Vexed – Music is Nonbinary

Sunday, 9th July 2023

Vexed made a pretty massive splash with their first effort back in 2021 with Culling Culture. Mixing elements of modern metal, vicious deathcore and metalcore, as well as electronic elements, they had a sound that hit the sweet spot of being heavy, angry, and memorable. Two years later, the band have recorded the follow-up in Negative Energy. Ramping up the heaviness and insightful social commentary from the previous effort, Negative Energy is in all ways a more potent offering and one that is sure to resonate with listeners. We spoke with vocalist Megan Targett about the lyrical messages of Negative Energy, increasing the heaviness, changes she’d like to see in music, and more.

Dead Rhetoric: I went back and looked at an interview we did for Culling Culture. At the time you mentioned that you felt you would hit the ‘sweet spot’ with where you wanted the band to be. Do you feel that Negative Energy has hit that mark?

Megan Targett: I think so, yeah. We are so incredibly proud of this album. It wasn’t easy to get to it. I think we thought it would be easier than it was. When we first started writing it, it was very different than what it became. We actually ended up scrapping most of the material we had written for about 8 months and started over. But once we started again, it became really easy and we recorded the whole thing in about 3 months. It was a weird one, it was like we had writers block for a long time, and then suddenly we did and it just worked. I think we eventually hit that sweet spot and we are super proud of it.

Dead Rhetoric: What does Negative Energy mean to you, in terms of what you want to represent as a band?

Targett: Overall, this album came into our lives when we weren’t ready to start writing it. I think that was when we had to look at what we were doing and say that we weren’t happy and started again. We were all going through some incredibly difficult times, and I have said this a few times in interviews already, but the only way to describe it was that we were trying to put a positive narrative on a really, really horrible situation. I had lost a parent, our bassist had lost a parent, others in the band had just lost loved ones – we are all just grieving and we couldn’t find a bright side. We were trying to force that out of our music, but that just wasn’t how we were feeling.

So we decided to put all the negative into it. It just kind of worked out better that way. The moment we realized that we don’t have to put positive spins on things, it came out a lot easier. It was a weird process, but sometimes being honest with ourselves – saying we aren’t alright, was the best thing for us. It became almost like a therapy process for us. So this album is very much like a group therapy session and helping us get through the grieving process.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to this particular genre of music, I don’t think there’s anyone who is ever going to fault you…well, there probably is…but just in general [laughs], no one will fault you for being honest. If someone wants sunshine and rainbows, they can listen to pop music if they want. The integrity is kind of important.

Targett: I think so too, yeah. I have always been the kind of person, on a personal level, that when someone is upset I try to make them laugh. I”ll try to be that person who says it’s okay and to go out and have some fun, someone who makes things okay. But sometimes life just isn’t that simple and you need to be able to say that things are terrible and I’m going to write about how terrible it is [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: It feels like you pulled no punches on this album, musically and lyrically. Do you feel that’s a fair statement?

Targett: Of course. I think beforehand, even with Culling Culture, I have been honest. But I always put a slice of…I don’t know, I don’t want to say restrict myself but I suppose I would put a filter on my lyrics to make them more applicable to anyone. With this album, it was like, I am in such a bad place that I cannot filter it for other people. I need to be selfish and do it for me, lyrically. So there was no holding back or sort of thinking about what others would think. It came from a very selfish, but in a good way, place.

Dead Rhetoric: I really like the barbed nature of Negative Energy. Even with songs like “Anti-Fetish” and “Nepotism” aimed at the music industry, it’s easy to take them with a broader sense of social commentary. To put my own spin on it, I’m looking through a transgender perspective and a few parts I was like, “oh my god!” It’s been a while since a song has hit me that way and I really appreciated that.

Targett: Thank you, that really is nice to know. I think you would know better than anyone then what it’s like to be constantly be berated by bullshit and bigotry, uneducated comments that have no basis or fact behind them. It’s just people being dickheads [laughs]. Yeah, I had enough. So yeah, you probably know better than anyone what that’s like.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find that people in general are getting the message of a song like “Anti-Fetish?” I was dumb and went through YouTube comments and saw it kind of hit the full spectrum for the most part.

