"It does peel the skin off and rip into the ears a bit!" | An interview with VEXED

Hertfordshire bruisers VEXED have been on a steadily upwards trajectory ever since their first single ‘Elite’ that featured the one and only CJ McMahon of Thy Art Is Murder; just a couple of weeks before they were set to release their debut album Culling Culture, we sat down with vocalist Megan Targett to talk about the album, fetishising women in metal, how they found their voice and tracksuits.

Related: Vexed - Culling Culture | Album Review

“It’s been probably the most up and down year I can ever remember and will probably ever have!” Megan laughs when we ask how things have been. Their rise was stalled somewhat and plans had to be altered due to the obvious circumstances and it certainly took its toll. “It was like, everything’s happening and we’re on this hurtling train moving forwards. Then suddenly, nope you’ve got to sit in your bedroom for the next year and a half, look at a wall and be depressed” she states bluntly, “So yeah, it was a bit shit to say the least!” Despite this, though, they’ve taken things in their stride, continuing to promote the album as much as they can and do as much as they can to move the band forwards.

This work ethic is borne out of something simple; their drive to make music and to make their mark on the industry. When we quizzed her about how the band got their start, her response was characteristically honest and forthright; “We sacked off other bands and we basically said, it’s Vexed or we’re not bothering to try to make it in this music thing anymore”. This desire to succeed pushed them to take a chance many bands starting out might see as a wild stab in the dark; she messaged CJ McMahon on Instagram. “We wrote 'Elite' and at the time it was around when [Thy Art Is Murder album] Dear Desolation came out and we were just sat there listening to it over and over and I was like, how sick would it be to have CJ on this? And the boys were just like yeah it would. Then as more time went on, I just said fuck it, I’m gonna DM him and see what happens!”

This confident approach paid off; she recounts he initially declined as he was busy, but replied the next day enthused about their song and agreeing to appear on it. The rest, as they say, is history; ‘Elite’ came out and Vexed showed the world that they meant business. It was a dream come true for them, as Megan explained “Whenever I listen to music… and Thy Art comes on, it never registers in my brain that’s him, he’s on one of our songs! We don’t feel worthy! I don’t think it’ll ever sink in.”

Despite this, the band as a unit exude confidence and self-assuredness. But it wasn’t always this way - earlier on, when they were writing some of their first songs as a band, there was certainly pressure to both look and sound a certain way. Megan, especially, felt pressure around her image as the focal point of the band; “when I was in old bands, none of them were working and I felt this pressure to be the “female fronted singer” and the pressure to wear skinny jeans and a band t-shirt or checked shirt, and I hated myself because it wasn’t me… I felt “I hate this so much” because I felt like that’s what I needed to do in order to fit in”. Vexed, in that way, was a breath of fresh air as the band could embrace their own style and be themselves at last. “Skinny jeans are the most un-fucking-comfortable things to wear and why did we ever wear them in the first place?!” she laughs. “We just, on the daily, wear Adidas tracksuits, Nike hoodies, North Face coats. It’s just what we wear and how we were raised. It’s completely authentic to us”.

“I think for people that do associate us with bands like that, for them it’s more of a fetish thing. I do feel like female fronted is a fetish.”

She’s characteristically blunt when it comes to those that might use the fact a band has a woman in the line up to lump them together under the “female fronted” tag. “I think for people that do associate us with bands like that, for them it’s more of a fetish thing. I do feel like female fronted is a fetish” she posits. While some might take umbrage at her comments, she isn’t wrong. For too long there’s been a problem with some in the metal community opting to put bands of wildly different sounds in the same tag just because they happen to be “female fronted”. But of this, she says “you can try and fit me into your fetish mold but unfortunately tracksuits don’t work there, so it won’t work… it annoys me. Plain and simple.”

Opening up a bit on the origins of the band’s name, she explains it comes from one of her favourite books - The Count of Monte Cristo. The protagonist is wrongfully imprisoned and then, upon release, seeks vengeance but never reveals his identity. “The word ‘vexed’ appears in the book all the time” she says, “and it summed up how I felt when writing the lyrics for Culling Culture as each track is about a person that I’ve gotten rid of from my life… so I could really relate to that feeling of being vexed”.

