The Vamps are gearing up to release their fifth album, titled Cherry Blossom, this October. The British pop-rock band have accumulated 4-billion total streams since forming in 2012, with single ‘All Night’ currently sitting at a whopping 459-million streams on Spotify, alone.
For the uninitiated, the 4-piece consists of Brad Simpson on vocals and rhythm guitar, James McVey on lead guitar, Connor Ball on bass, and Tristan Evans on drums.
According to Simpson, Cherry Blossom sees the band “writing about stuff [they] haven’t necessarily touched on before”, with tales of insecurities along with more-confident songs.
We caught up with the band to chat about what it was like writing songs via Zoom, the advice they would give to their past selves, and cows interrupting song recording at Airbnbs.
Music Feeds: I read that you guys spent some time in Airbnbs, jamming and writing songs together for the new album, before taking to Zoom to finish them off. How many of the songs were finished at those Airbnbs, and how many were finished via Zoom?
Brad Simpson: None were finished at the Airbnb. They were barely started at the Airbnb. No, ‘Part of Me’… the tracklisting has been revealed now, and the song on there called ‘Part of Me’ that was started at the writing camp. Was that at the first writing camp that we did ‘Part of Me’?
BS: We did a gig towards the end of last year…We drove back with like, all our gear from the gig, and we had all our guitars and stuff and went into this Airbnb at the Lake District, and then ended up… like, we got one song on it that made the album, but it was a really big point for us, that, because that was the song that kind of proved to the label and the people around us that they were like “oh okay, if we send them away for a week, they’re not just going to…”
Tristan Evans: Spend the money on champagne…
BS: Yeah, come back sleep deprived and with no songs. We came back with probably about four or five songs, one of them was ‘Part of Me’ and that was the one that people kind of jumped on. So, it was a big kind of, turning point for us, that.
MF: How was working on the new songs via Zoom? How did it differ from working in person?
James McVey: We were quite lucky because a lot of the songs were kind of already around a little bit before Coronavirus, so mainly Zooms were done to do lyrics, and add things on afterwards. But, ‘Married in Vegas’, the first single was solely done on Zoom, which was really weird because with delays of internet connection, sometimes you don’t know if you’re in the middle eight or the first pre-chorus – it’s hard to keep up. But, luckily Brad and Lostboy had really good internet on that evening – because if it was anything like mine, I would have thrown the laptop out the window – and they were able to sort of do the first single after we’d handed in the album, which was really bizarre. It’s a bit of a cliché story, that you always here in the industry and think, “oh, that never happens”, but it actually did with this one. And yeah, Brad, it took like, a few hours, didn’t it? It wasn’t even like a long process?
BS: Yeah. There’s a couple of apps that we downloaded – it’s so boring [laughs] – there’s this [one] that made it really easy for us. You can then send your files back and forward. You do miss the personal aspect, obviously, of like, being in a room and you can kind of gauge whether people are, “oh this works, this doesn’t work.” But sometimes, I think people forget that they’re on webcam when you’re writing! So, if you start singing or playing something and it doesn’t work, they might do things that they wouldn’t usually do in the room. So they’ll be like [screws up face].
BS: So, you’re like, okay, that doesn’t work [laughs].
TE: Or it could really work. Like, they could be like, not sure if it works or not and then do it, and they wouldn’t do that normally in the room. It’s funny ‘cause when I tracked the drums for the album, I was in the room with no one I knew.
JM: I was there
TS: Yeah, you were there briefly, but…
BS: Yeah, but he still didn’t know…
TE: Then I FaceTimed you [points to Brad]. It was just really weird. Like, it’s cool, it’s cool, but I’m really looking forward to just getting back into the studio, just the four of us.
JM: Sixth album, let’s go!
MF: Yeah, ‘cause I was going to ask, how did the recording happen? It’s one thing to be writing together via Zoom, but how did you go about recording everything for this album?
TE: It was done in individual homes. So, we’ve got home studios, and like Brad says, this app that we found, which is amazing. You can put your session, the session that you’re working with online, and then we can all access that session just by clicking on it and then save it and it automatically saves all our computers. So, that’s the way we were gonna do it, and when we need to record like, professional vocals, professional drums, things you can’t get away with, in just a bedroom or a home studio, we went to a nice, proper studio to lay down the rest of the album – guitars as well, maybe even some bass, and then vocals, and then we just finished it in the big studio. It just sounds better. And then even take it back to the home studio and do it, but as long as we’ve got the core instruments recorded at the main studio…
BS: The funny thing is, like, the instruments from the Airbnb that we played there had to be completed redone because this cow was like “MOOOO” in the background, and there was like a bat I think was in the barn at some point. So, we had to re-do all of those instruments. But I think some of the vocals, a lot of the vocals have stayed. So we went in like Trist said, and tracked in bigger studios. But, it’s so funny, you hear a lot, where people end up using the demo vocals because there’s just something in that that they can’t recapture because you were in a certain frame of mind, or whatever.
So, a lot of the vocals, we went in and re-did it, and then used parts and it’s like a mix of the demo and the big studio one, so it’s been a really fun way of doing this album.
MF: How many tracks are going to be on the album?
All: [hesitantly] 10.
JM: That’s the trick question. What it’ll be, in like 6 years’ time in a pub quiz somewhere in like, Hackney [all laugh]. They’ll be like ‘how many tracks are on The Vamps album’, and everyone will say 10, but no. We’ve got the intro that counts as a track.
TE: Just you wait!
BS: That’s the eleventh track: ‘Just You Wait’.
TE: That’s the next album!
