“At this point, I think we’re as successful as we deserve to be” An interview with The Vaccines (30/11/12)

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Following the release of their second album this summer, The Edge spoke to guitarist Freddie Cowan and drummer Pete Robertson of The Vaccines on the last night of a sold out UK tour to discuss ABBA, ambition and errm, sex changes.

Have their been any particular highlights or weird stories on the tour?

Freddie: Alexandra Palace was probably the best show we’ve ever done. Yeah many funny stories [laughs]. We didn’t really have any time to prepare for this tour, we came straight off of a European tour into this one, then we head back to Europe tomorrow; we don’t really stop. But I’ve had some amazing mental images from the last few weeks, little snapshots, the kind of things that once they settle I’ll remember forever.

This is the first UK tour with the new album Come of Age, how are fans receiving the new material?

Pete: They’ve been going down really well I think, we started introducing songs from the second album about a year ago now. Stuff like ‘Teenage Icon’ has been in the set for ages, and we’ve just gradually been teasing them in, really. Even before the album came out, they started to go down as well as some of the last album’s tracks so that’s always a good indication. It gave us confidence putting the second record out, and that we were onto something good that people would respond to. And yeah, even the songs from the first album that are only 18 months old are starting to feel like old friends in a way, it’s kind of weird.

Do you have a favourite song from the new album to play live?

Freddie: I like playing ‘Change of Heart’ because my guitar part is interesting to me. I like the things that challenge you, so yeah I like ‘Change of Heart’.

Pete: ‘Aftershave Ocean’ is good, it’s got a different groove and tip to it than a lot of the other songs we’ve done before. It took us a few times playing that live to really get it locked in.

The band formed, got signed and released the first album in a very short space of time. Do you feel you’re still developing an idea of who The Vaccines really are as a band?

Pete: I think if you ever stop doing that, that’s when you start just treading water you know? Your music should be a reflection of who you are as a person and I don’t think you ever really stop developing as a person, do you know what I mean? I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong in terms of music but I hope our music can always reflect us as people.

Freddie: I can’t even remember the space I was in when we recorded the first album. It just sort of happened, then we were like “Holy shit, it’s happening!”.

Did you feel any pressure after the success of the first album to write a hit or make a popular album?

Pete: It put pressure on ourselves, yeah.

Freddie: It wasn’t like it was like a Whitney Houston album or something [laughs], do you know what I mean? I think it was as successful as it deserved to be, and we’ve continued from there. We work really hard, we play every night, we tour non-stop and we really put everything we have into this. At this point I think we’re as successful as we deserve to be.

This album was produced by Ethan Johns, who has worked on some amazing records with the likes of Kings of Leon, Laura Marling and even Tom Jones. How did that collaboration come about?

Pete: Yeah, they’re some fucking amazing records.

Freddie: I think Ethan worked with someone our manager had managed, and he was on the list of possible producers. It was like ‘do we want to take another step further into the camp of what has defined our success, like make a pop record ?’ and it just felt totally wrong. We wanted to make a rock and roll record, kind of the opposite to what might have been the sensible option, and he’s an inspiring guy and a great producer, we got a lot out of him.

Pete: I remember approaching him sort of tentatively thinking ‘Hmm, Im not sure if this is what he’s looking for in stuff he chooses to work on’. But when he came back pretty much immediately saying he wanted to come and meet us, it was really exciting. We met him before we played a show at Bristol Academy this time last year and within two minutes of talking to him it was like ‘this is going to work’. He just had very clear and sort of sympathetic views on what we could be, what rock and roll is and where we fit in. 

Have you written any new material since being on tour with this album?

Freddie: There’s a couple of ideas knocking around. No one’s brought anything to the band, but I think everyone’s been writing, yeah. We’re keen not to be in the process of making two albums back to back and then taking years off and sort of fumbling around trying to figure stuff out. I think we’d like to continue the momentum.

You recently announced a date at the o2 for May next year. When did you first hear about that and how are you feeling about the prospect of headlining there?

Freddie: Well, we were initially going to do two Alexandra Palace shows but then we thought ‘well wouldn’t it be awesome to do it at the o2 instead and build an arena tour around it?’. I think we were apprehensive about it when we heard it just because it sounded so big, like that’s one step away from the biggest places you can play, you know? That’s one step away from playing Wembley stadium or something.

You supported Arctic Monkeys there last October, that’s quite a quick turnaround from supporting to headlining a show there.

Freddie: Yeah it is, someone at that gig said to me “you’ll be playing these places soon” and honestly, I really, genuinely didn’t think we would. I could see maybe Alexandra Palace, or Brixton or whatever, but the o2 is serious.

Pete: To be honest, about 15 months ago someone said we were going to play Brixton and I was like “yeah right, good luck with that…”, and then they said actually we’ve got two dates at Brixton. We’re still riding that trajectory and unbelievably the next logical step is the o2 arena.

Over the last few years you’ve covered Abba, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, and recently claimed Rihanna is as important as Radiohead. Have you always had an affinity with pop music?

Freddie: Yeah, of course, I think it’s difficult to deny. I mean ABBA are just genius. With Katy Perry we just thought at the core of it, it could be a Strokes song, like imagine it as a Strokes demo. I think however you dress these things up, a good song is a good song, it’ll always shine through, that’s what we believe in. Don’t be angry at a genre or a group, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Are there any new bands that you’re listening to right now?

Freddie: Yeah Diiv are good, Deap Vally are cool, like all the support bands we have. Toy are quite good. Palma Violets are a band we kind of like. I dunno man, I don’t read the NME [laughs]. The way it works with us is someone brings a song into the dressing room and we obsess over it for weeks, we’re not like “wow fucking hell, I love this new band”; it’s more just about the individual song for us. 

Finally, ‘I Wish I Was A Girl’ is one of the songs on the new album. If you could be any girl in the world, who would it be?

Freddie: Any girl in the world? [laughs]. I dunno, it’s kind of weird because if you choose someone attractive it’s like saying you want to get hit on. Do you have to be the person? Like if I was Angelina Jolie, would I have her brain?

Pete: It’s nice to be someone beautiful but you want someone with some pretty sharp fucking put-downs and stuff.

Freddie: Katy Perry, she looks like she has a good time [laughs].

Pete: Yeah, I reckon she’s got a good sense of humour. We’ll go for Katy Perry.

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