Justin Young on “liberating” new side project Halloweens: “It’s allowed The Vaccines to flourish”

He also gives us the lowdown on The Vaccines' "brutal, face-melting" new album

It’s been almost exactly two years since The Vaccines’ last graced us with new music, in the shape of their fourth album ‘Combat Sports’. In recent months they’ve been hard at work on its follow-up – but still two of their number have found time to create a whole new side-project and release a debut album.

“We tried to write together before for different things, but ‘Young American’ was the first time we wrote together successfully,” frontman Justin Young tells NME, tracing the roots of Halloweens, his new duo with keyboardist Timothy Lanham. “It felt fitting at that point to shoehorn it onto ‘Combat Sports’, but then as we started to write together more and more, it took on a life of its own that felt pretty separate from what a Vaccines song should sound like.”

The pair released their first album ‘Morning Kiss At The Acropolis’ last week (March 20) and are now looking ahead to the future with a new EP on the horizon and live shows in the works. “We’re doing some festivals that haven’t been announced and then the plan is to do a London show and some other headline shows around that,” Young explains, promising more dates after summer too.

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While we’re all stuck inside in the meantime, ‘Morning Kiss At The Acropolis’ is a beautiful record of classic pop songwriting to get stuck into. NME caught up with Young to get the lowdown on Halloweens, how the album is influenced by his imperial history studies, and what to expect from The Vaccines on album five.

What makes a Halloweens song a Halloweens song then?

Justin: “I think predominantly the process. We wrote half the record in an AirBnB in Paris and then we wrote the other half of the record on my Wurlitzer piano at the top of my stairs here in London. It was always just the two of us with a laptop resting on top of the piano. I would come with the finished lyrics first, which I’d never done before, and then we’d essentially put them to piano together. So I guess the process informed the sound and what ended up being the record. The process for Vaccines or whatever it may be on any other given day, that often takes on a life of its own and a form of its own. That’s how I define it anyway.”

It’s been quite a few years since you’ve been able to make a record without having any expectations on it from fans…

“Or cynics! It was an incredibly liberating experience just being able to write a record, record a record, mix a record, master a record when basically the only two people in the world that knew it existed was us. There’s no compromise, there’s no outside collaboration, there’s no consequence. It’s just ‘Do we think this is good? Would I wanna dance to this? Would I cry to this? Would I wanna play my friends this?’ And of course, you adhere to those rules and guidelines in any music you make – Vaccines too – but I think that there’s no framework that we were operating within.”

You’ve said one of the themes of this album is that “every generation gets slightly more enlightened but slightly more entitled”. How did that idea manifest itself in the record?

“I studied imperial history at university and I’ve always been interested in the falling of empires and if you look at the Romans and the Greeks and the Egyptians, there was this insane decadence and also enlightenment, but they ate themselves. I’m just interested in the paradox of modern life. Take something as simple as every supermodel on Instagram is telling you to go plastic-free and to try a plant-based diet for the good of the world. Fast forward to August and find me one that isn’t on some tech billionaire’s superyacht guzzling copious amounts of petrol into the ocean. I think there’s a bit of that in all of us, myself included. I do think I am incredibly entitled.”

But it’s a positive record?

“It’s not even necessarily from a cynical standpoint, it’s more from an intrigued standpoint. I’m just interested in the paradox and I think ultimately most people are just trying to do their best. And I do see the good in people. I think this record is quite positive lyrically, I think it does celebrate people, actually. It’s an observation rather than a critique.”

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The chorus of ‘Corridors Of Love’ (“Your veins are corridors of love/They know the best way to your heart/I’d cut you open to get in/Into the corridors of love”) is beautiful. Where did that come from?

“That lyric just came to me and I thought it was very beautiful. My favourite thing is to try and find obvious things to say that no one else has thought of yet. It reminded me of a Magnetic Fields lyric or a Smog lyric and I googled it and no one had so I framed the song around that lyric. That was the spark and I thought that was a really nice way of talking about love and wanting to be loved.”

You’re already working on a new EP. How does that compare to the album?

“Yeah, we’re recording it in a couple of weeks. We’ve got six new songs and we’re trying to hold onto that ethos of not looking outside of the four walls we’re making music in. I think it’s a refining of the sound. I think it has more of the DNA of ‘Lady’ or ‘Paris Undercover’. There’s less piano and it’s slightly more synthy.”

You’ve said before that working on Halloweens has made the new Vaccines album better. How so?

“A few different ways, I guess. Every time you make a record, everyone likes to think they’re refining their process and their output. The attention to detail on the Halloweens record made me write lyrics on this record like that where I was very focused and would spend days and weeks just on lyrics. Also, I think it’s allowed The Vaccines to flourish. The new Vaccines album is heavier than anything we’ve ever done and it’s quite brutal in places. I’m sure that’s a consequence of having made a pretty record.”

By heavier do you mean it’s more punk?

“There’s lots of riffs. Yeah actually, there’s two punky songs on there. It’s weird, it’s the poppiest and most colourful record, but – actually, I’m gonna stop myself there. It just feels really heavy, it’s quite face-melting in places. Lots more screaming. It’s good, I think.”

Halloweens’ ‘Morning Kiss At The Acropolis’ is out now.

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