Hidden by a cosmic amount of COVID-19 vaccine searches, timing is everything when it comes to The Vaccines. For a band who have had a whirlwind career – from dropping timeless records to smashing through headline tours that culminate in a string of festival performances – the group are over a decade in and still going strong. Having crafted their most euphoric, visceral, and visionary work to date after the pandemic, 2021’s Back In Love City sees the indie veterans solidify their reputation as one of Britain’s most vital guitar bands, something that festival line-ups thrive off of.
Hopping on our phone call having spent his morning enjoying the Parisian sun, The Vaccines’ frontman Justin Young is ready for festival season. “It’s really exciting to be on such a line-up,” he proclaims, referring to London’s Community Presents Festival. “I think my favorite thing to do as a music fan is to watch those, one-day, all-day festivals and that’s what community is. It’s also fun stumbling home, drunk, after having too much fun and getting a bit too much sun,” he laughs. “I’m very excited to be a part of it. All of the bands complement each other massively. They definitely all make sense next to each other on the bill.”
Following the tenth anniversary celebrations of their seminal debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, a record that catapulted the band into the modern rock and roll canon, it seems like an eternity since 2018’s Combat Sports was released. Since the onset of the pandemic, festivals have been missed; if anything, there’s a higher demand for them now more than ever, something that the five-piece, who became the butt of COVID-19 jokes, understand. “It’s not nice to have been isolated or removed from your community and during the pandemic, that’s how everyone felt,” Young notes. “I think that’s why festivals are a strong part of our culture,” he says. “I think it’s because we struggle with a sense of community, and congregation almost, and that period didn’t help in that sense.”
Now, with festivals back in full swing, Young shares the challenges faced when you’re not a headlining act. “One of my favorite things about festivals is that you get to play to people that wouldn’t necessarily come and see you headline,” he exclaims. “It’s like an opportunity to play to other people’s crowds and to try and win them over,” he adds. “You’re not just preaching to the converted, but to those who could be, and it’s actually quite fun,” he admits before moving on to discuss an artist’s role in the grand scheme of things. “It’s your job to entertain and to perform,” he states ever so simply. “It doesn’t really matter what mood you’re in, or how much energy you’ve got because there’s a sea of people who have paid a lot of money to be there; it’s your job to give them a good show. You’ve got to give it your all,” he adds. “We’ll always make sure, no matter what we are doing, that we’re together for at least 30 minutes before we go on stage to get ourselves in the right mood/headspace because we understand the value and importance of giving something everything you have.”
Crediting their longevity to their belief in themselves as a band, The Vaccines – currently comprised of Young (lead vocals, guitars), Árni Árnason (bass, vocals), Timothy Lanham (guitars, keys, vocals), and Yoann Intonti (drums) – have maintained not just their form, but also their relevancy and reverence from their fans amid the surge of pandemic-related Google searches. “We feel incredibly lucky and privileged to still be here because you could say time has passed for us,” Young reflects. “I think it’s because we’re all about showing people how much we care and hopefully they can see and feel that.”
In terms of preparing for a festival, Young shines a light on how The Vaccines attack such events and what can be expected from their upcoming slots. “If I’m being totally honest with you, our festival sets end up being based around what’s available to us in terms of production, etc,” he tells us. “I think it’s going to be very minimal, a classic Vaccines rock and roll show,” he adds, referring to Community Presents. “There won’t be too much craziness in that respect,” he laughs before sharing how festival setlists differ from headlining tour setlists. “With festivals, it’s normally a shorter set compared to being on your own tour,” he informs us. “[At festivals], you definitely have to play all the songs that you know the majority will know, or at least receive well, in such environments. I think it’s more of a greatest hits kind of thing,” he notes. “Not that we necessarily have any of those,” he immediately jokes, underestimating the global impact of indie staples “If You Wanna” and “Post Break-Up Sex”. “You know what I mean though, it’s more about giving people the best 45 minutes of their day rather than taking them on a journey.”
Where 2021’s Back In Love City finds the indie-rockers asserting themselves in more ways than one, it’s also a gift to those that have grown up with the band. It adopts their previous records as a soundtrack to adolescence, nights out, and those unforgettable festival moments where each member has shared blood, sweat, and tears with front rows across the globe. “I know their names and I talk to them on social media,” explains Young in their artist biography. “It’s weird that it’s come through being pulled apart and separate and locked away,” he finishes, referring to how the pandemic strengthened such bonds.
The upcoming year promises to be a big one for the band as their plans consist of a string of festival appearances from now until the start of September alongside new music. “We’ve definitely got new music coming out,” Young exclaims. “There will probably be a new single out sometime over the summer and hopefully an album early next year,” he adds. We’re just mixing it right now which is quite exciting and deciding on what world we want it to live in.”