Past the fuzzy guitar and pounding drums of The Vamps’s lightheaded love ode “Married in Vegas” lies a secret weapon: a dialed-up piano part that marks the chorus as a secondary hook. Its music-hall glee is reminiscent of Elton John, and the colorful line is just a taste of the patchwork at play on the British group’s eclectic new Cherry Blossom album.
“This is a body of work that we’ve never really done in this way before,” guitarist James McVey told MTV News on a recent call with the full band. “Effectively, half of it’s being produced by the boys. We’ve written it all. It’s hopefully got their unique DNA into it.”
Since McVey formed the group with vocalist Brad Simpson via social media in 2012, the quartet — rounded out by bassist Connor Ball and drummer Tristan Evans — have endured early YouTube covers fame and a gradual sound evolution that took them from the peppy pop-rock of “Can We Dance” to arena screamers and electronic-tinged festival banner wavers. Cherry Blossom finds them stepping into a new realm. “Better” is pure dance fizz, while “Chemicals” unearths a grit previously missing from their sonic sheen. They’re proud of how far they’ve come.
Yet when they spoke to MTV News ahead of the album’s October 16 release, they mentioned how the planned celebrations for Cherry Blossom had to be amended due to the ongoing pandemic. “We’d usually be going on a massive night out, ending up in a different country with Brad’s eyebrows shaved off,” Evans said. “However, this time around, we are probably going to get together, we’ll invest in a couple of nice bottles of red wine, and just have a nice chill night, probably. If it can get mad, we can go mad. But it’s unlikely.”
There will be plenty of time to go mad — as much as can be safely done, of course — when the group resumes its tour plans in 2021. The Vamps are set to play nine shows in the United Kingdom next spring, and they’ve already begun rehearsals. In fact, those run-throughs, which also featured the new Cherry Blossom material, were the first time the four saw each other since lockdown began. “It’s so weird, because you get back and you’re like, [it’s been] four months, I miss these boys,” Simpson said. “First thing that you want to do is go up and give them a hug. And you can’t do it. It was so, so weird.”
With Cherry Blossom out now, perhaps elbow bumps (and nice wine) will have to do. MTV News spoke to The Vamps about making the boxing-themed video for “Better,” what fans can expect from their tour next year, and more.
MTV News: You’ve been a band for almost a decade now, getting to know each other more deeply as you go. But is it also like you’re discovering new sounds that you never heard before and then wanting to try a similar thing in the studio?
James McVey: I think in the past, maybe that was true. I mean, when we started the band, it genuinely did start with us in our parents’ houses with acoustic guitars. So I think naturally, the first album was quite acoustic-driven, because most of those songs were written on acoustic guitars and built from that. And over the years and the different albums, we have been influenced by other artists, and sort of movements in the industry — going ’80s, for example, or whatever. But now for Cherry Blossom, we actually did the opposite. We didn’t listen to bands or artists in regards to thinking, oh, what can we take from that and make our own?
I think what was cool about this album is a lot of the song started from lyrical concepts. And if you’re writing down things in a book or whatever, and you find that it’s a different way, instead of listening to a track and thinking, “Shit, let’s make a song like blah, blah, blah,” you’re starting in a different place. And I think that really helps. And also these boys have been producing for years and years and years, since the first album. And I think over time they’ve developed their own style and sound in their own rights.
MTV News: When you were making Cherry Blossom, how did that dynamic play out and how did you put it into action?
Tristan Evans: Obviously over the years, we’ve evolved as musicians and song writers and people. So we just kind of come together and just put all our emotions on the page and see what comes out of it. But I feel like it’s always been the same where we’re best friends and it’s quite easy to gel in the studio and it’s quite easy to create something that we’re all vibing. Because I feel like we all go in for the same goal.
MTV News: “Married in Vegas” has such a cool, prominent piano line that’s almost a hook in and of itself. Where did that came from when you were recording it?
