The Vaccines on vibrant new single ‘Headphones Baby’: “It’s essentially about wanting to feel alive”

"We want it to feel like a road trip or an acid trip, or an explosion of colour," frontman Justin Young tells NME of the first taster of their fifth album

The Vaccines have returned with ‘Headphones Baby’, their first new music since 2018. Check out the video below along with our interview with frontman Justin Young.

Marks their first original release since 2018 single ‘All My Friends Are Falling In Love’, the single is the first taster of the band’s forthcoming fifth album.

I wanna live inside your headphones baby/ I wanna live inside a world wherever you are,” Young sings on the track, which began life with the two words that make up its title written in his phone notes app. “I didn’t know what or who ‘headphones baby’ was, if it was a person or an idea,” he explained to NME. “Before the song was written, I imagined it to be like my ‘Plug In Baby’ [Muse], but now it’s more like a concept or a feeling.”

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The feeling contained in the song is one of escape, presented in a blast of classic Vaccines energy that has the power to instantly change your mood. “It’s about cocooning yourself from the outside world,” Young said. “Which is a topic I’ve always been mildly obsessed and, I suppose more broadly speaking, is probably a topic that a lot of musicians and artists are also quite obsessed with.”

‘Headphones Baby’ doesn’t quite present your typical picture of escapism though. The idea of burrowing away inside a partner’s headphones is a getaway from the tedious obligations of modern life (“Why go for beers when these people bore us?” Young sings on the first verse), but things take a surprising turn as the song continues. “I wanna die together like we’re movie stars,” the frontman fantasises. “They’ll bury us in leather in Hollywood Forever/ Don’t you wanna die together?

“The tone shifts from A to Z quite a lot in the song, but I think there is still this overarching theme of pure escapism and red button-ism, like ‘Fuck it’,” Young said. “[It’s more about] the idea of mortality – less the act of dying, but more what would come with an icon dying in a big ball of flames.”

The Vaccines
Justin Hayward-Young of The Vaccines. CREDIT: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns

The track – and the album it lives on – were inspired by the idea of dystopian or ‘sin cities’, and the notion of emotion as a finite resource that might one day leave us feeling empty and numb, with ‘Headphones Baby’ as the imagined antidote to that. “It’s like Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’ and this idea that you can plug into a feeling and therefore plug out and just become overwhelmed with emotion at a time or in a place where you thought you were devoid of all that,” Young explained. “It’s essentially about wanting to feel alive. The pandemic has obviously brought new meaning to it, but I think it’s something that rang true to me pre-COVID.”

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Young continued: “One thing I’ve really struggled with in consuming new music during this time is so much of our relationship with music we fall in love with is experiential. The music that’s really thrived this last year has been the more insular, inward-thinking stuff like the Phoebe Bridgers of the world, because it makes sense in this cocooned environment. ‘Headphones Baby’ is about wanting to feel those things [we felt before] and that’s why I think it’s so bombastic – because we want it to feel like a road trip or an acid trip, or an explosion of colour.”

The single mixes The Vaccines’ core components of “pure pop major chord simplicity” and “melancholic lyrical undertones” with futuristic production. However, Young said it was a “slightly misleading” introduction to the follow-up to their 2018 album ‘Combat Sports’.

“The album has quite a lot of breadth and depth,” he said. “But on the other hand, it is Vaccines to our core but it shows a sense of refinement and it at least hints at the M.O. for this record.”

The band – completed by guitarist Freddie Cowan, bassist Árni Árnason, keyboardist Tim Lanham and drummer Yoann Intonti – decamped to El Paso, Texas in early 2020 to make the record with producer Daniel Ledinsky (Rihanna, TV On The Radio), the title of which is still under wraps. “It wasn’t just the best experience we’ve had as a band, but I think as individuals it was one of the best months of all of our lives,” Young said of their time at Sonic Ranch studios.

“It was such an inspiring and exciting environment to make music, but also because everyone was so excited about being there. It was like pure living the dream – jumping on the back of a pickup truck every morning to go and eat tacos for breakfast these amazing Mexican women had cooked for us and then back to the studio for a 15-hour day in the middle of a pecan farm on the border with Mexico.”

Justin Young of The Vaccines
Justin Young of The Vaccines. CREDIT: Harry Durrant/Getty Images

While a new album is on the horizon, this March marked a major milestone for the band’s debut album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ – which reached its 10th anniversary. Looking back on that record now, Young said he was “really, really proud” of it. “At the time, I was very hypercritical because of the wave of hype we rode in on,” he said. “As a result of that, some disapproval came with that and I was always very insecure and unsure of the record and us as a band.

“When I listen back now, though, the songs are great and it’s aged better than I thought it was ageing. I love it and now, for me, it’s become the record to beat every time we make a record, which might sound depressing but it did change our lives.”

A decade on, the frontman believes the band might have bested themselves with their upcoming fifth album. “I genuinely do [think we’ve beaten ‘What Did You Expect..?’ with this album],” he added. “But that’s not really for me to decide – I suppose you have to give it to the hearts and minds of the people that care and hope enough of them agree.”

‘Headphones Baby’ by The Vaccines is out now, as is the 10th anniversary pink vinyl reissue of their debut

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