With the first anniversary of their full-length debut release, How Flowers Grow looming on the horizon, the Santa Cruz hardcore quartet is carrying the torch for hardcore music and dedicated to keeping the fire blazing bright enough to scorch the spirits of all who are there to witness it.
Words and photos by Weronika Koleda
A live show from NorCal trail blazers Scowl feels like the sting following a sucker punch that finally knocked you back into your senses. The sensation of it hits you all at once with such intensity, you can’t recount exactly what just happened. But you sure as hell can describe the feeling. Adrenaline leaves your heart beating a bit faster than you’re used to, small volts of electricity shooting up and down your forearms. You’re now more alive than you felt roughly fifteen minutes ago, ten songs ago. You’re left craving for more.
It’s about two busy weeks into Scowl’s North American run with The Bronx, The Chats, and Drug Church. Though, it only marks a fraction of the whirlwind of a year the band has endured since dropping How Flowers Grow last November. From there, Scowl is thrust into the deep end, trusting themselves to know how to tread water. One minute vocalist Kat Moss is working production at a coffee company, by March she’s quit her job to be on the road for three months. The Santa Cruz locals have already opened for Limp Bizkit at Madison Square Garden, spent the summer playing around Europe, teamed up with fellow Bay Area homies Destroy Boys, and ripped it at Sound and Fury in Los Angeles, just to give you the gist––and it’s only October.
“I can’t sit here and say that it’s been easy and the punches have been easy to roll with,” Moss says, reflecting on the journey so far, “But, I feel like we’ve all just grown closer, incredibly closer. It’s cool coming to a year of a lot of busy-ness. It’s cool coming full circle to a year of a lot of touring now and recognizing how we’ve all individually learned our little duties and places on tour, and learned how to handle ourselves when we’re at our lows and highs.”
Tonight, the roadshow makes a pit stop at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall. As the first set–scheduled for an early 6:45PM set time–Scowl is presented with the job of hyping up the crowd and charging a bit of body heat to keep the energy going all night long. Kat, guitarist Malachi Greene, bassist Bailey Lupo, drummer Cole Gilbert, and touring second guitarist Mikey Bifolco take the challenge without a hint of hesitation, full speed ahead. The driving baseline descends us into “Retail Hell”, and instantly, all hell breaks loose––lightning in a bottle. The stage becomes fully theirs whether people came to see them or not.
Greene is keenly aware that Scowl isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t stop them from opening their door to anyone, “If we’re playing well and it’s a fun show to see live, then even if you hate our music, then that’s good. [People] can be like ‘You know what? They put on a good show, I might not like this shit, but they put on a good show.’ That’s a goal.” Gilbert echoes that sentiment, discerning personal taste from artistic respect, “At least if you don’t like the music, you can be like ‘Well they’re doin’ what they’re doin’ well.‘”
On stage, there’s no denying the full-force energy every corner of Scowl emits from the stage. Despite the band putting on shows for only about two years surrounding the pandemic’s drought of live music, the magic in their performance stems from their all-or-nothing attitude and openness to experiencing growth in the face of adversity, a theme that could be taken from How Flowers Grow. “I feel like we all worked so hard, I mean, we’ve been touring nonstop. It’s really pushed us to become better musicians. Like, Cole’s drumming has gotten so insane, he’s growing so much as a drummer, it’s really cool to see. Same goes with Malachi as a guitarist. He picked up a guitar and wrote our demo, so he wasn’t a seasoned guitarist prior to starting the band, so he’s improved drastically. It’s been cool to watch his creative mind kind of bloom. Bailey, also, his abilities kind of just exploded. It’s so cool to watch,” Moss is earnest in acknowledging her bandmates’ talents, her voice coated with pride.
