by Alex Teitz
Photo Credit_James Harper
Baltimore band Sharptooth is a hardcore act with a political edge. Their release last year of Clever Girl was received with acclaim in the industry. Clever Girl included the track “Fuck You Donald Trump” which clearly set the stage for this uncompromising band. Lauren Kashan is the vocalist and has a history that involves more than just music. Sharptooth is one of four female acts on the Vans Warped Tour. For info visit http://sharptoothband.com/ & http://vanswarpedtour.com/
FEMMUSIC: I have to begin by asking how someone who was studying box turtles and reptiles became the voice of Sharptooth? How did it happen?
LK: Music and zoology have both always been my biggest passions, even since I was a kid. I got my first breeding pair of geckos when I was about 7 years old, and never grew out of that childhood obsession with dinosaurs that so many children share. I got involved in chorus and theater in middle school, and singing quickly became the most important part of my life. I went to a magnet arts school for vocal performance in high school, where I studied Opera in 4 languages and took intensive college-level theater classes and performed in the musicals. Being an art school, being interested in counterculture was basically a requirement for graduation, and my group of friends enveloped me into the local indie and punk scene, a place that I immediately felt at home. Once I started college, I decided that going back to my roots and pursuing a career with reptiles would be the most rational path for me. I still cherished that love for scaly critters, so why not get paid to work with them while moonlighting as a vocalist in bands, or moshing at local shows. It was never an either-or thing for me; these were passions I held dear alongside each other. Now, being involved in the local music scene for over a decade, you meet a lot of people, which was how Lance (our guitarist) came to approach me to see if I’d be interested in doing vocals for Sharptooth. At the time, my former band was wrapping up, and I was interested in writing heavier songs with more sociopolitical lyrics, and when I voiced that, Lance and the band were onboard. So we hit the ground running, writing and recording demos and playing short tours straight out the gate. I think we all knew we had something special with Sharptooth, but we never could have anticipated how things took off.
Interestingly, I think both my careers share some common themes. A lot of what I do at my current job involves traveling around the state, doing assemblies for kids with giant pythons and alligators, teaching them about some of the most misunderstood and feared creatures in the world. So it makes a lot of sense to me; I’m on a stage basically all the time, delving into subjects that are often shrouded in misunderstanding and ignorance, and hopefully opening people’s minds. I consider my role in both Sharptooth and as a herpetologist to be that of an educator, and an advocate for the misunderstood; whether that misunderstood being is a person or an animal. It’s about teaching compassion and understanding for all other living beings. So for me, the two go hand in hand.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making Clever Girl?
LK: If you want that answer, you’d probably be better off asking Lance, who did SO much of the heavy lifting with recording, producing and helping to engineer the record. He was the one shouldering most of the burdens of stress and deadlines and all of the minutiae that goes into making a record. As the vocalist, it was my responsibility to write lyrics that were cohesive and explained some really nuanced concepts in accessible ways, and use my instrument to the best of my ability, and get in the vocal booth and give it my all.
For me, the biggest challenge with this record was finishing it, feeling proud of it, personally sending it out to literally 3 dozen record labels… and not hearing a single word back. You pour your soul into a record, spend hours looking up labels and attempting to connect with them, and the realization that none of these labels probably even read my e-mail, let alone listened to the record, That was pretty painful. So we took it on the chin and released it ourselves back in February of 2017. We had a lot to be proud of regardless, so by then, I was just ready for the world to hear it.
FEMMUSIC: You’re signed to Pure Noise Records. Why did you sign with them? What benefits do they bring, and downsides?
LK: We signed to Pure Noise because we were offered a literal dream come true, completely out of nowhere. It’s a label that is home to most of my favorite bands in the world, run by people who were passionate about our music and our message, and willing to back what we did to the hilt. It was honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity. One of my good friends with connections to the label just put the record in front of their noses, and they jumped on it immediately. I feel incredibly fortunate that we have friends and a label that are backing what we do so passionately, and who are willing to go the extra mile for us. There honestly have been no downsides to this signing, and it’s been nearly a year. Everyone who works at Pure Noise has been so kind, and supportive and insightful and talented, and I truly feel blessed to get to work with such incredible people as one of their artists.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique? How does a song develop in the band?