Targett: It’s so funny, because some people 100% get it, and other people are like…I watched a few reaction channels and at the end of the song they would be like, “Well it just sounds like Jinjer and Spiritbox.” It was like, oh my god, did you not read the lyrics? This is the problem – people just look on a surface level and don’t go deeper. Overall, I think that there has been a sense that people have gotten the message, and I have gotten some really cool comments and private messages from people saying that they felt the same way and that it’s really helped them. I think we are sort of getting there. But unfortunately, there is and always will be, people who don’t take the time to actually look into the real meaning of things.

Which is why I always make a point of instead of getting annoyed or angry by it, unless they are being outright awful, I make a point to try to educate people instead of having a go at them. I explain why what they are saying or what they are doing isn’t right. Just in the hope that it might help change their minds. Some people you can’t change or enlighten, so you just have to kind of ignore those people.

Dead Rhetoric: I found “We Don’t Talk About It,” “Panic Attack,” and “Trauma Euphoria” to be more introspective. Can you talk about how the heaviness of the lyrics intertwines with a different kind of heaviness of the music?

Targett: I think those songs were so difficult for me to write the lyrics for. It wasn’t that I didn’t think that people could relate to them because I know they have been through those things – but I didn’t know if people would want to know that I go through them. Sometimes I feel that anyone who is in a band or in the public eye, even on a tiny scale – it’s like you aren’t allowed to have feelings, or that [scrutiny] comes with the territory and you should just get over it. The reality is that it doesn’t matter. You could be the richest person on the planet. Everyone still has feelings and go home and lie in bed, thinking about all the horrible things that people have said to them. Or think about the things that have happened in their past.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to talk about that. But then after all we have been through, and talking to the boys about it, I was just like, “If we are going to go all in, we are going to go all the way in.” I am really glad I did it, because it’s been really healing and helped me come to terms with a lot of things. I have had some really lovely messages from people who have heard the full album who said they have had similar experiences. It was nice to see that other people have gone through it, in a strange sort of way. I’m glad I did it, but making the jump was really scary. I had to put the blinkers on and just trust that everything will be alright.

Dead Rhetoric: I think with “We Don’t Talk About It,” you just alluded to what you just said. There’s a disconnect when you are sitting behind a screen and you just say to yourself, I can watch this video on YouTube, they have a record label behind them, I can say whatever I want – they have it all so who cares?

Targett: Exactly. But then, again, I remember seeing someone troll an artist on the Napalm Instagram page so much…to the point where it was like, how has their account not been blocked or removed, so I replied to them saying, “Have you ever considered all the lives that we have lost in the metal, rock, and music scene because they suffered with depression or anxiety?” All of this shit on top isn’t helping, and I rattled off a list of names of people that we have lost. The guy just replied being like, ‘well they have it better than us so I don’t care. Why should they care about what some guy who isn’t signed and not in a band thinks?’

It made me have this whole new perspective of the internet troll. It made me realize that they are so blinded by their jealousy and desperation for attention, and the feeling of not belonging or good enough – they wholehearted don’t think that these people don’t care, or don’t have feelings. It really shocked me, so I messaged him and said that we do have feelings and we really do care. That sort of shit just isn’t okay on any level, and to pack it in. I don’t think it will do anything – it’s horrible. But I made that choice to put my vulnerability out there and I think that if it helps someone it’s worth it. If people want to troll me or be dicks about it, I have thick enough skin now that I can kind of ignore it.

Dead Rhetoric: You had quickly mentioned this earlier and I wanted to circle back to it…given the personal nature of the lyrics and the outlook, do you feel it was cathartic to kind of get that all out there, musically?

Targett: Yeah, I really do. When the first album was coming out, the campaign was on-going, and that was when everything was going horribly wrong behind closed doors. None of us could enjoy the campaign for the first album. We had lost a lot of family members and the pandemic was happening so we couldn’t even play live shows. There was so much pent up frustration, anger, and pain with this one – the fact that it’s a few days away from coming out is just amazing. It’s going to feel like all those years have been exposed and blown apart! I can’t wait to yeet them out into the stratosphere. This album has definitely done that for us.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think people have been surprised by how much heavier this album is compared to Culling Culture? Most bands tend to go more melodic as they go.