Kat Moss is catharsis personified, a firecracker with crocodile rock green hair. Flashes of neon strands and swings of jet black Doc Martens tease the end of the stage, my geriatric Sony can hardly capture her in the viewfinder. She assertively requests the crowd to open up into a circle pit, the audience quickly obliging. Pummeling through tracks like the razor sharp “Fuck Around”, “Dead To Me”, and a gritty cover of Misfits’ “Attitude”, Moss is invigorating, not an ounce out of breath as she spits fire into the mic. “I feel, personally, my vocals have just matured a lot, and I’ve become more comfortable on stage,” Moss gives herself credit where credit is due. Watching the 25 year old wrap the mic cord around her wrist––headbanging, thrashing, ping-ponging across the stage––it’s difficult to imagine her feeling uncomfortable or sheltered. The whole Scowl gang present themselves as naturals, as seasoned professionals.
Following the band’s electrifying set, I’m soon approached by Moss herself. Admittedly, the two of us have rather poor hearing, so after a moment of attempted hand-sign communication over the sounds of Drug Church reverberating off the walls, I’m welcomed by Kat into the green room where the rest of the band is cooling down. If anyone were to coin the term “hardcore hospitality”, Scowl could take that credit. I’m immediately offered a selection of snacks, seltzers, and sparkling water. Mikey opens a box of pizza and tells me to help myself to any of the selection from the stack. I’m over the moon at the sound of “vegan pizza”, so of course I have to indulge. A brief exchange of small talk, and I know I’m in the hands of good company.
Despite an intense week of long cross country drives and a few days of double sets, surprise shows with fellow hardcore band Gel in Denver and Salt Lake City, and an off-date show in Boise, the group has maintained high spirits and an air of enthusiasm. Chicago, specifically, appears to be on the list of favorite cities for the band to play––the scene earned a shoutout from Moss in the middle of their set. “We’ve played here [in Chicago] like a small handful of times. I always feel like there’s a couple places that we’ll stop at on tour where everyone there really gets hyped when we play, a lot of people buy the merch, and people are just really hyped on us specifically here, I’ve noticed, and I’ve always had a good experience, so that’s why I shouted it out,” she says. Bailey chimes in to remark how many iconic artists call Chicago their home, pointing out how he could spend the entire evening listing all the badass bands from the city.
We’re all circled around velvet red couches, a foosball table to our right, the ceiling vibrating from the ongoing show above us. I’m thinking of a comment someone left online that I came across a couple days prior: “Met Scowl outside their first Boston show and been a fan ever since. Some of the most down to earth people in hardcore I’ve ever met.” As we’re exchanging laughs and drawing on all the shit that went down this past year, I quickly latch onto what that internet stranger was getting at. Despite myself being a newbie to hardcore, the band’s inclusivity leaves no room for wallflowers. Kat is reassuring––she herself became immersed in the scene after high school, showcasing how it’s never too late to find a community that will be there for you in divine timing.
Malachi vocalizes the attitude of a sprinter taking off at the fire of the pistol–– he’s sure as hell going to keep running even if his laces untie mid-lap. It’s indicative when he breaks out a chuckle recalling their lack of soundcheck at Madison Square Garden, “We had no monitors, it was by far the quickest and most ‘alright just go’ set ever”. He also drops guitar picks wherever he goes like loot. Cole has a way of brightening up in conversation, he carries enthusiasm most explicitly on his face, in addition to translating it into his drumming. Bailey has a mind for factoids about outdated television and recalling names of shows we have on the tips of our tongues. We eventually get sucked into an Animal Planet and TLC fixation. Mikey has a quick-witted sense of humor that bounces back effortlessly between the rest of the crew. Though he isn’t a permanent fixture of Scowl, he undoubtedly fits right in.
Kat is one of those people you get lucky to talk to for a few hours and forget that you were complete strangers just that afternoon. The hours are quickly lost to the darkening sky outside as we pore over life on tour, music discourse, and core memories. We share our mutual admiration for My Chemical Romance, childhoods spent as horse girls, and One Direction being some of our earliest concert memories. It’s incredibly refreshing to watch Kat’s success as a frontwoman through this lens; when someone you’re able to see parts of yourself in is succeeding, it feels like a victory for all of us, for everyone who identifies with who you are.
