The Vamps‘ new found position as superstars-in-waiting is a social media fantasy come true.
Four teenage musicians from disparate parts of the country hook up via their homemade demos on YouTube. Their plan? to upload a series of punkish, acoustic-driven covers of chart-conquering pop hits by the likes of One Direction, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars and release an album of their own arena-shaking anthems.
Fifteen million online hits and a major label recording deal later, and the UK four piece have become one of the heaviest bleeps on the pop radar.
But this is only the beginning. Having won over an army of new fans during their support slot with chart heavyweight McFly, the four piece – singer Bradley Will Simpson, guitarist James McVey, drummer Tristan Evans and bassist Connor Ball – have amassed a serious online following.
Sure, the band have yet to release an official single, but their YouTube channel has gathered nearly a quarter of a million subscribers; their videos currently receive more traffic than Little Mix, Lawson and Union J, which, given the band have barely reached drinking age, is an example of some serious DIY marketing savvy.
“YouTube opened all of this for us,” says James, a Taylor Swift fan and one time acoustic pop solo artist.
“It’s not an understatement to say that without it, we wouldn’t be a band. We’ve been able to put our music online without any real trouble and got our videos in front of a big audience. It used to be that bands had to wander around record stores and TV stations begging to have their music heard. We’re very lucky that we have the online thing where we can just put a track on the internet and get an immediate reaction. It’s mind-blowing.”
The Vamps’ beginnings marks a very modern twist on the age old tradition of band making. When James decided his acoustic pop sketches required a great singer in the summer of 2012, he decided to scour the pages of online demos and cover versions posted online.
After weeks of searching, he stumbled across 16 year-old Bradley on YouTube, an indie fan with a neat line in Ed Sheeran covers. One Facebook email later and the duo were recording the first of three demos in James’ Bournemouth home.
“I did loads of solo covers and songs when I was 14, 15,” says Bradley. “I would cover The Specials and the Arctic Monkeys and put my versions on YouTube. That’s when James found me and got in touch. For six months we’d meet up and write songs together.”
The duo’s next steps towards stardom took place firstly with the arrival of 18 year-old Tristan, a finalist in the 2010 UK Drummer of the Year competition.
After seeing Brad and James’s videos online, Tristan reached out to James on Facebook to express his interest in working together.
“We saw him on YouTube and thought, “Let’s get him in – he’s amazing,'” Brad said.
And then with latest arrival, Connor Ball, a 17 year-old self-confessed French fries fanatic, who was the frontman in his own band.
“It used to be that 20 years ago people would put an advert in the NME to find bandmates,” says Bradley. “But now people get together on YouTube, it’s a hugely helpful tool in the whole process. We’ve managed to get a band together through that; we were able to see what the other guys could do online and what music they liked. Instead of putting ads in music papers like they used to, we were putting ourselves online for bands to find.”
Throughout this process, The Vamps recorded a string of covers in their home studios, including hit singles from the likes of One Direction (Little Things), Taylor Swift (We Are Never Getting Back Together) and Bruno Mars (When I Was Your Man).
Brad’s soaring vocals and the band’s rocky, acoustic guitar riffs attracted a raft of new fans.
“When we got a thousand followers we were really happy,” says Tristan. “Then we had 2,000, 5,000, 10,000… it kept going up and up and up…”
Major label interest followed soon after and EMI signed the four piece to a recording deal. The band were then flown to New York and LA to sketch out the tracks that will make up their forthcoming debut album – due for release in early 2014. With 30 tracks demoed by the band, The Vamps opening shot is a release that James promises will arrive big on “feel good guitar riffs and melodic anthems.”
Early demos and writing sessions framed The Vamps as a band with a knack for discovering the infectious pop hook. One track earmarked for release is Cecelia, an arms-in-the-air party anthem which carries a sample from the Simon And Garfunkel track of the same name. Meanwhile, rumoured first single, Can We Dance is a shuffling, pop juggernaut seemingly destined for radio ubiquity.
Evidence of their fast track to mainstream success was revealed when several tracks from the their self-written songbook were aired on a recent arena support slot with McFly. Having travelled across the country on their first ever tour, they concluded their adventure with a sold out show in front of 12,000 fans at London’s Wembley Arena.
“It was like a dream come true,” says Bradley. “We only really came together properly as a band six months ago. Then our YouTube covers exploded, we supported McFly at Wembley and people were singing our own songs back at us. Somebody had filmed them the night before, put them online and the fans had learned the words before the next gig. It was insane!”
This is only the beginning, though.
“I think it got really crazy for us when I noticed 15 million people had watched our videos,” says James. “I thought, ‘Oh my god.’ But we’re not thinking about any of that. We’re musicians, and while we respect bands like One Direction, we want to be recognised as being a band. But if people want to see us as a boy band, then that’s cool, too. We just want to record the album and tour our songs.”
The Vamps plays Solus at Cardiff University on Tuesday. Entry is free on a first come first served basis. They’ll play an acoustic set, do a QA and hang out with the fans.