A Conversation With FREDDIE COWAN; His Upcoming Solo Album, The Music Industry, The Vaccines And More

Published on 22 December 2022 at 17:51

Photo: @christiaanfelber

By Jozef Kostecki


Freddie Cowan has done a lot in the almost 13 years since he started in the music industry. As a member of The Vaccines, he has released 5 studio albums, including their 2011 BPI platinum-certified debut ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines.’ In 2016 he launched Basic Rights, a clothing company with the aim of creating the ideal uniform for creators. Now as 2022 is approaching its end, Freddie’s debut album as a solo act under the moniker of ‘Freddie and the Scenarios’ is rapidly approaching its release. With the album set to be released in three months, the debut single ‘Self-Pity City’ was put out into the public eye back in October. A personal synth and guitar-heavy track, it sets the tone for what we can expect from Freddie’s first solo outing. 


With a huge 2023 ahead of him, Freddie spoke with us about the music industry, the creation of his solo album, The Vaccines, his love for Mexico and more:


Your debut solo album Answer Machine is set for release on the 23rd of March next year, why do you think now is the time for that first album?


Freddie - “I think it’s the time because that’s what was meant to happen. I started working on the music in COVID, as a lot of people did, but not because I had this plan of putting a solo album out necessarily, I was always working on new Vaccines material, but we left London and went to stay in Scotland, as my dad has a house there. My parents got divorced while I was young, and that was the only consistent house that we had really throughout my whole life, and I guess when I went there [with my partner, and our dog], a lot of stuff started to come up, and I was doing a lot of work on myself.


“If you’re in touch with yourself then you know when it’s time to do something, and so I thought ‘I need to buy some equipment, I’m just going to start working on this music, and at some point maybe I’ll make a solo album.’ 


“But I didn’t think it would happen immediately after that, I just met the right people at the right time. I was very sheepish about it, I didn’t feel like I could sing, but I had met so many people on my journey in The Vaccines that I had people that I really trusted. Like Dom [Monks] the producer, I was really nervous about it, and I was playing him new Vaccines songs and he was like ‘I like your stuff better’, and I was like, ‘Really? I’m really embarrassed, I want to hide behind Vaccines, I don’t want to play this stuff.’ Then I met a friend, who said they would fund it…”


“Sorry!” He apologises, “That was a long answer to your question. But the point is, I really believe that you want to get on life’s timeframe, not force your own timeframe on life, and that’s a polar opposite to what I used to believe. 


“It’s like I finished this record, and we were playing it in Mexico, and I thought, ‘Oh I want to make a new record in Spring of 2023.’ but I know now that’s not going to happen. It’ll be the right time when it’s the right time, and it’ll be very obvious.”


Answer Machine artwork by Corinna Sargood


Freddie clearly believes life has a plan for him. There’s a belief that things will fall into place, the fog will clear and what his next step will be is up to life to decide for him. Rounding off his thoughts on the decision to make the album he added:


Freddie - “There was nothing to say that this album was going to be made. The Vaccines were off touring, there was no money in the bank, and then we ended up going on tour in Mexico, and it was like this unfathomable thing happened. That’s the kind of power, where it’s something outside of you and if you’re meant to be doing something, then all these doors are available, but are you going to be able to read the road signs?”


Answer Machine is set to be a deeply personal album. Freddie described debut single ‘Self-Pity City’ as the feeling of wanting, “to be anyone but who you are, anywhere except where you are.” His upcoming single ‘Sonic Bloom’ (set for release on the 16th of January) is an emotion-filled tribute to his mother. This is more than a written-by-committee album and is very much an outpouring of emotion direct from Freddie. But was writing an album like this always the plan?


