“I think communication is the most important thing we can actually be doing… instead of just shouting into the abyss on the internet, that’s not helping anyone on either side.”
“A white knight is the kind of guy who, when I would be at a show, standing at the edge of the pit in a mosh with everybody, would put his arm out in front of me like he’s trying to protect me, as if I haven’t been going to shows for fifteen years and can’t take care of myself,” Sharptooth lead singer Lauren Kashen explains to Already Heard. “It’s well-intentioned, but it’s still treating women as less-than, and that’s a problem.”
After years at the receiving end of sexist attitudes in the male-dominated hardcore scene in Baltimore, Sharptooth is an outlet for Kashen to communicate her revulsion to those who belittle women and act prejudice towards any marginalised group in a worryingly divided USA. After releasing ‘Clever Girl’, the title track of their debut album, the direct references to ‘white knights’, ‘mansplaining’ and ‘fuckboys’ gained the quintet attention for their uniquely-femme perspective in their lyrics, which, unfortunately, seems to remain an alien concept in hardcore.
“For a really, really long time, it’s been straight white man’s world, and the issues being talked about were just things that straight white guys were dealing with. And that’s fine, that’s awesome, I’m glad that this music is an outlet for anybody, that’s so important,” Lauren says of the music she’s dedicated her life to. “But as the world has gotten a little more progressive, I think it’s important to have varying perspectives and not just straight white guys. But I don’t ever want people to think that just because I’m a woman in a hardcore band. I am necessarily speaking for all women. We’re all different, we’re all individual people and all have different perspectives,” Lauren explains.
Joining Sharptooth in 2014, Lauren explains that with her arrival came an input of aggression that wasn’t there before, which resulted in the comparatively more accessible sound of the band’s EP ‘Chompers’. “Before I joined, Sharptooth was like a pop-punk easycore band, which is what you hear on the ‘Chompers’ EP. I pretty much told them that I wasn’t interested in playing music like that and that I wanted to go heavy and aggressive because that’s where my heart is in music.
"The stuff before I joined was pretty much straight up pop-punk, you know, boys singing about their ex-girlfriends, which is not my thing. But it was a group of people I really wanted to work with because I knew them from other projects, so I was like ‘yeah, we can make music together, but it’s definitely going to be heavier.’”
One listen to ‘Clever Girl’ confirms the band unquestionably succeeded in going heavier, but most notably, despite the aggro fuelled songwriting, there’s still enough hooks across the record that won’t totally polarise fans of the ‘easier’ material that came before. For Lauren, this balance of controlled rage is an important way to deliver their message. “With our message, we’re all about connecting with people, so having people being able to connect to, and basically wanting to jam our songs is important to us,” she states. “I draw a lot of sensibilities from bands like Every Time I Die and Stick To Your Guns, who are both ruthlessly heavy, but also have catchy hooks and stuff and are just fun to listen to.”
Though Lauren doesn’t make it her mission to represent every woman through her music, hearing women tell her that Sharptooth’s music represents them makes her realise how much of an impact her music can make. “Having other women or other queer people or Jewish people telling me that, ‘you represent me, and it’s so nice to feel represented in this music’, or, ‘you wrote about something that I hadn’t heard other people talk about before, and I related to it.”
On the other side of the coin, Sharptooth’s message hasn’t connected with vast numbers of people who have found their music via the internet. Their minute-and-a-half ripper ‘Fuck You Donald Trump’ is a brash statement slamming the USA’s Narcissist-In-Chief’s profits-over-people policies and hateful rhetoric inspiring voters blinded by intolerance.
However, a quick look at the song’s YouTube comment section shows not everyone agreed with the message and offered criticism that wasn’t exactly constructive. “I don’t read any comments, because I know that I am a very empathetic and sensitive person, and it’s not going to do me any favours because I know that the kind of people who are writing those comments aren’t necessarily the kind of people I’m going to align with,” Lauren remarks.
“We’re a band that is fronted by a woman, we have queer members in our band, I know how the world feels about women and LGBTQ people. I know that we’re gonna get hate because that’s the world that I exist in. I’ve gotten hate for these things my whole life, so I’m not going to indulge that kind of ignorance,” she continues. “If people want to have a conversation with me about the content of our music, I’d love that, I tell people at our shows all the time when we play ‘Fuck You Donald Trump’, I’m like ‘yeah, I fucking hate our President, if you don’t, please come talk to me, I would love to understand your perspective.