The title itself is a play on the phrase cancel culture, which she admits is “a shitstorm of good and bad” given it frequently being weaponised by those who dislike being held accountable fo their actions - which is exactly what it is. Instead of cancelling, though, as mentioned before, it was instead about removing - cancelling, or in their words, culling (“but not literally! We’re not killing people”) from her life. “The whole point of calling it Culling Culture was instead of cancelling everybody else, focus on the people who are in your inner circle and directly in your life, whether it be a loved one or a best friend that treats you like shit but you don’t do anything about it. Get rid of them, make your own life better and cleanse your day to day” she explains.

The idea then was to take that negativity and do something with it; “all the shit you went through becomes worthwhile. Don’t let it destroy you. Let it bring something positive out of you”. While each song takes aim at a specific person she has removed from her own life, the intention isn’t necessarily for the album to serve as a diary - the lyrics are identifiably about someone but the band craft their songs in such a way that anyone who’s been through hardship can identify with them. As she explains, “I really want people who maybe are in a similar situation to me, [to know] that Culling Culture is for everybody. That I acknowledge my privilege but I would like to think I’m using it for good and to speak for people that don’t have it.” There’s an essential emotional connection that runs throughout. People don’t have to have experienced the same things - it could be lesser it could be worse - and this doesn’t invalidate anyone’s struggle. We can all share in culling culture, and that’s something they were keen to emphasise.

"It’s important to realise the bands, the people [fans] listen to and look up to are feeling exactly the same way. I’ve been stuck at work all day, I have a shit job but I’ve come home and I’m writing a song for you to tell you how much I appreciate you or how much the world sucks right now."

As relative newcomers to the scene and ones working with CJ McMahon no less, expectations were sky high for the album and it’s safe to say that the band have risen to the challenge. Culling Culture is as fully-formed as debuts come, as well as something that throughout its runtime, has clear hallmarks of the band progressing during the writing. “Some of the songs we look back at and think we could’ve done that so much better, but we continued writing and we continued recording… and when we got to the end, it was like this is where we’re at now. It’s really nice to have a physical representation of that journey” Megan answers when asked about this progression.

It’s also worth considering that many bands have to seem far more put together by their first album and as if they have everything figured out; it’s no longer just finding your feet. This is due, perhaps, in large part to the transformation the industry has undergone over the past decade and longer, with the decline in physical sales and rise in streaming. Essentially this has vastly reduced the resources available to new bands - it’s no longer get noticed, get signed and enjoy life. Because of this, the band all hold down day jobs which isn’t easy for them, as Megan relates. “I work full time as well and we just keep - the boys and I keep having to say, you gotta think of the money, think of the props we can buy and the merch we can design. Vexed is what we live for and the day jobs just fund it.... It’s not just being on tour, making money as living as a rockstar. It’s the opposite. You’re going to be poor for a long time!”

The hardship and reality of being in a young band with precious few resources means that - despite the image some have classed as thuggish (“we’re probably the least thuggish people you’ll ever meet!”) even though it’s just them being themselves - they’ve remained incredibly down to earth about it all. This is something she’s quite proud of, arguably rightly so. “It’s important to realise the bands, the people [fans] listen to and look up to are feeling exactly the same way”, she says. “I’ve been stuck at work all day, I have a shit job but I’ve come home and I’m writing a song for you to tell you how much I appreciate you or how much the world sucks right now. It’s so much more important to be able to relate on a human level than to stand on a stage and have that gap between you and your fans”;. The passion for their art is palpable even though a Zoom call, and she signs off in characteristically blunt fashion when discussing removing the divide between bands and their fans, saying people need to understand that “we all work crappy retail jobs, we all go the toilet and wipe our bums…. You need to normalise people!”

And on that note, we wrap up our call but not before she enthuses about the reaction and praise the album has received so far - it’s clear that neither her nor VEXED are taking this for granted. It's also clear from their self-assuredness and the sheer quality of the album that they’re only just getting started.

Culling Culture is out now via Napalm Records.

Purchase the record here.