Album Walkthrough: Vacations premiere and dissect their new album, Forever In Bloom
Premiering a day ahead of its official release on September 18th, the Newcastle group hit a new peak with their second album.
Header image by Charlie Hardy.
For a band that have risen and constantly furthered themselves over the last five years, to say that Vacations are hitting a new peak in 2020 would be a big call, but we firmly believe it's a justified one.
Since releasing their earliest work back at the turn of the last decade, the Newcastle-based four-piece have become synonymous with the city's cult-adored, community-built live music space; one that in addition to Vacations, and spurt out some of the country's best - and often, criminally under-rated - bands throughout the last decade. In the last five years or so specifically, a new era of these bands have started to thrive, and one of the earliest of them was Vacations, who ever since arriving with their early work, haven't stepped down from the plate ever since.
Their 2015 EP Days was an introduction to their hazy, alt-rock brilliance distilled down to five tracks, and on their 2016 EP Vibes arriving immediately after, they proved that they have the versatility and range to move beyond just one distinct sound, plucking from inspirations that range across the depths of indie and rock, but also into realms of hip-hop and pop. Their 2018 album Changes was a moment, a debut that really encapsulated the group at a career peak and thrusted them forward as a face of the future - a group representative with not just Newcastle's future, but also the future of Australian indie-rock as a whole.
Now, with their second album Forever In Bloom, the group are out to prove that their slot on the future stage is about as solidified as it can get. Premiering on Pilerats today ahead of its official release tomorrow, Forever In Bloom is a step-up for Vacations that really elevates the band and the sound they've given us so far, showing how they've consistently evolved and furthered themselves even within the space of just two years; two years of reflection - both personally and musically - building towards an album that shows that, in every way it can.
Spanning 13 tracks, Forever In Bloom is an album that always feels fun and light-hearted, even when it isn't. Musically, it's a record that feels plucked from the depths of Vacations' wide-ranging influences; nods to defining indie bands of the past like The Cure and LCD Soundsystem merged with mid-2000s festival heavyweights like Phoenix and Foals, tied together with a distinctly Vacations edge that really brings it all together in a way that only they can - full of a charm and energy they've been building for much of their lifetime as a band.
Go further, however, and you'll find that the dancing guitar melodies and glitzy vocals disguise often-heavier lyricism, with the band's frontman Campbell Burns using the album's songwriting process as an opportunity to reflect and ponder. It dives into the emotions that define the band and their songwriting; a snapshot not just of a brilliant group blossoming into their own musically, but also its four members doing the same on a personal level, with Campbell taking the centre stage to break down and process the often-rollercoastering emotions that come with growing up, let alone in a band that tours the world.
An album walkthrough led by the band's Campbell Burns and Jake Johnson - but often enlisting other members of the band = breaks down these themes a little heavier, and as we premiere the full album exclusively today, it presents a brilliant chance to go a little further into the depths of the album and learn what it has to say.
Take a dive into the record below, and underneath that, read the band's track-by-track dissection of the album's core themes and creation, stripped back one song at a time. Pre-order the record here.
Campbell Burns (CB): The album originally opened with Seasons, however, during the recording process we all agreed that it was too abrupt. So, we talked over ideas with Oscar [Dawson, Holy Holy] one morning during one of the last days we had at the Grove. I felt like the song came together in about half an hour, once Oscar knew what we had in mind.
Thematically, it acts as a prologue, it sets the tone and I feel as if it puts you in a certain place. For me, that place is France, which explains the title. Floraison means ‘bloom’. A lot of this album is based on our shared experiences touring Europe for the first time and how that changed everything for us. What excites me most about this song is that it’ll be the perfect walk-on song for when we can perform live again, something I’ve always wanted from a young age when I started seeing bands at venues like the Enmore Theatre.
Also, kind of an Easter egg for fans, but on the vinyl edition of the album, there’s a poem that complements the song!
CB: Continuing from Floraison, Seasons places us at the start of this journey, the anticipation, excitement, and uncertainty of undertaking something that seemed larger than us. Those first few days of touring France have been unforgettable and we still talk about it today.
Jake Johnson (JJ): Seasons is this big triumphant sounding song, almost in a cheesy way, and that made it a great first song for an album that for us was really about self-affirmation and believing in what we were trying to accomplish as a band and as individuals. We've always been a pretty laid back band that's comfortable with moving with flow of where our music was taking us, but it's been the most exciting thing to (sorry for sounding corny) chase dreams, and not just let external factors push us around. I hope the song reflects that.
