Story / Gina Tron
photos / Jena Cumbo
The janitor of Bowery Ballroom may not have been too pleased with the timing of our afternoon interview, but getting to experience the venue in daylight was an illuminating experience for me. I sat down with singer/songwriter Justin Young and bassist Arni Hjörvar in a VIP section that overlooked the stage they played on later that evening.
The Vaccines may have seemed to have blown up in no time flat, having only formed in 2010 and were soon after playing on David Letterman. But like all successful musical time-bombs, their explosion onto the scene was a gradual one. “It was exciting. It was fast, but it didn’t really feel like overnight,” Justin told me, explaining that the amount of attendees at their performances would be increasing in number, but at a tolerable pace. “It did happen quickly but it was natural the whole time.“ He referred to it as being in the eye of the storm in a way; not really being able to see it happening objectively, only would notice the increase in fans and interviews.
Arni told me that when they felt that they were struggling, “nobody came.” But when they stopped thinking about anything else and began performing for just themselves, they saw positive results. The members all already had extensive musical pasts, playing in different musical endeavors, but for their formation of The Vaccines they swapped instruments. All began from square one on something they were not an expert at playing. “We wanted naivety and to start fresh.”
I asked the two why they thought that they were more successful as The Vaccines than any of their bands or solo projects in the past. “Because we are a lot better,” Arni joked. He also mentioned that Justin was in “the coolest band ever” when he was 16, a band called “Fashion Police Brutality.” But its not just a cool name that blows up a band. Justin stated that “sometimes the stars have to align. There was a real hunger and energy. We felt a force between us and energy.”
There is a lot of fifties rock and roll influences infiltrated into their music. Justin told me that what they dig so much about that genre is “the purity and the rebelliousness and the youthfulness and naivety.” Citing such icons like Elvis Presley, Arni told me that its “like punk rock before punk rock. Its the birth or rebellion and the birth of teenagers. All the best music since then has that element. And, in the beginning, rules haven’t been written. People are just doing what they feel like.”
And speaking of teenagers, their new album Come Of Age is about coming of age, but not in the teenage sense. Its more about the coming of age issues that you face while in your twenties. “When you reach your twenties, you realize how big and bad the world is. Its confusing when you go through your teens and everyone’s on the same page same direction. Then you hit your mid twenties and you kind of disperse.” So, the lyrics on this record relate to coping with a time that is “very confusing. Its more of a weird transitionary period than your teens. Everybody expects you to know where you want to be.”
And their tracks create an ambiance that is “sickly sweet” as the two put it. Their melodies are upbeat, but the lyrics are often a bit darker. “I like the juxtaposition of the two,” Arni stated, adding that that is why he likes pop music. “You can have lots of beers and dance around or you can emotionally invest in it; take it at any level that you want to.” This reminded me of Britney Spear’s uplifting pop song “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” The upbeat melody of the song makes its lyrics like “my loneliness is killing me,” seem like a happy song. Meanwhile when that Travis artist remade it, it brought out the darkness of the lyrics.I brought this up. They joked, “Isn’t that song about domestic violence or something?”
One track on Come Of Age is entitled “Weirdo” and I asked Justin if he would classify himself into the weirdo genre on a personal level. He said yes but that he didn’t want to be known as the guy who calls himself a weirdo. What is the concept of a weirdo anyway? This led me to ask about the process of songwriting and if he ever regrets writing anything moderately private, thus making it kind of public. As a writer, I often will write words while clutching a delusion that nobody is going to read it or know what the hell I am talking about or who I am referencing. Not always the case. “Its difficult but when you’re thinking creatively you’re not really thinking coherently or rationally. I often regret saying stuff in songs,” he told me.
What The Vaccines don’t regret is the fact that they have never really experienced any negative reactions to their live performances. (And why the fuck should they?) “We’ve been bottled but theres a difference. When people throw bottles it means they like you. When they throw cups it means they don’t.” I believe this is a UK thing. I have a feeling if I throw a bottle at the next show I attend, I’ll be taken down by security. I wouldn’t do it, but its fun to think about. Bottles are expensive; its like throwing liquid money. Though, I would want to spend money on the music of The Vaccines. They are a band that is articulate as they are awesome. Definitely inject your listening veins with this vaccine; you’ll want to throw money at them too.