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Band to Watch: The Vaccines, Hopped-Up Romantics Ruling the U.K. Charts

Stream the band's January performance at King's College, London

May 24, 2011 11:20 AM ET
Band to Watch: The Vaccines, Hopped-Up Romantics Ruling the U.K. Charts
Roger Sargent

WHO: Four enterprising punk-rockers from London with a proudly poppish sensibility, an opening slot on the Arctic Monkeys' American spring tour, and tons of hype on both sides of the pond. The photogenic group formed in June 2010 and – purely on the strength of a few tracks released online – snagged the cover of Britain's NME, played talk show staple Later with Jools Holland, and sold out New York's Bowery Ballroom for their first U.S. performance. "We were all a bit scared during that time," says singer Justin Young. "Half of us had never even been to New York before. It's quite hard to imagine your music preceding you."

Their debut album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?, hit Number Four on the U.K. charts in March and lands stateside May 31 on Columbia Records. The international crew is comprised of British singer Young, British guitarist Freddie Cowan, Icelandic bassist Árni Hjörvar and American drummer Pete Robertson.

RONETTES MEET RAMONES: Scabrous breakout single "Wreckin Bar (Ra Ra Ra)" clocks in at a succinct 1 minute, 24 seconds, in the vein of the band's beloved Ramones. The blithely intense distortion, cavernous vocals and meandering melancholia on What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? also calls to mind Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain, but Young prefers to distill the band's sound from even older sources. "The bands we love found the perfect pop music from the Fifties and Sixties – girl groups and rock & roll – and updated it for a modern audience, then played it with passion and energy," says the soft-spoken 24-year-old. "It sounded relevant for the time that they were living. I think that's what we've tried to do with our music."

WRITE IT OUT: Breakup missives "All in White" and "If You Wanna" are rousing and catchy, often pushing an aggressive Strokes backbeat, and Young's words ring sincerely across them. "Writing this album, I was just coming out of a serious relationship so naturally, it provided a lot of the lyrical content," says Young. "I think people could be dismissive of our lyrics because they are tried and tested subjects: anger, jealousy, lost love, being young. But there's a reason they're tried and tested."

TANGLED WEB: The Vaccines have roots all over the London music scene: Freddie Cowan is the younger brother of Tom Cowan, bassist/synth player of the Horrors. And Young – well, he's a bit reticent to discuss it, but he once performed under the name Jay Jay Pistolet in the same nu-folk scene that birthed Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. (In fact, Marcus Mumford and Young once shared an apartment.) "It's not that I don't enjoy talking about it, I just think it's in the past," says Young, clearly revisiting oft-defended territory. "No 19-year-old stays doing what they're doing when they're 19 forever. And from that era, I got really into songs being as direct as possible, simplicity and melody and the idea of recreating a naïve, pure kind of pop song."

ROLL WITH IT: Tireless Scrooge Liam Gallagher derided the Vaccines as "boring" in the Christmas issue of NME. Young seems unfazed. "Well, that's what he trades off, isn't it? Words are his weapon, not mine," says Young with a self-effacing laugh. So what is his? "I think I've made a better record than he has."

LAST WEEK: EMA's Spellbinding Noise-Folk Confessionals

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