Scowl reintroduce themselves with remarkable new EP: “I wanna be a hardcore kid writing pop songs”
Listen to our new podcast episode with Kat Moss of Scowl and pick up our exclusive color vinyl variant of the band's new 'Psychic Dance Routine' EP in the BV shop.
If you've frequented hardcore or punk shows during these past couple years, there's a good chance you've already witnessed the power of a Scowl set. They've been part of stacked tour packages like Touché Amoré / Vein.fm / Militarie Gun, Show Me The Body / Jesus Piece / Zulu, and The Bronx / The Chats / Drug Church, they put together their own stacked lineup on their recent headlining tour, they've opened for pioneering hardcore bands like the Circle Jerks (and will again soon), and they've shared stages with so many other great likeminded bands across countless shows and festivals. And even if you don't usually go to hardcore shows, you might've seen Scowl or at least heard about their growing reputation. Maybe you caught them opening for Limp Bizkit. Maybe you're about to see them at Coachella. Maybe you've seen the widely-circulated videos of the time they played a Sonic drive-thru or the time they covered Fugazi at Sound & Fury. As a live band, they can't be stopped, and with their new Psychic Dance Routine EP, they're upping their studio and songwriting game like never before.
Scowl formed in Santa Cruz in 2019 by vocalist Kat Moss, guitarist Malachi Greene, bassist Bailey Lupo, and drummer Cole Gilbert, most of whom had been playing in hardcore bands in the area for a few years. They released a demo and the Reality After Reality... EP and started to build up a following that same year, and then the pandemic hit. It threatened to kill Scowl's momentum, but as has been the case for a lot of recent heavy bands, the opposite happened. Scowl hit the studio, signed to the fast-growing hardcore label Flatspot Records, and came out of lockdown swinging with a set at the instantly-legendary Gulch/Drain/Sunami/Xibalba parking lot show in San Jose and the release of their killer debut album How Flowers Grow in the fall of 2021. It's a fast, angry album that falls on the punk side of hardcore, in the spirit of bands like Negative Approach and earlier Ceremony, and it's fueled by Kat's distinctly bloodthirsty screams.
"I remember personally just missing that feeling, the exhilaration of a stage dive, or moshing, or just singing along to a band," Kat said on the new episode of the BrooklynVegan podcast. "I think everyone was just so ready to go, ready to just run out the gates as soon as shows came back, and just go as crazy as possible. And I think hardcore started to get more of a spotlight over the pandemic, and there were a lot of new fans and that came into play."
Ever since the return of live music, it really does feel like hardcore has been reaching more new fans than it maybe ever has--or at least more than it has in decades--and that's in large part because bands like Scowl have been moving beyond hardcore's tired clichés and pushing the boundaries of what a hardcore band can look and sound like. On How Flowers Grow, Scowl hinted at aspirations that went beyond the confines of stereotypical hardcore with "Seeds To Sow," a calmer, more melodic, clean-sung song that I once said sounds like a cross between X-Ray Spex and Best Coast. With their new Psychic Dance Routine EP, Scowl take their genre-defying ambitions even further, fusing them with their aggressive roots and coming out with their most unique music yet.
For Psychic Dance Routine, Scowl recruited second guitarist Mikey Bifolco, and they flew to Pennsylvania's Studio 4 to hit the studio with producer Will Yip, who's helmed so many of Scowl's favorite records, including classics by Cold World, Citizen, Tigers Jaw, Turnover, and especially Title Fight. "Shed is probably one of my top 10 favorite records, so just being in [Studio 4] was like, I'm standing in a place that history has taken place," Kat said. "[Will's] worked with bands that I just admire so much, and without a lot of those bands and records, I don't know if I would be playing music. [...] Being able to work with the guy who was pretty much the secret member of all these bands, and made these records really happen, that's a dream come true."
"Everything that we had an idea of, if he didn't like it or understand it or agree with it, he was really encouraging and still very good at talking it out," Kat said of working with Will. "And he's amazing at explaining his point of view, and his idea, and his take on the song or the structure or the melody, and explaining it to you in a way that's easy for you to understand. [...] There are some touches he made to certain songs that brought them from songs I'm really proud of to 'this is a good fucking song.' I've never felt that confident about a Scowl track."