Joey's drums injected so much energy into this song, I feel that's what really helped it come together in the end.
CB: Lavender touches on all the in-between moments from touring, which honestly, I loved as much as I did playing the shows. It could have been having looking out from the window of our tour van to see the Alps, or looking over Lake Geneva from a Castle in Switzerland, or just all the friends we made along the way. I was frustrated with how I couldn’t share these moments with my friends back home, despite taking photos and videos or having phone calls in the dead of night, it just never lived up to what we experiencing. This was a way of bridging that gap, whilst also making a statement of affirmation that this was something, the only thing, I know I want to keep doing.
JJ: As someone who suffers quite badly from imposter syndrome, Actors, to me, highlights two main feelings related to being a musician. There's often this feeling that you might have just stumbled into your successes, or them not being earned, and this big fear of being caught out as someone who doesn't belong where they are. Maybe you're just acting. Before we step onto stage, I'm always a nervous mess. I've got a mode on my watch to help regulate my breathing. But once I'm up there, that all slips away and I'm having the time of my life. Maybe it's a mask I wear or maybe it's that we can make anything of ourselves.
CB: I remember playing our last show of the year in Bangkok, we were scheduled to play after Slowdive on a smaller stage not to far away. I could see them playing When The Sun Hits in the distance while I was setting up and it felt so odd to me, I just stood there and started tearing up. We had people lining up just to see us, and they were waving and looked so excited. To play the same festival as a band that was so influential to me during my teenage years, and in a way, follow up after them was how Actors came to be, I had to write about that moment in time and how I felt.
CB: Yes, this is based on the video game series Time Crisis, but Time Crisis 2 in particular. And that's all you need to know.
JJ: Time Crisis II was my favourite arcade game as a kid, and Joey and I play it every chance we get whilst on tour. When Campbell first sent through the demo, complete with soundbites of the narrator yelling ACTION! my heart leapt. But past the inside joke was the start of this really beautiful song that we all wanted to keep working on.
CB: Glow is honestly the first love song I’ve ever written. I wanted to capture that feeling of coming home to a loved one after being apart for so long. I think it shines in its simplicity and honesty, it's something that'd slot right in with our earlier work.
JJ: Glow is this sweet as pie, moment in time, sounding song that I was trying to channel Friday I'm In Love vibes into during pre-production. I remember we were road testing a few of the new songs on a tour with Spacey Jane and one night, after playing Glow, we were met with absolute silence. No cheering, no clapping. Nothing. And we were just like "damn, do the new songs just suck?"
CB: Panache was a wild card for the album, and it almost never happened. That song originally existed as one of the first demos, but it was a more up-tempo, guitar-focused track that was similar to On Your Own. I enjoyed some parts of it, but I left it to the side as we made stronger progress with writing and pre-production for the rest of the album. Jake would bring it up now and then, he wanted it to make the cut somehow so I figured I’d at least revisit it. I sat down with it again one afternoon and re-wrote it entirely in one sitting, only a few weeks before we were about to go into the studio!
It was such a rush writing it, it completely threw me off guard. I knew I wanted to have guest features for the track too as it was coming together, a first for us, which only added to the risqué nature of something we’d never played as a group before, and that came together at the last minute. But it felt good! It was fun and different, so why not. There was so much energy and excitement around the track once we were in the studio, so many ideas were bouncing back and forth. I’m grateful for everyone being so on board for such a wild ride and having so much fun doing it too.
It was an extremely collaborative team effort. I don’t think anyone is expecting a track like this from us. I had Sarah Sykes and Craterface in mind for this track and as soon as they came into the studio, the entire song started to come together. Having Oscar on production duty really helped solidify that initial groove too while adding new elements. There’s saxophone from Teleah (teddie) throughout which I adore as well.
JJ: I still remember the first feedback on recordings we heard from our manager, Leigh. As we read down the list of notes on each song, we got to this song, of which all he had to say was "Panache, is the fucking business." Originally Panache was a super fast pop banger more in-line with Lavender or even On Your Own, and we kept trying and failing to find a unique place for it, where it didn't just sound like another song we had already done. I kept pushing and pushing to keep Panache alive and to keep working on it, but I also wasn't sure where to take it. Out of nowhere, Campbell sends through this reworked version with just the bones of the original and it just blew us away. We'd been wanting to have a guest vocalist for a duet or something like on the album, and Sarah fit so wonderfully, Craterface was almost just for something fun and for some XP for both of us, and now I can't imagine it without everyone else involved.
