The Vaccines review our interviewing style!
Our intrepid reporter, Harriet Cheney, caught up with guitarist Freddie Cowen and drummer Pete Robertson from The Vaccines while they were in Sydney. They discussed life on tour, Taiwan-mania, mass-produced music and being taken out of context:
I was waiting in a boardroom for Freddie and Pete. When they arrived they were slightly sun-kissed and windswept, having just come off a boat, where they spent the morning with fans who had won a competition. They thought it was ridiculous that the publicist was apologising to them for making them go out on a boat on Sydney Harbour. I get a taste of Freddie’s frequent sarcasm as he tells me, “Yeah, real chore that was. We sailed around in the sun, with beautiful views chatting to people for a few hours.” Add the Mentos that were sitting on our table to the equation and I was talking to two very happy Vaccines. Funnily enough, they decided they were going to mark me out of ten for my interview performance. Unbeknown to them, this was my first ever interview so I was a little nervous…
The Vaccines formed in early 2010 and by August of that year released the demo, If You Wanna, to critical acclaim. Since then, their popularity has grown enormously off the back of two albums, the second of which, Come Of Age, was released just a few months ago. In November last year they played to 10,000 people at Alexander Place in London and even bigger things are planned for this year, like headlining a concert at London’s The O2, which has double the capacity.
Such success had made it difficult to feasibly meet and interact with their fans. They used to man the merch stand after every show; that was before they got so popular that it became unmanageable. They tried it in Taiwan a few months ago thinking that it would be pretty low key (they didn’t imagine that they had too many die-hard fans there), only to be mauled by about 1500 kids, all wanting a piece of them. “They love a bit of mania, we felt like the Beatles” says Pete. It’s as though the Vaccines are still coming to terms with their fame, even though they play to thousands almost every day and their YouTube videos are clicked by millions of people.
The fact that they tour pretty much constantly shows that they’re well aware that fame can be fleeting and that staying relevant and in touch with the fans is fundamental to the continued success of the band. While chewing on Mentos, Pete tells me, “The industry’s getting more competitive and no one sells records, so you have to tour, otherwise people forget about you”.
They cottoned on to the importance of audience interaction early on and capitalised on social media by making a filmclip to their song Wetsuit out of a collection of their fans’ instagram images. “We liked the idea of the connection with the world and with the audience… it is a part of our world that we never get to see.” The filmclip went viral and helped The Vaccines’ name and sound spread further. It also gave them an image as a band who want their fans to be a part of the music experience. This sat very well with the band’s love and reputation for playing festivals and great live shows.
Cnstant touring means that they when they get an opportunity to record while on the road, they jump at it. Pete says, “People seem surprised that we want to be making music… in order to keep any sort of consistent output I think you need to use that touring time to be creative.” Such hard work meant that the quartet came pretty quickly with their second album, laying the foundations down when they toured Australia in early 2012. They describe it as a more confident and comfortable record, although it has received mixed reviews from music websites. I mention this to Freddie and am treated to one of his “I’m not going to finish this sentence, I’ve learnt from past mistakes,” moments. He’s commenting on the idea that it’s very easy to negatively critique something that you haven’t made, have no connection to and that isn’t your music preference.
Which brings me to a comment he famously made to Digital Spy a few months ago saying “Rhianna isn’t an artist… she had 15 songwriters and 15 producers all fighting for space on her album.” It got a lot of publicity, such as NME headlining an article with – “The Vaccines have hit out at Rhianna for failing to write her own music.” Freddie shakes his head when I bring this up and says “You ask me something and somewhere in my answer there’s something that can be interpreted as something that I didn’t mean”.
He clarifies that he thinks Rhianna “is brilliant, as is Justin Beiber” and then explains what he was really trying to say. “It was just an observation. It’s a different sort of record. To say that factory production isn’t valid would be to say that Michael Jackson or Motown aren’t valid. Records made by huge teams of people can be fucking awesome. Look at Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; it was made by a huge group of people, all very, very good minds, all coming together. All they’re really trying to do is to create something beautiful and that’s the whole point.”
There’s no big-scale team production on the cards for the Vaccines any time soon, but there were some big scale Australian festival performances and sideshows in January. They love Australian audiences because they’re so positive. “Everyone just has a smile on their face, they’re not going fuckin’ bananas, but they’re just groovin’” says Pete. And so the touring continues for The Vaccines, and I guess the writing on the road will too. They know they’re living the dream and appreciate that they travel the world doing what they love for a living.
Before I leave I ask the boys for a quick photo (to be taken by music photographer Sophie Schirmer). They decide to use all the mentos wrappers (maybe 20 or 30) as confetti while the pic was being taken.
Pete: Throw on three, not after three.
Freddie: You know I can’t keep time
*Sophie takes picture*
Sophie: You know your faces go completely blank when you throw them?
Robertson: I can’t smile and throw, I can’t do two things at once (says the drummer laughing)
It was very funny. And guess what? I got 10 out 10.