Interview with The Vamps

James Brittain-McVey, Bradley Simpson, Connor Ball and Tristan Evans are The Vamps ©

James Brittain-McVey, Bradley Simpson, Connor Ball and Tristan Evans are The Vamps ©

More than a decade following the success of their 2013 singles Can We Dance, Wild Heart and Last Night, which all reached the top 3 in the UK charts, the British band made up of Bradley Simpson, Connor Ball, James Brittain-McVey and Tristan Evans is still on top.

The Vamps’ stellar career has been studded with a series of remarkable achievements including two UK-chart-topping number-one albums and two number-twos, more than 6 billion streams and two billion YouTube views. The Vamps have also been the first band to headline The O2 arena in London for five years in a row, have embarked on several global tours and have played at festivals and events all around the world to over two million people, becoming one of the most loved pop bands of their generation.

The boys are in today to talk about music, life, hopes and how their steady friendship has helped keep the band together beyond fame and fortune.

The Vamps ©

The Vamps ©

Guys, what’s the first word that comes to your mind when you think about 10-plus years in The Vamps?

Bradley:
I think the first word that comes to mind is achievement. You go through a lot of ups and downs in 10 years as a band, not only in terms of career things but also in terms of friendships. I think for us to still be as tight-knit, and arguably more tight-knit as friends over the course of 10 years is a huge achievement, and that means as much as the band’s success, I think it’s a really big achievement on a human level. So that’s what comes to mind first.

Connor:
The word crazy. For sure. I think it’s mad that we’ve been able not to be abandoned in 10 years. We are really grateful for everyone who supported us from the start and also to people that have joined us along the way as well.

James:
I think the word would be journey because you know, in 10 years with the boys, there have been loads of massive highs and a couple of struggles, so I think that journey is probably the word.

Tristan:
Oh, I think it’s been an awesome 10 years, we’re very lucky to be given the opportunity in the first place to play music for a living, which is mad. And then I think we’re even more blessed to be best friends and actually really just get on, I think that’s one of the most important things. A highlight for me is the core friendship that we’ve built over the years, I’ve got to know all three of them in such a special way. So, yeah, I think our friendship is the main thing I’ve taken from this.

What achievements are you most proud of?

The Vamps ©

The Vamps ©

Bradley:
I’m from Birmingham, and I grew up watching a lot of bands and going to a lot of live gigs as a kid, the city has such a big part in my life and is a part of who I was growing up. And I think the big moments for me for the band is when I’ve gone and played these shows with the boys in venues that I’ve seen bands growing up. So like the first time we played at The Academy [O2 Academy Birmingham] and we played like at the NIA [National Indoor Arena] and places like that, they’ve just had such a big part for me growing up.

Connor:
I think the fact of still staying in the band for 10 years and having no argument. We’re very close. So the fact that we do what we love and no one falls out is great.

James:
I think two number-one albums, and being the first band to headline The O2 five years in a row.

Tristan:
You know, I saw Linkin Park and Blink-182 playing at the O2 arena in London about five years before I joined the band, and I was like, “I really want to play in this place”. And then we got the award of selling out The O2 five years in a row, we are the first band to do so. And then we played there like 18 more times or something… it’s crazy. And so that’s like the main thing that I love in that.

How do you feel when you hear one of your songs playing on the radio?

Bradley:
It’s very weird. It’s very surreal. And I’m very self-critical, so I’m always like “Ah we should have changed that bit.” It’s a very surreal feeling. And it’s cool because you’re aware at the same time that a lot of people are listening to it. And it’s interesting to think about in what context they’re listening to the song. So there is maybe someone having a good day in their car, maybe someone is having a rubbish day at work and listening to the radio. I like that.

Connor:
It’s always pretty surreal even now. It’s a mad thing that radios are playing our songs as well in clubs and bars and stuff like that. It’s amazing.

James:
Really proud. I think hearing your music on the radio is a really weird one. Because growing up, I think we were still in the era of listening to the radio as opposed to just listening to Spotify. So, for me to hear your songs on the radio is almost the coolest thing. This is weird to explain but yeah, I absolutely love it. And it’s a real achievement.

Tristan:
It’s always fun. It always makes me smile. It always takes me back to when we wrote it as well, or when we recorded it. It’s a good feeling. It’s always just a weird feeling to hear your voice or see yourself on the TV, it’s interesting.

Which one of your songs are you most attached to?

Bradley:
There is a song called Treading Water that I wrote when I was not going through the best time and it kind of lifted me up. I was in a lonely place, so I think that holds a nice place in my heart.

