Written by Spencer White
Combat Sports is the fourth studio album by beloved London five piece, The Vaccines. Sighting as much nostalgia as it does, the distinctive sound they’ve worked tirelessly to develop over the past 10 years is shown off on the new record. Lead guitarist Freddie Cowan tells of how proud he is of their latest feat, more difficult times surrounding Coming of Age & English Graffiti and how there is now harmony following the addition of two new members.
Freddie, it’s good to be welcoming you back into Australian waters after what was such a monstrous 2015/16 for you touring here and now two years on you’re joining the annual Falls Festival with some headline shows to top it off.
Is it exciting to be coming back now off the back of your 4th Studio album “Combat sports”?
It’s really good to be coming back especially on Combat Sports, I feel like I’m really proud of that album, I don’t think we could have put more into it, I feel it truly represents the band.
With that in mind, were you at all nervous about how it was to be received?
Not really, there’s always a curiosity, because, potentially every album you put out is like buying a lottery ticket. I’m a very critical/self critical person and I think I’ve got a pretty good sense of what I think is the “right thing” or what is good enough and if I can get to that stage within myself, I’m quite happy to let it go and do it’s own thing.
What’s definitely out of my control is trying to make something that people will surely like. Honestly, whatever happens outside is completely out of your power, how successful it is or isn’t and it’s really not something I have the ability to work off or understand.
From my first listen of Combat Sports it sprung to mind a mix bag of influences but it was definitely an unmistakable ‘Vaccines’ sound, whether that is your guitar work or even Justin’s lyrics. That being said, it was quite obvious you were moving in a newer direction. Sighting more ballady’, driving, power pop even some glam elements to it. Did your writing or recording process change at all this time around?
We did a lot of writing, booked some studio time and recorded a bunch of songs and pretty quickly we’d got to a place where we thought there was a record there. But, we were met with the walls up and the advice was to slow it down and use what we had to build off.
We went back to the drawing board, Justin and I met for a drink and talked about it, realizing there was certain things we do really well as individuals in the band and we were kind of ignoring what it is we’re good at for whatever reason, to pursue something different. At that time, it seemed like the completely wrong thing to be doing, I mean who knows in the future. I’m not convinced that any of us will want to make another rock’n’roll/guitar record, but it just seemed there was a lot of unfinished business. Thinking back on it I’m kind of glad we were told to do so, I was really afraid that we would be taking a gamble.
Luckily we made the right choices, especially with Ross Orton to produce this record, he was quite instrumental in the process of being able to break our old habits, like how songs were being arranged and our process of recording.
So do you prefer working with a producer or is there a certain distance you like to keep throughout parts of the recording process?
I think we need it, because there’s so much time and work we put in as a group, that when it comes to the studio there’s someone who’s looking at it from a completely different angle. Having the wrong producer can be like poison for us, but the right kind of producer will give balance to the situation and allow each necessary element to contribute what it needs to contribute. A good band is like harmony and if you take that harmony out of it, it might still be ok, but it’s not necessarily what makes the band what it is.
Does it feel like you were birthing something new with your current lineup, now that The Vaccines have adopted two fairly new members? And is everyone feeling the same passion you had, let say, at the start of your career?
I don’t know, the balance now for what ever reason, feels completely right whether that be because of Tim and Johan joining, the balance is just there, the right type of people together that allows us to achieve that harmony easier.
It became kind of apparent on “Come of age” and “English Graffiti” that we weren’t a very harmonious group of individuals. They were such painful records to make because it was so difficult to just be in the same room as one another half the time. But I suppose the freshness of having two new people in the band changed that. It makes writing and even being in a band fun again.
It seems you have never shied away from releasing things in a non-traditionalist way, meaning it has never always been just ‘single, single + album for The Vaccines. So I wanted to touch on the new single you have just released, All My Friends Are Falling In Love, was this something that didn’t quite fit on the album or was it the band keeping busy?
That was one of the original songs written for Combat Sports but it was very different and I think we probably recorded 2 or 3 times before it was right. I think our manager suggested to put out a song straight after “CS” in September after our summer over here. I’m so glad we did it; to me it was a really good indicator of what we need to do for our next record. I don’t think it’ll be a matter of just going into the studio in a few months and recording it in two days and releasing it. That’s how I thought we should do it.
But to be honest this nude structure has really given a renewed respect of the album process and I want to really honour that process, because you’re dealing with your legacy and future.
Thanks for your time Freddie. Enjoy the New Year in Australia.