The Vaccines Combat Sports Interview
Much has changed in The Vaccines’ camp since the release of their last LP English Graffiti in 2015.
At the tail end of touring that album, the band announced the departure of drummer Pete Robertson and initially planned to continue as a three-piece. They soon changed their minds and have now swelled to a fivesome with new drummer Yoann Intonti and touring keyboardist Timothy Lanham now permanent members of the band.
For their new album, they’ve headed up to Sheffield and recorded with Arctic Monkeys/Drenge producer Ross Orton and channelled the fast, punky indie rock into a new collection, Combat Sports, which hits shelves today.
But, as guitarist Freddie Cowan explains to us, the journey to this new album was anything but straightforward...
When did you start putting together the songs for Combat Sports?
“We actually started working on the album pretty soon after the last one came out, so that’s late 2015. But it took a really long time to get the songs that ended up on the record. We wrote a lot of songs and we choose the best ones for the album. Only it didn’t turn out to be the album we ended up making.”
So what did you do?
“We listened back to the songs and we decided it wasn’t what we wanted to be doing and not the kind of album we wanted to make and we ended up scrapping most of that stuff and started again. Most of the songs that are on the album were written last summer.”
Was it a difficult process? Scrapping all those songs?
“We had the luxury of time and we knew we had to be honest with ourselves. We felt like we’d really drifted from the band we wanted to be. We wanted to make a rock album, but you can’t just decide to do something, you have to work on something until you create something genuine, something that feels right, something that feels good.”
This is your first album as a five-piece, how was writing and recording with this new line-up?
“The addition of the two new members really allowed us to make the album we did. We really wanted to get in a room with each other and play, we wanted to thrash things out, not sit and work in front of a computer and we needed some fresh blood. Árni (Árnason, bassist), Justin (Young, singer) and I have been in this band for a long time and we felt like we’d picked up bad habits. It gave the band fresh life and made us excited to be in the band again, with some really fresh energy.”
Has the dynamic changed much with it being five of you rather than four?
“I’ve never felt happier to be in the band, I feel even happier than when we started. The new energy is great, everything feels really natural, we’re all really enjoying ourselves.”
You did the record with Ross Orton, what did he give you as a producer?
“To be honest, we weren’t that keen on him, to begin with, and he wasn’t that keen on us. He said to us that we could come up to Sheffield and have a go. Me and Justin went up and we spent the first day or so hating it. But pretty quickly we realised he was the guy we needed. Ross has no capacity for bulls**t. He’s very binary with his options. Things are f**king great or f**king s**t. We needed that. We needed to be given that kind of cutthroat approach, that brutal honesty. He’s very impatient. If a song doesn’t happen quite quickly, he’s moved on. He’s got no time for messing about, trying out different bits of gear.”
What kind of album do you think this is lyrically?
“There’s a theme of resilience, of survival. The name Combat Sports came about after we had this big fight in the studio. It’s a nod to internal battles, how you manage relationships. We’d lost Pete, that threw everything into turmoil, we didn’t know what the future was if the band going to survive. But we stuck it out and turned the corner. To me, it’s an album about resilience, conquering what life throws at you.”
Was it always going to be called Combat Sports?
“There were other titles, but nothing felt right. Then Justin and I had this fight in the studio and he suggested Combat Sports straightaway. It was weird. We had this big fight and five minutes later everything was fine. It just needed to happen. And it gave us the perfect title…”
Finally, you must be excited to finally take these songs out on the road?
“I can’t wait to play the new songs. This album belongs on tour. The songs sound even better live than they do on record. It’s designed to be played live.”