Vaccines hope to give Fuji a shot in the arm
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
The Vaccines at the Electric Ballroom, London, on 8th April 2011
LONDON--As far as self-fulfilling prophecies go, recording a song called "We're Happening" as the b-side of your second single is a pretty strong statement, but with the release of The Vaccines' debut album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, earlier this month, it would appear this was no idle claim. It was not, however, part of any master strategy.
"We didn't really have a game plan," drummer Pete Robertson said in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri backstage at London's Brixton Academy. "We wrote songs, arranged them in a rehearsal room before we went into the studio to get a good representation of how we sounded live, and we're very pleased with it."
Yet, when The Vaccines finally make their live debut in Japan at Fuji Rock Festival in July, anyone who has followed the overseas media will have already seen the London-based four-piece on the cover of British music magazine New Musical Express twice this year and read reviews of them live in The New York Times, even though the album will not be released in the United States until May 31. Like the rest of the band, Robertson remains grounded about the hype.
"The NME are just expressing their own opinions. At the end of the day, that's all an article or review is, it's just an opinion," he said.
As for Fuji Rock, Robertson is looking forward to it, though, at the time of our interview, the band's spot in the lineup had yet to be confirmed.
"We would be over the moon if we were invited, it would be a dream come true. I've heard it's one of the best festivals to play in the world for bands, and one of the best ones to go to for fans," he said.
The Vaccines have made a remarkable impression ever since singer Justin Young, guitarist Freddie Cowan and bassist Arni Hjorvar hooked up with Robertson less than 12 months ago.
"When I joined, that was when it became The Vaccines. They'd been playing together, the three of them and other people, for a few months before that, but I joined in April last year  and that was when we decided, let's throw everything we've got at it," the 26-year-old explained.
With a sound that draws from the Ramones, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Strokes, their brand of rock 'n' roll is simple but extremely effective. On stage, the brevity of their set, mainly because few of their songs exceed three minutes, only emphasizes the intensity of the experience, while on record, there is an intelligent mix of earthy indie fare, such as that second single, "Post Break-Up Sex," and richer, thoughtful pieces like the five-minute "epic" "Family Friend," that closes the album before four bonus tracks kick in. Robertson is very happy with the end result.
"We've never made an album before, individually or collectively, so the whole process has been really exciting. But ultimately, we wanted to make something that we could be really proud of, that was the primary concern, and we have done," he said.
Though Young tends to come up with the song ideas, Robertson was keen to stress that the band has a democratic approach to the songwriting process.
"Justin will come in with a song in various stages of completion--he's the primary songwriter--and then we'll collectively dress it up. I write my part, we all throw ideas at everyone else. I play a bit of guitar and a bit of keyboards, Arni's actually quite a good drummer and everyone's got quite a strong involvement with what everyone's doing, it's a tight-knit team effort," he said.
While the collection is a vibrant debut, the band's influences get a little too close to home at times. "Post Break-Up Sex," with its echoes of the Ramones' 1981 album track, "The KKK Took My Baby Away," is a prime example. While admitting that the group love the iconic New York punk band, Robertson doesn't see them as an overbearing influence.
"We're big fans of the music that the Ramones were big fans of, when rock 'n' roll and pop music was in its purest form in the 1950s and 1960s, with the girl groups and garage bands," he said.
This purity manifests itself in the band's first single, "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)," a pulsating number that packs a hell of a punch into the first 82 seconds of the album, though for Robertson, his top tune is still the song that grabbed him from the very beginning.
"'If You Wanna' is still my favorite. It was the first song that I ever heard, it was the song that Arni played in demo and I was just like, 'Wow! That's special,' and after having playing it a million times I still feel that way. It was the song that really catapulted and kick-started our [career]," he said.
Currently on tour with the Arctic Monkeys in North America, Robertson is eager to visit Japan, especially after the band was forced to cancel a Tokyo concert in April because Young required throat surgery.
"We're incredibly excited," he enthused. "I think a few people were blogging about us over there, which we couldn't really believe. We were amazed that anyone outside of our friendship group was talking about us, let alone over the other side of the world," he said.
The Vaccines will play at Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba, Niigata Prefecture, on July 29. For more information about the festival, visit www.fujirockfestival.com.
(May. 20, 2011)