Connor:
There’s a lot. Peace Of Mind, a song from our second album, probably is the one that most resonates for me.

James:
Oh. That’s really, really difficult. I think there are a few answers to that, but I think songs like Can We Dance which was our first step obviously have a really special place. But then there are other songs; there’s a song called Move My Way which I wrote when I was like 14 years old that ended up on our first album, that feels like it’s a part of me that I’ve put out into the world. So I would say Can We Dance or Move My Way for me.

Tristan:
I think Treading Water, probably. That was just a special one for us to make the lyrics connect in a special way. It just sounds amazing, it took a while for us to get right to production but we just kind of know we would get there eventually. And yeah, there are many different places in the world where we took that record, we’ve been in loads of different places producing different versions.

What would you say to those who you call you a ‘boyband’?

Bradley:
Go for it. Hey, welcome to the pier. We are boys – I would like to think that maybe we’re men now but I don’t know if even I agree with that. And we are in a band. So you can call us a boyband, we don’t mind, we’re going to do our thing.

Connor:
It’s funny because everyone over the years has always said that we hate being called a boyband, but I don’t know where that originated from, because we don’t really care. In our heads, we are a band just because we play our own instruments while it’s typical that a boyband would be guys that are just singing – but it doesn’t bother us. We are boys in a band, so it’s all good.

James:
I think that’s fine. You know, when we started, we were boys, and we came out at the same time as One Direction, and so yeah, I don’t really have an issue with that. But I am in my thirties now, which is funny. So, I mean: if I can stay a boy forever, that’s the dream!

Tristan:
It’s up to them, whatever they want to call us. It is technically correct. We are boys in a band. Yeah, I mean, fine, even if I think we’re a band because we play instruments, we’re not just singers, but really, you can call us whatever you want. We don’t mind.

What do you think of the current state of music?

Bradley:
I think it’s very interesting. I think it’s great for us because there are not many borders on what you can do, so I think it’s a really open playing field in terms of genre which is great because I don’t think it leaves anyone out. But I also think it’s hard, and I really don’t feel for it but I think getting your voice heard now is harder than it was when we were starting out when there were large groups of people and that seemed easier, but I think there are always going to be platforms popping up like TikTok which is obviously the main one now, and how you utilise those. So I think what’s interesting is artists having to think of new ways to get the music out to the masses, which is a good thing for artists in a lot of ways because it forces them to be more creative. I think there needs to be a bit of a shift in terms of the pressure on artists because they’re not only singers, songwriters and performers but also content creators. So I think that’s difficult, it can put a lot of stress on an artist. So I do feel for younger artists in that sense, but I think it’s interesting overall.

Connor:
I think there are way more people coming through TikTok and other platforms sharing music, which I think is great because it’s forcing people to be creative in a way that they haven’t been before, whereas, you know, if you go on The X Factor, you know what’s going to happen, they’re going to do an audition ad so on, there’s all that stuff. So I think it’s definitely more creative these days.

James:
I like the fact that Spotify has meant that genre is able to merge and I think this makes it a much more welcoming place for artists to try and do slightly different things. So for example, when we did our second album and we went for a slightly more EDM, AC sound, that wasn’t as terrifying as it may have been maybe 15 years ago. But I also think it’s slightly worrying how fans and consumers seem to want a new song or a new EP every week or so. The nature of social media means that we want things instantaneously which is slightly worrying when you apply that to creating music because unless you want everything to be formulaic and clinical you need time to come up with the concepts, record the music and develop a narrative for a project. So I think in some ways it’s great, but in other ways it’s terrifying.

Tristan:
I’m loving it at the moment, I think it’s a really interesting time with all the stuff going on, technology, streaming, Dolby Atmos and different ways of listening to music. People are recording with that in their mindset, now. I really think the latest Post Malone album is really cool. I also like Nas and a couple of others that are really stepping out like Chase Atlantic, The Kid Laroi, those types – this is what I’m listening to right now. So I think it’s really exciting right now. I love it.

What do you think of talent shows like The X Factor?

Bradley:
My parents never really put me in front of these shows when I was growing up, I never really watched them to be honest. Not even being like “Oh, they are too cool to watch”, it’s just that my parents really like other programmes so we ended up just watching that, so I became a big Desperate Housewives fan growing up, that was great! But I think they’re good, it’s about how the artist who goes on there utilises that platform best. So a great singer and a great performer are going to shine through, no matter what. And I think that’s great, I’m all for musicians and performers being given a platform.

