Justin Young (The Vaccines): We Want People to Feel Less Alone, We Want to Feel Less Alone
Back on the scene with Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations, their highly acclaimed and well-received sixth studio album, released only a couple of weeks ago, The Vaccines have once again begun to populate the stages of Europe, bringing a blend of romance and lively freshness. Before their packed and engaging performance on the 24th of January at the Roxy Club, I enjoyed a nice and inspiring chat with the group's magnetic lead singer, Justin Young.
How is the tour going so far?
Oh great, the gigs have been amazing so far!
Cool, and how was the crowd response to your latest album, Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations, which came out just a few days ago?
I guess you're always hoping that people are going to take the new songs to heart and learn the lyrics or that kind of stuff. Sometimes it takes a while, but, this whole week, people have been singing all the words back and everything, it's been amazing. A pleasant surprise!
How does it feel touring Europe again?
It's great. I mean, we didn't get to do it on the last record because of COVID and all that sort of stuff. So, I think it's been like five years since we've toured Europe properly. And yeah, it's pretty great to be back, to be honest with you.
One of my first questions concerns your latest album, which was very well-received by critics and magazines, and rightfully so because it's very beautiful music indeed. How did this new album come about, what was the urge after the fifth album to go and create this new one?
You know, if you're creative and you're inspired and interested in life, then I think you're always hungry to try new things. Every time you make an album, it's probably slightly reactionary with regards to the one that came before and there are things about the process and the outcome that you want to change and things you want to stick with. But ultimately it's that you're a different person, living a different period of your life in a different place, all this kind of stuff. And then I think that sometimes music that comes into the world, that comes from all that kind of stuff, doesn't always have to be a contrived or from a sort of orchestrated approach; sometimes it's just what happens naturally.
It was a lyric that came to me. When I was writing "The Dreamer", I thought perhaps it was a lyric I plagiarized because I recognized it from somewhere, but I wasn't sure where. And then I realized a few weeks later that I'd misremembered these lyrics from Don McLean's American Pie, which I just thought was poignant because that's a song about, you know, the loss of innocence and the death of the American dream and all that kind of thing. And those are definitely themes that I was exploring myself.
Okay, and what's usually the creative process in the band? Are you the one making the lyrics or do all you together contribute to the composition?
I'll write all the lyrics, and then I take the song to the band. And then we kind of work it out together. But the lyrics come from me. Ultimately, we arrange the piece all together.
I know there were some changes in your band's history, due to the departure of Pete Robertson in 2016 and Freddie Cowan in 2017. Did this somehow affect the band's creativity and musical approach?
Yeah, well, when you think of a band as three, four or five people, whenever somebody leaves, it shifts, it rebalances everything personally and creatively. More than anything, I think when someone leaves the band, they normally leave because they don't want to be there. But I think if somebody doesn't want to be there, that impacts the energy and the atmosphere, and so I think that it's normally for the best, to be honest. Then suddenly for this last record, we found ourselves, there were four of us, and we all wanted to be there. And we wanted to create something similar in similar ways in a similar timeframe. And so actually, it ends up being quite a positive thing I would say.
Okay. Let's now focus a bit on your musical approach. What was your first encounter with music? What was that moment you felt like: "Now I want to do some music myself"?
I mean, I think as long as I can remember. Music has just been a part of my life and a way to kind of express myself in ways that I haven't always been able to in conversation, that kind of thing. I think it's always been my central responsive way of expressing myself, I would say, from a very, very young age.
Was your family involved in music or did they somehow push you to play?
My dad and my mom loved and played a lot of music. My dad had a lot of instruments in the house, any kind of thing. So yeah, very much so.
Okay. And what was the music you were listening to as a child?
Like everybody, I went through so many phases. My first love was Elvis and Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and things like that. And then I got into Oasis and Britpop, and a bit later on Nirvana, and grunge and all that sort of stuff. And Punk Rock. I think we all do go through lots of different phases.
And what music inspires you today?