Pulling out her phone, Kat swipes through a multitude of Pinterest boards meticulously curated to establish the vibe of Scowl’s upcoming projects. Scrolling through images of neon signs and darker blues and purples, she’s established a mood for the era ahead before it has even had a chance to come into fruition. A separate board holds collections of makeup and outfit inspiration that the vocalist is eager to try out. Kat unzips her duffle, a pink and cream flowery contrast to the surrounding black industrial suitcases. Vibrant eyeshadow palettes, fake blood, and the occasional lashes peer out from what essentially is her entire life made travel sized. Tonight she’s sporting a pitchfork red shadow spilling past the corners of her eyes and bleeding below her lower lash line. The visual drive she maintains for the band is further manifested by exploring herself via makeup and attire for the stage. She tells me of her recent 60s/70s era populated with florals, dresses, and pastels rebelling against the typical look the hardcore scene is largely associated with. Looking forward to Halloween, Kat pulls out a white button-up she envisions as part of a potential Patrick Bateman costume.
Being in a band has permitted Kat to take her devotion and manifest it into a whole creative universe. “Personally, for me, what really ignites the passion with the band is the visual aspect, and the artistic, creative aspect of the band. If I’m thinking constantly about ‘How’s this next video gonna look? How’s this next song or the music we’re gonna put out gonna sound like? What’s the conceptual stuff behind it that I connect with? How am I going to give birth to that emotionally and mentally?’” she says. “That’s the part that I get really excited for. That’s the part that really gets me going.”
Scowl is a return to center, it’s looking inwards and ingesting all that the roots you put down can touch. It’s forcefully tearing off all of your petals and setting fire to everything you are because you know there’s a new season coming to grow again. Scowl has absolutely no interest in pursuing what they aren’t, and entirely focused on being a band the only way they know how. “Scowl, for all of us, is like… we just wanted to play music, but also, everything we do… we try to make it fun. So when we do videos and stuff like that, it’s more than just the song. It’s how we show this visually to bring the point across. It’s supposed to be raw, and it’s just kind of what we do,” Malachi explains. “That’s why it’s fun that every release kind of grows, because we all didn’t know what we were doing to begin with. And now everything we do… I guess it’s kind of to prove a point, like, you don’t have to be a super well-trained musician to go on tour and have fun. That’s what I kind of wanted to do, to be like, Alright, we got instruments, now we just gotta get in the van and go, and see what happens.’”
In hindsight, a whole lot has happened since How Flowers Grow dropped almost a year ago. The debut full-length became the first taste of Scowl for many of us, offering a proper autobiography of what the band truly is. “I didn’t expect people to like [the album], I felt insecure being so vulnerable, I think it’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been lyrically. That was something that was really scary,” Kat confesses. “When people started to relate to it or tell me they liked it, or tell me that the specific lyrics or specific songs meant something to them, that was super surprising.”
There’s no question that the pieces of herself that Kat puts out into the world have impacted and resonated with those who bear witness. Earlier in the night, a stranger pulled away from the crowd to have a minute with Kat and share what the set meant to them. A similar interaction would follow a couple hours later, another individual pausing our conversation to offer their warmest compliments. It’s moments like these where Scowl is able to see them strike a chord with others in real time.
Songs move through and breathe into us, naturally taking up a life of their own. It’s only natural that the art we hold to ourselves becomes something entirely different, something more, when the time comes to let it go. How Flowers Grow has now had the opportunity to transcend its beginning and weave the strands of people it has touched into an evolved creation. “Of course, playing [the songs off of How Flowers Grow] live changes the relationship with any song that you write. I feel like once you really start to play it live, you start to kind of feel out how you mesh with the song realistically,” Kat says. “Lyrically, there’s a lot of emotion and life experience attached for me personally. The meanings [of the songs] start to change for me and take different shapes, and that I think is a really interesting experience. I love it and also hate it sometimes. But, I think my favorite part about the time passing and playing the songs for a while is how, specifically the song ‘Four Walls’ has just grown to be our favorite song to play, which I think really speaks about how we’re really proud of it”.