MF: I see that you’ve mentioned that this album sees you writing about topics and things that you haven’t necessarily touched upon in other albums? What kind of topics are they?
BS: I think it’s probably the most vulnerable that we’ve been on an album. I think the overarching theme is one of positivity and aspiration. It’s quite a hopeful album. I look at the album as like, a rounded person, for example, so you’re looking at every aspect of a person’s personality, and the kind of, emotions that they go through. So, you’ve got like, the night-out aspect of their personality, or the indulgence, on ‘Married in Vegas’, so that’s them when they’re feeling their best. And then there are other moments, like in songs like ‘Treading Water’ or ‘Would You?’, where it’s them, maybe at their most vulnerable. And I say ‘them’ as like, personifying it, but it has come from a very personal place. Something that I think we’ve learnt over the past two years is to write from the most honest place as possible, because one it helps you, I think it can be a very therapeutic thing, and then two, I think people connect with it a lot better when it’s a lot more honest.
So, I think those themes of like… even things like your insecurities and all of those very human things that everyone has that we maybe haven’t delved into as much, we’ve probably done a bit more on this album.
MF: I also read that the band took a step back and spent some time away from each other listening to a bunch of different music before coming together to write for this album. What did you guys listen to during that time?
JM: I listened to this guy called Dermot Kennedy, who’s kind of like Irish folk-pop type thing. I saw him live actually, last year, and I was blown away by this show and kind of the… you know like, see a musician live and they, I mean, watching someone as a guitarist, when they start playing chords that you’ve never seen I’m like, “hmm, there’s something strange”. And I think just listening to his music and seeing different progressions and different tunings was quite inspirational to me for this album.
TE: For me, Motley Crue, Black Bear, BLACKPINK, a couple of others. Loads of different stuff. There’s this one song… [grabs phone]
JM: Here we go…
TE: … that I saw on Netflix, and it’s by that Eurovision thing, I was like those melodies sound so good, but I know them… Husavik. Have you heard Husavik?
TE: It’s in Norwegian! [Chatter amongst the band about Husavik]
MF: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice for when your band was just starting out, what would you say?
JM: I’d bloody learn piano because Brad couldn’t play piano really when we met and he’s fucking amazing now, and I could have done that, I could’ve beaten Brad. [Brad laughs] And I’m shit at piano still. But, I think with that in mind, put yourself out to go the extra mile in the early days, because it’s quite easy to get like, swept up and in the whirlwind of the industry. You get the record deal and you go on tour and it’s amazing, but I think, you know, if you can really hone in on your craft to try and like, add more strings to your guitar as it were, in the early days, you’d really sort of like, be loving it now. So, that would be mine.
TE: The only person that’s really going to make your vision come true is yourself, and throughout the years we’ve learnt that you just can’t rely on other people to do it for you because it’s unfair, because it’s not their vision, and it’s like your vision and you’re the only one that can make it come true. So, I think, if you want to make it happen, get it done yourself.
Connor Ball: Yeah, I think [not] being complacent. Like James said, there are times where I’ve like, not picked up my guitar and stuff in the past, and you come back to it and you’re like, “shit, I can’t play anymore!” So, I think, yeah, just being consistent with stuff is definitely the best thing.
BS: Ooh… Take your vitamins [laughs]. I was ill so much at the beginning of the band. Just ‘cause I think you’re like, really busy but still growing up, so I used to get tonsillitis two or three times a year, it was ridiculous. Maybe get your tonsils taken out? You can still get it, can’t you, but it’s less likely…
TE: [gestures at JM] you’ve had?
JM: No, I wish.
TE: One more then they’re out, right? One more strike
JM: Yeah. You’re still ill though, but in a different way [throws up shaka].
BS: I’m still ill [throws up shaka].
MF: Yeah, I feel that. I had really bad tonsillitis earlier this year, like, into the hospital level, and same sort of thing, they were like, if you have this again, you’re gonna maybe have to have them taken out.
BS: When I was in Australia the last time… I think it was the last time we were there, or the time before, it was awful… so, so bad.
TE: Brad, don’t worry about it, you’ve got a two-hour gig to sing!
BS: We did a gig in Japan. It was Japan and then Australia, and before the show I was like… I feel really bad. And I don’t remember who it was but they said, “just have a whiskey”, and I had a whiskey and I went on and was like [gravelly] “YEAAAAHHHH”. And woke up the next day and my neck was just going [imitates throbbing].
MF: That’s awful! Final question, I know we’ve all sort of been in lockdown a little bit around the world at the moment, what have you been spending your time doing? Have you been bingeing any TV shows, reading any good books? Anything you’d like to recommend?
TE: I’ve been taking the time out to relax, and appreciate life, you know what I mean?
JM: I’ve been playing a PlayStation game that I think the average age of the users is like seven. You play football driving cars. And I get so fucking frustrated at this game that I’m getting beaten by like, six-year-olds. But I’ve played that to death, like, honestly it’s insane.
CB: I don’t even know what I’ve been doing. Just, chilling out, you know. Fitness has been good, like, home workouts. I don’t even like the gym anymore.
JM: Same, to be fair.
CB: I feel like, gym is wherever I am, do you know what I mean?
BS: Yeah, you are the gym.
CB: I am the gym!
BS: Yeah, I was gonna say, going running. Books… I’m in the middle of reading a Murakami book called Killing Commendatore, which is really, really good. But, apart from that just, literally, we were like, slaving over the album during lockdown. I think I we didn’t have the album to finish in lockdown, we would have all been so much more bored than we were. That definitely gave us like, a purpose throughout it all!
The Vamps’ fifth studio album ‘Cherry Blossom’ is set to be released on October 16th 2020.