I consume so much music like everybody does nowadays, you know, but definitely the artists. I mean, Leonard Cohen was somebody who I spent a lot of time listening to. And then Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney. The classics!
And when you create your music, do you always prefer to stay in one place?
No, I think it's important to change and to go to new places with new people and try new methods or that kind of stuff. I think you're always looking for new ways to be inspired.
I know that you have been living in the US for the last couple of years, is there some change in your approach when recording and living there compared to living in the UK?
Well, as I said earlier, wherever you are, as an artist, you're sort of soaking up your environment. And so if you're living in a new place – with new people experiencing new things, there's a different temperature outside, different culture, all that sort of stuff – I think it plays into your life, and how you sing about it and write about it. Creativity is thriving everywhere. It's hard for me to say how different, I mean, it's different everywhere because everyone is different.
Music appears as a result of the impact of many factors, including sentimental relationships, which seem to be one of the preponderant topics of your last albums and many of your lyrics.
I mean, that's the story of my life, unfortunately. But yeah, definitely documenting, like loss, not just romantic loss, but also change and all that sort of stuff is an ever-present theme in all our lives, I guess.
How do you think music should impact society and the world we live in? If it should?
I think that there are places for music to challenge, to impact and to be part of the cultural and geopolitical conversation, and all that kind of stuff. And then there's also a place for music to comfort and to help you forget all that stuff, and to not comment on it. Music is art, but it's also entertainment. I think it's a part of all our lives, and there's enough of it that it doesn't all have to be political, or it doesn't all have to be romantic, or it doesn't all have to make you want to dance or make you want to cry. It's like a conversation, you know.
Yeah, absolutely. Music seems to respond to all our needs in terms of communicating feelings and sometimes ideas.
Music means different things to different people at different times. It can kind of be all-encompassing, you know, music is listening and seeing and there's a very broad spectrum now. I think if you wanted to – if all you want to do is dance, where you want to just forget, or if you want to be challenged – if you want all that sort of stuff, it's valid. Music should go first, like everything, for everybody. It should offer something.
I agree. Let's go back a moment to touring, what is your favourite crowd? A waving sing-along crowd or rather a silent sitting one?
The sing-along crowds! I think that's really important. That's like congregation, community, connection. We want people to feel less alone. We want to feel less alone.
Well, it's true, I think it's really important, and it creates a much more intimate relationship with the artist and with the music itself.
I also wanted to ask you, how much irony and seriousness are present in your lyrics.
They're very important to me because they are about my life, and I think being as authentic and as brutally honest as possible is very important. But in terms of seriousness, that's probably for other people to answer. I mean, it's the most important thing in my life. That's why I stay on stage, it's everything to me, but I suppose for other people, it's however much they want it to be, I guess.
Your lyrics are somewhat deep and profound, I would say also intimate, and you seem to show your most intimate and private side of yourself.
I think so. Yeah, totally.
Was it always that easy to show your true self and perform in front of a large audience, or did it come with time?
I've always found it easy, to be honest. And so, on that in conversation, I think that's one of the things music has given me. It's this kind of powerful too, yeah.
Are you getting inspired by other forms of art as well?
Music is my main inspiration. But I like film and photography. If we're in a new city, I like to go and visit the museum of modern art, or classical art, and all this kind of stuff. But for me it's like listening to the radio and not knowing what's on it. I like to look at it and take it in, but I'm not a student of it, you know?
And are you the type of musician to get homesick when touring?
No, I don’t get homesick while touring. I love being on the road. I like being in a bubble.
Do you have any upcoming projects with the band or of your own?
We're all working on different music. A new work with Halloweens is coming out, which is another one of my projects, and a couple of other things. But mostly I think the rest of this year is just touring with The Vaccines.
If you were to say something to your fans, what would you like to tell them?
I mean, we've been doing this for 13 years now. We're six albums in and the fact that people are still listening to us and loving the songs, learning the lyrics, and staying with us on our journey, really means so much to us. So, we are just very thankful.
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