oneself and battling with all the things you go through. I think it’s quite a hopeful record.”
And what can we expect from The Vaccines next? “We’re writing again, but not with anything particular in mind, just oiling the cogs!” Justin laughs. “We wanna enjoy touring this record that we’ve been working on so hard, take it around the world, play it to people. It’s been so long since we’ve done it. The best thing about being in a band is fucking playing music.” And the best thing about loving The Vaccines is seeing them do just that.