Sounds infectious

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am


The Vaccines are almost contrarian in their insistence on straight-ahead guitar pop. They are, after all, an indie band at a time when the indie trends are working in the opposite direction: big, flashy dance-pop (Friendly Fires; M83; Gang Gang Dance); introverted disaffected melancholia (Bon Iver; Grizzly Bear; Deerhunter); or soulful dubstep (James Blake; Burial).

But The Vaccines - still red hot after their 2011 breakout - tear through three-minute riots about pretty girls, busted relationships, and break-up sex. The songs are unvarnished and unpretentious.

'It's funny, because I think a lot of that more lo-fi stuff and also a lot of the more recycled stuff, they kind of beat around the bush,' says frontman Justin Young, on the phone from Melbourne, Australia, where the band have been playing the Big Day Out tour ahead of their Hong Kong concert on Saturday.

'And while there are people who are genuinely trying to do something different, most of them are actually trying to do something quite straight-forward - but are either incapable of doing so or are too scared to do so.' People underestimate the power of a well-written, basic pop song, he says. 'We're not going to over-complicate things and do this and do that, we're just going to strip it back and let the song rule and create great, simple, classic, familiar pop music in a rock'n'roll format.'

While they only have one album to their name - last year's What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? - they've proven masters of that form. From the Beach Boys-meet-Ramones surf rock of lead single Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra) to '60s rock-channeling If You Wanna, and the immediately infectious Norgaard, which sounds like something The Proclaimers could have written, the album is instantly digestible with the added benefit of a few subtle growers. The Strokes-ish A Lack of Understanding, for instance, doesn't exactly explode on first listen, but soon enough its deft sonic undulations get seared into your hippocampus.

The Strokes, The Ramones, and The Jesus and Mary Chain get mentioned a lot in any discussion of The Vaccines, and Young is happy enough with the comparisons, but their music is more strongly influenced by those bands' 1950s and '60s forerunners - the Phil Spector groups, Wall of Sound stuff, with a bit of punk and surf rock thrown in. In other words, they are quintessential rock'n'roll - so don't try to tell them it's dead.

'I'm getting really bored of people talking about the death of rock'n'roll,' says Young. 'People are creating a problem that isn't really there. It's always the same people saying it and saying the same things, and it's so boring.

'People are saying, 'Well, there's no Nirvana, there's no genre-defining, generation-defining rock'n'roll band'. But I can't really imagine there ever being another one. Obviously, it would be amazing but I just feel people's tastes are so much broader now.' The argument is redundant, he says. There are more interesting things to talk about.

All right then. How about that date he went on with Danish model Amanda Norgaard? The 19-year-old blonde is the inspiration behind the hit single Norgaard, but not in the way you might first think.

'A mate of mine was seeing this girl,' explains Young, 'and he was like, 'Let's go out with her and she'll bring along a mate and it will be really fun'.' His mate, it should be noted, was a model for Burberry. His date was, like Norgaard, a model. So an eager Young went along with it and the night was going pretty well - at least until it was time to make a move. The idea was that Burberry Man would play wing man.

'He went up to put in a good word for me,' says Young, 'and he ended up kissing her for me instead.' Burberry Man, as the English would say, got off with both the ladies. Defeated and dejected, Young, a sweet-looking but slightly gawky rocker, slunk home and wrote a song about it. 'I only met her once, so it wasn't anything I cared too much about. It was just an experiment. [Before that] I'd really only written about stuff that was really consuming.'

The experiment paid off. The song is full of biting wit with lines such as 'Giving me the sweet talk/ Walking down the catwalk/ I want a mannequin/ But she won't let me in', and it is an absolute romper. The band played it to an uproarious reception at Glastonbury last year. And as for Norgaard? Well, she must have been okay with it - she acted in the music video and has since turned up to the band's shows. Young, meanwhile, went off and found another girlfriend.

The Norgaard experience was just one of many heady moments in the recent life of The Vaccines. At the end of 2010 and through much of 2011, they were the beneficiaries - or victims, depending on how you look at it - of the British music media's considerable hype machine. NME stuck them on the cover along with the tagline 'The Return of the Great British Guitar Band'. Taste-making TV show Later ... With Jools Holland booked them before they'd released anything. And BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe called their first single, Wreckin' Bar, the 'hottest record in the world'.

Young, who is 24, is ambivalent about the hype. 'While it's kind of a scary place to be, and in many ways it's a negative thing to happen to a band, obviously the attention's great,' he says.

The band were confident they had 12 good songs on the record, and it wasn't like the hype was just because they looked good in denim. 'We were gracing magazine covers and it wasn't about what we looked like or what we were saying, it was really only about the music.'

More worrisome, however, are Young's vocal folds. He had them operated on three times last year, causing the band to cancel shows in Japan, Europe, and the US. Young says he was over-singing and playing too many shows - as well as 'probably too much shouting after shows' (the band enjoy their youth, he confesses).

For now, Hong Kong fans can relax. Young's roof-raising voice seems to be holding up. 'It all seems all right at the moment, so fingers crossed,' he offers. 'It got pretty hairy. The third one, the guy was reluctant to operate a third time. But it's been six months, and so far so good. Every day I wake up and I'm thankful I can sing at the moment.'

Once they're done in Hong Kong, the band will return home to record their second album. Provided Young's voice survives, the Second Coming of the Great British Guitar Band will continue as scheduled.

The Vaccines, Sat, 7pm, Kitec Auditorium, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$390, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: