Band Notes: The Vaccines
Before the British rockers’ show at the 9:30 Club Friday, we chat with bassist Árni Hjörvar about the band’s quick rise to success and the “purgatory” of airports.
When it comes to success as a band, the Vaccines’ journey has been a quick one. Though the members—frontman Justin Young, guitarist Freddie Cowen, drummer Pete Robertson, and bassist Árni Hjörvar—toured separately as musicians for years, once they formed, in London in early 2010, the uphill momentum was rapid. In 2011 they released their first album, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, which climbed the charts and led to tours around the world. Their crackling, accented rock brings to mind classic bands like the Ramones as well as contemporaries such as Arctic Monkeys, whom they’ve opened for in the past. In October of 2012 they released Come of Age, and this week they kicked off their first headlining tour in the US. Before their show Friday at the 9:30 Club we got Hjörvar on the phone to talk about his expectations for the tour, the band’s pre-show rituals, and his least favorite part of being a rock star.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m just in London actually, at home.
What do you do with your off time?
I spend the majority of my time in the kitchen—I cook three meals a day. When you’re off you just wanna zone out, so instead of lying in bed I just cook.
This is the first US tour you’re headlining. What do you think will be different from previous tours?
Well, we’ve done a lot of tours around Europe and the US and Australia, but [this one is] gonna be fun because we get to choose the bands that are on the bill with us. The bands we’re playing with are really cool, sort of light and enjoyable music, so it should be really fun. But the last time we toured the States was one of the most memorable tours I’ve ever done. It’s just this sort of romantic ideal—it’s such an incredibly vast country, and there’s such a difference between places, peculiarities in culture over differences in the area. It’s quite an awe-inspiring size, and everything is just a bit—well, you have to take it all in.
Do you have any favorite cities to play in the US?
I think my favorite is … if I go on holiday I go to Austin, I love Austin, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world, actually, but apart from that I think one of the most awe-inspiring places is Detroit.
When was the last time you played DC?
Last year we were there, at the 9:30 Club with Arctic Monkeys, and the first day of the tour we were there. I grew up on disco stuff, so it was quite amazing to be there with Arctic Monkeys.
A lot of the band members toured for years separately before you started the Vaccines. Do you think there was some kind of magic formula or element that made this particular band get so successful so quickly?
I don’t think there is a formula. I think it’s all of the priorities we had, and we had a lot of experience, so we were a lot more … we made our mistakes and knew much more what we wanted than anything else. When we started the Vaccines it was about going back to the origins of being kids in a garage playing loud music, and it came as sort of a shock that people were interested. We also knew we had good songs, and you really have to believe in the material.
Did you find that sort of quick success uncomfortable in any way?
Not uncomfortable but surreal; it’s quite weird you just go home for a couple of days, and if you don’t go and occupy yourself you get extremely bored because there’s this lifestyle you’re accustomed to. It’s very quick and it’s so intense, when you stop it’s kind of just … oh.
So is there a downside to that fast-paced lifestyle?
Airports. I think airports are like purgatory. I’d like to tell you that I spend [down time while traveling] in a constructive manner, but it’s not the case. You wouldn’t believe how many “learn a new language” package places there are around the world, but we’re usually playing computer games… . There’s very little to do to pass the time, so we’re always just looking for things to kill some time.
If you weren’t a musician what do you think you’d be doing?
I’d probably be a failing musician [laughs]. I don’t know, I’d probably work in a pub.
Do you get nervous before you go onstage?
Yeah, I think a healthy amount of nerves is good for a gig—if you don’t have that, you’re not doing it right. You’re not taking it seriously enough.
What’s your pre-show routine?
Nothing out of the ordinary, no group meditation or anything like that, but the more you tour, the more obsessive you get about things being a certain way. Like how professional athletes wear one yellow sock or something, we’ve got a specific playlist we put on. I normally squeeze in Waiting Room, and there’s “Holiday in Cambodia,” Teenage Fanclub, Roy Orbison, Rolling Stones, Curtis Mayfield, A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West—loads and loads of stuff, really.
You’ve performed all over the world. Do you find there are differences in how audiences receive the music depending on where you are?
Definitely. In America, it’s so vast that there’s no point in comparing it—the difference between New York and Milwaukee is like black and white. You find different crowds in different cities, and then there are national trends in any cities.
How’d you pick the name the Vaccines?
We’d been playing a few shows under a variety of names, and they were all absolutely terrible, Justin had seen a Spanish dictionary and saw the Spanish word, so he suggested it. It definitely sounds like it belongs to any specific area, and we liked the blankness of it. You can cover quite a lot under that.
The Vaccines perform at 9:30 Club this Friday, February 1, at 8 PM. Tickets ($25) are available through 9:30’s website.