Rising to fame during the boyband renaissance of the early 2010s, The Vamps have been climbing the charts since they were just four precocious teens. Nine years on, they have three Top Ten albums under their belt, as well as countless tours — from opening for Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, to headlining London’s O2 Arena five years in a row.
With founding member James scouting his bandmates off of social media and the group first garnering attention with One Direction covers on YouTube, they’ve always been known for their entrepreneurial spirit. What hasn’t always been public knowledge is that The Vamps are veritable musicians who not only play their own instruments but have continued to hone their songwriting and production skills over the years.
But this is set to change, with the quartet’s talents being placed front and centre on their latest single “Married in Vegas” and upcoming fourth album Cherry Blossom. With their eyes firmly fixed ahead, the band members — now mostly in their late twenties — are gearing up to demonstrate their progression as both artists and individuals.
Hot off the heels of the project’s announcement, we caught up with James, Brad, Connor and Tristan for a frank discussion of mental health, stan culture and what you can expect from The Vamps 2.0.
Your upcoming album is a rebirth for The Vamps. What can fans expect from this album and The Vamps 2.0?
Brad: It feels very strange talking about the album, this is the first time speaking about it in an interview. What do I say [laughs]? It’s been a natural progression and the first long period of time we’ve really had off, ever. Having that gives you time to think and overthink and to write and rewrite, and that’s invaluable in creating something that you’re going to stand behind for the rest of your life. I think people can expect a very honest body of work that we are immensely proud of. Live shows have always been a huge part of the band’s DNA and this album has been written with this very much in mind. It’s a weird thing to put my finger on; it feels like this is our first album and I’m not sure why.
In many ways, The Vamps wouldn’t have been possible without social media – do you think, nine years on from when you initially formed, that the Internet is still empowering for young artists?
James: We found each other on social media, so the internet has been fundamental to The Vamps from the very beginning. We love how accessible our music has become due to the evolution of various social media platforms. We think the internet can be both brilliant and problematic, whether that’s for promotion, streaming services or music videos. That said, the speed of which online environments can change sometimes worries me: there seems to be an ever-increasing demand for content and I feel we need to need conscious of how that may affect society and our mental health.
You were just teenagers when your careers began to take off – did this have any negative impact on your mental health?
James: Most of our friends went to university but, instead, we had touring and albums as our way to find ourselves. I feel like for a while we were just riding a bizarre wave of enormous highs. It took me a few years to realise that what was happening was actually real and before I knew it, I’d lived most of my 20s. It’s only recently that I’ve learnt to appreciate some of The Vamps’ achievements because, in the moment, things flew past fast and before we knew it we were in the next country and on another stage. With huge highs come inevitable lows however we are incredibly lucky to have each other. We’ve all been there for each other during the darker times and I feel that those difficult times ultimately made us a stronger unit.
You’ve previously voiced scepticism around the label “boy band” which has followed you throughout your career – why does that term not represent you?
Brad: [Laughs] We’ve always joked around with the term. For a while, we wanted to get across that we played our instruments but it’s never really bothered us, call us what you like we don’t mind.
Connor: It’s kind of funny because people have always said to us that we have an issue with the term but that’s just not the case. We just want to play the music and shows that we do and if people enjoy that, then that’s great.
How has your working relationship changed over the years?
Brad: I think we’ve developed a deeper understanding of each other throughout all of it, how each one of us works. I know I can be a big over-thinker when it comes to music and a lot of things and everyone has developed an understanding of that. You don’t have anyone else in your life who can truly relate to what you’re going through apart from the three other boys, and there is something so special about that. It’s so much deeper than being friends in a band together. You learn patience and when to step in and step back, both in a working environment and in a personal sense. Ultimately it’s about everyone having a shared bigger purpose; creating an album, putting a tour on together, surviving months away from family. Having that means you’re all on the same ship going to the same destination, you have to make it as easy and enjoyable a ride as possible. Our manager Richard told us that right at the start…and I realise I’m now paraphrasing him, which he will no doubt love.
Over the course of your career, you’ve toured extensively, both in support of your own releases and opening for other musicians – how did this impact your personal relationships?
