Back In Love City

The Vaccines

Back In Love City

While making their fifth album, The Vaccines experienced something they hadn’t felt for a while: youthfulness. “One of the reasons a band’s most successful record is often their first one is because there is this youthful, reckless abandon,” singer/guitarist Justin Young tells Apple Music. “You’re not crippled with self-doubt, not overthinking things. There’s a purity to all of it.” The Londoners felt that spirit being squeezed out of them early on. On the back of a platinum-selling debut of effervescent garage rock, 2011’s What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, they were ravenously anointed as the saviors of guitar music by the UK press. “It stifled us for a while,” says Young. “We were obsessed with building on the first record, not just in terms of how good it was, but how big it was. I think we got a little bit lost along the way.”
Almost a decade later, The Vaccines felt rejuvenated by recording Back in Love City. It’s the first album they’ve made as a five-piece, adding drummer Yoann Intonti to a lineup of keyboardist Timothy Lanham (who came on board for 2018’s Combat Sports) and founding members Young, guitarist Freddie Cowan, and bassist Árni Árnason. “So, in many ways, we are a new band,” says Young. They were excited by the songs they’d written and inspired by the studio—Sonic Ranch, a sprawling residential complex in the middle of a pecan orchard near El Paso, Texas. The music that emerged embellishes their punk spirit and pop nous with disco flourishes, industrial clangs, and a distinctive flavor of spaghetti Westerns. Young jokingly calls it “Morricone indie-rock” and uses it as a backdrop for lyrics that explore how human expression is becoming increasingly binary. The songs imagine a dystopia where emotions are finite commodities—with Love City as a place where you can replenish your stocks for the right price.
For Young, it’s an album that goes some way to solving the enduring puzzle of songwriting. “We’ve always tried to evolve but, at the same time, figure out our core and what makes The Vaccines The Vaccines,” he says. “You want to remain interested and interesting and keep pushing yourself forward, but you want to pull everyone along with you. That keeps me awake at night.” Here, he talks us through this particular solution, track by track.
“Back in Love City” “We were trying to write something that was kind of garage-y and a little punky but had more of a disco or fun groove to it. The first verse, I’m singing about arriving in Love City. I always remember driving, a few years ago, from San Francisco to Vegas with some friends, taking all day. Just as we were pulling into Vegas, the sun was going down and the neon lights were firing up. I imagine this song existing in quite a similar space. It's the beginning of the story.”
“Alone Star” “I was told quite far into the writing process of English Graffiti, our third record, that we didn’t have any singles. And I ended up writing all of the singles in a week—‘Dream Lover’ on the Tuesday, ‘20/20’ on the Wednesday, ‘Handsome’ on the Thursday. I wrote ‘Alone Star’ on Monday and we just couldn’t get it right. It felt a bit ham-fisted and we wanted to try to create a bit more nuance around the arrangement, instrumentation, and production. We picked it up again for Combat Sports and, again, couldn’t make it sound right within the context of that record. We picked it up for this record, too, and very nearly dropped it but ended up in a place where we all fell in love with it. It’s funny when you see the odd comment on social media, ‘This isn’t The Vaccines I know.’ I like reminding myself that, ‘Actually, yes, it is. It was written on the exact same week as all the songs that you love and know already.’”
“Headphones Baby” “There is a bit of a theme across the record of fatalism. Not necessarily wanting to die—more wanting to throw caution to the wind, doing whatever you want. There’s a hedonism and euphoria, too. I remember the second I wrote this song, being very excited about it. It felt very euphoric. There were a few comments that it was maybe too pop, but I see it in the lineage of big Vaccines singles. The first time I sang the chorus to ‘If You Wanna’ out loud, we all laughed because we thought it was so cheesy and poppy. We’ve always written songs like that with those big, euphoric choruses.”
“Wanderlust” “I suppose it sounds like it belongs in the desert and belongs in Texas. I think it’s potentially the heaviest Vaccines song to date. It’s obviously super pop as well, but I would say it’s more rock than punk rock.”
“Paranormal Romance” “I’m touching on hyperbole and being really over the top, wanting to feel in ways that we hear about in songs and read about in books and see in movies and just have that feeling that’s out of this world and impossible or improbable or immortal. I think this is the first moment where [the album’s] not just Western-inspired or South-inspired, but it’s quite cinematic as well.”
“El Paso” “This was written in LA with Daniel [Ledinsky], who ended up producing the record. He was telling me about Sonic Ranch that day. He’d just been there with Dave Sitek or Miguel or someone, and was telling me how amazing it was, telling me all these crazy stories. I said, ‘Oh, I’m flying to El Paso tomorrow morning because Vaccines are playing in Juarez.’ So, as we finished the song that evening, we named the file ‘El Paso.’ And then, six months later, when we asked him to produce the record, he said, ‘We should go to El Paso.’ Here was all this nice poetry and serendipity; it felt destined to be made there. Once we got there, it was impossible not to ham that up a little bit, given the environment, but we were headed for that Morricone indie-rock stuff long before we decided to go to Texas.”
“Jump Off the Top” “We first recorded this when we recorded ‘All My Friends Are Falling in Love,’ which was a stand-alone single in 2018. Again, we couldn’t quite get it right, but it consistently has one of the best reactions live. I think the most popular Vaccines songs do have this kind of tempo to them. They’re quite frenetic. They’re obviously upbeat and fun and a little dumb, maybe. And there’s this happy/sad thing. There’s a slightly dark undertone to the lyrics, but it’s also sung on top with this kind of nursery rhyme melody.”
“XCT” “[The title] is like ‘Ex-city.’ We thought it would be funny to call it that and have it open Side Two. I liked the idea of everything falling apart and ending up in a dilapidated, abandoned version of Love City. Someone once told me that when the central business district of Detroit was pretty much abandoned, they found a grizzly bear living on the 20th floor of this old office block. Whether or not that’s true, I had that in my mind as I was writing this song. It’s a quite brittle-feeling song, in places a little industrial or nu-metal, even.”
“Bandit” “This is a good example of a song being written very much with Love City in mind, and the idea that someone can steal your heart or steal your feelings. It’s building on the idea that this world exists where there might even be gangs of love, this kind of underworld, this underbelly.”
“Peoples’ Republic of Desire” “It’s the title of an amazing documentary about kids in China. I watched it one night and it was like, ‘They’ve made a documentary about this place I didn’t even realize existed.’ It’s just building on this notion that there’s a place where you can go to feel something you didn’t think you could feel anymore.”
“Savage” “‘Savage’ came from a riff that Freddie sent me. I immediately found it very exciting. We’d never really successfully written a song that, like, swung. It was obviously very glammy—it just got me excited and it felt quite primal or savage.”
“Heart Land” “This is the one song I’ve been worried about people taking the wrong way. But I hope that it’s obvious that it’s being written from this quite naive, optimistic perspective of this 13-year-old English boy who’s never been to America before, but has grown drunk on a diet of American pop culture. It’s less about commenting on where America has ended up and more about trying to capture that feeling of where I once thought it was.”
“Pink Water Pistols” “I finished the lyrics before the song existed, so I was just waiting for a song to come along where they’d be able to fit. And when Freddie sent me this melody, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, great.’ I think it’s probably quite obvious it’s about wanting to be better and get better, and thinking you might be able to find that with someone else.”

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