Writing on the Wall: The Vaccines gear up for Belfast gig at the Limelight
The Vaccines bring their English Graffiti album to Belfast next week with the promise of new material
The first time London indie band The Vaccines headlined a Belfast gig, bassist Arni Arnason recalls, they were joined backstage by Bangor band Two Door Cinema Club and an infamous local delicacy. "They showed up to a show with a couple of bottles of Buckfast," he smiles. He says he is "absolutely not" a fan of the notorious tonic wine, but he expects next week's gig at The Limelight to turn into a party.
"It's going to be a big gig for us because it's coming to the absolute end of this year," he says. "Those two shows, Dublin and Belfast, that's it for us this year. So it's going to be a cause to celebrate. It should be fun."
It's fair to say the band usually enjoy themselves on these shores. On their last visit, they supported Kings Of Leon at Tennent's Vital in 2013, but rather than casting envious glances towards the headliners as they played to 30,000 fans, Arnason was preoccupied with the band that played before them.
"To be honest, I remember watching The Undertones and thinking 'I would like to be that one day'," he says. "I had such a great time watching them."
The bassist talks earnestly about learning something from every band you play with - however popular they are and how much you enjoyed their music beforehand - but all those sensible ideas went out of the window when Arnason was faced with the legendary Londonderry band.
"I just got selfish with them and went, 's***, I love you guys, can I have a selfie'?" he laughs. "I was a bit of a fanboy. One of their daughters was a bit of a fan of us which was quite funny - The Undertones didn't give a f*** about us, but their kids did."
He adds: "Anybody that's been doing this for 30 or 40 years and is still clearly having a great time doing it, that's a pretty admirable and enviable position to be in."
The Vaccines have a long way to go to rival The Undertones' durability. It's easy to forget that they are only five years into their career, such was the speed of their rise in 2010 and 2011.
Famously, they were signed after only a handful of gigs, they were the first band ever to play Later… with Jools Holland before they had released a single and their debut album, the archly titled What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? entered the UK album chart at number four.
It was the classic example of a band hailed as the 'next big thing', 'the saviours of indie rock' and all the other epithets the music press like to bestow upon young men with guitars. The follow-up albums hit numbers one and two respectively, proving they were anything but a flash in the pan.
So with the band doing very nicely indeed, Arnason is well placed to look back on a crazy period at the start of their career.
He admits that there were just as many doubters as believers at the beginning, arguing that the band hadn't paid their dues. The criticism and pressure to deliver could easily have broken them.
"That was a massive thing," he says. "We released our first album and did our first year-and-a-half of touring with a chip on our shoulders, going, 'We'll prove you wrong'. We were quite cocksure. We were lucky enough to have the album in the bag when we got signed, so we didn't have to write anything under that pressure.
"I feel we were lucky to have that. A lot of bands crash and burn really quickly having had that sort of attention early on. We were lucky enough not to do that.”
Now, Arnason seems less cocky, more quietly confident. But he’s not about to rest on his laurels. “Imposter syndrome is a real thing,” he says. “The first time you’re backstage at the Other Stage at Glastonbury, you’re thinking, ‘When is somebody going to turn around and ask, what are you doing here’? It’s a pretty intimidating place to be, to be honest.”
But The Vaccines must be used to that by now? “I don’t think that has happened and I’m not sure it will, and I think that’s really important,” says Arnason. “Confidence is creativity’s worst enemy. You should never feel comfortable. I feel like your ambitions grow with your success — the more you achieve, the more ambitious you become.”
Rather than aiming for huge record sales or headlining festivals, Arnason insists that for The Vaccines, ambition merely means improving as a band. “You have to constantly strive to be better,” he says. “Whether or not you think Red Hot Chilli Peppers have already released their best material, they believe that they can be a better band. That’s such an important driving factor behind pretty much everything.”
As well as Kings Of Leon, The Vaccines have supported Muse and The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, but Arnason is refreshingly circumspect about the apparently glamorous job of supporting the biggest bands in the world. “Those gigs are really enjoyable to do because you get to watch greats in their element,” he says, “but they’re also of fairly limited value to the curve of a band. Especially in Hyde Park — you’re basically playing to a couple of bankers who have brought all their clientele because it’s a cool thing to do, and they’re drinking Champagne and not giving a f*** about what these little kids are doing on stage.”
The Vaccines divide opinions to this day — in fact, a broadly positive review of their latest album English Graffiti cited the fact that much of it didn’t really sound like The Vaccines as a good thing, which is about as backhanded a compliment as you can imagine.
Arnason freely admits that it is indeed “stylistically all over the shop” and “a transitional record”, but he’s happy for the universal acclaim to elude the band.
“I guess polarising opinions is vital, but I don’t get too caught up in it,” he says.
“The only time I hear about anything that anybody is writing is when we get sent it by a manager or a friend or something, and the only time they ever do that is when it’s positive stuff. Unless you go hunting, you never see the negative stuff, so you’ve basically got a really skewed image of yourself. So you have to learn not to listen to any of it. It’s all just noise.”
Avoiding the press probably isn’t a bad strategy for one other reason — the eminently quotable singer of The Vaccines, Justin Hayward-Young (left). Recently, he claimed he wanted the band to be as big as U2, and complained that people don’t understand what a good songwriter he is.
“I try not to pay attention because sometimes I wonder what he’s trying to achieve,” says Arnason with a wry laugh.
On one occasion, he says he challenged his bandmate on a particular quote and was given the response, “Oh, I’ve never said a single truthful thing to any journalist. I just make it up as I go”.
But Arnason is keen to play down any rift, and puts a positive spin on it — after all, it draws attention to the band. “Justin being sure of himself is an extremely important quality of this band,” he says. “He’s got an incredible way with words and I absolutely believe in him.”
The Vaccines’ legion of fans clearly do too, and for those that favour the sound of the band’s raucous early singles over the sonic experimentation and languid tempos on English Graffiti, their bassist has some good news.
“The stuff we’ve been working on recently has been quite up-tempo and in-your-face,” he reveals. “We might actually play a new song in Belfast — that’s quite likely.”
The Vaccines will be at The Limelight on Wednesday, December 9. Tickets are £24.50 from www.ticketmaster.co.uk/