Connor:
I think they’ve been amazing platforms for a lot of bands to come through, I think it’s probably a bit saturated now, I think people have got used to talent shows. Not that they’ve got worse or anything, I just think people are used to them so it’s not as much of a big thing anymore.

James:
I used to watch both The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Probably it must be coming up to 20 years since those shows started… well, maybe not 20 years, rather 15 [the first season of The X Factor in the UK aired in 2004], but I stopped watching them when The Vamps started just because I didn’t have time. For the first sort of five years of The Vamps, we were busy every weekend as our shows always were on weekends. So, I think it’s fine, even if as those shows have got older I question whether the authenticity is still there. I’ve been on a couple of TV shows not for music but for other things, and I kind of know that producers have a certain story they want to tell but I don’t blame people for going on those shows because at the end of the day, you take the opportunities that you have, and that’s just fine. I just hope that there’s like a level of care for the people that go on those shows because sometimes you hear some horror stories.

Tristan:
I think they are great. One of our favourite girl bands, Little Mix, came from The X Factor, which just proves how powerful that platform is. I think it’s a great way to discover new talent. And it’s a fair way because they’re just getting everyone from all the UK, you know, not just one city. So yeah, I think it’s great. We’ve played a couple of times there, I think we played on Britain’s Got Talent’s final and then on The X Factor’s final – I can’t remember, but it’s always a fun experience. And it’s funny because everyone thinks that we’ve come out from a talent show, which is not true.

Is there something you feel you lost or missed from your teens and early twenties? How was it to grow up this way?

The Vamps ©

The Vamps ©

Bradley:
Um, we’ve been asked that a lot, people used to ask us: “Oh, do you wish you had decided to go to university and things like that?” And I think as much as I like my friends, and they have had the most amazing time, we’ve been so blessed with the last 10 years that we’ve had our teenage years growing up with all the things we got to do – we got to see the world and I did it with three of my best friends, so I wouldn’t change it for the world, it was amazing. And there was a lot of growing up that was done which I think was similar to how a lot of teenagers grow up, to be honest, it wasn’t hugely different. The spotlight and the travels are a bit different but you go through similar things in terms of friendships and relationships and growing up.

Connor:
Luckily, like a lot of my friends, I went to uni [university], and obviously, if I wasn’t doing the band, I probably would have continued to go to uni but I still did my Freshers Week [a period before the start of university], I did them all like wearing the uni’s t-shirts and stuff! So I felt like I kind of lived that life that we didn’t get to have. But I would never want to change my life, to be honest, because music was something that we always wanted to do. So yeah, I’m very grateful, to be honest.

James:
I miss not having wrinkles. I miss not really having as many responsibilities. I was speaking to a friend about this yesterday: when you’re 16 or 17 you want to be like 27 or 28, and then vice versa. We’re very good at wanting what we can’t have, so I remember when I was 16 that I hated being that age, I wanted to sort things out and all that stuff. But now I look back wishing I was still there. So yeah, it’s weird, I think if you can learn to be comfortable with the place you’re in life, then that’s a really tough thing to do, but a really rewarding one.

Tristan:
I missed the Freshers’ Week at university, those would have been good, but we still kind of had our own Freshers’ Week so I don’t have any regrets. No doubt, I think I just went with the flow all the time, I was gonna go to a college university, but then The Vamps started out so I just ended up being in the band and travelling quite at a young age, which was just really lucky.

How did you manage to keep the band together for over 10  years? What does it take for music bands not to split?

Bradley:
A genuine friendship was a really big thing. We are really really good friends and I think we’ve always been quite good at having an open dialogue throughout the years. So we’ve always had conversations about things like if the very last point of the conversation is one of us like getting very upset or breaking down we will still speak about it, it won’t get balled up to the point where something really, really big and drastic will happen. It’ll just be a conversation that could have been pre-empted, but we will eventually have that conversation. So I think that’s been a key thing, and we have a lot of fun as well, I mean, you gotta keep it lively… it could end tomorrow. So it’s like “Let’s enjoy this, let’s have as much fun as possible” is kind of in our ethos.

Connor:
If you get four guys that are just as weird as each other, it kind of just balances out and it’s like in this equilibrium where it works! Yeah.