"I think communication is the most important thing we can actually be doing, like face-to-face, person-to-person communication, instead of just shouting into the abyss on the internet, that’s not helping anyone on either side.”
The extra exposure Sharptooth has gained from joining Pure Noise Records has made Lauren realise the risks of projecting your opinion through your art particularly when it comes to politics. “I would have people come up to me after shows and say like ‘oh you’re so brave for talking about this’ and I would say ‘what are you talking about?” Lauren remarks, thinking about their first shows they played outside of their typically Liberal surroundings in Baltimore.
“To me, I don’t think saying ‘fuck you Donald Trump’ is that controversial because I don’t even know anybody that likes that guy. But then, over half of the country voted for him, so clearly there are people who don’t agree with me, and I guess living in a more liberal city, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security and think ‘well, of course, everyone doesn’t like Donald Trump.’
"That song, initially, we wrote it before he even got elected,” Lauren explains. “It was written in 2016 as his campaign was taking place. It was written more in response to the Republican Party as a whole and all the messed up shit they said about queer people, and about women. And as the election process went on, Trump just kept coming out with more and more totally whack things and fronting on just about every marginalised group ever.
"But it is a risk to speak out, especially if you look at just how dangerous the world is right now. I have my own very deep-seated personal fears about how people will react to my music, or to my band and what they will do, or try to do. The world’s a scary place right now, and I don’t blame people for not saying more.”
“It’s all about human connection and us sticking up for each other”
Despite her deep-seated fears, Lauren understands the importance of using music and live shows as a platform to speak out about her experiences and issues, knowing that they might just connect with someone going through the same thing. “I talk about sexual assault at all of our shows, and if there’s one person who tells us after that message has helped them, then that’s all that matters,” Lauren declares.
“It’s all about human connection and us sticking up for each other. And it’s scary sometimes, and it doesn’t feel good sometimes,” she admits. “There are days where I’ve gotten onstage and thought ‘I don’t wanna talk about being raped’. It’s a hard thing to talk about let alone in a room full of strangers, but sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet and think ‘there’s somebody in this room who can be helped by that’ and that outweighs my personal discomfort.”
With its message of standing tall against adversity at it’s heart, ‘Clever Girl’ is an album that could inspire anyone who listens to it, whether it changes the perception of women and minorities in hardcore, or encourages more girls to start a heavy band of their own. Having gone through plenty of obstacles to get where she is now, Lauren is keen to spread that message as much as possible. “One of my favourite things is when girls come up to me and say ‘I wanna do that’ and saying back ‘You can!, You can!’”, she states.
“When I first started getting into heavier music maybe thirteen years ago, I was in high school at the time and there was a friends band, who were like a post-hardcore, screamo band and they needed a vocalist, so I said ‘hey, I’m a classically trained singer, so I know how to sing, and I’ve been teaching myself how to scream, can I tryout for the singer’s spot?’, and they were like ‘nobody wants a girl singer, this isn’t Avril Lavigne,’ and I thought, ‘well, guess I’ll die.’”, Lauren recalls, reflecting the stigma that surrounded women in heavy bands as recently as a decade ago.
“But now I tell girls ‘You can!’ and everybody can,” Lauren proclaims, in the hope that no one else has to face rejection simply because of who they are.
The face of punk and metal is changing, as the genre that prides itself on unity and diversity is now actually starting to expand on the diversity of people playing in bands without any stigmatised being attached to them, but for every new band with a female lead singer, there’s still a show promoter who thinks they can use ‘female-fronted’ as a genre tag to advertise the band. Lauren knows there’s a lot of work ahead in making hardcore more inclusive and if Sharptooth shows people that you can be a woman in a band, and not let that polarise them from any other band in the genre. “I’d describe us as a co-ed hardcore band because we’re about unity and all genders,” Kashen concludes. “It’s not just about me, it’s about representation for everybody, that’s why I like that moniker co-ed melodic metallic hardcore.” That tells you so much more than just saying ‘Female Fronted!’
‘Clever Girl’ by Sharptooth is released on 27th October on Pure Noise Records.
Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)