Scowl: hardcore’s hottest breakout band reflect on their whirlwind year

Each week in Next Noise, we go deep on the rising talent ready to become your new favourite artist. With fans in Hayley Williams and Post Malone, the Santa Cruz rockers have blazed a defiant trail through West Coast hardcore

A rainy Manchester night in November is a far cry from Scowl’s native Santa Cruz, but the rising hardcore band don’t seem far from home when they step on stage for a sold-out headline show at YES’ Pink Room. Throughout a half-hour set, frontwoman Kat Moss proves herself one of the most magnetic leaders in rock right now; pacing the length of the stage, thrusting the mic to fans, whipping her neon-green hair, and showcasing her fearsome growl.

The rest of the band — completed by guitarists Malachi Greene and Mikey Bifolco, bassist Bailey Lupo and drummer Cole Gilbert — are crammed in tight on the small stage, observing and directing a hurricane moshpit in front of them. One fan is dressed as the pink flower from the band’s logo; they’re throwing their elbows around in a green morph-suit and a petal headdress.

This night of chaos comes almost a year to the day after the band released their debut album, ‘How Flowers Grow,’ introducing the world to their heavy, vicious, brutally pissed-off anthems. The time since has seen them become one of the hottest prospects in punk — touring US arenas opening for Limp Bizkit, and getting co-signs from Post Malone and Hayley Williams. How exactly that happened, Moss couldn’t tell you. “It’s been a whirlwind,” she tells NME pre-show in a tiny, backstage green room, her eyes lighting up as she ponders the album’s impact. “I feel like I blinked a year ago, and now I’m here.”

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Scowl are part of a Californian invasion sweeping hardcore at the moment; their friends in bands like Drain, Zulu, Dare and Militarie Gun are also taking punks across the globe by storm. “[The Californian scene is] explosive, and it’s like a colour bomb — there’s something for everyone,” says Moss. Scowl and all of the above bands first got to visit the UK for the giant all-hardcore event Outbreak Fest at Manchester’s Bowlers Exhibition Centre this past June. “That was the biggest I’ve seen a hardcore fest ever. Ever. And it’s only getting bigger, which is even scarier and cooler.”

Meanwhile, on this latest excursion, Scowl have been opening for hardcore veterans Stick To Your Guns, culminating in Manchester and Brighton headline shows. Winning over audiences here hasn’t always been easy, Moss admits: “Some of the crowds didn’t know what to do with us, ‘cause we’re still so new out here.” But over the last year of supporting bands ranging from moody post-hardcore troupe Touché Amoré, to fun-loving garage-punks Destroy Boys, she’s learned to relish the challenge of capturing new crowds. “It’s taught me a lot about how to be a performer, which I never thought I would ever think about when I started a punk band. I’m finding a lot of confidence in that, especially as someone who started out pretty shy. [I’ve been] focusing on my idols who have been in that position — like Billie Eilish, Gerard Way, Hayley Williams, Kathleen Hanna. What’s their stage presence, what are their moves? It’s really fun.”

The opportunity to stand on stage at Madison Square Garden was something else that Moss never could have envisioned when she started a punk band. The first inkling that that could happen came when Fred Durst personally reached out to the band, letting them know that he was a fan. Moss was at her job in a coffee roastery when the tour offer arrived; she went upstairs to her boss’s office and quit on the spot. “I was beside myself. I literally ran a lap around my job. All my coworkers were so excited for me.”

scowl band
Credit: Stephen Dawar

Scowl played ten dates of the tour, from Tampa to Baltimore. Though it was a treat getting to know Durst and the rest of Limp Bizkit while enjoying the cushy green rooms and catering, it was tough for Scowl to understand how they had made it here, particularly when the penultimate date at New York’s most iconic venue rolled around. “[When the] MSG date came, I was genuinely asking the universe like, ‘Why me? Why us? I feel like I cheated.’” The band stuck to their roots, though, by guestlisting a ton of their friends and instructing them to mosh and stir up mischief. Afterwards, they got drunk on champagne and went dancing in New York. When Scowl said goodbye to the tour two days later, they and the whole Limp Bizkit crew set off fireworks in the parking lot.

More surreal moments arrived when Post Malone wore the band’s t-shirt on-stage at the Miami Grand Prix in May, and when Hayley Williams gave the band a shoutout in her BBC Sounds radio show: “I would love to play with Paramore, I would lose my mind. I’d cry,” Moss says. Of course, Scowl aren’t the only band from the previously insular hardcore scene that are suddenly getting attention from the wider world; Turnstile, for one, have rocked Glastonbury’s John Peel stage, hit the cover of NME, and been nominated for three Grammys (Best Rock Song and Best Metal Performance for ‘Blackout’ and Best Rock Performance for ‘Holiday’).

“It’s cool that hardcore is seeing just this creative renaissance. It means that there’s more young people who are getting involved in hardcore, who are gonna start their own bands and keep the spirit alive,” she says. “I don’t think a band like Turnstile could have done ‘Glow On’ 10 years ago and been accepted the way they are now by the hardcore world and the outside world. I feel really lucky to be watching it all happen, and being able to participate a little with my band.”

As for the future, there’s new Scowl music coming early next year. Though she can’t reveal too many details, Moss says, “I’m really excited about these songs. They’re catchier than anything we’ve ever written before, and I tried a lot of different new stuff.” She won’t be wasting any time on its follow-up, either; she’s already looking forward to writing more new music when the band get some time at home. “I’m so excited to write music with different influences, and to get even more weird with it. I’m just like, ‘OK, let’s turn it up a notch, let’s get crazier.”

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scowl band
Credit: Josh Brown

When she does take a moment to reflect on Scowl’s triumphant past year, Moss exudes equal parts gratitude and disbelief. It’s obvious that this is a genuine hardcore lifer achieving heights she never thought she could — and inspiring a new generation along the way. “I’m just so proud of myself,” she beams.

“A lot of young femme people have come up to me and been like, ‘Hey, I started a band because of you.’ Being able to be that person on the receiving end is so crazy, ‘cause I was the person telling vocalists that before,” she says. “It feels kinda fake — I’m like, ‘When am I gonna wake up?’. But it’s a dream come true.”

Scowl’s debut album ‘How Flowers Grow’ is out now

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