Chat! The Vamps in Brighton

Shortly before they took the stage at the Brighton Centre, I met up with two of The Vamps: guitarist James McVey and drummer Tristan Evans. Our wide-ranging conversation covered everything from the economics of today’s music industry through to the issues of male mental health, as well as revealing what they stole from Little Mix.

You’ve played Brighton a few times now, is it somewhere you know well?

James: We’ve been here probably four or five times. We came down a lot more when we started when we did radio tours, but we’ve not been back for a couple of years now. Both Tris and I are from the south west, I’m from Dorset and he’s from Devon. When I was a kid I think my parents took me to Brighton, but it’s not somewhere we know that well.

Tris: All I know is the Indian down the road, this venue and the hotel! From what I’ve seen, Brighton looks like a nice place, the beach vibe’s good, but it’s always cold when we’ve been here! And there’s good shops here too. For us music nerds, there’s a great place called GAK that sells guitars, amps, keyboards and of course drums.

Who are the music nerds within the band?

James: Everyone but me, really. I just play. I don’t know that much about the gear and all that stuff. Everyone else is into it, especially Tris as he does a lot of music production.

What kit have you got at the moment?

Tris: A custom SJC maple in UV orange and Sabian cymbals.

You seem to have outlasted most of your contemporaries. When you started, did you expect you’d still be around all these years later?

Tris: We hoped we would, but this game’s hard, especially these days with all the different platforms. There’s so much more music out there, there’s so much competition for people’s attention. So for us still to be doing arena tours is incredible. We’re very, very lucky. It’s all thanks to the fans.

“Unless you’re AC/DC you can’t just stick to one genre, you’ve got to evolve.”

James: When we brought out our DJ collaboration sets, songs like All Night, some people said “What’s happened to The Vamps?” But the reality is if we hadn’t have done that we wouldn’t be a band now. It’s really important to keep up with the times, because unless you’re AC/DC you can’t just stick to one thing, one genre, you’ve got to evolve. And as songwriters, we learn as we change. If we stayed in one lane all the time we’re never going to progress as musicians and writers. And seven years on, we’re still here. It’s seven years since I met Brad in 2011 and Connor joined in 2012.

Thinking back to those early days, what’s been the biggest change amongst you personally?

Tris: Well, I’m engaged! (To model Anastasia Smith) So that’s a big one for me. Apart from that, I guess the biggest difference for us is having our own homes. When we started, when we toured with McFly in 2012, we were still living with our parents. And even when we had a hit with Can We Dance? we were all going back to our mum and dad’s.

James: We were just teenagers then. I was still doing A-levels.

So have any of you ever had a job?

James: I worked in shops and stuff, but none of us have ever had full-time jobs. Now we’re in our mid-twenties and everything’s changed for us.

It’s also true to say that since you started, everything’s changed in the music industry, too. Not just in terms of music styles, which you’ve already touched on, but especially in the way music is consumed. How challenging is it to make a living these days as a pop band when you constantly read you can’t make any money selling records unless you’re an Adele or Ed Sheeran?

Tris: It’s kind of true.

James: There’s no money in streaming.

Tris: You’ve got to find ways of making money, because at the end of the day that’s what keeps the band going. We love the music, but in order for us to travel the world to play it, we need to be able to finance touring. Our fans are extremely good to us and support us by coming to the gigs and buying merchandise. It all adds up and lets us keep doing this. If you finish the album cycle and recoup the outlay, then you can make money, but the majority of income these days comes through touring and merchandise. On top of that, there are brand deals, private parties and things like that.

And I guess it’s important that you write your own material?

Tris: Which — crazy to think — is something we’ve done from day one, co-writing songs like Wildheart and Cecilia.

You mentioned brand deals, has your music been on things like games and movie soundtracks?

James: We’ve done a few things over the years. We did a Disney film a few years ago which was quite big in America. Stuff like that does help, but those things are always strange. We’ve got a song called Shades On that we’re playing tonight and that was put in a film at the end of last year. We had no idea until we saw the trailer! I think the nice thing about The Vamps is we try and write songs for being good songs as opposed to positioning them for X, Y or Z. But then again, there are times when a production company will come to us and say we’ve got this film, do you have a song that would fit?

Is that a lucrative area?

James: That’s not why we do it. We do it for two reasons. First, it’s good promo and second, it challenges us as musicians because seven years in, there’s not many things that are new anymore. That’s great, but sometimes it’s nice to challenge ourselves to do something different.

On a similar front, the world’s also got a lot smaller since you started touring. Outside the UK, where’s your biggest market?

Tris: Asia. South America’s also good.

Have you toured there?

Tris: Yeah.

“One day, we’d really love to play in China.”

James: Australia’s also been great to us. We were lucky that we began when social media was taking off. As a result, we’ve been able to grow a relatively global fan base right from the start. We did our first world tour three years ago. Japan, for example, is really good and we did some stuff in India last year and we’re going back again shortly. So markets like that are opening up new opportunities. And one day, we’d really love to play in China.

When you’re not on the road, recording new music or doing promo, what do you guys like to do in your spare time?

Tris: I love the spa. And being on the sofa playing PS4.

James: I’ve just become a patron of the National Wildlife Trust.

How did that come about?

James: Really weirdly. A few weeks ago we played a show in Cardiff and a guy who’s the head of the Welsh NWT team spoke to our tour manager as he knew I was into wildlife. That’s what I like to do in my spare time — getting out of the city and enjoying the countryside. Both Tris and I live in London so every opportunity I get I like to get out.

Looking ahead to the next five or six years, do you think that far ahead?

Tris: Yeah, we do. Again, you hope you’ll still be around, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. You've just got to do the best you can. We work on an album by album basis, so that dictates our plans.

James: We’ve pretty much finished writing songs for the album that’s after the one coming out in July, so we’re sort of an album ahead at the moment.

Musically, how are The Vamps evolving?

James: The next album is part two of Night and Day which is more back to the original Vamps sound with instruments over synths. The first part of the album featured a lot of DJ collabs. It was good for us as it gave us our biggest ever song: All Night. That was amazing. But it was also important to re-establish the DNA of the band.

You mentioned DJs, what was your reaction on hearing about Avicii’s suicide?

James: It was a huge shock.

Had you met him?L

James: No, but we saw him play at Summertime Ball. It’s such a sad thing that he took his life.

“I’m a strong advocate for promoting male mental health as it’s the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.”

I do a lot of work with the United Nations’ He For She movement and I focus mainly on male mental health which is something I’m a strong advocate for promoting as it’s the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, more so even than cancer. Three times as many men will kill themselves as women. It’s horrible. You look at people like Avicii and other musicians that we’ve lost over the last few years and you just assume that they’ll always be around. Avicii in particular really changed the music industry by bringing back folk and mixing it with dance. He’s a big loss.

Having seen a few shots from this tour, it looks like you’ve really ramped up your production, both figuratively and literally. What was the thinking behind the new stage set-up?

James: Tris is the production man…he puts together the setlist and was responsible for the set itself.

Tris: We wanted to keep the big screens because we know they look good and you can put a lot of different things on them, whether it’s live action or pre-recorded pieces.

Is that all hired in?

Tris: Yes, for an arena tour like ours you hire everything you see.

James: We have the same ramps as Little Mix. We nabbed it off them! It can be adapted to fit different venues depending on their size.

Tris: Like everything we do when we tour, it’s all about keeping it fresh for the fans!

The Vamps were interviewed by Gary Marlowe at the Brighton Centre on 29 April 2018

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Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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Gary Marlowe

Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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