By Isabelle Hampton-Zabotti
We are tucked away in a quiet, peaceful corner in Hackney, which, amongst the normal liveliness that occupies the neighbourhood, is a bit of a rarity. Rather than squeezing into the dressing room of The Moth Club—the venue for the night—Campbell Burns opts to do his interviews instead in Hackney Church garden. We’re beside a graveyard and we note to ourselves its gothic vibe. In a dark overcoat and trousers, he fits in well. Burns smiles as he watches a mother and child go past, the child’s tittering laugh interrupting his train of thought. “That’s kind of sweet”.
Burns is the frontman and founder of Vacations, from Newcastle, Australia, and was joined by members Jake Johnson, Nate Delizzotti and Joseph Van Lier. They debuted in 2015 with their EP, Days, with a rapid rise in popularity since then. Their sound is self-described as "woozy guitar pop", and you’d find this description fits the bill perfectly. Generally, their song’s tempos are on the slower side and utilise minor keys, with distorted guitar riffs producing the melodies. Listening creates bittersweet nostalgia; it takes you back to that one summer when you cycled endlessly between hopefulness, loneliness, and boredom. When you had nothing to do, and nothing really happened, but it stuck with you—perhaps because it was a summer never repeated again.
Their gig at The Moth Club was their final night after a long touring period in the UK. It began and ended in the capital, and made stops in Leeds, Nottingham, and Dublin, to name a few locations. Burns feels the UK is manageable to drive through, “whereas, some of the drives, for instance in the Australian or the US tour, you'd be driving for 12 hours and you would barely be anywhere.” One of the first things he mentions, though, is his declining diet in the UK. When asked where he stands on the bad press the UK gets globally over its food, he smiles and shifts a little, laughing that meme culture plays a big part in that, and says, “I can see why”. Yet, he notes that stereotype “also discredits the amount of diversity that is here as well”. It was a thoughtful assessment to make, sitting in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, in one of its more diverse areas.
Insightful observations characterise Burns’ manner of speaking, as he seems to pay close attention to the world around him. For example, his father had once lived in the UK with his mother in their twenties, and had told him about the disparities between the North and South of the country—although, at nineteen, when he himself came to the UK, he initially didn’t take too much notice of it. Yet, the comparisons with London and Brighton to Manchester seemed to change that. “You can feel the complete shift in the culture, the architecture, the way people carry themselves”, he says. “The weather feels a little more bleak.” Though he quickly adds, “Not that I have anything against [it], but it's just an interesting change of pace”. When asked about Scotland in particular, he contrasts Glasgow with Edinburgh, with the former having, in his view, a very masculine, bordering unsafe vibe. Whereas, the latter is somewhere he’s more familiar with. “It’s such a beautiful city”, he says, “I remember spending so much time in Old Town and walking through the alleyways and going to the castle.”
We move to a more introspective topic, and is asked if he had learned something about himself through their multiple tours. “Learning how to spend time on my own”, he says, “but also sort of balancing that with others in a way that feels respectful and helpful to myself and those around me, if that makes sense".
"Just knowing when I need to actually take an hour off and just go for a walk or read a book and not actually be out doing something just because I feel like I have to be doing it.”
This self-awareness may have come with time, age, or both, and appears again when we talk about the meaning behind one of Vacation’s most popular songs, ‘Telephones’. In a past interview, and in the song’s Genius interpretation, the song is said to be about phone addiction. Nonetheless, its lyricism is masterful in its ambiguity, and listeners feel its chorus, (I wish I could live without you, but you’re a part of me / Wherever I go, you’ll always be next to me) speak closely to their own relationships. Burns first laughs and protests when this is brought up.“How do people find that out? Because I always thought I kept it to myself!”. But he expands that, at the time, he wrote it not fully knowing what it meant, and with time he realised that the song came from an aftermath of a situationship.
It’s not to say, though, that social media isn’t something to be reckoned with, as he says that, in the period of writing ‘Telephones’, “I would be staying up all night just scrolling because the algorithm would just keep creating content.” That mindless scrolling that we’ve all partaken in has been shown, with no surprises, to be detrimental to our mental health. Yet, TikTok and Instagram have had an unprecedented influence on current music trends, and going viral is something Burns unashamedly acknowledges to have boosted their fanbase. “We're just progressing through different mediums of accessing music and connecting with music. But they all have their pros and cons. I mean, if we got played on radio we probably would have been a one-hit wonder, but because through streaming, well, the whole catalogues’ there, so people can go back and listen to it.” Nonetheless, even with 9 million monthly listeners on Spotify and with ‘Young’ going Platinum in the US, Burns still grapples with the impact that their songs have on fans:
“I think everyone in the creative field goes through it, but you sort of forget that you can have that kind of impact on people and it's a really, almost scary kind of realisation. It's a very powerful position to be in when you're like, okay, well, something that I do for enjoyment or pleasure can have such an impact on someone in a way.”
That distance between fan and creator did close when performing. The atmosphere at The Moth Club buzzed, particularly after the opening act. Dust, a post-punk band also from Newcastle, did a fantastic job of warming up the crowd. When Vacations came on stage, they were welcomed with huge applause. They performed songs all the way from their debut, such as ‘Days’ to their more recent single, ‘Next Exit’. There were some hilarious ad-libs along the way about “Depop drama” and “cozzy liv” that stemmed from their bemused impressions of the UK. Nonetheless, gratitude was palpable, and finishing with ‘Telephones’, (which was not in the setlist, either) with the venue’s lights off and flashlights on, seemed to be a thank you to the fans that have followed their journey from their early days and to those who will continue to show up as they evolve as musicians—and as people.