Vexed – ‘real amps just really aren’t an option for me’

Despite being a band for only two years, Vexed have achieved so much. Now with their second album Culling Culture (their first for Napalm Records), the band has honed in on their crushing vision of alt-metal, and paired it with a set of striking music videos for several of the songs on the record.

We caught up with guitarist Jay Bacon to talk about creating distinctive music videos, the production inspiration for their new record, and why digital amps are his go-to for everything.

VEXED - Fake (Official Video) | Napalm Records

Your new/debut album Culling Culture has actually been in the can for quite some time – how does it feel to finally have it out into the world?

It’s honestly just such a relief man, we’ve been sitting on this for so long, this album goes as far back as 2017 in some cases. That was the most frustrating part of covid for us – we’d waited years to get this album out in the open, then the pandemic comes and knocks us back like 8 months or something stupid. This has been such a long time coming.

After such a long time, it has to feel slightly strange promoting a set of songs that must almost feel like a previous incarnation of the band at this point?

Yeah I mean, naturally our writing style has developed since writing CC, especially considering the new influences and inspiration we’ve picked up since then. We listen to a bunch of different shit now, and definitely have more clarity in the direction we want to go in.

There was a lot of experimenting/trial and error whilst writing the album, but I think that helped us achieve a way more natural sound since we just wrote what felt right and had no reference point. I see it as a good thing.

Considering how much time will have passed between writing the first and second albums, we’ll get a way more diverse sound with album 2.

Did the band continue writing? Any new releases on the horizon?

I did a shit load of writing back in the first lockdown (March 2020). It was way before CC was released so I wouldn’t have even thought about writing anything if there wasn’t fuck all else to do other than sit there with a guitar and a laptop.

We did manage to get a huge chunk of album 2 in the demo stages before we had to start prepping for our releases, which is when writing kind of fizzled out for a bit. We all returned back to our usual jobs and spent the weekends shooting videos/content ect.

We’ve recently got back into the swing of it and things are slowly coming together.

VEXED - Hideous (Official Video) | Napalm Records

The album was preceded by videos for Hideous, Epiphany, Misery and Fake, all of which are pretty striking (Misery was my favourite) – how did those videos come about? Who was the driver behind putting time into making such distinctive videos? Was that complicated by the rona at all?

We spent ages looking about for videographers to make sure we find someone who can 100% understand what we were going for. We knew that whoever we picked would have to shoot every video to keep it linear, it wouldn’t look right having some videos shot by different dudes – each video had to be consistent.

We discovered Purple Yam Productions through our bass player Al, who had worked with them previously, and their work was tight.

I had a really good feeling whilst shooting the first single, hideous, with them. I loved how passionate they were with all of it.

We got the first draft of hideous back and I knew we were in safe hands. I love all the vids but hideous and fake are both masterpieces.

Covid made videos even more of a ballache than they can already be. Finding locations sucks as it is, but it’s so much harder when you’re not allowed to hire anywhere.

The whole situation with travel was a pain in the arse too, our managers had to write a letter for each shoot stating what we’re doing and where we’re going ect so that the police would know it’s actual work and not a random road trip.

Speaking of the rona, how did the band deal with the lockdowns in 2020? Was there much band activity going on behind the scenes?

At the start, no. The album was done and dusted, so we were ready to just keep touring and that, there wasn’t much else to do.

We’d have regular zoom calls to discuss things like social media content ect and just see how everyone’s coping. We had a month or so where things were quiet and we were all just taking the time to chill and ride out lockdown, then we got back to work planning videos ect.

We didn’t actually see each other for months.

VEXED - Epiphany (Official Video) | Napalm Records

How did you hook up with Napalm?

Like most things – it’s all thanks to the team at Tone Management.

One of our managers Tom, was shopping about for labels, and kind of testing the waters. We were on the way to track our last single, Fake, when we got an unexpected heads up from him that Napalm are very interested in us. The rest is history.

We’re super proud to be part of the Tone MGMT and Napalm Records teams.

So guitars! What did you guys use on the new record in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?

So the majority of the album was tracked on my Jackson pro series DK8, which you’d probably recognize from the videos for Hideous, Misery, Fake, and our 2019 single, Dominate.

For the 7 string songs, (Epiphany and Purity), I used my Jackson Pro series SLAT. Like all Jackson’s builds, they play super well and sound great. Tracking CC would’ve been way more of a ballache if I was using anything else.

I use Line 6 Helix live, but every song we have was tracked straight in through our producer Meyrick’s Kemper.

We didn’t use any ‘real’ amps or pedals, purely because we didn’t really need to. The Kemper sounded sick on its own, and did the job super well. We didn’t need to fuck about with anything whilst tracking, I literally plugged in, played, and we re amped everything post tracking.

Did you have any reference records going into the studio in terms of how you wanted the finished product to sound?

We sent Meyrick a shit load of tracks that we really liked the production on, and basically just said ‘like this.’

There were a few tracks from After the Burials ‘Wolves Within’ album, some Emmure tracks like ‘Smokey’, I think we sent over ‘Sub Zero’ by Alpha Wolf, there were shit loads it’s so hard to remember.

We’d send over tracks with time stamps to reference what we wanted to hear in specific sections too – I sent over the clean outro on Periphery’s ‘Pale Aura’ to demonstrate how I wanted the outro of Purity to sound. M

eyricks always been on the same wavelength with us, so he knew exactly what we were after, and killed it.

