“I love this place”, Freddie Cowan says as he meets me Café Mogador in the East Village.
Before we can even exchange pleasantries, he’s waving over the waitress and ordering the country style breakfast with a side of bacon. After a quick glance at the Mediterranean influenced menu, I quickly follow suit with their famous haloumi eggs.
As Cowan sips a peppermint tea, I can hardly hide my surprise that this polite, chic, denim-clad British darling is the lead guitarist for The Vaccines – not one bit the badass I’d expected.
“Here, try whatever you like,” he says sliding his plate towards me. Tearing off a bit of pita, it’s easy to see how this place has become an East Village institution. As Freddie and I exchange bacon for labne we start to chat about working with producer Dave Fridmann, life and dining in NYC, and The Vaccines new album – English Graffiti – set for release on May 26.
Can you tell us a bit about the meaning behind English Graffiti?
We were in Peru, and you could see like English graffiti on the wall there. You see it in London and Berlin too, it’s all over the world. It’s that same idea that you can buy a can of coke everywhere. Or if I was in Tokyo and you were in Timbuktu we could still talk on the phone. There’s this insane global ‘connection,’ where it’s perceived to never have been easier to make connections. But our belief is that it’s never been harder to have a real connection. Like a genuine heartfelt connection. Things like instagram – it’s like we’re all tailoring our own realities. And why? It’s a total headfuck.
This is the first album you’ve recorded in the States with legendary producer Dave Fridmann (known for his work with The Flaming Lips and Tame Impala). How was that experience?
He’s not what I expected at all as a person. He’s super sweet, and the hardest working guy I’ve met in my entire life. He would have worked like 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for like the last 20 years. He’s like a super zen sort of country guy. He’s so funny – everyday at 3pm he’ll eat a peanut butter sandwich – bang on the dot. He’s a machine.
Musically speaking, how does the place you’re in now, compare to when you started out like five years ago?
We got off to a very slow, and then a very fast start. Justin was finishing university and we all had jobs. The only reason we really started the band in the first place was because it was something we could do without any serious intention. We would just get together and fuck around. Justin and I had just been dumped – we were all broke. It was just a way for us to get together and not worry about stuff for a minute.
Does that attitude change when making music and touring becomes about making a living?
I’d get really pissed off if I had to do other things to make money now. I’m kind of living in a bit of a fairytale. I mean, if you’re good and you try really hard, I think touring is an honest living. And it makes money for a lot of people too – like you have a whole team when you’re touring.
If you’re constantly touring, where do you consider home these days?
I’m based between London and New York at the moment. But honestly, this trip to New York is the fist time I’ve genuinely started feeling like I belong here. I have a bunch of places I like to eat here now, and walking around I just feel like I’m home. I’m useless with names! But I really love Omen, and obviously Mogador. Lucien is so good for a date! And that little underground Japanese place, Kyo Ya I think? Oh, and GG’s is great!
Do you find yourself missing your ‘real’ home while you’re travelling?
I grew up in South London, but we moved literally ever single year. So I’m kind of used to living everywhere. We tour so much now that home is kind of wherever you are really. That’s the attitude I think you need to stay the most sane. Because if you spend all your time missing home, or missing ‘somewhere,’ then it becomes a really miserable experience. I mean, I love London though – my family is there. I actually have really groovy parents. They’re both guitar players, which was great growing up. But it’s so weird now. I have a lot of the same friends as my dad. Like, we have the same tailor. And I’m hearing all these stories about my dad from his tailor now, and it’s like what the fuck? I’ll be like, ‘oh, was that in the eighties?’ And he’s like, ‘no, that was last year.’
How important do you think music is to a restaurant or bar’s overall appeal?
I think places can be totally ruined by how bad their music is. For example in London you’ll go to an amazing Brazilian restaurant and it’ll be playing like techno. Half of a place’s overall aesthetic or vibe, relies on the music. New York is pretty good because the default vibe is Rock n Roll.
What are some of your favorite spots to eat in London?
I love Brixton Market. It’s full of all these little restaurants with only one person really working inside. Like they do all the cooking and serving. It’s great, they’re all little labors of love. But being in a band, you kind of don’t have to think for yourself anymore. You get to the point where you don’t know your own phone number anymore.
Discover Freddie Cowan’s top five spots to eat in New York City here.
By Ali Francis. For Supper.