harsh crowd

An Interview with Harsh Crowd, the Feminist Rock Band that Defies Expectations

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Jules Ozone

I’m an introverted feminist blogger. If you need me I’ll be in my room on my computer, laughing at my own jokes.

When I first read about Harsh Crowd in the Feb/Mar 2017 issue of Bust Magazine, I thought it was so fly that this rock/indie/punk band was made up of 15-year-old feminists. I listened to their most recent album and loved everything about it, but I felt especially inspired by their success because of where they’re coming from; teenage girls are so often made to feel disempowered to the point of not being free to speak their minds at all, let alone form a rock band. The amount of confidence and spunk apparent in these young women’s songs and performances felt refreshing because the development of these qualities is not always immediately accessible to girls.

However, when I sat down to interview the band at their practice space in Brooklyn this past weekend, I realized how frustrating it has been for the band members to be reduced to their age and gender when their talent actually speaks for itself. “The main concern we have is to make sure we’re not being pigeonholed into one specific message or identity,” explains Lena, the band’s drummer. “It shouldn’t be about how old we are, when we started, that we’re all girls, that we’re multiracial, it shouldn’t be about that. It should just be about the fact that we’re making music.”

They’re totally right to challenge this idea that they are only worthy of attention because of their identities. Their resume is impressive on its own and would signal a bright future for any musicians so early on in their career. The band has released two EPs since their beginnings in 2013 and have opened for Mac DeMarco, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and feminist punk icon Kathleen Hanna. Despite these credentials, though, the girls assured me that they are constantly coming up against people who don’t take them seriously, an issue that they don’t see young male musicians struggling with. “People will be like, oh, you’re really good for girls, you’re good for being so young!” says Willow, the band’s lead singer, as she adjusts her mic to begin their practice session. The other girls nod and roll their eyes in sympathetic frustration. This is something they’ve all heard before.

The members of Harsh Crowd met when they were 11 at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, NYC. The program is a week-long summer camp where girls between the ages of 8 and 18 learn an instrument, form a band, write a song, and perform in a showcase at the end of the week. Besides being a way cooler version of whatever nerd-alert band camp I was attending at that age, the Willie Mae Rock Camp seeks to empower its campers by weaving feminist, DIY and punk culture into their workshops and other activities offered. The camp is one of many similar camps in other cities, but the goal of the programs is always the same: to empower girls by teaching them to rock in a safe and supportive community.

“The first time I learned about feminism was by going to the camp,” says Rihana, Harsh Crowd’s bassist. “I learned about it at a young age, and as I grew older I understood it more and more.” The other girls quickly agree. Being exposed to the kind of environment offered by a girls’ rock camp so early on helped the band start to develop their identity as feminists as they were learning how to play their instruments and write songs. The more I listen to them gush, the more I feel like the empowering nature of the camp is at least partially responsible for the band’s ability to demand that they be taken seriously and not be dismissed for being a “girl band”. The camp teaches its participants that they deserve to be confident and powerful, and these young women prove that girls can be successful without accommodating anyone else’s expectations for them. 

I ask the band how they’ve been holding up under the Trump administration so far. They agree that it’s been hard to know exactly how they feel. On the day immediately following the election, Harsh Crowd opened for The Julie Ruin, the punk band fronted by Kathleen Hanna, at Irving Plaza. Dea, who plays guitar, recalls needing to revise banter for the show that she had written before the election, back when she had hoped that the concert would be a time to celebrate the first woman president. “I was supposed to talk first, and introduce our song Clowns [a song they wrote about the election and politicians in general], and I had it all in my head. And then I woke up the next morning and I was like, I have to go up in front of a crowd and talk about this and I don’t even know how I feel about it yet.” But being at the show with Hanna and her band and an enthusiastically supportive crowd offered a space to feel motivated to make change, even in the shellshocked aftermath of election night. “[The show] really felt like a therapy session… I think it was a good way to regroup and to just feel like… we’re gonna gather our troops and hit the ground running. He’s not going to destroy us. It was really good timing.”

The rock music world should keep an eye on Harsh Crowd. Their catchy, head-bang-able songs are frequent fliers on my punky girl band playlists, and their energy and confidence sends a message to other girls who want to rock but don’t think they can. They are talented musicians and inspiring role models, and I for one am on the edge of my seat for whatever they come up with next.

Photography Credit:  Cortney Armitage

Band members pictured from left to right: Willow Bennison, Lena Faske, Rihana Abdulrashid-Davis, and Dea Brogaard-Thompson.