Freddie - “For me, creativity isn’t pre-determined, so you have an idea of what the next step is. It’s a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle really close up, so you can only really feel around for the next piece, and it’s not until you’ve completed it that you’re able to step back and understand what the whole thing meant. I was discovering and committing to my spirituality at a deeper level whilst the songs were being written and kind of going through my personal life and my history. It was as I was making these discoveries, a new song would appear, and that would indicate to me that I was doing the right thing. Forgiveness, love, tolerance. These are the ways I want to live, I don’t want to live in fear, control and self-will.


“I had the album title really early, then when the album was finished I started to understand what it actually meant. So for me, creativity isn't [when] I have this masterplan where I have this thing I want to convey and now I just have to build something that conveys it, I’m in the dark as much as anyone. That’s why to me, creativity doesn’t come from my mind, it comes through me from outside and that’s great creativity, as creativity isn’t about conveying what you already know, it’s about self-discovery and enlightenment. When someone creates a new medicine, a new building, a new symphony, or something, they’re not working with what they already know, and that’s why it’s called inspiration. Maybe that’s obvious to some people, but to me, it wasn’t.”


Between ‘Self-Pity City’ and The Vaccines' latest album 2021’s ‘Back in Love City’, locations have played a big part in Freddie’s life of late, none more so than Mexico. ‘Answer Machine’ was started and finished in Mexico City, whilst Freddie himself has developed a true affinity for the country:


Freddie - “I went there [Mexico] in 2019 with my partner and we ended up staying in one of the nosiest, craziest areas, and it was really intense and I really struggled with it initially, so it wasn’t love at first sight. But I met some people, and I heard some music, and I just fell in love with it. 


“We played in Juarez and I was taken to Juan Gabriel’s house, who’s like their greatest [ever] singer, and I fell in love with his music, the culture and the people, the way they lived. I just left with an obsession, I’d discovered a completely new chapter of music that I had never heardof, and this wasn’t some indie band from Mexico, this was their Elton John or [their] The Beatles, and I’d never heard of them, but they were as good [as those he mentioned] so it was a real discovery. 


“So I then started working with people I had met, like Diego Herrera of Caifanes who are one of Mexico’s great rock bands, and I think after being in England and Scotland throughout COVID, I think it really romanticised it as well. But it can help, to be a foreigner to that nation, to actually see it and love it with fresh eyes.”


Credited to @mattparkguitar on instagram


That passion you have for Mexico has started to be reciprocated, with over half of your monthly Spotify listeners coming from the country. How does it feel to know that this passion is going both ways?


Freddie - “It’s incredible, and like I said earlier if you listen to the universe, then amazing things can happen, and it is amazing, we’re [Freddie and the Scenarios] going to do a tour there in March. It’s an insane thing from where it started on a dining room table in Scotland, and I’ve been talking to John Kennedy, and people at 6 Music, Johnny Marr, and I’ll send them music and it’s awesome. It’s music that’s influenced by Mexico, but it’s not exclusively for there, and it’s really refreshing for me to earn the music. I don’t mean literally earn it, but I just wanted to make cool music that satisfied all my interests in music, harmonically, musically, melodically, it’s all the things that I love about music. Then I get to go back to people like Johnny, who inspired me in a massive way, and I guess all the things that he loved about music are what went into his music and that influenced me, and I guess it’s a feeling that I haven’t felt for a while. I really felt that way about some of the earlier Vaccines stuff, but it’s great to rediscover that integrity, but also that fun. What’s really important is making music the way that it’s meant to be made, and seeing where it takes you.”


With 12 years under their belts The Vaccines have become a huge name in British alternative music, yet Freddie has elected to go down the independent route for his debut solo outing, releasing it through independent outfit ‘WeRock Mx.’ This decision was an easy one for Freddie, thanks to his belief regarding the way the entire music industry has developed over the last decade:


Freddie - “I think the industry has changed so much that everyone is independent to an extent. Someone like YUNGBLUD on TikTok, no one else is doing it for him. There is no HMV anymore, Radio has some significance but the people that used to listen to Radio 1 they’re now on TikTok. So, I think we’ve entered a completely different world to what The Vaccines entered in, where we started there were gatekeepers. Zane Lowe got the first demo [and] he played it, Zane Lowe/Radio 1 it was massive. Then we had the cover of NME, then we had Jools Holland, the three gatekeepers to the British alternative music scene. Then we had BBC's hottest records picks for 2011, we had all the things that all the eyeballs were on, but now all the eyeballs are all over the place. It doesn’t really mean anything, it’s much bigger to get a Spotify playlist than it is to get [on] a Radio 1 hit list now. 


