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Scowl Refuse to Let the Bastards Grind Them Down

Back before Kat Moss became the frontwoman for Scowl, one of the most invigorating bands in hardcore today, she was just another fan trying to force her way into the moshpit. “I wanted to dance,” the 25-year-old tells Rolling Stone. “I didn’t feel like I had fun on the show unless I was involved in the pit. But I was also really scared. I always felt a little embarrassed or shy. I was always standing on the edge of the pit and just wanting to get involved.”

Her bandmate and boyfriend Malachi Greene, 28, remembers Moss being much more confident than she felt, though. He first met her at a 2017 gig at the legendary all-ages Berkeley venue the Gilman, and he recalls her being a “ninja” in the pit. “I was laughing because she was on the side of the moshpit and there’s like 250-pound dudes flying toward her and she was dodging them. And I was like, ‘Yo, you’re fucking quick. How the fuck are you dodging all these giant people?’” he says. “I was cracking up because she had such a look of focus on her face.”

Moss has always been like that — with her music and in the pit. She gets nervous, sure, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of stage-diving in headfirst. That explains why Santa Cruz’s Scowl has rapidly become a standout act in an often-times heavily masculine genre, gaining the praise of the likes of Post Malone and Hayley Williams, touring with Fred Durst, and appearing as the latest hardcore act Taco Bell has championed as part of their Feed the Beat program, which supports up-and-coming bands.

This seemingly rapid rise — plus the fact that the band is fronted by a woman — has earned Scowl their share of whispers and jealousy in the hardcore scene, namely, rumblings that they’re some sort of “industry plant,” a term usually applied to women in music who dare to succeed. And that chatter, in turn, led Kat to pull throw herself into the pit once more — this time the viper pit that is Twitter.

The day after Scowl played Taco Bell’s Unofficial Women’s World Cup Halftime Show, Moss took to Twitter where she posted a long statement under a lyric from Bikini Kill’s “White Boy.” “I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you, your whole fucking culture alienates me!” In essence, Moss shot back at murmurs that her band somehow lucked their way to the top, asking, “Is it so hard to believe that a woman-led band can be a hardworking and organic success?”

The tweet exploded in the hardcore scene and beyond — in a good way — which came as a surprise to Moss. Zooming backstage at a recent Paris show, she tells Rolling Stone that her tweets were inspired, in part, by backlash to their involvement with Taco Bell. (Which, by the way, has given opportunities to other hardcore standouts like Militarie Gun and Turnstile, fronted by men.) In general, though, she was just fed up with feeling like she couldn’t celebrate her success without someone knocking her down. 

“At the end of the day, [the naysayers] need to just recognize that the shame they feel or the discomfort they feel because of your success is completely internalized. And then that’s about them,” she says. “The point of my statement has nothing to do with the word ‘industry plant’ and everything to do with people feeling ashamed, and hopefully making the effort to understand that shame and unpack their internalized misogyny and bigotry and sexism.”

Greene, however, points out that the chatter seems to pop off any time Scowl sees success, mostly because they refuse to exist purely within the perimeters of any genre or style — whether it be musically (Moss sings in addition to screams) or visually (see: Moss’ Day-Glo green hair and predilection for dresses and makeup). “So many people are focused on putting things in boxes, and we just refuse to be in a box,” Greene says. 

Moss has never been a fan of boxes. While Greene grew up in the Santa Cruz punk scene and has been playing in bands ever since, Moss tried her hand at… pretty much everything when she was growing up in sunny, suburban Rocklin, California. “From a really young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in art somehow; I always loved drawing and painting. I would honestly get in trouble at school because my tests would come back with not really a lot of answers — mainly just doodles on the pages,” she recalls.

She also loved anime and flirted with the idea of doing voice acting, and was a self-described “horse girl” for a spell. Still, music was a constant. “I always dreamed of being a musician, but I didn’t have anyone around me kind of leading the way,” she says. “I didn’t really grow up around musicians, so I just didn’t think it was going to happen for me.”

