Vacations: “We Wouldn’t Be Where We Are Now If It Wasn’t For TikTok”
Campbell Burns, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of Aussie indie rockers Vacations, doesn’t pay much attention to TikTok. Since 2020, the band has gone viral on the platform twice with ‘Young’ from their second EP Vibes (2016).
“It was weird at first, but then I sort of tuned out to it,” he says. “Now it’s my new normal.”
First, ‘Young’ was used by TikTokers to soundtrack a scene from cult millennial teen drama Skins featuring manic pixie dream depressive (and Gen Z fave) Cassie. Almost a year later, it was at the heart of the “Knock” trend, which saw people including Lizzo (!!) tapping their phone camera along to the track’s intro.
“There’s only so much attention you can give to something like that before it gets to a point where it can rule over you,” Campbell says. “You can allow that success and that virality to dictate your day to day and how you carry yourself, your personality, how you present your art. That’s a very dangerous trap.”
Even though the musician is concerned about how TikTok can influence artists’ behaviour, he acknowledges that those trends set his band on a trajectory that now includes two sold-out American tours and two Platinum singles in the US: ‘Young’ and ‘Telephones’, from debut record Changes (2018).
“We wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for TikTok,” Campbell says.
It’s a compelling example of the power of the platform to help musicians reach new audiences at a time when building a sustainable career in the industry seems more difficult than ever, with live music venues closing around the country and only a handful of local artists making it into the ARIA charts.
It all feeds into a wider problem with how artists get discovered, as youth radio’s reach dwindles and there are fewer dedicated outlets for music journalism. “We could be at the forefront for new music and culture around the world,” says Campbell. “But we’re sort of in this regressive age where boundaries aren’t being pushed and things aren’t happening because artists are making all of this incredible art but no one’s engaging with it. And no one’s talking about it.”
Those issues in the Australian music industry go some way to explaining Campbell’s decision to move to Los Angeles in May last year as the band geared up to release their third album, No Place Like Home. He sees more opportunities stateside — the band can play a show every night in the US and reach a population 13 times bigger than Australia’s.
Plus, the simple truth is that Vacations are more popular in the United States (‘Young’ may be certified Platinum in the States, but it’s only Gold in Australia). Still, the band are picking up some momentum locally. No Place Like Home, released on January 12, is this week’s triple j Feature Album and next month, the band tours with Laneway Festival.
“I was hitting my limit in Australia and just had to get out of that country,” Campbell says. “As much as I love it, I just feel really limited there in the sense of what I can achieve musically.
“We’ve been a band for almost 10 years. I could play the Lansdowne in Sydney to 300 or so people or it’s like, we played The Novo in Los Angeles and that’s 2000 people. Of course, I’m gonna play these shows over here. It’s where I feel recognised and valued as an artist more.”
He recalls Vacations’ DIY approach to touring overseas when they were starting out, having found an international audience when their music was shared by American influencer David Dean Burkhart. At those early overseas shows, the band often crashed on the floor of the venue. “We made just enough money on the road to get by,” he says, adding that they funded the shows out of their own pockets.
He reckons there should be more support for Australian musicians trying to make it overseas. “Everybody wants to go to America or they want to play shows in the UK, but it costs a lot of money,” he says. “So it’s not accessible to everyone.”
Making Better Art
Vacations have certainly come a long way from those early days on the road — they made their US TV debut last weekend, performing songs from No Place Like Home on breakfast show CBS Saturday Morning. It was a huge moment, especially since it’s coming off the back of the most personal record Campbell has ever written, following a sustained period of writer’s block.
No Place Like Home explores his choice to move overseas (“I can’t choose to remain here anymore,” he croons on the title track), the end of situationships (‘Midwest’), and his struggle with his mental health, including social anxiety and depression (‘Terms & Conditions’ and ‘Over You’).
On ‘Over You’, he sings “These thoughts, they weigh a tonne”. He’s referring to his 2021 diagnosis with pure obsessive-compulsive disorder, a form of OCD marked by intrusive, repetitive thoughts rather than by visible compulsions — a diagnosis he received after three years of therapy.
“I owe everything I am now to going to therapy, because it informs so much of who I am,” says Campbell. “I have a greater understanding of myself and a better understanding of those around me just by having a deeper level of empathy and emotional awareness, which has also helped my songwriting process.
“It’s just allowed me to make better art, because it’s like I’ve gone to the gym for my emotions and now I’m emotionally shredded,” he says.
He rarely has those cyclical negative thoughts anymore, thanks to a mixture of therapy, antidepressants, and more life experience. He stresses that they could return — but now, he feels more equipped to manage them. “That’s just how my brain works,” he says.
“Giving myself that time to understand myself by going to therapy and having some self-love and compassion has really changed my life.”
Vacations’ new album No Place Like Home is out now. They’ll be playing at Laneway Festival in February, alongside artists like Steve Lacy, Stormzy, Dominic Fike and more. You can check out all the dates and other information here.
Hannah Story is a writer and editor living on unceded Gadigal land.