Yet another track that has lived through multiple iterations is the first song Moss wrote for the band, “Roots”. Debuting first on Scowl’s self-titled demo in 2019, the song is a testament to the vocalists’ vulnerability and healing from childhood trauma. “You know, I don’t know why we decided to bring [‘Roots’] back on the record. I think we just talked about doing that because we really liked it, we like playing it live. I’m personally not obsessed with our demo, looking back, so much time has passed, so much maturing has happened for me vocally, and for us as a band writing songs,” she recalls. After a re-introduction present in the full-length record and a steady place in their setlist, “Roots” has become a lesson for all to draw empowerment from their vulnerability instead of keeping it private. “I think we just wanted to give that song new life and change it up a little. We still keep it in the rotation live because it’s a kickass song,” Kat says.
In line with the themes planted within How Flowers Grow, the timeline between writing these songs and playing them live runs parallel with the changes Scowl has endured as musicians and people over the past couple of years. “We wrote those songs like a month into Covid, so those songs were recorded and done like over a year prior to their release. So, as musicians, we all improved and grew since the release, since the writing, of that album,” Malachi explains. Targeting the release of the record for the end of 2021 was a seemingly appropriate decision, considering the lyrics place such a microscope on growing pains. In some ways, the album became a soundtrack to the inevitable growth we experienced as humans during those two years––growth that many of us weren’t fond of facing but had no other choice but to break through. “I think everyone is on the same tip of like, ‘Wow, we are not the same people since then.’ Of course, like, naturally, we wouldn’t be, in any situation. But, given the pandemic’s force of maturity and growth on everyone’s life…” Moss trails off.
As for what’s next for Scowl, the gears are constantly turning and the fire is burning brighter than ever. The band offered the crowd a small taste of what’s to come during their set, throwing in their unreleased track titled “Wired” as a treat. Scowl aren’t very revealing of the details wrapped up in their upcoming projects, but there’s a clear overtone of yearning excitement floating in our conversation. Malachi is adamant that the band’s momentum is pushing them onward and upward, “I believe a lot of the stuff we’re doing now that will come out next year is much better than what we have. I think those songs are raw, it just captures what we wanted to do…we kind of just wanna go 100 miles per hour, and that’s what we tried to write.”
Before the year is over, however, Scowl have squeezed in an additional headlining tour making several stops across the East Coast and Southern U.S. Jumping off from their run with The Chats and The Bronx, the band is stoked to be playing multiple cities for the first time, including Philadelphia, Durham, Pensacola, Gainesville, and Hattiesburg. Joining this leg is a caravan of hardcore bands by the names of Restraining Order, Ghoulavelii, Jivebomb, Anklebiter, and Strange Joy. There’s no doubt that Scowl has any plans of taking their foot off the gas anytime soon.
At the end of the day, Scowl is most definitely doing something right. Perhaps it’s the red string of fate that ties all the right people together at exactly the right time. Or maybe it has something to do with the band’s overlapping sun, moon, and rising signs that has something to do with it. Kat jokes that astrology may as well be their downfall. Whatever it is, Limp Bizkit frontman, Fred Durst, assures that the band keep their eyes towards the horizon. Kat recalls his memorable piece of advice, “Him saying this was so comforting–he said “just keep doing what you’re doing.” Cause, it rocks. That, I don’t know why, felt really cool, I was like, “Oh wow, you’re right. Word, Fred Durst!”.
Scowl is a band that puts the people first and maintains the subversive ethos of the scene, all while breaking the floodgates to newcomers beyond the existing community. Doors and hearts open wide, Scowl reassures that there’s always a place for you here if you’re willing to stick around and listen to each other. In an era of rampant gatekeeping and commodification of the fan experience within what is growing to seem like an untouchable music industry, Scowl is reminding us what it means to be tangible and accessible. This band is a prime example that possibility is still breathing and a hope for the future is worth keeping.
We find ourselves so often asking if we deserve it, if we really need it. People like Kat Moss will have you asking instead, “Well, do you fucking want it?”. And as for the fans…
Kat pauses for a moment.
“I want them to want more.”
Catch Scowl on the rest of their headlining tour in the U.S, their November U.K. headlining shows, and their 2023 run with Show Me The Body––get tickets here!