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The Vaccines’ Justin Young on Surviving the British Buzz Cycle, Avoiding Beef With Liam Gallagher, and Eating Buffalo Balls

Photo: Jon Furniss/WireImage
Photo: Jon Furniss/WireImage

In the beginning of this year, before they’d ever actually released an album, the Vaccines landed the cover of NME. The cover line: “The Return of the Great British Guitar Band.” Hella dramatic, right? Well, maybe not: Overhyping bands is just the famously excitable British media’s way of living its best life, and the fact that the Vaccines were the latest participants in these strange rituals doesn’t — as front man Justin Young might tell you himself — necessarily mean anything. With What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? freshly released in the U.S., Young called Vulture, from a Las Vegas blackjack table, to talk about navigating the hype storm.

Is the portrayal of how the British press has fawned over you guys accurate?
Yeah, they do tend to do that. In America it’s a bit different, isn’t it? You have to prove yourself. We’ve done a lot of thinking about this, as you’ve probably guessed. In many ways, we’re benefactors of that and in many ways we’re victims, and it’s hard to say if it’s had more of a positive or negative impact. It’s flattering, and we’ve had a good relationship with the press, but I don’t know … I still can’t really make sense how I feel about it. At the end of the day, we made a really good record, and [the hype] made sure that more people have heard us than would have heard of us.

Arctic Monkeys, who just put out their fourth album, seem to have done a nice job of getting out from under that initial wave of acclaim. Do you take hope in that?
We’ve never looked at another band as a model for the way of doing things. We all really love that band and admire what they’ve done. They and the Strokes are the only bands that have really survived the hype in the U.K. We’re a very different band, and we don’t think about it like that. Now that our record’s out, I never really think about buzz or hype. Once the record’s out, people are free to celebrate or ignore it. It’s no longer about precedent, is it? It’s just about, you’ve got a body of work out there now.

The U.K. press was also sort of attempting to set up a rivalry between you and Brother. Is that founded in anything?
I’ve met a couple of the guys in Brother once and they’re really friendly. I’ve heard like, one, of their songs out of curiosity and I don’t think they’re relevant to us or the band or as people. They seem like nice guys, but they’re probably irrelevant to us.

Can you understand why the press goes after these things? Like, were you a fan of the old Blur vs. Oasis beef?
I loved it. I kind of found the personalities just as interesting as the music. Well, the people I latched onto when I was a really young kid, Elvis or Kurt Cobain or even Liam Gallagher, they’re big characters, aren’t they? And along with enjoying the music, you enjoy them.

So do you ever feel a responsibility to be a bigger character yourself?
No, no. Once or twice, perhaps, I’ve been criticized for not being that big character. But I’m not. That’s really it. It’s sort of weird, really. It’s part of it: It’s performance, and it’s theater, and that’s why pop music is great. I’m always seduced by it. But at the same time, while we are a pop band, I find it hard to fake. Honesty through creativity and performance is a really important thing to me. I’m not gonna say stuff just to get a reaction.

Speaking of Liam Gallagher — he called you guys “boring,” and you eventually responded by saying “Words are his weapon, not mine. I think I’ve made a better record than he has [with Beady Eye].” That seemed smart, to avoid taking an overt dig.
I mean, it was a dig. I was trying to bury it, but I should have known that that would have been a pull quote. And then everyone used it. I’m not really interested in getting involved. I do think we made a better record than Beady Eye. But he’s a better rock star.

Switching gears — you guys are playing blackjack right now?
We were driving through the strip and our soundman, he’s the resident father, and he knows the place really well. We’re playing California tomorrow, so he said, “Let’s get out and hang out for the day.” [Guitarist] Freddy [Cowan] is up like $250, [bassist] Arni [Hjorvar] won $30. I’m down, like, $200. We also met some lion trainers. They bring in them into the MGM Grand, and then we got to spend like five minutes with a lion. Vegas is like a sexy Disneyland.

How are you liking the U.S. in general? How’s the food?
We went to this really good place in Denver called the Buckhorn Exchange. It’s a game restaurant and it’s like Ted Nugent’s wet dream. There’s rattlesnake nachos and alligator tails and shit like that. We got Rocky Mountain Oysters, which are basically buffalo balls.

Have you been surprised by any of the cities you’ve played?
There’s plenty of great places. I loved downtown Detroit; the skyscrapers are so beautiful. All these boarded-up skyscrapers with no lights on them, they sort of embody faded glory. We did a search for Detroit property and there are all these houses that are fire damaged that you could do up for like a hundred bucks. I was thinking buying up all the property in or around Detroit. I could become like Trump. And last night we were in Salt Lake City, and bars are pretty hard to come by. We went into a gay bar, and we were the only ones in there and we had a dance to “Careless Whisper.” That was quite fun, dancing to “Careless Whisper.”

The Vaccines’ Justin Young on Surviving the British Buzz Cycle, Avoiding Beef With Liam Gallagher, and Eating Buffalo Balls