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English pop-rock band The Vamps return with their highly anticipated fourth album, Cherry Blossom. The announcement came close with the drop of their lead single “Married in Vegas” with the album set to release on October 16th, a day that can’t come soon enough for their loyal fanbase who’ve been waiting for a full-length album for two years now. “We took a bit of time off,” says lead guitarist, James McVey. “We did an EP last year, which [had] four songs, but it’s been two years since we did an album which is the longest break we’ve ever had.”
The break came at a time when they really needed it. Since getting signed in 2012 by Virgin EMI Records, their career has been non-stop. In the last 8 years, they’ve released 5 EPs, 3 albums, and did 17 tours, 10 of which they headlined and 7 were supporting slots. “We’re so very lucky,” James adds on. “The first album debuted in the top two, we sold out the first few tours that we did in some three or four years, and I think before we knew it, we’d kind of done four albums and been around the world a few times.
“And I think it’s really important in every sort of aspect of life to sometimes have moments of contemplation, to take a step away and reflect on what you’ve done,” he says. “That helps to put more solidly in your mind where you want to go, and I think for a while we were sort of just doing things and we were loving it, but I don’t feel like towards the end we had, like, a sense of direction, so that’s why I think taking some time away was important for us to galvanize our thoughts and feelings, and determine what we wanted to put into a new album.”
The Vamps started working on Cherry Blossom a year ago. Last summer, they rented a few Airbnbs for just the four of them and ended up creating the first half of the album. It helped them, not only from a musical standpoint but also helped their relationships with one another. It was nearly nine years ago that James discovered a video of Bradley Simpson, the lead singer, and guitarist, on YouTube. He’d been wanting to form a band so he reached out and they started meeting up on weekends to practice together. They met Tristan Evans (drums) and Connor Ball (bass) in a similar fashion.
“It’s kind of bizarre for us to all come from towns that were nowhere near each other and we sort of assembled via social media,” James reflects, “[it] seems like a lifetime ago.” Looking back now on all of their different accomplishments, they feel very lucky to have had the experiences they’ve had. Bradley says, “I think getting signed in the beginning from just starting out doing covers was a really big moment for us. The release of the first album, and then going into number two was hard to kind of process. I think it takes time to process those big milestones. And then for me, when we first headlined and sold out the O2, a venue in London, that was a really big moment for us. We just did not know what to expect and I think it sold out within like the first day or something ridiculous. So when those things happen, you just have a ‘pinch yourself’ moment.”
As they’re approaching nearly a decade of being in a band, they can’t help but compare themselves to their friends from back home who’ve gone onto University, gotten jobs in other fields, etc. “For us, we kind of had touring, and stuff on TV shows, and albums to discover and learn who we are as people,” James says. “I think the first few years, it was a whirlwind. Now looking back, you can appreciate it more. It’s like we’ve lived four different lives in the past ten years because with every album there have been different opportunities and hurdles.”
While they don’t regret making the career choice they did, they have moments when they wish they went to University and lived that experience. However, Tristan says, “We take advantage of the partying, (laughs), but I just don’t think I can sync with the work.” As he laughs, Bradley adds, “We did, I remember, a night out in Sweden. We had just played a gig, and we were heading out to a bar or something, and then we ended up meeting a group of students who just graduated and celebrated their graduation with them. It was awesome. We lived vicariously through other people’s University experiences.”
With previous albums, the process was pretty much the same. Bradley explains, “What we’d always done had worked and we enjoyed the process where we worked with a lot of different people. We did writing camps that had, maybe, twenty writers and producers on, and it’s cool because you become friends with a lot of these people and you learn what the best practices are. These people are so creative and passionate, and you spend the entire time watching and trying to connect and take in as much information as you can.
“And I think we got to a point where we were like, right… I think we need the space and time to be able to give this a real crack ourselves,” he says. “I think going to the Airbnbs, we couldn’t rely on anyone else, you couldn’t pass on any production bits or write in bits or lyrics, and off it to anyone else. Being put in that position, you have to be reactive because your record label’s going, ‘If you don’t get any good songs out of this, we’re going back to doing it how we were.’ That pressure was something that I think we needed.”
