(Mental Health Conversations):  SHARPTOOTH

(Mental Health Conversations): SHARPTOOTH

Editor’s Note:  Fans are chomping at the bit for this Friday as activist/metal band Sharptooth will be releasing “Transitional Forms” via Pure Noise Records.  In this mental health conversation with Madness To Creation, the band Sharptooth discusses “Transitional Forms”, their struggles and conquers through mental health battles, the Covid-19 pandemic, and how they get through this thing called life.  Through their openness and how beautiful they are as people, you get a look at how Sharptooth goes through the writing process and how they have evolved as a band.  They have also recently released their single entitled “The Gray”, which talks about how so many things are categorized in binaries.  On a personal note, the first time that I listened to this band was when I stumbled upon their set at the Vans Warped Tour, and needless to say, my mind was blown with the rawness and passion behind their music, and plus their songs were about anti-rape and had an empowerment message behind them.  I want to encourage you to pick up “Transitional Forms” this Friday, our bands and artists need us to help them, our music industry is at stake.  Fans can find Sharptooth at the following locations:

www.sharptoothband.com

www.facebook.com/sharptoothMD

www.twitter.com/sharptoothmd

www.instagram.com/sharptoothmd

Madness To Creation:  Hi Sharptooth gang, on a personal note, I stumbled upon your set at the Warped Tour not having a clue on who you all were, I came away blown away from your set, what form of sorcery do you use to draw people into your live experience?  (To me it wasn’t a show, it was an experience)

Lauren(vocalist):  Oh my gosh, thank you! I think what makes people stop and watch and listen is that people can tell that we are genuine, honest, and extremely impassioned about the content of these songs. I feel like in the age of Instagram filters, carefully worded and re-worded Twitter posts, and taking a selfie 63 times just to get the perfect one for Facebook, people are hungry for actual raw human vulnerability. I also think that the explosive chaos we create onstage is actually something a lot of people carry with them on the inside and getting to witness that manifest in real time on a stage… that’s incredibly compelling and evocative. In a time when everything in our lives is kind of staged, to look at an actual stage and see the polar opposite of that, I think feels almost dangerous to people, and it thrills them. So people probably get a little of that voyeuristic kick out of it, but I really do believe it ultimately comes down to vulnerability.

Lance(guitarist):  Probably has to do with us kinda going pretty wild on stage and also being very loud. Unapologetically so. So also aren’t afraid of saying how we feel. haha!

Keith(guitarist):  I guess growing up seeing bands like Dillinger & The Chariot etc we all just kinda naturally gravitate towards that sort of performance? I don’t know, we just kinda do what we do and it feels right.

Peter(bass):  First of all, thank you so much. I might have a bit of a different perspective on this, as someone who has both been in the band for almost a year, and as someone who used to play with Sharptooth in previous bands, and got to watch their sets from before they were signed all the way up till’ now. Years ago, we became friends because our bands tended to be the “black sheep” of bills, since we were almost always the only bands on these shows who would use our sets to discuss issues in the world as they related back to ourselves and the music we were making. Unfortunately, for a long time now, the genre has been radically depoliticized, and part of that involves bands not wanting to alienate potential listeners to their bands, and thus, keeping quiet about issues that might be polarizing and could lose them some fans in the process. In some ways, going to shows has become part of the more general entertainment apparatus that is centered around escapism and flattery of the senses. This isn’t meant to denigrate folks who use art as an escape (I think that we all do to an extent), but rather, to emphasize how skewed the line between how the genre began and what it has become leans much closer to entertainment now than resembling any kind of political counterculture. I think what Sharptooth is trying to do, is expand on what some of our predecessors growing up used to do, which was use their voices to bring attention to issues that they thought were important, and had the authority to speak on. For me, it wasn’t though middle school or high school where I began to think critically and be exposed to new ideas, it was through going to shows. I think it’s probably surprising for some people who are seeing us for the first time to see Lauren using her voice in a way that is sincere and explicit, but I think we also try to pair that with things underneath her speaking, so that the entire set keeps you in that space we are reflexively taught to ignore or feel bad about being in. Hopefully it can inspire other folks to speak up more than they might have otherwise in their own lives.

