Far be it from me to pre-empt the zeitgeist, but I am impatient to see the back of 99% of all garage rock bands. Screw the Strokes and waste the White Stripes: any band whose name begins with a ‘the’ and ends in an ‘s’ can expect a hard time from me. The Vines, the Hives, the Libertines, the Beatles, the Bee Gees and all the rest: be gone! Imagine the curl of my lip when I saw a band called The Vexers. Nevertheless, I watched them play live with an open mind and, to my shock, they were terrific. I realised, as I do periodically, that it is not the genre that is the problem, just most of the individuals.
The Vexers, a punk band from Philadelphia, look exactly like they sound: cool, sexy, weird, and a little fucked up. Cool is bassist (Mike Hammel) whose face is permanently covered by his floppy fringe. Sexy is the singer, Jennifer Taylor, whose voice virtually fellates the words she sings. Weird is the Steve Buscemi-lookalike on guitar (Jim Vail) whose talented guitar strumming is oddly mimicked by his vacillating eyebrows. A little fucked up is the long-bearded, bald guy on drums (Jesse van Anglen). They are like the fantastic four, each one contributing their unique ability to benefit the whole.
After their show at the Metro Club, I interviewed Jennifer, beguiled by her music but still wanting to confront her on the distended appearance of the garage rock scene.
What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?
‘It’s inconsequential to us. Sure this scene will come and go but it won’t matter cause we’ll still be the same. This is hard fought for, you know, [punk rock] is how all of us feel, all the time. The way we are now is how we have been and how we will be.’
What separates from all these other ‘the ______s’ bands?
‘A lot of our peers are a lot younger, like twenty-three years old. We’re getting into our thirties. And they have this desire to have a craze about them, whereas we are more of a slow moving constant dissonance.’
That was enough about music. It was time to find out about Jennifer Taylor the person. She is bitchy and sensuous on-stage; extremely personable off-stage. She laughs girlishly after she responds to my questions in order to defuse their seriousness. I ask her about what she loves.
‘I love horror films, Italian horror films like Dario Argento. I like an Italian prog-rock band called Goblin. I love to paint. I love colour and the absence of colour, when things are grey and immobile.’
And what do you hate?
‘I don’t think I genuinely hate anything, because I also love hating it. What I most hate is doing the dishes and the laundry. I don’t like pretentious people very much. Or people who are really self-indulgent. I don’t like working. Well, I don’t mind working, but I hate lining someone else’s fucking pockets with my hard work, that sucks.’
Do you work now?
‘I work for this guy. I do his computers. He’s a Kurdish oriental rugs salesman and he doesn’t speak very good English. His English is not very proper and I help him out.’
Has he heard your songs?
‘Nooooooooooo. He probably wouldn’t let me anywhere near his valuables if he heard our songs.’
And what about your parents? Have they heard them?
‘Our drummer’s parents are blues musicians. They do all these cute videos for us.’
And your parents? I said, worried about being invasive.
‘I don’t talk to my parents.’
‘I don’t know, they suck.’
How do you mean: suck?
‘My parents are very old and very strict. My mum is very religious and my Dad was in the military. With a military father you don’t really have your thirteen year old daughter in punk bands. Our views are very different.’
It is interesting to imagine what they’d think of your line about miserable masturbation.
‘I like to talk about things that don’t get spoken about.’
Jennifer’s lyrics are fascinating. On their best song, whose hook revolves around the expressive line “love is an illusion, a physical transfusion, boring conversation, miserable masturbation.” Although, as I learned when I checked out their website (she didn’t correct me), she actually sings mutual masturbation. My interpretation evoked frustrated nights of frigging, like the Naomi Watts character in Mullholland Drive when her dream ends, it evoked brutal reality combined with alliteration. The real lyrics were still pretty spiky.
How did you come about that line?
‘I was breaking up with someone who I’d been with for a long time. It had stopped being about love and started being about convenience. And in that sense you are alone but you are still with that person. I just couldn’t muster up enough courage to break things off with this person, even though both of us would be much happier. It’s about how things change when you’re actually doing them.’
How did you break it off?
‘I had a couple of rough weeks. He was one of my best friends, we’d been together eight years. I told him I’d been having some problems. I wasn’t happy. And you know we talked about, continuing to function. Then ultimately I made a decision. I said all right: It’s not really going to work out so, it’s ended, let’s be friends and get out of my house!’
Who do you live with now?
‘Nowadays, my house is a zoo. Five cats, three male roommates and their three girlfriends. I’ll go downstairs and they’ll be 30 people sitting in the living room. It’s weird cause I’m too old to live in a house like that.’
Is it tidy? Are you a tidy person?
‘I’m extremely tidy.’
Because a lot of these punk bands are notoriously scuzzy and dirty . . .
‘. . . we’re dirty, but we’re more dirty sexually than we are physically, although I guess Jim and Jesse are a bit physically dirty. Mark will crawl up into a sink.’
When did you last wash?
‘Two days ago.’
That’s fairly dirty.
‘Yeah, but I’m going to take a shower tonight. Your sitting next to me: do I smell?’
Not at all.
‘I have some oils and I wash my face every day.’
Okay, last question and possibly the last time I ask it. What is the difference between your internal make-up and your external appearance?
‘Not a lot. I make my own clothes. I think people when they look at me tend to think that I’m very rock n roll, but I guess I’m more shy.’
Is it a persona on-stage?
‘It’s a part of me. Half of me. The half that is free. I can’t walk into my job and start like it’s a fucking musical. I can’t walk up to my boss and take the water out of his hands and start drinking it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. In order to function in society without ending up in a psychiatric ward you have to at least somewhat cater yourself for world.’
But not in music?
‘No. That’s why the music is so important, cause that’s the one place I’ll never compromise myself.’
The Vexers are a fantastic live band, if they can translate their instinctive musical energy on record they could be very good indeed. Zeitgeists may come and go, but energy and talent lives on.