Scowl: Meet NorCal Hardcore Rising Stars "Making a Mess to Clean It Up" | Revolver

Scowl: Meet NorCal Hardcore Rising Stars "Making a Mess to Clean It Up"

Singer Kat Moss talks dreams, challenges and catharsis
scowl_featured_credit_christian_castillo.jpg, Christian Castillo
Scowl, (from left) Cole Gilbert, Kat Moss, Bailey Lupo and Malachi Greene
photograph by Christian Castillo

In June 2021, Scowl singer Kat Moss found herself front and center at the electrifying show that jumpstarted life back into the Bay Area hardcore scene. This was the San Jose DIY event touted as "Real Bay Shit" — the first notable hardcore gig in the area since the 2020 lockdown. It was headlined by three of region's most hyped young groups — Gulch, Drain and Sunami — with support from Moss' Santa Cruz outfit, San Jose's Maya Over Eyes and Pomona's Xibalba. It took place in the parking lot of a strip mall, on a stage hand-built by the bands. Approximately 2,000 people showed up — and anticipation was so high that fans were already bleeding from mosh-related mishaps before a single note was played.

Scowl were first up to face that energy. "It felt like getting thrown in the deep end," says the 24-year-old singer of taking the stage for their opening set. "When I got up there, I kinda breathed for a moment, and I turned around and saw all these people. I just took it in, and it just clicked." Her nerves gone, everything after that moment was a glorious blur of "colors and people flying and intensity, and then it was done."

Scowl are the newest up-and-comers in what is probably the nation's most intense hardcore movement right now. "The whole air is just buzzing," says Moss of the NorCal scene. The singer points to the rise of Santa Cruz neighbors Drain (who have signed to Epitaph Records and booked just about every post-pandemic hardcore fest and tour package you can imagine), as a model for Scowl's potential success. "I think the sky's the limit," she says. "I'll sit down and have conversations with [friends in the scene] about what I wanna do and my dreams, and they're all game. Everyone gets it, and it's so supportive." Add to that the larger national wave of breakout hardcore bands — like Baltimore's Turnstile grabbing major media attention and Pittsburgh's Code Orange earning Grammy nominations — and Moss' dream of leaving behind her retail job to perform music full-time is edging ever closer to becoming a reality.

"We feel very driven," Moss says. "We started out and we really had a point to make, and we still have that as our No. 1 priority." Since Scowl dropped their self-titled demo in 2019, the band have not wavered from their core mission: "We're gonna tour, we're gonna play shows and we're not gonna give up."

Scowl harness this tenacity on their debut album, How Flowers Grow. Led by Moss' formidable growl, the LP is an awesome burst of aggressive, street-punk-inflected hardcore that also hints at the band's willingness to channel a diverse range of influences, from Sonic Youth to the Stooges. Take the track "Seeds to Sow," a super fun saxophone-driven song that showcases Moss singing melodically for the first time since high school choir. "It's funny 'cause I showed [the track to] my sister who doesn't really listen to heavy music at all, and she started crying," says Moss. "She loved it so much. She was just like, 'I can't believe this is you!'"

For Moss, bucking expectations was key to finding her way in life. She grew up in Sacramento, where she was neither academic nor athletic at school, and disagreed with the conservative politics of her family and most of the people around her. "Sacramento was like hick-town suburbia, and I was around people who didn't think like me and didn't get me," she says. "I felt very alone. I'd dye my hair and play my music loud when I'd drive through the neighbor-hoods. I just felt so 'fuck you' about everything." The internet eventually led her to punk, and to Californian forefathers Adolescents and Black Flag. "Punk made me feel like someone was paying attention," she continues. "I felt like I had been heard, and where I grew up really didn't give me that opportunity."

Moss soon found more connection in the local hard-core scene, which is where she met her future Scowl bandmates: guitarist Malachi Greene, bassist Bailey Lupo and drummer Cole Gilbert. Scowl is her first band, and the experience has presented many opportunities for musical, and personal, growth. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it," says Moss of her determination to overcome stage fright and anxiety. "I might be afraid and I might feel insecure, but I'm gonna do it." When asked if she's noticed a change in herself, she nods, explaining, "I have gotten a lot more of a backbone. I would sometimes call myself a little bit more of a bitch. But it feels really good."

While writing How Flowers Grow, Moss was going through a breakup and falling out with friends; there was anger to exorcize, and a lot of it. On "Four Walls," one of the album's most visceral tracks, she's pouring all of her might into the effort to leave a toxic relationship. "Dead to Me," meanwhile, is an utterly vicious revenge fantasy, in which Moss makes a grim promise to somebody who hurt her: "I can't wait to be the one who takes this life from you."

While Moss says it was freeing to snarl out all that anger, she also acknowledges it was a time in her life when some introspection was needed, as well. "There was so much stuff inside I was so unhappy about that was kind of festering," she reveals. "I was projecting everywhere. It was just, like, this snowball of me turning into this person I hated, and it was kinda that moment where I had to turn around and just be like, 'Fucking stop.'" Moss eventually landed on a self-care regimen that worked for her: therapy, meditation and screaming on hardcore songs.

The album's title, How Flowers Grow, reflects Moss' process of weeding through her own personal issues and uprooting and discarding things that were no longer useful. "I just needed to write this out, and it really just kind of flowed," she says of her lyrical approach. "There's gotta be some ugly, and you have to make a mess to clean it up. When it comes to self-work and inner work you really just have to get it all out, and then you can figure it out."

How Flowers Grow is ultimately a testament to Scowl's message of standing firm in your identity, even while life tries to rip up your roots — a mindset that Moss has fought hard to achieve for herself. "If you wanna play in a band or take pictures or do artwork or go to a show in the first place, you have to make those decisions for yourself, even if it's scary," she says. "And that's kinda the pep talk I told myself when I started doing Scowl: Do the damn thing, Kat."