James:
Shitloads of money… no, I’m joking! I think it was all about being very honest with ourselves and with The Vamps and I think the fact that we put ourselves together and we each have an active role in each album and also in everything we do really, from a creative standpoint, we all get involved. But I do think it all comes down to honesty, I think bands fall apart when there are issues that aren’t addressed and people fester and emotions build and build and build until you get to a point of no return. With The Vamps, we’ve weirdly never had any personal fallout – there have been business decisions that we had to have conversations about, but there have never been any issues. And I think we are just so lucky with that. I think it’s because we met at a certain age – I mean, I’m the oldest and I was 18 at the start of The Vamps, but I think if we’ve grown up together from the age of 14 up until 16 it may have been hard. Instead, by the time we met, we weren’t like proper adults, but we’d kind of got all the bullshit of early teenage years out of the way, so by the time we met each other, we realised how important it was to give it the best shot because we’d been in other bands at school that hadn’t really worked. So The Vamps kind of started in almost a quite serious way, we were conscious of the opportunities that we had. So I think that’s part of it, the age that we met is why we still are together now, I think.

Tristan:
So you need duct tape, you need some wire so you can tie them up and then just force them to get on! No, you know, I think it’s friendship. Again, pure friendship is so important. And then we just do all the other stuff. It’s fun, you know, we make music and we take it seriously but we don’t take it in a bad serious way, we don’t get into fights. We keep it real, we tried to put the best in our shows, I think we put everything into our show, it’s really important for us. I mean, we’re just so excited for the future as The Vamps as well. You know, looking back is cool, but we’re just really excited and we’ve been in a place like that for a while, and that’s just a testament to our friendship, for us to keep on wanting to do this for the fans… how much they give us and how amazing they are at the shows and everything that is just like… you know, we wouldn’t be anywhere without them. So it’s important to appreciate the people around us.

How can musicians avoid being forced to take a stand about whatever is on the global political agenda these days?

Bradley:
You can be as vocal as or as non-vocal as you want, you’ve got to be very authentic and I don’t think you should feel the need to feel pressured. One of the things on social media that’s difficult is that you might feel the pressure to behave in a certain way. I’m gonna be that big advocate for trying to do things in the real world, live and make a change in the real world if you can have an impact. I don’t think you necessarily need to feel a huge amount of pressure from anything. There’s a huge e-morality about what’s right and what’s wrong and how you go about action that is entirely dependent on whether you tweet about it online, or whether you do action behind the scenes that you don’t need to post about. It’s just completely dependent on how you want to be, I think.

Connor:
I don’t feel like I’m being forced to take a stand on it and give my opinion on it, I don’t feel that way. But if people know enough about it and are passionate enough about it, if you research and everything – which I think we all should do, really – we have a great platform to promote positivity and change. I think if we can, it’s a good thing to do. As long as you’re not going to do it the wrong way. Yeah, I think it’s probably a good thing that we do.

James:
It’s really hard and I think I’m quite vocal about things I sort of always have been into. My personal belief is, well, two things actually: I think that if you have a position of influence, then you’re very lucky to have that point of influence and you should try and do good when you can. But that doesn’t mean that you should commentate on every political affair that happens or any social issue, and I think we’ve got a problem now in our society. This sounds mean, but everyone feels like they have an opinion that should be listened to on social media, and that sort of ends up being anyone that says something about anything when they actually don’t really understand the context of the issues or the history of an issue. And that leads to people saying stuff that is just a load of bollocks really, even though they’re trying to or they think they’re being good where they don’t understand the complexity of an issue. And it just annoys me that as soon as someone dies or some tragic thing happens on the other side of the world – that is awful but it’s almost like a race to put a tweet up because then if you don’t, then you’re cancelled and I hate that kind of pressure. So I think for me personally, areas that I’m interested in and I’m invested in that I’ve taken time to educate myself on or that are close to me, I really am passionate about communicating how I feel about that. But I don’t feel that people that don’t have a real understanding of an issue feel like they have to do it.

Tristan:
Oh, I think you have to stand your ground. You don’t have to post anything that you don’t want to, I think it’s really important to have ownership of your social media. I don’t post a lot in general, because I’m just doing my day-to-day life and my first instinct isn’t to get on my phone, it is to just experience the moment. That’s what I love doing. So that’s positive. And the negative is that I don’t post anything cool. And I don’t show the exciting things that are happening, which is a shame. But also, I’m more into the moment. So it’s good. I’m still battling which one’s right for me. But you know, I love social media. And when I want to say something, I’ll say it. And I think there are incredible movements happening on social media. And it’s a great way to get the message across, and I think we’ve seen that in the last couple of years. So don’t be forced to put your opinion online. You know what I mean, your opinion should be enough.

James Brittain-McVey, Bradley Simpson, Tristan Evans and Connor Ball are The Vamps ©

James Brittain-McVey, Bradley Simpson, Tristan Evans and Connor Ball are The Vamps ©

Pictures provided by The Vamps’ publicity team © belongs to their respective owners

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