Can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
I’m a musician. I play the guitar for a band called The Vaccines. That was pretty much all I did before Basic Rights.
You have a relationship to Basic Rights?
I bloody founded it!
Can you tell us why you did that?
I was in the studio making a record. I wanted to focus all my attention on it, cut other things out of my life so I could just focus on that. So I went out and bought the same t-shirt five times, the same pair of jeans to use as a sort of uniform. Nothing worked. Everything I could find was either distracting, or it was terrible quality or it was really expensive. So I thought this was something people would need.
Freddie, backstage at Glastonbury 2013
Something that would free up your attention, allow you to be creative?
Talk to me about how the studio compares with touring.
In the studio it’s all about tension and release. The way I’ve learned to approach it is to hold off and hold off until the thing we’re trying to do is eventually right. The truth is you can never kid yourself the other way. To be honest sometimes that takes balls. It’s a real process of breaking things apart and putting them back together, again, and again, and again. You never want to go into it without a confident attitude.
The Vaccines, 'Bad Mood', Live at The O2 London, May 2013
Is there something that helps you get into that frame of mind?
Experience I guess. If you’ve been there before it makes everything easier.
When we were making our first records that experience came from the other people in the room. We started working with these guys that were heroes of mine, guys like Ethan Johns. I remember feeling just ridiculously nervous and eager to please. That’s not what you want to feel. But you have to just get on with it. I sort of love baptisms of fire.
How does that compare to stage?
I feel comfortable on stage actually. I always have done. When you’re on stage people want to hear where you are there and then. They want to hear what you’ve got. But when you’re making records they want to hear you going through that discovery otherwise what you’re making is just going to be boring. It took a while to figure that out.
The Vaccines live at Alexandra Palace, London
Do you hold yourself to others around you?
Contemporaries, other people making music? Sort of. I love hearing what other people are doing. I’m always checking in with it and seeing if who I’m listening to is making something that’s true to them. I’m always listening to The Clash like that.
Because I felt like they never fucked up! Never dropped the ball. They had a really uncompromising approach and just never screwed it up. I mean Paul Simonon can’t sing at all but he just embraces that and that makes the sound incredible.
The Clash, ‘Washington Bullets’, from 1980 album ‘Sandinista!’
Do you draw from any other influences outside your genre?
Well yeah but it’s not just music. I’ve had a long obsession with the British war photographer Don McCullin. He had this amazing spirit of adventure. Totally fearless. I love that he thrived when he was pushing himself to the limits of what he was capable of… and that’s when he did his best work. I’ve always admired mad bastards like that.
Northern Ireland and Vietnam captured by Don McCullin
Can you talk to me a little bit about clothes?
Yeah sure. I think about them a lot. Basically I’ve come a long way in what I think looks good. I used to dress like Jimi Hendrix. You know, big hair, statement clothes. But then I started to go through this process of reduction. Getting rid of stuff that’s unnecessary. I dunno, I guess I felt like a fraud… wearing all that stuff. Because I felt like only frauds would invest that kind of time and attention in it. Know what I mean?
I realised that you look your best when you’re barely trying. You know what looks good, you wear it. That’s it.
I find that if I’m thinking about ‘should I wear this should I wear that…’ it’s just distracting. Distracting from your work.
And that’s what matters?
Freddie Cowan is founder and Creative Director of Basic Rights. The Vaccines are currently recording their fourth studio album and are touring Asia and Europe in Summer 2017.