VACATIONS FRONTMAN CAMPBELL BURNS is living the American Dream. The Los Angeles room he’s renting from a rather famous bass player is a long way from Newcastle, the coastal Australian town he grew up in alongside bandmates Jake Johnson, Nate Delizzotti and Joseph Van Lier. But amid the hustle and bustle of LA, Burns feels right at home. The move to America has proven liberating, giving him access to people and scenes that felt a world away from his hometown. “I feel like I can do anything I want. Try any niche or find people that are just so left of field, and so creative here,” he explains. “There’s not as many barriers or boundaries. I feel like people here are simply more themselves.”

By embracing this attitude and simply being more themselves, Vacations have become the indie-rock band to know right now. People queue around the block for their concerts, then line up for autographs after the show. Days after Burns and I spoke, the band took over Spotify’s Times Square billboard. That weekend, they performed on Jimmy Kimmell Live! It seems like this year, the four piece is ticking off one bucket list item at a time.

Another of those items came in January, when Vacations dropped their third studio album, No Place Like Home. A lot was resting on the success of its release; the album followed a moment in time whereby the band went from small Aussie act to viral international sensation.

In 2020, a single the band released in 2016 titled ‘Young’ became a viral hit on TikTok when fans used the song to soundtrack scenes from TV series Skins, featuring one of the main characters, Cassie. A year later, the song got a second wind thanks to a trend popularised by global superstars like Rosalia and Lizzo, which involved knocking the camera in time with the start of the song before panning it to reveal something or someone else. ‘Young’ is now certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, as is Vacations’ 2018 single ‘Telephones’.

Clockwise from top left: Vacations drummer Joseph Van Lier, guitarist Nate Delizzotti, bass player Jake Johnson and frontman Campbell Burns. Photography: Alex Walker. Photographed on location at Oldtimer Centre, Sydney.

But lo-fi track ‘Midwest’ was only added to triple j rotation in June 2023, making it Vacations’ first single to receive consistent airtime from the station. It hasn’t been out for long, but No Place Like Home has already placed the band on the radar of more Australians than ever before. During the beginning of February, the band toured the country as part of Laneway (their set was unanimously considered a standout by fans), while the album was made triple j’s Feature Album of the Week upon release.

Yet No Place Like Home sounds distinctively Australian—which makes the fact they haven’t recieved the same acclaim here as they have abroad even more suprising. The album features sun-drenched guitars reminiscent of acts like Last Dinosaurs and San Cisco, while Burns’ lyrical candour is refreshing. He discusses going to therapy and learning more about himself, including receiving a Pure OCD diagnosis. As he puts it, “you’re turning your pain or your trauma into the most fucking banger of a chorus”. The swirling jangle of ‘Over You’, for example, is sung from the perspective of Burns’ Pure OCD, and there’s more to the track than initially meets the ear. He laments: “What’s the use?/Playing by your rules/This weight on my shoulders/More power to you/If it takes two/Can we call it a truce?”

“I was able to go through this process of self discovery. It allowed me to be more comfortable with myself and not have any boundaries or walls up because I completely shattered them by going through this process,” he says of the work he did in therapy. “And then I was like, ‘Oh, I can say these things. And I can just keep writing. I don’t have to overthink it too much.’

Vacations band esquire
Photography: Alex Walker

The album also reflects on Burns’ move to America, the conduit for which was a particularly awful end to 2022: Burns went through a breakup, had a friend pass away, and, as if things couldn’t get much worse, his car was stolen. He says, “I wanted to get out of Newcastle because I was like, ‘I’m 27. What am I still doing here?’ The city is so quiet and I need more stimulation, I need more things to do.” He says in hindsight, the move was a natural progression.

While the band’s earnest and poppy songwriting draws fans in, their online presence is equally endearing. Burns sees Vacations’ social media savviness as a big factor in their growth; online, they straddle the line between silly and sincere. On TikTok, for example, you’ll find photos of a very fashionable dog sandwiched between behind-the-scenes footage of the band goofing around. These clips, judging by the comments, both bemuse and delight their dedicated fans. Over on YouTube, however, the comments are more effusive. Putting into words what everyone else has been thinking, one fan recently commented: “You guys are too talented to be as underrated as you guys are”.

“If you call it a ‘boy band’, then it’s like, ‘this is slightly interesting’.”

PERHAPS IT'S BECAUSE they’re so underrated that Vacations are able to lay claim to being ‘Australia’s greatest boy band’. They flaunt the tagline on both Spotify, where they boast a whopping 10 million monthly listeners, and Instagram. It’s a label that Burns wears with pride, though he admits, “like a lot of things I do in life, I did it because I thought it was funny”. “We’re four white dudes playing indie music and half the band has moustaches. Like, every band does that. But if you call it a ‘boy band’, then it’s like, ‘okay, well, this is slightly interesting’.”

“When we walk out on stage, it’s not like everyone in the audience is like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Campbell. Oh my God, he’s the singer.’ Every [band member] gets called out, everyone is on the same level. And to me, that makes it feel like a boy band. There’s fan art for each member. There are people holding up signs; everyone has their favourite [member], which is really special. And I don’t think a lot of bands have that.”

The boy band label also goes some way to explaining Vacations’ success. Having embraced their virality on TikTok, the band has translated online numbers into real-life fandom, which has taken them across the world and allowed them to connect with fanbases in different regions. Yet still, somewhat ironically, Down Under remains the toughest egg to crack. Burns says Australia is the hardest country to tour in the world by far. “No doubt in my mind, I reckon it’s the hardest country.”

He says this is due, in part, to the space between each capital city. “You’re driving really vast distances as if you’re in the US, without any of the cities in between to bounce off and make those drives safe and manageable.” But it’s not just geographic, and Burns believes Aussie artists could benefit from being more honest about their ambitions. “I think more Australians need to touch grass and have these kinds of conversations.”

Vacations band esquire
Photography: Alex Walker

As for Vacations, well, they’re already back in writing mode. When Burns hangs up the phone, he’ll link up with Johnson, Delizzotti and Van Lier for a writing session, and the intention is to release more music over the next 12 months. Touring is also on the agenda, and Burns is excited to have a whole new album’s worth of songs to share with fans while on the road.

While the band’s name might suggest they live life at a leisurely pace, the truth appears to be anything but. Such is the life of Australia’s greatest boy band.

This story appears in the March/April 2024 issue of Esquire Australia, on sale now.



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