What came out as a result was a breakthrough moment for the band. They were excited about the songs they’d made and the fact that they were able to prove themselves. “It gave other people the belief that we could go on to continue this kind of process of a very small team,” says Bradley. “It’s been such a condensed team on this album. On previous albums, it had been a much bigger team, but having a small one made us focus so much more.”
Cherry Blossom was completed during quarantine, something that proved to be another new experience for the band. Tristan says, “It was really interesting because we set up home studios, so when COVID-19 and isolation started, we were kind of halfway through the making of this album, and we were forced to finish it in a nice way individually in our homes. We’d send parts to each other’s houses like Brad would do vocals and then send it to James, who then put down some guitar. It was a really cool, really nice way of doing it.”
That’s not to say that the band didn’t get up to other things during their time off. Tristan rewatched Lost, James adopted a dog and replanned his wedding, which needed to be rescheduled because of COVID-19, and Connor played games and tried to work out in between to keep on top of his fitness routine. Bradley admits that he was quite happy to be in quarantine if only because of the album. It allowed him to work on it from morning to evening, giving them all something to keep busy and focus on. Tristan agrees, saying, “I think taking the situation and trying to be positive and getting out as much as we can from it… I think that’s pretty much what we did.”
The title of the album came to them during a trip to Japan last year while on tour. The band finished their last show there and a few of them, Bradley and James included, decided to stay back and explore for another week, which is something they don’t get to do often despite the number of countries they’ve gone to. “More often than not, we’ll go and play shows in countries and not get the chance to spend time there to go and absorb in the culture and get to know it a bit more. I think Japan was a moment where it was right. It was at the end of the world tour, I think all of us were pretty tired, and staying out there and having a real peaceful, no interruptions moment was really big.
“For myself, it was nice to immerse in the country, and I think that’s where the idea for Cherry Blossom came from,” he says. “It stands for rebirth and renewal, the beginning of something new. However, in no way are we, like, kind of palming off what we’ve done. We’re so proud of everything that we’ve done up to this point. But I think, as a band, especially, it’s important to renew and start something new, not only for the fans but for us personally. These are songs that we’re going to tour for definitely the next few years and hopefully for the rest of our lives, and we’ve got to keep it fresh and more personal for enjoyment and sanity. So I think Cherry Blossom just represented all of that.”
From the album concept to visuals, they were very inspired and something that they enjoyed exploring. Tristan says, “This one is completely different. I think it’s just a different direction of production, more maturity with the songwriting and the lyrics. I think the visuals are completely different from what we’ve done before from the music video to the album cover art. We wanted to take our fans to different worlds, you know, we wanted to introduce something unique and what we’re about. And Cherry Blossom is exactly how we’re feeling, it’s exactly what our vibe is. It’s just very different and an obvious new chapter in The Vamps.”
Lyrically, they’ve always tried being real in what they were singing about. They’ve done the songs in which they sang about relationships and having feelings for someone, but they wanted to dig a little bit deeper this time. James explains, “I think having the time away, as I was saying before, really helped us think about the themes in our lives that are important to us. This album touches upon themes of relationships and love that we hadn’t spoken about before, and there’s a vulnerability in some of the songs, like ‘Protocol’ and ‘Treading Water.’”
One of the tracks, “Glory Days,” is about putting away technology in this technology dependant world, especially our phones, and living in the moment to appreciate what’s happening around us. It’s something that they’ve never touched upon before but decided to take a chance on this time around. During the time of creating the album, Tristan found sudden inspiration from heavy metal band Mötley Crüe. “When you discover something that was so massive a long time ago, I think you find things that you can relate to as a band,” he explains. “I can see things that we do that they did when they were much younger. Creatively and visually, the way you kind of present yourself as a band…there’s no limit. That was a real inspiration for me.”
In terms of musical inspirations, however, Bradley wanted to make sure that they weren’t drawing upon other musicians but rather what felt right to them. Over the years, their albums have had a general theme and genre. They’ve done everything from folk, acoustic album to an ‘80s inspired album. He says, “There have always been these big musical influences, and I think on this one to really dive into what we wanted to do, it had to be very introverted with not a lot of outside influence so I wasn’t listening to a lot of music throughout the process. It was very insular. I think that’s because you end up just subconsciously or consciously picking stuff that you’re listening to and it weaves its way into what you’re doing.”