Matt(drums):  I wasn’t with the band during Warped but I can say that performing has always been really cathartic for me, it’s a free therapy honestly. It’s hard to really define that X factor that draws people to a band, but maybe for us it’s a mixture of the intensity of live music and knowing we all believe in the things Lauren is talking about during and in between songs. When you’re passionate about the music and the subject matter I think people just tell.

Madness To Creation:  What are some of your favorite memories from Warped Tour?

Lauren: My favorite thing about Warped Tour was that there were just so many young people who were just so hungry for music with a message. There’s so much passion in our youth, and getting to perform in an environment where passion and fervor are celebrated rather than met with apathy or cynicism, it’s just such a refreshing change from how the music industry usually is. My other favorite thing was the afterparties. Did a lot of weird and crazy shit with some very weird and crazy people.

Lance: The fans, literally seeing thousands of kids every day come up and thank you, talk to you and appreciate what you’re trying to. That line of kids waiting to see you was pretty wild and made me look introspectively a lot. Thinking about how a year from then, we were literally just scrounging for any basement show we could grab, to playing one of the larger stages at warped was just silly to me. And a dream come true. A lot of people wish they could do something like that in their lives and I’m so thankful to have been able to do that in my life, especially the last touring one ever. I think about it probably every other day still.   

The camaraderie as well. Some of the relationships I made with the crew and staff are still people I talk to this day. I lucked out and had to unload the semi truck every morning, every day. I managed a lot of the back end business stuff and had to work with the crew a lot. Kevin did not hire random people, they were very seasoned professionals that really knew their stuff. People like Zac (our driver, love that guy) Junior, xBobx, Becky (who is now our PR rep, you’re the best!!), Bill Black, Lisa, Mel, Tader. They are all so awesome, worked so hard and I still keep in touch with them all. Not to mention witnessing Kevin work himself. That guy is an absolute machine. Super inspiring people.

Keith: I asked a friend how many tootsie rolls he could fit in his mouth and successfully swallow. It was 32. His digestive system hated it and the smells he produced after were very unfortunate.  Made some new lifelong friends and played a lot of Magic The Gathering with one of my favorite bands of all time.

Peter:  The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington.

Matt:  One time at warped tour 2013 the bass player of Taking Back Sunday told me he liked my mustache. He seems cool.

Madness To Creation:  According to the press release, you’re gearing up to release “Transitional Forms” via Pure Noise Records on July 10th, and you said that it’s your most personal collection of songs?  What was the mindset in the writing process?  How does a song get crafted in Sharptooth?

Lauren:  It depends on the song. Typically, I start off with Lance sending me a fully fleshed out instrumental demo, although occasionally I’ll pitch to him a vibe I really want for a particular song and he’ll work to make something that fits it. Once I get an instrumental track, I basically see what vibe I’m getting from it. I keep a running list of general topics that I’m interested in talking about, and I have a ton of poetry from over the years that I’ll go through for inspiration, and sometimes pull directly from. Some songs came almost word for word from poems of mine, which I’d never really done before, but they just clicked perfectly. And other songs were the painstaking effort of a dozen revisions and hours spent crying in my car. But I knew the record was going to have a through-line, and I knew the story I wanted to tell, so I just went from there.

Lance:  When I write songs, I kind of feel like I’m designing a film set for the vocals. I monitor the news a lot in what is happening, listen to material that might reflect that. The stuff I work on takes me to an environment or a situation that has texture. Which is why I like working with Lauren so much, she really gets those vibes and rolls with it. I center the songs around vocals so much that I try and make it as easy for her as possible. Which, when it came to the recording process working with Brian McTernan was very cool. He worked with Lauren a lot in working around the songs themselves and didn’t really change much except where it needed it. He told me himself that he didn’t feel the need to change too much because he also saw the vision we had. His goal was just to make sure it sounded and was performed the best as possible. Which I find awesome. We went to a couple other people for co-writing that I don’t think saw what we we’re doing. And looking back at it, I’m happy about that.