Alice Baxley*

After years of attending hardcore and DIY shows on her own, Moss says she finally formed a community at those gigs, culminating in that Gilman show where she met Malachi. When they became better friends, she finally revealed her dream to Greene. “I remember finally telling Malachi that I wanted to sing in a hardcore band,” she says. “And he was like, ‘OK, well, I need to hear you sing.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ He kind of called me on my bluff. And that was a really special moment. Malachi was also learning to play guitar when Scowl started, so it was realistically just an opportunity to try something new.”

While Moss toiled away at Trader Joe’s and Greene clocked in at a skate shop, the duo formed Scowl with drummer Cole Gilbert and Bailey Lupo on bass. The first song they wrote as a band was called “Roots,” a chugging rager that sees Moss growling, “Once a child/I never could see/My eyes are open, enlightened me/Never learned what family means.” 

“Lyrically, it was about my childhood and family trauma,” Moss says. “Whether I’m using metaphors or being very literal, I very much like to write about the things I’m going through, the feelings I’m experiencing, the things that hurt, or the things that make me feel happy. It’s very much first-person perspective.”

The band put out two EPs in 2019 — their self-titled debut, which features “Roots,” and The Reality After Reality. Both clearly demonstrate the band’s promise, with Moss raging about a woman’s right to choose (“False Virtue,” off the first EP), uninspiring men (“Petty Selfish Cretin,” off the second), and working in “Retail Hell” over largely traditional hardcore instrumentation. Nasty, brutish, and short by definition, Scowl’s sound would later morph into something less definitive, but for then, they were soundtracking the high-octane shows they grew up seeing.

A frenzy of tour dates followed, until March of 2020. Greene lost his job when Covid hit, and instead of moldering on the couch, he and the rest of the band started writing. Days ticked by in their San Jose practice space as they wrote and listened to music — everything from the Stooges to the Eighties French punk band Camera Silens. “There was a lot of emotion and feelings of grief, but not knowing exactly what you’re grieving,” Moss says. “Everyone was collectively going through the pandemic. And for me, lyrically, there were a lot of things going on in my personal life: friendships, breakups, things like that, and a lot of questioning of myself and my reality that was happening. And so that’s where I was — and it did give me something to think about that was rock solid in a world that was very much wavering.” 

Kat Moss of Scowl performs at Brooklyn Steel in March 2023.

Griffin Lotz

That record, How Flowers Grow, wrapped in July 2020, but it didn’t drop until November 2021 via Flat Spot Records, which is when everything started to happen — very fast. Moss was working a double at a coffee shop in Fall of 2021 when the band group chat exploded. Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst had DM’d Scowl on Instagram and invited them on tour with the rap-rock stalwarts. Apparently, Durst had seen a live clip on TikTok and was blown away; he then went on to devour their entire YouTube channel. “I remember getting the screenshot in our band group chat and replying. ‘That’s fake. That’s a fake account. How could you fall for this?’” Moss says. “I was literally yelling and jumping up and down being like, ‘What the fuck?!’”

Scowl went on to open for Limp Bizkit in 2022, including a stint at Madison Square Garden — their first New York City show. “It was just the stupidest thing ever,” Moss says, laughing over the absurdity of playing MSG first when most hardcore bands cut their teeth at DIY venues. “I remember playing that set and we didn’t have any monitors and our drum stools are falling over. It was probably the punkest set that MSG has seen for sure.” And that wouldn’t be their first high-profile gig; they’ve since played Coachella and Sick New World, and will play Reading and Leeds later this week. They’re most stoked, however, to play the Gilman in October, where Greene first saw Moss flying through the pit.

In the meantime, though, the band has been writing — almost constantly. Their latest EP, April’s Psychic Dance Routine, is an evolution: Across its five tight tracks, Moss sings more than screams, further bending a definition of hardcore already made malleable by bands like Turnstile, Military Gun, and Drug Church, who are wholly unafraid to get deliciously stupid with melody.


“At the end of the day, I never want to be a musician who isn’t experimenting and growing with my taste and my music taste in general, and the things I listen to and the things that the rest of the band listens to,” Moss says. “I think I would be so bored if I wrote the same kind of stuff.”

And to the haters who might object? Moss herself said it best in that Twitter thread: “I’ve chosen silence many times. I choose to sing, scream, and dance my pain into the night. I choose art over violence.”

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