CB: I remember Joey bringing up time signatures at practice when we were in the writing stage and suggested trying a 2/4 pattern. It was fun experimenting with different sounds and it felt very natural. This ended up being the result, it's such a bop and probably one of my favourite tracks on the album, and I love how loose the structure is as well.
Nate Delizzotti (ND): Ego was the biggest stress headache off the record. The initial demo was recorded at my parent’s house while they were overseas, in the same session as when On Your Own’s first demo came into fruition. We were never happy with it but continued to persist. This resulted in our private Soundcloud account having perhaps 7 different versions of the song, and we ended up changing it quite heavily when we went into the Grove Studios to record the finished product.
At the Grove, Oscar Dawson spent a lot of time bringing new ideas to the table (when he wasn’t playing StarCraft II on the studio Mac) and worked with us to create a comfortable contrast between the bright and pop-y choruses, and the dark and intense last minute and a half. Funnily enough, a lot of the guitar tracks we recorded in the first few iterations were used in the finished album version as they did exactly what they needed to from the get-go. To this day, none of us can unhear “Death by eagle” instead of “ego”.
CB “This was one of the first songs I wrote after discovering the Roland Juno 106, a synth the features heavily all over the album. I absolutely adore it, but I didn't even use the real thing! I used a program emulating it that's extremely close. I'll get a real Juno one day. That song though, originally I wasn’t fussed at all on the demo of Peaches. It was me mucking around with the Juno but Joey was attached to it and saw some potential, I chipped away at it and had so many revisions on hand. We fine-tuned it over some sessions and it eventually found it’s place on the album. Peaches features some of my favourite lyrics, it compliments Panache in that sense really well, I’ll leave it to you for interpretation.
Jake: Be honest, could you tell it was a dog barking?
CB: There was a point in the band were I was managing almost every aspect of it, from touring to organising photoshoots, to writing. I was simply doing too much, the balance wasn’t even at all. The breaking point for me where we had a US tour with like, 30+ dates and so much time and money invested into it and it just fell apart at the last minute and wasn't possible anymore. Nate sent through a demo with the title Avalanche and I found the lyrics coming together based just off that title, and with that cancelled tour in mind. It was also at this point where I knew I had to get a manager or I would spontaneously combust.
JJ: I originally pushed for Avalanche to be this big slow build with a massive crashing pay off in the second half. I'm rarely happy to be wrong, but the end result turned into one of my favourite tracks on the album. It was also the first song we worked on with Oscar Dawson, down at Studios 301, and I remember wondering what it would be like to work with someone else. Turns out it would be very productive and a lot of fun. Even the first demo Nate showed us had so much bop and potential, and the demo stuck, with Campbell incorporating lyrics around it.
CB If Seasons was the start, Wildflower represents the end of the journey. Coming back home and reflecting on what we’ve been through. How we've grown and changed since, and wondering when we’ll do it all again.
CB: This track was a doozy at first. It was different from anything else at the time, but I believed in the song and it’s message and I knew it'd be a fitting end to the album from the get-go. It came together at the studio with Oscar asking us to play it together as a group, he even joined in on keys! It was a special moment. Speaking of keys, this is my debut playing piano on a recording. Piano was actually my first instrument but I lost interest after playing too much Guitar Hero III and not being interested in classical music. I’ve been revisiting it recently though through using synths and listening to more neo-soul, jazz, and RnB, it feels like seeing an old friend.
In saying that though, there’s a part of me that’ll always prefer the demo, it’s so raw but I love it regardless because of how much emotion and feeling there is, maybe we’ll release it one day.
JJ: Originally had the name Health, and was one of the first songs that was written after Changes, but it's had more versions and rewrites and iterations than anything else on the album. The near-ballad it ended up as is beautiful, but before we went into the Grove studios, it was still a little bare and lacking real movement in the song. We were all feeling stuck when Oscar suggested we just went into the space and just jam it out, which was our first time all playing it together. It just clicked then, and I got the big build-up/pay off dynamic I'd been looking for on the album.
Vacations' new album Forever In Bloom is out Friday, September 18th. Pre-order it here.
Follow Vacations: FACEBOOK