The Vaccines may be greatest rock tribute band ever – American domination is next
Courtesy of Shore Fire Media
If you’re one of those musical Captain Ahabs who believe somewhere out there exists a rock band with an “original sound,” you’ve probably been disappointed with the amount of white whales in the sea.
Sure, every once in awhile there’s a Radiohead or a Björk to savor. But by and large, those “original sounds” are still relegated to the classic rock section of your iTunes collection: The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix. Maybe you claim Kraftwerk and Devo deserve a spot alongside them, and you won’t get an argument.
The Vaccines are not that band. And they will never claim to be. But they are currently contenders to the throne of “biggest rock band in the U.K.” And now they’re aiming squarely at conquering America with a sound you’ve heard in countless bands before them. And there’s probably no way you can stop them.
Add in varying parts of Elvis Presley, Frankie Avalon, ’60s all-girl vocal groups, surf rock, The Ramones, The Jesus and Mary Chain, even modern dashes of Weezer and The Strokes. Shake, don’t stir. Pour the contents over ice and place in a sold-out arena. Drink in and enjoy what may be the greatest tribute band in the history of rock.
That is exactly what The Vaccines are aiming for.
“I think it’s really interesting how, in the quest for originality, there’s this real fear of being referential,” says lead singer and rhythm guitarist Justin Young (above, second from right). “I personally don’t see anything wrong with borrowing from things you love and embracing things you love.”
Two guitars, bass and drums. Simple pop-rock melodies. Songs about love, sex and breakups (and sometimes all three at once). That’s The Vaccines in a nutshell. It’s a tried-and-true approach to rock stardom, and it’s made millionaires of countless young musicians over the past 50 years, from Liverpool to Detroit.
The unique part for The Vaccines is the speed at which they’ve landed on top. The power quartet exploded onto the scene in 2011 thanks to timely gigs in front of industry influencers and dazzled music critics. Within three years, they went from playing small London clubs to topping the British charts. By early 2013, they were opening for The Rolling Stones, being nominated for awards alongside the likes of Mick, Keith & Co. and selling out their own shows of more than 20,000.
So obviously there’s something to sticking to a well-worn formula. But that meteoric rise is not enough. Young admits there’s a bigger goal out there: world domination.
“We’re very ambitious and always think of ourselves as a pop band with pop aspirations,” he says. “I don’t see the point in making music – aside from just making it for yourselves, which some people certainly do – if you wouldn’t want as many people as possible to hear it.”
And in perhaps homage to many of their British predecessors, their next target is conquering the U.S. – which, ironically, given that the bulk of their musical influences are admittedly American, has yet to happen.
“For any English band, I think America is kind of the Holy Grail,” offers Young. “We’ve spent a lot of time there, but nowhere near as much as we’ve wanted to. And I sort of think of America as 50 countries instead of one, really.”
This week, they’ll attempt to re-conquer one of those 50. Their first foray into the South by Southwest Music Festival as a band was in 2011, just before the release of their smash debut album, What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? This year, they return as juggernauts, closing the second day of The StubHub Music Experience with the March 18 headline slot.
They will most certainly play their 2011 breakthrough single “If You Wanna” – and you will no doubt hear all kinds of influences spilling out of its catchy retro bounce. They’re also guaranteed to play “Handsome,” the lead single from their upcoming third studio album, English Graffiti. And you’ll probably hear a handful of similar influences in that one, too.
So go ahead and make all the comparisons you like, says Young. Go ahead and call them derivative, or referential, or whatever. That won’t stop The Vaccines from chasing their rock n’ roll dreams.
“The reason we’re going back is that we’re ambitious,” says Young, “and I don’t think a lot of those ambitions have been filled.”