BBC Sound of 2011: The Vaccines
- 5 January 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
British rock band The Vaccines, who are guided by the managers of Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs, have come third on the BBC's Sound of 2011 new music list.
The list, compiled using tips from 160 critics, bloggers and broadcasters, aims to highlight some of the most exciting emerging artists. We are revealing one artist from the top five every day until Friday, when the winner will be announced.
"I've just been to a record shop and bought 21 CDs," declares The Vaccines singer Justin Young down the phone from Aberdeen, where they have been on tour.
He is trying to dispel the suggestion, raised by their raucously infectious 84-second debut single Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra), that they are obsessed with The Ramones.
"Let me start from the top," Young says. "I bought The Legendary Sun Records Story, a Replacements record, Primal Scream's Sonic Flower Groove, Neutral Milk Hotel, Abba's Greatest Hits, Thee Headcoats…"
Hang on a minute. Rewind a bit. Abba?
"They're an incredible pop band, yeah," Young replies coolly.
"I don't feel guilty about liking anything. I just love good music. And while some people probably find Abba nauseating, I love the songwriting.
"Then I got The Cars, Elvis Costello, Scott 4, the Scott Walker record. I would say that's pretty diverse."
The Vaccines are built on a tangle of unlikely contrasts and connections.
They are an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll band who sound fresh in 2011, which is rare enough for a start.
They write songs that sound like The Ramones but like listening to Abba.
Time on the tour bus is divided between watching American Pie on DVD and reading tomes about Kraut Rock, Young says.
On one level, their tunes are raw, direct and full of innocent teen spirit, with choruses about pretty girls in wreckin' bars and asking 17-year-olds to go steady.
Yet their best tracks are also literate and intelligently crafted, namechecking F Scott Fitzgerald and imbibing a bit of Joy Division's poetic gloom.
In short, they have swallowed the last 50 years of popular culture and are regurgitating it in a way that would have sounded pretty cool at any time during that era.
Another curious part of the story is Young's previous life as a tortured acoustic troubadour.
Before forming The Vaccines, he went by the name Jay Jay Pistolet and was friends with Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons on the nu-folk scene.
Another friend and fellow singer, Frank Turner, wrote a song about him, including the line: "Justin is the last great romantic poet."
So why the reinvention?
"It certainly wasn't calculated," Young says defensively.
"I really hit a brick wall with it creatively," he says of his time as a folk strummer. "It just became secondary in my life and it wasn't consuming me as it once had.
"And then if I'm being completely honest, professionally I'd seen my friends pass me and I guess I became quite disillusioned.
"I just wanted a fresh start, really, a clean slate."
In killing off Jay Jay Pistolet, he was preparing to give up on fulfilling the prediction in Turner's song that he is "the only one among us who is ever gonna make it".
But then a friend invited him to play in his rehearsal space, introduced him to guitarist Freddie Cowan, brother of The Horrors guitarist Tom, and The Vaccines' sound started to emerge.
"There was no big plan - it was just friends messing around," Young recalls.
The pair were joined by Arni Hjorver on bass and Pete Robertson on drums, and realised they might be onto something.
"There was a real lease of life because it meant I had something to write for again and I felt passionate about it and excited by it," the singer says.
"We've made a conscious effort to make the songs as fun for us as possible. Put it this way, I was bored of staring at my shoes every night."
The band have been guided by Supervision Management, who manage the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Crystal Castles, and were signed by Columbia Records, home of Kings of Leon, Kasabian and the Manic Street Preachers.
Despite their songs' directness, The Vaccines are musically "more mature" than Jay Jay Pistolet, Young believes.
"I think it takes balls to make simple music," he explains. "I think it's harder to write a really simple, familiar pop song than it is to create some three-dimensional symphony."
But simple does not necessarily mean shallow.
"I don't like pop without any depth or integrity," he says. "Hopefully people will see that there's slightly more to a Vaccines lyric than a Fratellis lyric or something like that.
"I'd like to think there's slightly more depth to us than that."