VEXED - Misery (Official Video) | Napalm Records

Are you a gear head at all? Any pieces of gear you’ve played recently that were a pleasant surprise? Anything you got to play that was disappointing?

Not massively to be honest – mainly because I’m so happy with my current rig, nothing else really peaks my interest as such.

I’m a typical guitar player in the sense that I’m always super excited to try new shit, but I never go looking for it. Also, only a small handful of my mates actually play guitar, so it’s not like I’m constantly surrounded by new gear to try out.

In all honesty, the majority of guitars/amps I’ve recently tried have been a tad underwhelming. I think a lot of bits are hyped up much more than they need to be. Product placement and that. All it takes is for one guitar ‘influencer’ to say a bit of gear is good, and then all of social media suddenly goes ‘yeah this is sick’ before they’ve even tried it.

I won’t sit here listing all the gear I think is painfully overpriced ect, but I did play one of Ibanez’s 2019 prestige models like a year ago, which was super disappointing. It definitely didn’t feel like a £1400 piece of wood, and I expected it to sound way better, but of course, it’s all personal preference, init.

Whatever works for you.

Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?

There are definitely things I’d struggle without, like the Jackson’s, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything that’s integral to my sound as such. I definitely won’t touch anything with a floating bridge, I wouldn’t know what to do with it, especially with VEXED.

If I pick up anything with a Floyd, there goes all my behind the neck bends, and I do a lot of those hahaha.

I’d definitely struggle with a different pick, I use Dunlop .73’s and have done for easily 8 years or so. A lot of players use those little jazz picks, especially in metal, but for real, I’ll play with one for 10 seconds before I’m picking with my bare fingers.

A lot of guitarists are embracing modelling and profiling amps these days, especially due to making fly in gigs much easier. What’s your take on digital amps and effects?

I know a lot of the ‘old school’ players may read this and wanna start swinging at me – but ‘real amps’ just really aren’t an option for me, it’d be SUCH a ballache for no valid reason.

I use Helix purely because my options are more or less limitless, and any tone I want is just a couple clicks away. If I wanted to achieve the same tones live with analogue shit, the stage would be full of pedals, and I’d be tapdancing on them the whole set.

MIDI patch changes are an absolute godsend too, I fucking LOVE not having to physically change between patches. They all change automatically with the backing tracks. For real, I only need to touch the helix like 3 or 4 times during the set to tune.

There’s always gonna be the argument of ‘sims don’t sound like the real thing’, and yeah I agree, the clues in the name ‘sim’. It won’t sound exactly like an ENGL unless it’s an ENGL – that doesn’t mean you can’t get some sick sounds out of it.

It’s convenience, not to mention how paranoid I’d feel about lugging a 3k tube amp about all over Europe, we’re still a small band, gear gets CRAMMED into the van and it does inevitably get knocked about.

For someone who’s just discovering your band and wants to hear more music that sounds like you, what bands would you suggest they start with?

I’d say start with the obvious and go for bands like Meshuggah, Periphery, Whitechapel ect. If we’re talking purely based on the guitar, bands like Vildhjarta and Monuments will give you a pretty good idea of what I like to write.

VEXED - Hideous (Guitar Playthrough) | Napalm Records

If someone maybe wasn’t familiar with you guys but wanted to learn to play one of your songs, where would you suggest they start? Any riffs/licks/passages in particular that are fun to play, or maybe challenging but rewarding for more advanced players?

If you’re a beginner – I’d say have a crack at one of our 2019 singles, ‘Dominate’. It’s piss easy to play, and gives you a break from playing 4/4 all the time.

As of now, I haven’t released tabs for it, but it’s so simple to find by ear. Plus ear training is super overlooked, so it’s a nice way of strengthening your hearing a bit.

Some may find the lead in the chorus is a bit fiddly, but purely because of the string skips at the start, but again, it’s a nice way to get used to skipping strings without playing through some deadass exercises for ages.

The intro/chorus section to Purity is a super fun one to jam out, both rhythm and lead sections.

If you’re looking to strengthen your down picking, have a crack at Misery.

If you’re more of a lead player, the solo on Aurora is real nice to play, I’ll get tabs out for all these at some point.

I’ve always said, if someone wants to have a crack at learning some of our shit by ear, but is struggling to figure out a certain section, get in my Insta DM’s. I love seeing people playing our shit.

What’s up next for the band? Should we expect to see you on this side of the pond any time soon?

We’ve got a shit load of playing to do to make up for the year and a half it’s been since our last show. That’s all we want right now, we’re dying for it. We’ll be playing as many shows as we can to promote CC, and excited isn’t even the word.

Honestly mate, coming to the states is right up there on the band bucket list, so as soon as the opportunity arises, we’ll be on a plane. I’d say realistically it’ll be 2022 when we finally touch down in America, but best believe we’re gonna tour the shit out of it.

Brian Kelleher

I'm the main guy at KillerGuitarRigs.com and I want to tell you all about guitars. I've been playing music since 1986 when my older brother taught me to play "Gigantic" by The Pixies on a bass with two strings. Since then, I've owned dozens of instruments from guitars to e-drums, and spent more time than I'd like to admit sitting in vans waiting for venues to open across Europe and the US.