Breaking Out: The Vaccines
Supermodels and boarding school dismissals fuel fast-rising guitar foursome
In late January, U.K. fuzz-pop quartet the Vaccines played their debut U.S. show at the 550-capacity Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan. It was also their biggest live audience, longest set (a tidy 36 minutes), and the first time drawing Amanda Norgaard — the Danish model who inspired the puppy love anthem “Norgaard,” one of 11 instantly charming tracks on the band’s debut album, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? (Columbia).
“It wasn’t like I fancied [Norgaard],” sheepishly explains singer-guitarist Justin Young. “I thought, ‘She’s quite sexy, I’m going to write about her.’ And then my friend fucking told her about the song, so I had to e-mail her,” he says, in hopes of dispelling any ickiness.
Prior to forming the band, supermodels weren’t much of an issue for the 23-year-old Young. But just one year after teaming with guitarist Freddie Cowan, 22 (whose older brother Tom founded the Horrors), and recruiting bassist Arni Arnason, 23, and drummer Pete Robertson, 24, the Vaccines landed a gig on the tastemaking BBC TV show Later…With Jools Holland and an NME cover — all before they’d officially released a single — thanks to a few amazingly tight early gigs. To avoid getting caught up in the hype, the guys instituted a no-self-Googling rule. “You have to focus on what you think is good and bad about your music, because it’s not Blog A’s band or Magazine B’s band; it’s your band,” Young says. That band is on tour in Europe this spring.
“If You Wanna,” the first song the group completed (total writing time: an hour), best exemplifies their deceptively simple retro-chic aesthetic: chugging guitars, thick reverb, and playfully bopping rhythm, topped off with Young’s tender, warbly vocals, inspired by his idol, Elvis Presley.
Cowan’s own obsession — with guitar — got him booted from boarding school. “It wasn’t an encouraging push,” Cowan recalls of being chastised for constant noodling. “It was like, ‘We’re sick of this shit.’?”
But once a mutual friend introduced Young and Cowan, they realized their shared post-adolescent dramas (post-breakup sex, endless nights out) made for perfect songs. As Young says, “All the subject matter — anxiety, anger, jealousy, unrequited love — I know a lot about.” As, presumably, does a certain Danish looker.
WATCH: The Vaccines, “If You Wanna” (Live at Brooklyn’s Glasslands)