Even before the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake caused concert cancellations en masse, The Vaccines had to start pulling out of overseas tour commitments due to singer Justin Young’s throat operation. Now “100 percent better,” the band will show the audience at this year’s Fuji Rock Festival what has made them Britain’s most talked-about indie-pop band since Arctic Monkeys.
“We’re dealing with it the best we can, aren’t we?” says Young, referring to the sudden fame as he turns to Freddie Cowan, the band’s guitarist, sat beside him on a tour bus parked outside England’s Manchester Academy venue. “We finished the album before anyone had heard any of our songs, so it hasn’t affected what we do creatively.” Young perks up slightly. “In fact, the only time we ever hear about hype is when journalists say to us, ‘So how are you dealing with the hype?’ ” Cowan interjects. “On a day-to-day level it doesn’t affect us. It’s not like we’ve ever been recognized in the street or anything.”
Alongside each other, they appear very different personalities — Young is slow and deliberate, wearing an oversized shirt and constantly brushing his hair back with his hands. Cowan, mumbling quickly, is dressed in a dandy-ish hat and waistcoat — but they, along with bassist Arni Arnason and drummer Pete Robertson, are united in their quest for what they perceive as a pop “holy grail.”
“One thing that binds us as four people,” Young claims, “is that we love listening to, continually searching for and trying to create the perfect pop song.”
An assortment of 300 celebrities, journalists and curious scenesters turned up at The Vaccines’ first London show last October with little to go on other than a demo of their debut single, “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),” which was enough for the influential NME magazine to give The Vaccines the opening slot at its annual showcase tour and for the BBC to place them third on the 2011 edition of its increasingly influential “Sound Of” poll.
“Third is great,” Cowan says. “First is a hindrance. So is second. It’s voted for by people who know what they’re talking about, critics and writers, so it’s great to be in it.”
Young again preaches caution: “There’s a bit of a backlash about polls, though. We’re wary of being forced to live up to other people’s expectations.” He suddenly changes tack. “But really, we’re only interested in people who want to listen to good music. Plenty of people won’t like our band, and there are plenty of valid reasons not to like our band, but I don’t think doing well in a poll is one of them.”
Debut album “What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?” speaks for itself. Full of rollicking indie-pop tunes that take their cue from everything from 1950s rock ‘n’ roll to Ramones punk-pop, Phil Spector’s ’60s girl-groups to early ’90s shoegaze, it has an endearingly effervescent and timeless quality to it.
“I’d hate to think we’re derivative,” says Young, “but I like the idea of familiarity. Pop music as we know started in its purest form, and it’s what we’re after. We worked really hard on not doing things to the music, just about melody and song. It’s simple, but it has got depth. It’s direct, to the point, played with energy and passion, and what you see is what you get. I’d love for it to be judged without any hype or expectation. But it won’t be.”
With childlike enthusiasm, they discuss their Japanese trip like they are traveling to another dimension (“You can’t sleep because of the time difference!”) but recognize the opportunity they have been afforded.
“There hasn’t been a good, commercially viable guitar band to come out of the U.K. for a long time,” asserts Young, finally. “And I think people are ready for one.”
The Vaccines perform on the Green Stage at Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba, Niigata Prefecture, on July 29 (12:30 p.m.; ticket prices vary). For more information, visit www.fujirockfestival.com or www.thevaccines.co.uk.