Targett: I think it has been. A few reviewers have said that they wished I would have done more singing and things like that. But again, we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. I had been through so much personally, that I couldn’t hear myself or want to do melodic singing. Honestly, I was getting bored with it. It’s almost kind of predictable now to scream a verse and sing a chorus, then sing a build up and scream a breakdown. I was bored with it and it didn’t feel authentic anymore. I wanted to do stuff that made me happy and what reflected what I was feeling. So I think it has surprised people, hopefully for the better. Like you said, a lot of people tend to get lighter and that can piss of some fans. For now, I can’t see that happening any time soon. I think we are going to try to keep it at this level or maybe go heavier.

Dead Rhetoric: Given what you said about not being able to tour properly for Culling Culture, was there any thought about how the music would translate live?

Targett: Honestly no. We didn’t really think about it. I think maybe after it was done and we sit back and listen to it, we think about how it’s going to get done live. Songs like “Extremist,” I feel really sorry for the boys. But when we were writing, we were so in the zone we don’t think about it. We lock ourselves into this world of the album and make sure we are doing something we like, and then worry about the consequences of having to play it live later [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: With that live piece, what would be a tour line-up that you’d love to be a part of?

Targett: Literally anyone to be honest. If i could choose – Thy Art is Murder, Alpha Wolf, Kublai Khan…they have been releasing some absolute rangers lately. Gideon as well. That would be probably my top 4.

Dead Rhetoric: Nice – I appreciate you picking such super aggressive bands to go with.

Targett: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s sort of the era I’m in at the moment.

Dead Rhetoric: Given some of the lyrical content of the album, what is one change would you like to see in the music industry?

Targett: The first thing that comes to mind is that no one is allowed to say the words ‘female fronted.’ There’s nothing that gets on my nerves more than female-fronted. I know a lot of people find it empowering, and if that’s what they find on a personal level I think that’s great, but overall I just think it does nothing to benefit the music industry other than to detach and fetishize anyone who isn’t male. It kind of puts us in this weird, sort of genre in itself. Obviously it’s not. But it’s like, ‘look at all of these women doing this funny thing. Look at them all trying to do what men do.’ It pisses me off as well, and I’ve spoken about it on our Patreon, but I believe and I’m sure you do as well – it’s not as simple as just male and female.

I have always felt like I am somewhere in the middle. I identify as female, but I love my masculine side. I grew up a tomboy and all my friends are men. To just put me up there like a science project and say, ‘you are female-fronted.’ What does my gender or genitalia have to do with this? Literally nothing! It’s my voice. It’s nothing underneath my pants – just stop talking about it. It’s completely irrelevant. I get comments like, “I thought it was a dude that was doing the screams and you were singing. I didn’t realize it was a girl.” Exactly – don’t put a gender on voice. It’s metal, it’s music, and music is nonbinary. It’s just music. Stop gendering music. I could rant about this for hours, but that would be my top thing. No more ‘female-fronted’ – it’s just a vocalist, and a metal band. End of discussion.

Dead Rhetoric: I have to be honest, all I want to do right now, is go take that snippet of ‘music is nonbinary’ and make a bunch of stickers and t-shirts [laughs]!

Targett: [Laughs] Oh please do! Who the fuck decided that music should have a gender? It’s just absolute bullshit.

Dead Rhetoric: Like you were saying, I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s insulting when it’s a back-handed compliment. People thinking they are doing right and say, ‘they are one of the best female vocalists.’ Ok, but that’s not really fixing the problem there.

Targett: I’ve often had to really bite my tongue when that happens to me and try to go to the kind approach. To say, I’d rather have you not say that, and instead please use this. But it’s hard, because it does get to a point where you say, ‘why should we keep having to be polite.’ We shouldn’t have to. It’s infuriating. It’s not a compliment to say, ‘you sound good for a girl.’ It’s not a compliment.

Dead Rhetoric: To wrap things up, what are your plans for the rest of 2023?

Targett: We are going to be announcing some headlining dates, sadly only in the UK at the moment, but they will be announced soon. Then we are working on a tour for the end of the year, but nothing is set yet so we can’t say anything. We have a few festivals we are looking forward to, so once festival season is over it will be about working on the tour for the end of this year or early next year. Overall we just want to get out there – we want to get to the US, we want to get to Canada, Australia – we will go anywhere that will have us.

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