Will says working with Title Fight helped teach him to "not to be afraid to push your fans, and trust your fans to grow with you," and that's exactly what Scowl did with Psychic Dance Routine. It finds them fusing their aforementioned hardcore influences with '90s alternative rock influences like Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Hole, L7, and The Breeders; it finds Kat mixing up her singing and her screaming more than ever before; and it also finds Kat fully balancing her love of pop music and hardcore, and allowing herself to channel influences like Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, and Lana Del Rey along with all the heavier stuff. "I know this might sound demonic to some people, but I am a pop music fan," she says. "I'm a hardcore fan at heart... I wanna be a hardcore kid writing pop songs. I wanna have that perspective going into the writing and the music. I think that's really powerful stuff."
It is powerful, especially the way Scowl pulls it off, and Psychic Dance Routine wastes no time letting you in on Scowl's new direction. The EP's opening track is "Shot Down," which kicks off as an aggressive, fast-paced hardcore song that could've fit on How Flowers Grow, before exploding into a more mid-tempo, clean-sung chorus and offering up one of the catchiest rock hooks of this year so far. From there, the EP continues to toe the line between pop smarts and moshy aggression. Its title track is a fresh update on traditional indie rock that reminds you indie originally came directly from hardcore in the first place, and that one's also an introspective song that doubles as the EP's mission statement. "The best way I can define 'Psychic Dance Routine' is that it represents the mental gymnastics or ‘dance routine’ one might have to participate in in order to telepathically project their feelings or emotions to another person because they no longer have the ability to express themselves with words," Kat said in press materials for the EP. "The overarching theme of this EP lies heavily in the definition of the name— I wanted to lyrically express feelings of alienation and loneliness as well as questioning my own reality. I made an effort to speak more with metaphors as I wanted these topics to be relevant to other people."
"Wired" and "Sold Out" find Scowl staying firmly planted within the classic hardcore influences of their earlier material, but even their approach to aggressive music feels informed by pop music and alternative rock bands on this EP; "Sold Out" especially is just as catchy as the singles, and there's not a single clean-sung moment on it. In between those two aggressive tracks is "Opening Night," the anthemic grunge banger that Scowl released as the EP's lead single. "Personally, I am someone who's like, 'Yeah, no stops, let's just do it. Let's just drop this and see how people react,'" Scowl said of the decision to release one of the EP's least stereotypically hardcore songs as the lead single. "Because, at the end of the day, we're established enough at this point as a band where we've kind of figured out the type of people we want to like our band, and I'm not worried about the crowd that doesn't like it."
"I think the exciting thing about 'Opening Night' and this EP in general is it does have a lot more elements of just being rock music," she adds. "We did not plan on that, it just happened that way, and the thing is we all listen to music like that, outside of hardcore and punk. We listen to a lot of just, '90s rock, alternative rock, and we're heavily influenced by that, so bringing that into play is fun, it's easy, it makes sense."
Scowl dropped "Opening Night" the day before their tour with Show Me The Body, Jesus Piece, Zulu, and Tripp Jones began, and by the time I caught the tour's final stop in Brooklyn, that song and "Shot Down" had become staples of Scowl's setlist, and Scowl commanded the reckless, stage-divey crowd with those singalong anthems just as much as they did with fan-fave ragers like "Bloodhound" and "Fuck Around." And with these widely-appealing songs and Coachella just around the corner, Scowl seem on the verge of reaching more people than ever--something that isn't lost on Kat one bit.
"When I first started Scowl, I had no anticipation to play rooms bigger than 100 cap, play any lineups besides mainly hardcore, and play fests that are mainly hardcore," she says, "but now we're at a place like, 'Coachella?' Like that's nuts. And that's really exciting, I'm really grateful for that, but it's so shocking and so odd--in a good way. But it's totally weird, I feel like I'm living in a twilight zone sometimes."
