Photo Credit: Kristina McComas
It’s rare to come across such a tough, charismatic woman fronting an incredibly heavy hardcore band. While Baltimore band Sharptooth and their vocalist Lauren Kashan are a wonderfully unique find, we have to stop and consider why that is. Sharptooth are almost entirely melody-free, bearing similarities to bands like Every Time I Die and Stray From The Path, and for some reason that comes as a surprise. When people hear “female-fronted band,” they often immediately think of Paramore or even one of the many metal bands out there that are led by chicks. But in hardcore, there is a strange absence of fem that Kashan wants filled.
“I love “Clever Girl” because it’s just a fun raging bitch anthem,” Kashan says of their latest album‘s title track. The vocalist is not afraid to speak (or rather, scream) her mind by any means, which is clear both in her live performance and by the way she talks. However, that wasn’t always the case.
“A couple of the songs on Clever Girl were some of the hardest things I’ve ever written,” she shares, “particularly “Left 4 Dead.” It’s about rape and it’s also about talking about rape, which is something I was very uncomfortable with for a long time.” Now when Sharptooth plays the song live, Kashan is as fierce a presence as possible and even takes time out of the set to talk about her personal experience with rape. But learning to be comfortable about speaking out took a lot of effort.
“I had a mental block about talking about my rape,” she says, “in spite of how supportive I am of other women and survivors. I still had this problem saying the words, ‘I was raped.’ I was letting a stigma control me. Once I realized that, I was like that’s fucking insane! How could I ever expect another survivor to talk about it if I can’t.”
While there are hardcore bands in the scene that do open up about difficult and very personal issues, it is a scene that speaks largely through a male mouthpiece. In itself, that’s not a problem, but it is a problem that female voices aren’t as well-heard. “Stick To Your Guns has a great song about domestic violence,” she says, “and I appreciate so much that their vocalist is willing to look at issues that don’t necessarily affect him – I think that’s fucking great. But I would wanna hear about domestic violence from a woman’s perspective. I would wanna hear about rape culture from a woman’s perspective. So I was like, why don’t I just write the songs I wanna hear? There is kind of a void where women’s voices should be in hardcore. I wanna bring that to people.”
It’s this concept that prompted Kashan to rep the phrase “Girls To The Front.” During their live show, she always makes sure to champion this idea and pull all of the women in the audience closer to the band. “This is an opportunity for the girls who feel like they need to stand off to the side or stay in the back,” she says. “I really wanna take that opportunity for girls to feel included and welcome. And not just girls, people who identify as non-binary [for example.] If you felt like couldn’t come forward before, I want those people to feel like they can come forward now.” To some, this may seem exclusionary to men. It may look like a feminist simply being dramatic. But Kashan insists that’s not the case at all.
“We’re not neglecting the dudes,” she says. “The dudes were in the front the entire rest of the time! I read this Reddit thing today about this [problem] that was so great. It was like, ‘Well if women privilege doesn’t exist, then why are there women’s only gyms? Or if white privilege is a thing, then why is BET there?” And somebody said, ‘It’s like when you’re playing Mario Kart. If you’re in first place, you don’t get the fucking lightning bolt or the blue shell. You’re already in first place!'”
This dialogue plays into the debate about feminism being a man-hating institution – a claim which, of course, is entirely untrue. “Anytime anyone has ever hinted about that toward me,” Kashan says, “I’m like, you do realize my band is mostly comprised of dudes? If I hated guys, I wouldn’t be in a band with them. If I hated men, I wouldn’t be in hardcore.”
The real definition of feminism is the equality of the sexes, but it is a definition of which many tend to be ignorant. “The problem of the patriarchy – which, I don’t always like using that term like it’s the boogeyman – is it really hurts men too,” Kashan continues. “It holds men to ridiculous and unreasonable standards as well. It tells men that they cant be emotional. It tells men they can’t be vulnerable. It tells men they can’t be victims of sexual assault. Feminism is for everyone.” She points to melodic hardcore bands like Hundredth and Counterparts who choose to reveal their true inner feelings and vulnerabilities. “I think people are getting a bit more comfortable combining their heavy music with vulnerable subjects and I think that’s why Sharptooth works. We talk about systemic issues but from a personal standpoint. I like that I can get vulnerable with such heavy music backing it.”
Aside from the song “Left 4 Dead,” “No Sanctuary” is probably the most musically intense and lyrically vulnerable track on the record. “[It’s] basically about the Orlando shooting, which really fucked with me as a queer person,” she explains. “I had a lot of emotions about that and didn’t process them and didn’t know what to do with all of those feelings. What people don’t recognize is that the things that we say and the culture that we create feeds into that. What would make some person think it’s OK to go into a nightclub and kill a bunch of gay people? A culture that fosters that kind of homophobia.
“[It’s] even in small ways like in our language, in our slang. That’s the line “Every time you say faggot/ It’s a bullet through my head.” Whenever you use slurs like that at somebody like me, that could, down the road, result in somebody like me getting killed. That could honestly apply to any marginalized group. People die. You’re not absolved of guilt just because you didn’t have a gun in your hand.”
The vocalist’s eloquent and impassioned message strikes at the very root of many of the problems within our society – problems that hardcore responds to. There are a lot of people out there who question the tangible value of music and art. What difference can a song really make, they ask. But at the center of all music are ideas. At the center of every word is an idea, and that’s where movements and cultures start. You can have an abominable movement and culture like the Nazis had in Germany (which was launched by Hitler’s exceptional oratory skills), or you can have a positive one that fights back against such hate and mistreatment. “We create the culture that either breeds positivity or breeds negativity,” Kashan concludes. “Words are where that starts. Culture is rooted in words…It’s not an exaggeration. I hate having to explain to someone why saying that they don’t like female-fronted bands is a statement rooted in sexism. I shouldn’t have to say that statement in 2017. But here we are.”
While Sharptooth actively rail against systemic problems within our society, they are not an entirely negative band. Being a loud voice for women, for LGBT, and for other marginalized groups keeps Kashan and her bandmates hopeful for change. “So many more people are on board now than two years ago,” the vocalist states. “People are actually starting to, especially in the hardcore scene, recognize that women and non-binary people and LGBT people need more visibility. It’s been especially positive.”
While the future of fair treatment for all is still a big goal with an unfortunately long, turbulent road ahead, it’s one that Sharptooth will continue working toward. They are already writing for their next record, predicted to be released within the next year or two. Hopefully by then, we will have started paying more attention to fem voices in hardcore. At the very least, we know that Kashan will be there to represent.