The group is only now starting to listen to new music, particularly Taylor Swift’s Folklore, which they all lauded for its lyrics, especially “My Tears Ricochet,” a personal favorite of Bradley’s. In terms of their own album, Bradley doesn’t have a favorite, but “Would You” is a special one for him, while Connor’s leaning more towards “Glory Days” and “Better.”
James says, “Every song on the album has a place and I think we deliberately chose fewer songs to make sure that it was like a journey when you listen to it.” The song that hit the spot for Tristan, on the other hand, is “Chemicals.” He explains, “It is difficult [to choose a favorite] because we’ve listened to them, and worked on them, for so long you kind of don’t trust your judgment anymore. But I remember…first impressions 100% ‘Chemicals’ for me. That was just different, the production’s sick, it sounds different. It’s just going to kick people in the teeth.”
The lead single “Married in Vegas” is all about having a good time, falling in love with someone, and wanting to be reckless with them. “I came here to be someone else / I found you and I found myself,” they sing, not only lamenting about love but also self-reflection. The song came after they’d handed the album over to their record label, and was created impromptu over a Zoom call.
Bradley says, “We finished the album and were very relieved because, while it’s a fun process, it’s also stressful as well. We had singles from the batch of songs that we thought would be good, but then that same afternoon, I went on a Zoom call with a producer who’s worked with us throughout album called LOSTBOY, and we just kind of celebrated and had some drinks to toast the hard work we all put in, then a few hours later ‘Married in Vegas’ was done.”
They had the bulk of the song good to go, and it was different to the other songs. Most of them were written from a place of sentiment, personal and quite heavy at times but “Married in Vegas” is all about letting loose and having some fun. When asked to describe it, Bradley says, “You want to make it as big as possible because we were making it out of a small space. So, I think we dreamt really big with this, and we needed to come back with a song that embodies us as a band. It’s got the live drums, got the live guitars, and a boatload of energy which we have in the live shows, so it felt like the right first single.”
Tour is something that came up several times during our conversation, evident that the boys are hoping to perform for their fans soon. “I think we all enjoy touring as much as we enjoy making the music,” James says. Bradley adds on, “You get to the end of the album cycle and you’re like so ready to go on tour, and then you get to the end of the tour, and you just want to get back in the studio. We definitely get to a point where we want to play new material, but we never get tired of the reaction and what the songs mean to them. It’s as much as their moment as it is ours. It energizes you on stage. I’m very excited to play these ones, moving forward, because it’s been such a long process. We’ve got five albums worth of material so picking the tour songs is going to be a fun process.”
At the end of the day, there are still other things to consider, such as the safety of their fans, crew, and traveling during this time when the world is still trying to get through and recover from the global pandemic that began late last year. “If all goes well, we’d love to tour early or mid next year,” Tristan says. “100%– that’s the aim… as soon as we can get out there. The safer everyone is, the quicker we can go.” Bradley chimes in and says, “Yeah, we just want to do it as safely as possible. As soon as they give us the go, we’ll be ready.”
Taking it day by day, the band is just excited about new music being released. It’s something that they’ve poured their hearts and souls into because as they said, the album opens up a new chapter for The Vamps, one that truly represents who they are and the kind of music they want to make. To tour would be a toast to the album and all of their hard work.
Tristan says, “The tour is like the celebration of the album, the celebration of life, you know, partying with people around you, so you don’t have to think that hard about what you’re doing because it’s already been done. We’ve done it before, we’ve rehearsed it, so we know what we’re doing, whereas with the album it’s quite stressful. We don’t feel that much stress, but sometimes there’s pressure in making something great.”
As much as there was pressure, one thing is clear: The Vamps are truly proud of what they’ve created, and now their fans can be too, with songs that show a side of them that they haven’t seen or heard before. It’s their way of proving that they’re not quitting while ahead but running even faster and that they’re capable of stepping out of any boxes they might have been put in. James says, “It was good to get back together and get to the real core of what The Vamps were at the beginning, which was instruments and us being friends, and I think that’s helped a lot in making, hopefully, the best album we’ve made so far.”