“I guess my point is to be independent and to be the one pressing the buttons it feels very appropriate for now. With Vaccines, it kind of became you had someone else pushing the buttons you were telling them to push, but actually, it’s very nuanced. If you choose to do Instagram, the way you communicate, what you put on there, it’s not just dumping content on there, it’s very nuanced. You have to develop it as a craft and I think everyone has access to the same tools. 


“I think it can be a bit backwards, you’re always on the back foot if you’re trying to make something more than promote it. You can promote something that is great, but you can’t promote something that isn’t no matter how much you spend on it.


“It depends on what your goals are. The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is obviously the music, what it teaches me and how it reflects life. To me, the art is not the most important thing, who you are and how you live, that’s the most important thing, then your art is a reflection of your life. It’s where you can express and pass that experience onto other people. I feel when art becomes the primary driver it can become a bit backward.”


Despite spending the best part of three years on ‘Answer Machine’, Freddie’s continued to keep working as the album’s release date approaches, with The Vaccines announcing this month that they’re halfway through the creation of their upcoming sixth studio album. With that in mind, could we see tours from both Freddie and the Scenarios and The Vaccines next year?


Freddie - “I’m sure the band will be touring close to the summer [The Vaccines have since been announced for Durham’s Hardwick Festival], and I’ve got a tour [as Freddie and the Scenarios] planned in March in Mexico, then I’d want to tour in June in the UK and play some festivals, so we’ll see how it all works out. But, The Vaccines will be touring, that you can count on.”


After over a decade as The Vaccines, each member has never shied away from engaging in work outside of the band. Justin Young and Timothy Lanham of the band both have side-projects in Question Young and T Truman respectively, whilst also working together on the two-piece band Halloweens. With Freddie now preparing to release his own project away from The Vaccines moniker, does he believe that this willingness from the band to work separately has kept them so strong all these years on?


Freddie - “Honestly I just think the industry has changed so much, so much was required of those bands. The Beatles were together for nine years, but in that time they made 12 albums, 20 singles, 3/4 movies, tours, that kind of output isn’t required from a modern band because the business model changed to touring. So you make a record, tour it for a year, take a couple more years to make a record, and you tour it again. People then were making two albums a year, so I think it’s more just down to the pace of it. 


“There have been periods whilst I’ve been in The Vaccines where I didn’t feel much like I was in a band, where you had months off, but then there were periods where we were living in New York and it was super intense, and you were working on stuff all the time. 


“But sure, I don’t see any reason why people wouldn’t do their own stuff, it just doesn’t have that same significance that it used to when someone would go off and do their own thing. I don’t know if it’s good for a band or not. I definitely feel that the model changing to being a predominantly live model meant that a lot of bands who could have been great, instead became good bands, not great bands. A great band is focused on making great music, a great band is not a band that has great live shows. That’s really important, but a great band is one that makes great music. So, if you’re spending 70% of your time touring, which is a really hard environment to write music [in] and be creative, because you’re just like a touring circus, and you’re trying to survive and find the bathroom, it’s gruelling. It’s great fun, but there isn’t like 4/5 hours in that day to get fresh, especially if you’re doing it for 8 months a year. 


“Bands have some success, and then they’re required to capitalise on that success and get as much touring done as possible, then get another album out quickly so they can get touring again. Once you start to deviate from a legacy of 100% your best work, I think you lower the bar for yourself.”


