Interview – The Vaccines

I had the chance to chat with Pete Robertson, drummer for The Vaccines. He happened to be in Milwaukee during our chat, as the band is currently on a whirlwind tour.

The band released their debut full-length What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? on March 14 in the UK, but the album just hit stores in North America on May 31st. Given that the band has only been around for about a year, I had to ask Pete how he feels about the buzz they’ve quickly generated. He says, “Feel really good. Feel really confident. Feel very flattered to garner this sort of attention, but it’s the sort of thing you really need to kick start a career, really.”

And their career is certainly off to a good start. However, all of the members of The Vaccines were all part of other bands and/or musical projects prior to this band, so this has greatly influenced the band and helped to kick start their career. Pete says, “I think everything you do and everything you’ve been part of in the past always influences what you do now and I think in many ways it really helps. Speaking for myself, it’s definitely helped my playing.”

He further elaborates. “Basically before this, myself and Árni and Freddie were all playing sessions for other solo artists and stuff. When you do that it gives you a sense of professionalism. It kicks your ass in a musical way, so you really have to rise to the occasion for that. And it’s also maybe given us a sense of maturity where a lot of bands would get a sniff of a record deal and just go into overdrive and think that’s it, they’ve got it made. I think we were able to take a step back and just assess what was the right thing for us to do and also right now we’re more aware than ever that nothing’s set in stone. We might go on to a good thing right now, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future, so it’s given us a really good work ethic. Basically, we just gotta keep going, keep trying to get better for our own sakes.” It’s clear Pete has a good head on his shoulders in regards to their sudden fame.

On top of previous experiences, Pete cites Dave Grohl as a major influence. However, Pete also says, “I try to keep everything diverse and sort appreciate just good art, really. I spent a while studying great jazz drummers, great jazz musicians and that all kinda goes hand in hand, in a funny sort of way, with the stuff I was listening to as a kid, which was things like Nirvana and R.E.M. I’m just passionate about music that’s got depth.” Pete also says he’s “going through a bit of a classical music phase right now.”

Having only been around about a year, the record was completed pretty quickly. Pete indicates that, with the exception of the vocals and the minimal overdubs, the album was recorded in about a week. He says, “We wanted to make it as live as possible, but obviously there’s a few constraints.”

Frontman Justin Young is the principle songwriter for the band and Pete doesn’t shy away from giving Justin credit for his work. “I think Justin’s an amazing songwriter, and we all do, and when you’re working with songs of that calibre, it kind of arranges themselves to an extent, so half the record we just jammed and were happy.” While not all the songs were written that quickly, as the band locked themselves into a rehearsal room to perfect some songs, the quick release suggests that the process was pretty fluid.

Pete conveys his feelings on the release. “It was the first album that I’ve been a part of that actually sort of officially released. First of all, we’re incredibly proud of it and we wanted people to hear it. And secondly, it kind of feels like if you’ve got a catalogue of music that’s just not been released, you can mull it over forever and ever and ever and never really draw a line under, so you don’t get that sense of closure on it. So when we released it, there was just a huge weight off our shoulders that it was done and we couldn’t do anything more to it. It was incredibly exciting.”

The title of the album speaks to a few things and Pete explains it all. “I think it was Justin who came in one day and said, “How about What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?” We loved it because it’s kind of a multi-faceted thing. It’s primarily the lyrics in one of our songs, “Post Break-Up Sex” – it’s “what did you expect from post break-up sex?” – so first it was a reference to that.

“Secondly, we felt that it had a really classic feel to it, a timeless thing. Back in the old days when bands were introducing themselves it was all “Meet The Monkees” or “Introducing The Beatles” and so we liked that. It’s quite obvious we’re quite big fans of classic music and classic sounds.

“And then thirdly, we just thought it was cheeky. In the UK, particularly, we were getting a lot of prying eyes and a lot of people possibly putting unfair pressure or certainly a lot of expectations of what [the album] might be, what we might sound like. There came a point where we just wanted to just calm the whole thing down. Then we heard the idea of What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? We thought that kind of related to that whole issue quite well.”

With the album officially out there, the band has a lot of touring ahead of them. What are they looking forward to? Well, Pete says, “Right now we’re all just loving being in a band and everything that it entails, really. I mean, there’s obviously a few perks. We all love traveling and seeing the world and I think music is basically is the best way I can think of to see the world.” Personally, Pete indicates that he’s particularly looking forward to Fuji Rock in Japan, as well as Australia. As Pete puts it, “We’re really seeing the world with this.”

The Vaccines happened to be in Toronto a couple times this year and it appears the band had a good time here. Pete doesn’t miss a beat. “I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was quite interesting. We went there the first time in January and it was like minus something ridiculous. I’ve never been so cold in my entire life. And then we went last week and it was absolutely beautiful weather. It was 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) or something and it felt like a completely different place, but both times we had a ball.”

As for how to sell their live show to people who are not familiar with the band, Pete says, “It’s a bit of a riot. We lay into it and I hope that comes across. To be honest, the main purpose of the songs were to go and play them live. It was definitely a record we wanted to do live first and then record, rather than do it the other way around. So when you go out to a gig, they’re in the environment they’re intended for. It’s a fun experience for us and the reaction that we’ve got suggests everyone else is having a good time too.”

When it came to a drunken story, Pete struggled a bit. “Just trying to think of one that won’t land anyone in a whole heap of trouble.”

He then told me about their recent stay in Detroit, which involved a friend buying 4 shots of Goldschlager when he only intended to have another beer after dinner. Pete then says, “Over here shots are significantly bigger than they are in the UK.” Well, apparently it was over from there. You can use your imagination on how that night ended.

The band’s shot of choice is “probably split down the middle between tequila and Sambuca,” as Pete tells me.

Thanks to Pete for taking time out of his busy tour schedule to chat! Pay attention to The Vaccines, as they’re quickly taking the world by storm. If you haven’t heard What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, I highly recommend you get your hands on the album while you wait for the band to make their way back around the world. I know I’m certainly looking forward to when they’re back in Toronto.


Categories: Interviews


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