Kat also fully applauds the idea of people getting into hardcore during this moment the genre is having, and she seems grateful, humble, and even shocked at the idea that Scowl could be one of the bands that ropes people in.
"I love the idea of so many more people getting into hardcore and becoming hardcore fans," she says. "I look back at my own experience when I got into punk and hardcore, and I remember just wishing I got into it earlier. And now I'm over that, I get it, it came to me at the right time, but I'm just so happy that it's now becoming a bit more accessible for young people who might be like me. And that's really special, it's really important."
"The idea of Scowl being a band that is a gateway into that is so crazy to me and so scary, in a good way," she adds. "I just never have been on that side of the coin; I was always a fan, I was always the person in the crowd, on the barricade looking up. I always wanted to be on the stage, but I didn't think that was going to be me. And even when the band did start, I didn't think it was gonna be like, that kind of stage. So I'm really grateful and I'm really excited about that kind of opportunity, but I'm also totally frightened, because it's hard to wrap my mind around."
Kat also understands why some people do feel overprotective of the hardcore scene now that there are more eyes on it than ever ("I respect that, I was once in that position"), but Scowl are one of the bands who are helping to break down the gatekeeper mentality that's pervaded hardcore for too long. Whatever your gateway into hardcore is, Kat says own it. "In the past I've felt embarrassed or shy about what was my gateway," she said, before naming My Chemical Romance as the first heavier band she got into. "Now I'm proud. So proud. Because without those bands, we wouldn't have Scowl. I wouldn't have something that I get to do, and I have the privilege to do, that is so important to me and that I love so much."
Scowl are celebrating the new EP with a sold-out release show at Rough Trade NYC on Thursday (4/6), then playing Flatspot Records' sold-out Flatspot World showcase at Brooklyn Monarch on Saturday (4/8), then Coachella, and after that they've got plenty more tour dates, including those aforementioned shows with Circle Jerks, Bamboozle, Sick New World, Outbreak Fest, Furnace Fest, and more. In the midst of all that, they'll be working on their next full-length album. "My hope is that by the end of the year we have an album," Kat said in January. "Maybe it's not recorded yet, but that we'd have it written. I don't know if that will happen or not, I don't know what time will have, but I hope so."
Fore even more on Scowl, listen to our new podcast episode with Kat on Spotify, Apple, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Pick up our exclusive color vinyl variant of Psychic Dance Routine in the BV shop.
Tour dates and videos below...
Scowl -- 2023 Tour Dates
4/6- New York, NY @ Rough Trade NYC
4/8 - Brooklyn, NY - Flatspot World @ The Monarch
4/15 - Indio, CA @ Coachella
4/22 - Indio, CA @ Coachella
4/26 - Sheffield, UK @ Yellow Arch w/ Pest Control
4/27 - Southampton, UK @ Joiners w/ Pest Control
4/28 - London, UK @ The Dome w/ Pest Control
429 - Brighton, UK @ One Church w/ Out of Love
4/30 - Bristol, UK @ The Exchange w/ Out of Love
5/1 - Leeds, UK @ Key Club w/ Out of Love
5/2 - Glasgow, UK @ Stereo w/ Out of Love
5/3 - Nottingham, UK @ Bodega w/ Out of Love
5/6 - Atlantic City, NJ @ Bamboozle
5/13 - Las Vegas, NV @ Sick New World
6/3 - Sydney, NSW, AUS @ Back On The Map Fest
6/23-25 - Manchester, UK @ Outbreak Fest
7/18 - Petaluma, CA @ Phoenix Theatre
7/19 - Arcata, CA @ Arcata Theatre Lounge
7/20 - Eugene, OR @ WOW Hall
7/22 - Spokane, WA @ Knitting Factory
7/27-29 - Xixón, Spain @ Tsunami Xixón Festival
8/10-12 - Ancora, Potrugal @ Sonic Blast Festival
8/26 - Reading, UK @ Reading Festival
8/27 - Leeds, UK @ Leeds Festival
9/23 - Birmingham, AL @ Furnace Fest