LK: For me as a lyricist, it’s different every time. Generally though, Lance will write and record a demo instrumental track, with all instrument parts, and send it to me and see what I think. Lance is always churning out material, I have a file with almost 20 potential Sharptooth songs in it that I just run through and mess around with lyrically. I typically keep a running list of song concepts and topics I want to write about, and I basically wait until I feel inspired about one. Sometimes I’ll have a brain wave, and grab a track, and write a whole song in one day. More often, I’m constantly jotting down lyric ideas, and pulling them into and out of songs until they feel right. I do pretty much all my lyric writing in my car, where I can play the instrumental tracks on the stereo and scream along, recording little voice memos and jotting down lines at stop lights. Sometimes I’ll just go and sit in my car in a parking lot for hours, writing and rearranging. I’m in the process of writing lyrics for some new material right now; it’s been a lot of hours spent just sitting in my car yelling. Once I get a rough idea of lyrics, we usually send the instrumental to the rest of the band for them to mess around with and make their own.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest impact on you and why?
LK: This is such a hard question. My gut instinct says “Built Upon The Sand” by Stick To Your Guns. This was a song that shaped my views of humanity, the way I interact with others, and the way I approach my life and the people in it. At its baseline, it’s a song about school shootings, and what kind of mindset a person has to be in to commit that kind of atrocity. But at its core, it’s a song about having compassion for others, the change that that compassion can create, and about seeking to understand and love one another, so as to hopefully bring light to another’s darkness, and make the world a better, more peaceful place. The song’s final repeated refrain of “I understand you” is a lyric that has echoed in me since the day the album came out, and has, I truly hope, helped make me into a more loving, compassionate and understanding person. It’s a mantra I’ve repeated to myself in times of frustration and hurt, when facing a world that so often seems dark and cold and unforgiving, and has brought me a lot of hope.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to tour with, or collaborate with? Why?
LK: I’d love to tour and collaborate with bands full of diverse people, of all genders, races, sexualities, abilities and walks of life. We so desperately need more diversity and representation in heavy music, and having that opportunity would help to create a lot more visibility and amplification for so many different voices. That’s first and foremost. But getting to work with bands like Stick To Your Guns and Every Time I Die would be pretty neat too.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
LK: More inclusion. More diversity. More visibility for marginalized persons. I guess that’s 3 things, but it’s part of the same idea.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
LK: Is water wet? Heavy music in particular has always been extremely gate-keepy towards femmes. Hardcore is such a hyper-masculine environment, and while being able to express some of those more stereotypically masculine traits has been so important to me and has always resonated with me, that environment comes with a huge slew of problems as well. I know so many women who have divorced from metal or hardcore because of discrimination, and in hearing their stories, I certainly don’t blame them. There have been times I’ve wanted to bail too. But this music speaks to me unlike anything else, so it’s kind of become my mission to love this genre into being better. There’s so many beautiful things about heavy, angry music and there’s so many people who need the passion and release it brings. So I’m not ready to give up on it yet.
FEMMUSIC: Sharptooth is one of handful of woman led acts on the final Vans Warped Tour. In past years there have been up to 25% of the bands being women led. I’ve read in other interviews you’ve been asked about how women in heavy metal and punk are treated. I was wondering if you think there is a backlash against women in aggressive genres of music by the industry?
LK: Like I said, aggressive music has not been kind to women historically. But I feel so grateful for all of the bands and fans that are fighting back; by making their presence known at shows, by simply being visible, by starting bands and zines and running venues and booking shows. There’s so many women in the industry who work behind the scenes as well, and they deserve a light to be shined on their hard work as well. It’s not just about those of us with microphones. But as someone with a microphone, I have a chance to draw attention to the things that need to be changed, and the people who are fighting to make those changes. At this point, people can backlash all they want, I think the tide of inclusion is becoming unstoppable, especially with the younger generations.
FEMMUSIC: Sharptooth is political with songs like “Fuck You Donald Trump.” How much does the news influence your songwriting? Is the choice to go political in songs unanimous in the band? What do you hope to achieve with your fanbase by being political? Do you have any named goals?
LK: Our whole band is pretty politically aware and active, so it’s a pretty natural thing for us. All of us are on the pulse of what’s going on in the world, and in our government, most of us either listen to or read the news fairly regularly. That’s just who we are personally. Our goals are more of a social nature than a political nature: to create a culture of inclusion and visibility for diverse and marginalized voices and social issues in heavy music. Some of these voices are ours, some are ones we use our platform to draw attention to. While some of our songs take aim at more “political” targets, like the government, the president, the police force and organized religion, it’s always with the intent of focusing on how those systems affect society, culture, and people, and empowering each other to make a more compassionate and equal society for all by changing these systems. I hope that’s what our fans can take away from our shows; a sense of empowerment, agency, and a feeling that they are being represented and supported; so that they can go forth into the world and make their voices heard.