Brad Simpson: I’d bought an upright piano about a year ago, which is so nice. [We] wrote the majority of it on acoustic guitar, and then I think I was trying to look for certain lyrics in the chorus and then just turned around and played the same chords, but on the piano. And the guy who produced the song, Lostboy, heard it, and he was like, “Ah, there could be actually a cool kind of moment there.” He’s a great piano player. And he was like, “What about something like this?” And I was like, that’s the vibe, yeah. We spoke about Elton John quite a lot throughout the session, that big energy and the grandeur of it and the grandeur of his sound. And I think it kind of subconsciously made its way into the song, definitely through the piano as well.
MTV News: Would any of you actually ever get married in Vegas if the night went that way?
Evans: Probably. It’s a lot cheaper, isn’t it? There’s stuff to do. And it’s hot. So why not?
Connor Ball: I feel like you might wake up in Vegas not remembering that you did do that. So that’s the dangerous thing.
MTV News: “Better” recently got a glossy, stylized, boxing-themed video. But Brad, you have to work the bag for most of it. I was curious how long you actually had to shoot physically punching the punching bag.
Simpson: Longer than I would have liked. You know what I mean? It wasn’t a case of like, “Oh, OK, you’ve done the boxing shot, now go and grab a shower.” No showers. So the rest of the day, it was not good for me or anyone around me.
Ball: You were boxing for a good two hours.
Evans: It’s funny how they thought they’d have to [apply fake] grease and [to] sweat [you]. After like 20 minutes, it was just natural.
McVey: I think actually, speaking about sweating — when we did a performance shot, you do the same thing literally 15 times. And I think it’s funny how they take little clips from the different takes, and on some of them, like a close-up of Brad, it’s one of the early ones, there’s no sweat. And there’s one clip, and I think it was a bead of sweat, either on your nose or in your hair, was sweating. But it happened literally two seconds after the first one. We proper go for it in those performances, man.
MTV News: You just announced plans for a 2021 tour in the U.K. Can you talk a little bit about those plans and maybe what your fans can expect?
McVey: Putting on a tour, not knowing realistically where the world’s going to be in six months from now, is quite a scary thing. And initially before the pandemic, we were planning a big world tour where we would cover everywhere. And it’s hard because I think there’s more chance of us being able to tour, I guess, in our own country before anywhere else. But what we’re doing with this is we’re putting this on sale with the best intentions, hoping we can do it. If not, then we’ll figure out. We’ll tour as soon as we can.
MTV News: Talking about this year, we all obviously had to be apart, had to be isolated. But you guys are creative unit as a band. That must’ve been difficult in terms of creating and thinking as a unit. What was that experience like?
Simpson: It was weird, man. But I actually think, turning negative into positive, we’re so lucky that we have all of the tools at our disposal. We managed to create and finish stuff completely via the Zoom. And I think it’s weirdly brought people together in a strange way. Do you know what I mean? I think you’re checking up on people that you wouldn’t usually check on, and you’re speaking to people more often than you usually would. I had a family Zoom quiz once a week with family members that you see maybe once a year. So it was really nice. And I think from a creative aspect, it actually just made us kind of go, OK, we’ve just got to approach this in a different way. Challenging yourself and doing something different from a creative aspect, I always think, breeds exciting new things. Everyone worked on their home set ups, got it to a place where we could be sending stuff back and forth, and got the album done.
MTV News: Throughout this year, was the person that you talked to or texted with the most? And I have a feeling it was each other.
Simpson: We had a couple of really good nights. We had good nights in where everyone got a glass of wine or a beer, and then we had a FaceTime. We did it after “Married in Vegas” was written and FaceTimed around. And then there was just a couple other moments where you’d FaceTime each other and you didn’t realize, but you’re both having a chill night and maybe having a couple of glasses of wine or whatever. And you’re like, oh yeah, this is great, and then end up having a little nightcap together. It was nice. It was sweet, very wholesome.
MTV News: Was there any go-to music that you were listening to kind of help get you through?
Evans: I mean, not necessarily to help me get through it, just enjoying the vibe:
Mötley Crüe. That was fun. And then Post Malone. I think I was just obsessed with that Hollywood’s Bleeding album. A lot of the new Yungblud stuff.
McVey: Taylor Swift releasing an album was amazing. It sort of came out of nowhere, but I’m a massive Taylor Swift fan. It was the album that I kind of wish she’d maybe released two albums ago. And so when it came now, I was like, yes. Better late than never.