Five things we learned from our In Conversation chat with The Vaccines

On their fifth album ‘Back In Love City’ The Vaccines transport us to a neon-lit, sci-fi world. Inspired by sin cities and love motels, in this realm your emotions can be plugged in and out of – they’re no longer free-flowing through our brains and bodies. It’s a thought-provoking concept that provides the backbone to a record that veers from bright pop moments, driving, Ennio Morricone-indebted desert songs and tracks that are altogether heavier than your typical Vaccines song.

“I’m coming to terms with the fact that it potentially is a concept record,” frontman Justin Young admits from his home in London when he joins NME on Zoom to talk about the new album. The idea for the fictional Love City – and the phrase that forms the album’s title – came to Young on the yellow sofa he’s talking to us from. “I emailed the rest of the band pretty much as soon as I finished [the title track], sent it to them and said, ‘This is a new song and perhaps something more than just a song’,” he explains. “And everyone agreed.”

Ahead of the new album’s release this week (September 10) Young went deeper into ‘Back In Love City’ for NME‘s latest In Conversation interview, as well as discussing the importance of small venues, making it to 11 years as a band and the impact that writing with other artists has had on his own songwriting.

The Vaccines’ new album was recorded near Trump’s border wall between the US and Mexico 

To record ‘Back In Love City’ The Vaccines decamped to Sonic Ranch studio in El Paso, Texas, close to part of Donald Trump’s controversial border wall that formed a key part of his 2016 election campaign. “Trump’s wall ran through the property so it was really quite an extreme place to go, having started making the album in west London,” Young explains. “The nearest town to the studio is where all of the internment camps are, where the kids are separated from their parents and stuff. You were very aware of that when you were there.”

Despite the song ‘Wanderlust’ containing a lyric that says “open up your borders”, the frontman notes that the album’s lyrics predated “even knowing we were going to record in Texas” and were pure coincidence. Given the location, though, recording the album’s penultimate track ‘Heart Land’ – a love letter to American pop culture – so close to a symbol of the country’s ugly, evil side must have been quite jarring?

“Yeah,” Young agrees. “You’re singing this intentionally quite naïve love letter to America in the form of what you thought it was as a 13, 14, 15-year-old boy, but very aware of what it also is. America is a place of extremes – it’s all these great things, but also responsible for quite a lot of darkness and [it] confronts that on a daily basis.”

‘Back In Love City’ mines themes of connection that Justin has always been fascinated by

While much will likely be made of the album’s themes of connection given how the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to socially adapt, its core ideas are ones that have been relevant for longer than the past 18 months – and have even filtered into The Vaccines’ work before. “I’ve always been really fascinated by connection, misconnection and disconnection, and all those things,” Young says. “COVID didn’t really change much there, it just maybe expedited some stuff and highlighted and heightened other things.”

He points to the band’s third record ‘English Graffiti’ as being “a record about connecting and wanting to connect, but not being able to” as an example of his past mediations on the subject. ‘Back In Love City’, though, finds new material in the concept of emotion and connection becoming finite resources in our lives.

“We’re constantly reminded of things that we have now that we may not have in the future, and of things being very binary,” Young explains. “It’s very good-evil, on-off, yes-no. The way that we interact and connect is in quite a binary fashion [too]. If you think about the last 18 months, even though we’ve been connected through Zoom, for example, everything has been forced into quite a binary corner.”

The Vaccines
The Vaccines, 2021 (Picture: Frank Fieber / Press)

Drummer Yoann Intonti and keyboardist Timothy Lanham joining The Vaccines has made them feel like a new band again

After the band’s original drummer Pete Robertson left in 2016 following the release of 2015’s ‘English Graffiti’, Intonti and Lanham joined The Vaccines as touring members. Midway through sessions for their fourth album, 2018’s ‘Combat Sports’, both were officially anointed as full-time members of the gang, bringing a new feel to life in The Vaccines.

“Pete leaving was the wake-up call we needed,” Young reflects. “Ever since then we’ve been pretty good at making sure everything is fun, more than anything else. We maybe had to remind ourselves of just how lucky we are and how good we had it.”

Of Intonti and Lanham’s promotions, he notes that the reason they were made full-time members was because of “how much better they made everything not just sound, but feel”. “For a good few years now, every day has felt like being in a band for the first time,” he says. “I know it sounds cheesy but I do feel like we’re also personally in a really good place, and that’s probably one of the reasons we had so much fun making [this album]. It was such a fluid experience creatively.”

The Vaccines’ longevity is down to their belief in themselves as a band

The Vaccines formed 11 years ago this year, and celebrated the 10th anniversary of their debut album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ in March. It’s not often that a band who were so heavily hyped during their infancy stays the course for more than a decade, and does so in a way that has seen them maintain not just their form but also their relevancy and reverence from their fans. Yet The Vaccines have managed to do just that, with ‘Back In Love City’ marking their finest and most inventive work to date.

“Maybe because we haven’t broken up yet,” Young says self-deprecatingly when asked for the reason why they’ve managed to stick around for so long. When NME insists there must be more to it than that, though, he concedes: “We really believe in ourselves as a band. We believe we’re capable of bigger and better. Every time we start a record, we think this will be the one.”

Crucially, they also have no interest in making the same record over and over again. “I’m very aware that The Vaccines aren’t to everyone’s tastes – as you can say about any artist – but I think that, to certain people, we’re exactly what they’re looking for,” the frontman reasons. “I think that’s because we truly believe in what we do and we will always push ourselves – and getting better is really important to us.”

We’ll hopefully be getting more of Justin and Tim’s Halloweens side project in the near future

Last year Young and Lanham shared ‘Morning Kiss At The Acropolis’, the debut album from their side project Halloweens that was an altogether softer and prettier record than you might usually associate with The Vaccines. Their spring and summer were meant to be spent touring and playing festivals around the album but, for obvious reasons, those gigs never took place.

“I really hope so,” Young says when asked if we can still expect to see more from the Halloweens project. “I’ve been putting off recording a new song we have – I was gonna do it after we finish talking. So we’re definitely working on new music and, hopefully, if we release that, we can finally get around to playing some shows.”