Brad: Touring can definitely take its toll on your personal relationships if you let it, it takes a little while to get into the rhythm of it but once you do it’s fine. FaceTime and keeping a tether back to your loved ones and what’s happening with them is key, so that when you do get back after however long away you don’t feel completely out of the loop. We’ve always been good at keeping family and loved ones integrated on tours. When you see The Vamps roll into a festival it’s usually accompanied by an entourage of dogs and squiffy parents. They’re more rockstar than we’ll ever be.
James – in 2019 you went public with your experience of disordered eating and body issues, why did you decide to speak up?
James: I had been saying for years that I “used to really be into fitness” in various interviews. However, I realised that I had actually spiralled into a potentially dangerous place. I’d developed an unhealthy obsession with extreme dieting and exercise. Up to that point, I hadn’t really seen many men talk about body issues, so figured I could use my platform to help fuel the conversation. The truth is, food and exercise still affect me every single day; it’s not something I just “sorted”. Mental health isn’t an equation with a simple solution: it’s a constant journey of ups and downs, and that’s human.
What are your thoughts on stan culture and do you think it’s changed over the past ten years? Have you ever felt objectified by some of your fans?
Connor: It’s kind of weird. To be fair, the whole fan culture has definitely changed in the last ten years, for sure. I think artists are way more accessible now because of all the different social media platforms but, in a way, it’s a good thing that as artists we get to feel so close and involved with our communities. Also, I didn’t know that “stan” originated from “stalker fan” which freaks me out a bit.
In an interview about the “Missing You” EP, which you produced and wrote, you said; “In the past, I think people haven’t really thought of us as songwriters and producers.” Do you think that perception has begun to change?
Brad: That was an important moment for us as a band. Although it didn’t feel like our biggest release, it meant a hell of a lot. It was more to show to us that we can take on the task of A&Ring our batch of music and building that self-belief. Without that, Cherry Blossom wouldn’t be what it is. You can’t go out with the intention of changing people’s perceptions, I know that now. Either it’ll happen or it won’t, you’ve just got to be proud and believe in what you do and what will be, will be.
Have you been able to achieve a healthy work/ life balance?
Brad: I like to think so. I genuinely love writing and producing so it doesn’t feel like work. There were moments in the album-writing process where I’d feel drained from it all, and the catharsis would be to go and write another song [laughs]. But we’ve always made sure we build in time to relax and enjoy life; the pub and playing football with mates have been things that tend to switch me off.
James: I remember Taylor Swift saying that a breakthrough moment for her was accepting the fact that she was Taylor Swift. It sounds weird, but when I stopped trying to separate the “on and off stage” Jameses, that really helped me. I embraced the fact that my life was a bit wild from time to time and that meant I stopped feeling the need to escape into the Dorset countryside and pretend I wasn’t in the band. The key to balance is trying to stay grounded and appreciate where you live and the people in your life.
What are you hoping to achieve with the new album and the new single “Married In Vegas”?
Brad: A banging live show! This album has more energy than anything we’ve done before, so I can’t wait for when we can eventually get back into a room with people and all be singing our lungs out. As ever, music is so important to people for so many different reasons, these songs are incredibly personal and have helped me through big moments in my life, if they can do the same for someone else then I’m happy.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Connor: I think we’ve all learned so much since the start of the band. We had to learn life lessons pretty quickly as none of us had the typical route of going to university (although, I did try to crash all my friends’ freshers weeks at the time). I think staying grounded has been the thing I’ve always wanted to hold onto and hopefully still to this day we can keep that going strong. We’re a super family-orientated bunch of guys and I don’t think we would ever want to lose that.
James: The most important thing I’ve learnt over the last ten years is to accept the person I am. I think it’s easy in your formative teenage years to try and be somebody you’re really not and I definitely felt that in the first couple years of the band. It was important for me to recognise there are some things I feel I’m good at, and also certain things I’m never going to do or be, and that’s fine!
Outside of music, what are your hopes for the future?
Brad: I want to get better at cooking and work on another artist’s project that I believe in, that’d be really fun! I developed a virtual festival with Birmingham Children’s Hospital during lockdown, so I’d love to turn that into an actual festival when we can.
James: I hope my wedding isn’t postponed… however, I’m not hopeful…