“I think Johnny Marr understands that, and he is so committed. He could get The Smiths back, who are one of the only great bands whose members are all still alive, and they could go and make half a billion quid in two years, they could headline every festival in the world and he won’t do it. Because he understands that legacy is very important, and they have a perfect legacy. And what happens if they get back together, and they take press pictures and someone is like, ‘Guys you have to do a new song to promote this tour’, it’s all the wrong way round. Again it’s a very long answer, but what is required of a modern band allows bands to stay together for a very long time, but also what is required is detrimental for some people to the quality of music. Obviously not everyone, some bands get better and better as long as they keep that integrity.”



Credited to @tomoxleyphoto on instagram


Freddie very much adopts a realist approach when looking at how the industry has changed in the 148 months since Zane Lowe dubbed The Vaccines’ ‘If You Wanna’ as ‘the Hottest Record in the World’, but he doesn’t criticise those who choose to adopt a quantity over quality mindset with their music:


Freddie - “That’s the crazy thing about the industry, people can openly say that the music isn’t the most important thing here. Music is a vessel, that’s part of your career to help run a business. What’s equally important is your TikTok, and you put this video out, and you do this collaboration, and it’s a brand, and I’m not knocking it for people. But I guess, for me having observed the industry for 12 years, it’s really great to be able to have the freedom to say, ‘Well I’ve thought about this for a long time, that this was the right way’, and now I’m fortunate enough to be able to walk that path. I look at Dom as a producer, he has a really amazing relationship with music. Some people won’t think that Dom is a producer in the modern sense, as he’s not remixing or putting other stuff on it for you. Dom doesn’t even use a metronome, everything is recorded live, it’s a very very old-school approach, but I think that’s where the magic comes in on a record a lot of the time. So it’s great to be able to do things the way that I want to do them. 


12 years in a band is a long time for a person to develop and change, and that stands true for Freddie as well. Songs that the band made that he once didn’t care for he now loves, with 2013’s ‘Melody Calling’ being an example of this changing of emotion:


Freddie - “Truth be told, I hated Melody Calling when we made it. I wanted to do something way more obvious, so it’s so funny how you change in your life. I was so obsessed with the popularity of the band at that point, and when we made that little documentary, it was us fighting and I think that’s great now. But at the time I thought our documentary should look like a One Direction documentary, and that we needed to make ourselves look happy and successful. It’s funny how you can have a complete 180 in your life.”


That growth as a band as well as the changing of public perception can also see a natural push towards change. With the band now in their 30s, lyrics such as ‘she’s only 17, so she’s probably not ready’ have seen songs like ‘Norgaard’ (the band’s fifth most played live song) being gradually moved out of the set. 


Freddie - “We’re like 12 years older at this point. Maybe you wouldn’t make it now even if you were 20/21, but also 17 is the magic number when it comes to pop music, but it has no real significance to the actual subject matter. It’s just we loved that kind of Americana-pop culture, so it kind of made sense. Rock ’n roll songs were all about high school, like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. I’ve got no shame about that record, but that’s why it’s not played now as it feels like it’s inappropriate now. But, I don’t think it should be, Paul McCartney plays ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ now which he does, but it’s not about a 70-year-old singing about a 17-year-old, it’s just an experience he had when he was probably 18. 


“Nostalgia is a really important factor in life. You remember your first kiss, the first person you went to bed with, this stuff you never forget. Then that nostalgia factor of the first time you played a concert or the first time you really got heartbroken. As you get older, you get much more balance, and it’s probably a nicer experience of life, but you can look back at those extremities. When I was completely lost, or completely heartbroken, or completely elated, or in lust, or in love. All this stuff is just a celebration of life really."


Freddie and the Scenarios’ debut album ‘Answer Machine’ is set to release across all major streaming platforms on 23rd March next year. His debut single ‘Self-Pity City’ can be found here, with his next track ‘Sonic Bloom’ to be released on the 16th of January. 


You can find Freddie on Instagram @freddieandthescenarios