Stage Times: The Vaccines

From world tours that ended in a hotel kitchen to nervously playing the hits at double speed, Árni Árnason walks us through the gigs that made The Vaccines

Few bands embody the sound of summer quite like The Vaccines.

Bursting out with the best-selling debut album of 2011, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines introduced a band ready to shake up the indie scene. Injecting a well-needed dose of energy into a genre overflowing with run-of-the-mill bands throughout the 2000s, the London four-piece ushered in a new era for guitar music. Never more at home than when they’re stood upon a festival’s main stage, they specialise in songs made to be sung loud with a beer in hand and not a care in the world.

Undergoing an undeniable evolution across their six albums, the core DNA of The Vaccines’ sound has remained constant; equal parts exciting and beautifully emotional. Verging into more explorative, experimental territory on 2021’s Back In Love City, their recently released sixth record A Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations marks a return to the organic, rock-driven sound that made them. Its title inspired by the lyrics of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’, it’s informed by a childhood defined by American pop culture and an infatuation with the West Coast: ten songs sitting within a triad of euphoria, melancholia, and nostalgia.

The Vaccines - Heartbreak Kid

“[‘American Pie’ is a] nostalgic and melancholic song that’s provided fans with endless euphoria for decades,” founding bassist Árni Árnason nods.

“Deep down we’re all just fans of beautiful pop writing, and beautiful pop writing often relies quite heavily on universally emotional themes… There’s obviously a constant need to try and add a new twist and a personal spin on the music, but deep down, it’s pop music that is deeply rooted in other pop music.”

Written whilst frontman Justin Young was living in Los Angeles and recorded in the Hollywood Hills with producer Andrew Wells, it’s the kind of album that captures a moment. The ideal road trip soundtrack to blast out from car speakers with the windows down, it’s also a reminder of what The Vaccines do best.

“A certain chapter was closed with [2022 EP] Planet Of The Youth. It was released into the world during COVID and when we got back to making music we were desperate to get back to doing something raw and visceral. Something that would be fun to play on stage,” Árnason reflects.

“I’m Icelandic and Iceland is basically just an American outpost. The US army was based there from the Second World War until the mid 2000s, and before their arrival Iceland was at a stage of pre-industrialisation. Pretty much all cultural influence from the war onwards came via the army.” 

“Growing up in Iceland meant growing up almost exclusively on American entertainment. Los Angeles is obviously the Mecca of American entertainment and still today it yields some of the biggest influence on any form of culture or entertainment. You almost feel like you’re on hallowed ground when making records there, and that feeling undoubtably seeps into the music.” 

Thirteen years after their band’s inception, as many of their peers settle into a groove of predictability, The Vaccines are ever-changing. Constantly proving that they’re worthy of more than the dreaded ‘landfill indie’ label, their status as a staple European festival act remains undisputed. Ahead of another summer of outdoor stages, Árnason talks us through some of the most memorable performances of his career so far.

The Vaccines - If You Wanna (Live At The Electric Ballroom)

The gig that made you want to play music

The Prodigy in a shoddy handball arena in Reykjavik. I was maybe twelve, and at the time I wanted to be Keith Flint when I grew up. Seeing them live changed my life. 

The first

It was in a little bar attached to the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham. We were parked outside in a van when we started seeing hundreds of people queuing up for the club and obviously got ridiculously excited. However, when we entered the venue, we realised people were just filing through the little bar we were set up in and into a bigger club space in a different room. We played to three people: a bored employee stuck behind the bar, our manager Cerne [Canning], and his wife. When we came off stage Cerne told me he thought my jumper was ugly. 

The smallest

It was probably also our first… We do love small venues though and we play them quite frequently. We’ve done a handful of shows at Sebright Arms, for example. which have always been crazy. 

The Vaccines Live - Wetsuit @ Sziget 2012

The weirdest

We’ve played a wedding that we shouldn’t have been booked for, as the groom was the only person in attendance who knew who we were. The parents and grandparents were not enthused by this at all, and neither were we to be honest. We’d landed at Heathrow after a gruelling world tour and went directly to some posh hotel in Mayfair to set up. Our dressing room was basically just the hotel kitchen so rather than hang out there we went to a pub to celebrate wrapping the endless tour. At this stage, we were already a crew member down as someone had stormed off in a huff before getting to Mayfair, and at the pub another crew member stood up to make a toast and used the opportunity to berate us all for a few minutes. Communication can get quite interesting on long tours… 

The biggest

That would have to be Glastonbury. The view from the pyramid stage is one I´ll never forget.

The Vaccines - Post Break-Up Sex/Wreckin' Bar [Glastonbury 2011]

The worst

A few gigs have been rained off and on occasion a band member will go missing and we’ve had to improvise, but I don’t think we have that many horrible gigs in our collection. We did once have a friend step in to play drums for a show and he got so worried about the speed of ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ that he overcompensated and played it double time. ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ is just over a minute long and this made it around 30 seconds. The audience was just perplexed, and I distinctly remember hearing a solitary “boo” before the audience realised it was over and half-heartedly applauded that car crash. 

The Vaccines - Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra) [Later Live With Jools Holland]

The best

London shows are always my favourites. Alexandra Palace is among the best venues in the world and it’s always amazing to get to play that room. 

The Vaccines play BST Hyde Park alongside Kings Of Leon, Paolo Nutini and more on 30 June. Find tickets here

Photo credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns