Like the rest of the world, Justin Young’s plans for 2020 have been somewhat derailed. The idea was to release his debut album with Halloweens, his side-project with fellow Vaccine Tim Lanham, play a couple of festivals, maybe a little tour and so on. But, well, we all know what happened there. As the saying goes; if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
The album has come out, at least. ‘Morning Kiss at the Acropolis’, as the title might suggest, has a thread of romanticism running through it, and a preoccupation with grand, fallen civilisations. That last part has become a little too prescient lately, if we’re honest. A bit too close for comfort.
The original intention wasn’t so sweeping. While writing together for The Vaccines’ fourth album, Justin and Tim found that sometimes songs went off in a direction that wasn’t quite what they were aiming for on ‘Combat Sports’.
“A lot of the stuff that Tim and I would write together never really felt right for The Vaccines pile,” Justin says. “It always felt like it had legs, but we were both like, ‘even within a loose framework, does this make sense?’ Can I imagine running around onstage singing this at the top of my lungs?'”
Turns out, he couldn’t. Listening to the record, it’s pretty clear why. Where The Vaccines are exuberant, fast, loud indie, Halloweens are mellower, more melodic and sweet. These tunes were never destined for the Vaccines’ set. Still, Tim and Justin kept writing.
“It kind of continued happening. And once we had three or four songs, both of us sort of thought, well maybe we could kind of put this into a pile for like, a real project. Maybe we could work on a record.”
He makes it sound as though an extra band coalescing was almost accidental, when really it was more an inevitability than anything else. When you write as many songs as Justin Young and Tim Lanham, eventually something you were idly working on is going to stick.
“All I really do is write songs,” Justin says. “It’s my job and my hobby, and my passion. I don’t really do anything else. So it’s inevitable that if all you ever need for The Vaccines is 12 songs a year, or 12 songs every two years or whatever it may be, that you’re going to have like a pile of songs you really like that maybe can find life somewhere up somewhere else.”
Or several piles, as the case may be.
“I have these folders of imaginary bands, and they have the band name and the album name, and some of them even have artwork, and it’s all just kind of like one step away from being brought out into the world, but they’re never quite ready. It brings me a lot of anxiety that a lot of these songs that I really like may never see the light.’
Well, he could always take the K-Pop approach and farm them out to specially trained idols who will win his tunes veritable legions of adoring fans?
“I think that the way people make music and the way people consume music now, it is quite old fashioned and maybe out of step to sit on stuff for months or years,” he considers.
All those hours surrounded by towers of songs can make a person quite introspective. ‘Morning Kiss at the Acropolis’ muses on love and desire, excess and wanting the one thing that you aren’t allowed to have.
“My lyrics are always really personal. I think that’s one of the defining features. I’m not particularly observational, I’m a lot more experiential,” Justin says.
Still, part of the lyricism of Halloweens is a necessity borne out of the form. The music is more intimate, and so the lyrics have to be too.
“There’s an inevitability that if it’s just you and a piano or whatever it may be, the lyrics are the first thing that people are going to hear and connect with,” he points out.
Two of the key tracks on the record, recent singles ‘Ur Kinda Man’ and ‘My Baby Looks Good With Another’ centre on connection – or the lack of it. On ‘Ur Kinda Man’ Halloweens riff on a sense of inadequacy and an obsession with projecting the right image, while ‘My Baby Looks Good With Another’ reflects the universal human inclination to want exactly what it is we’re not able to have.
“They’re both reflective of me as a person and the people I come into contact with, and maybe in the world as a whole we’re guilty of wanting what we can’t have, and then also not wanting what we have when it’s in front of us, and then wishing we had it when it was gone,” Justin says. “I think we do live in this culture of instant gratification, and greed and an insatiable hunger for all that is like big, bright and shiny. And I’m not critical of that; I’m just aware that like, we are on the whole an incredibly entitled bunch.”
He lets this sit for less than half a second before tempering the burn.
“And, you know, a lovely bunch at the same time.”
The balance between two extremes is the continuous thread at the heart of ‘Morning Kiss of the Acropolis’. These are love and heartbreak songs on the surface, but shot through with the aesthetic of grand, fallen civilisations. Halloweens are, it seems, preoccupied with decadence and decline. Or, as Justin puts it; “those themes of enlightenment and entitlement running parallel with each other.”
“That’s one of the reasons I loved all that vaporwave aesthetic I was seeing online, because it’s this kind of retro-future meeting, of this video game stuff with all these Greek, Roman, Egyptian visuals,” he says. “I just thought it was really interesting that all those great empires of the past we’re all civilised, sophisticated, modern societies that inevitably all crumbled.”
This has all become horribly prescient in recent weeks.
“Speaking about all this stuff in the current climate, there’s this added dimension to it. It’s very strange.”
On second thoughts, it might be best not to think too hard about fallen civilisations for the moment. Let’s go back to the bright and shiny. Consider Halloweens’ first single ‘Hannah, You’re Amazing’, which quite literally sings the praises of one specific Hannah. In these times of darkness we can scale up, though. We can celebrate Hannah’s the world over, or indeed anyone and everyone amazing.
“There is a celebratory nature to the record, and the people around me, and people I know, and people I don’t know. It’s by no means a cynical record, all this stuff. It’s a celebration of humans and humanity as well,” says Justin.
“Ultimately this record, as every record I’ve ever made, and the Vaccines have ever made – and probably most records – is this strive for connection.”
The way things are going, records like that aren’t about to go out of style.
Taken from the May issue of Dork. Halloweens’ album ‘Morning Kiss at the Acropolis’ is out now.
Words: Liam Konemann