Madness To Creation:  How is everyone holding up through the pandemic?  What have been some challenges and personal growth that you have had through this pandemic?

Lauren: Honestly I’m doing better than I would have originally predicted. Had a few calamitous mental breakdowns, but I’ve managed to bounce back from each one in mostly one piece. I’m a major extrovert, so not having my 4-5 regular social gatherings every week has been brutal. I have also learned that I apparently fucking hate group video chats with a passion. They make me feel the complete opposite way that normal in-person socializing makes me feel, so there was some major cognitive dissonance with that for a while in trying to replace my normal social life with a video chat one. I was juggling at least 4 different group video chats a week, and every single time, I ended each one feeling MORE disconnected, totally burnt out, drained, exhausted, and more lonely, as opposed to feeling connected and energized. So I’ve stopped making myself do those, and I’ve felt way happier since I made that decision. Fortunately, it’s becoming a little more normal in MA to have actual in-person socializing outdoors, so my friends and I have been having “garden parties” pretty much every week, where people sit on blankets 6 feet apart in our yards. That’s been an absolute godsend.

As far as personal growth, I started taking some online classes in Python (a programming language) and ended up liking coding so much that I actually decided to make a career shift out of zoology and into the Comp Sci world. So I applied for an intensive programming boot camp school that’s local to Boston, and interviewed with them, and I got accepted! I start the online part of the program this week, and am hoping to have a job in the programming field by the end of 2020!

Lance:  On time off, I’m actually a service technician in the Baltimore, Virginia and Washington DC area for a communications company. So I work at all kinds of government places, schools, hospitals fixing their systems so they are up and running during this time. A lot of it is COVID related, so I’m on call 24/7. Which has been kind of stressful but I’m thankful to still have a job overall.

Keith:  Rough haha! It’s been a tough time for me. Going through a breakup and some major isolation at the same time has forced me to really spend most of it trying to work on myself.

Peter:  Someone asked me to use one-word to describe my quarantine so far, and the only one I could come up with was, “non-linear.” Things ebb and flow right now between being productive—unproductive, and my mental health has been up and down as well. I think for a lot of us in the US, money has been a real challenge without the ability to work, and without much money coming in to subsidize staying at home. And obviously since we can’t tour at the moment, that is gone as well. Still, I’ve been trying to use this time to do things I never really feel like I have the time for in “normal life,” so I’ve been trying to watch a ton of movies and read a bit more than I usually do. Getting to work on some of those “lists” I know I’ll never fully finish!

Matt:  Not being able to play my instrument is pretty shitty. Also I really miss going to the container store.

Madness To Creation:  How has the band adjusted utilizing their social media accounts?

Lauren:  I deleted Facebook and the band’s Twitter off my phone (I don’t have a personal Twitter anyway). There’s just way too much science out there that says social media is really bad for your happiness; and it felt super hypocritical of me to be constantly working on myself every day to improve my mental health, but then getting on Facebook and scrolling for an hour, getting angry with myself for wasting my time doing that, and then combine that with the negative impact the app already has on an individual’s self worth? I couldn’t justify having that readily available and in my hand anymore. I’ve kept Instagram because 1. It’s always felt the least toxic to me, and I don’t scroll on it., 2. It’s been a good tool for educating myself on the lived experiences of people who are very different from me, and 3. It’s my primary way of staying connected to and engaging with our fans. In any case, ever since I deleted those other apps, I’ve felt a huge difference in my self esteem, productivity, and overall feelings of well-being. Highly recommend it.

Lance:  Finding content can get stressful. I try to make a post at 12pm every day to keep it current and fresh. I’m glad we kind of have a backlog of photos from over the years, it’s been helpful to keep it going. I’m trying to get us involved in more steaming stuff. Might do some interviews about songs, stories ect. for us in the future. We have some funny and interesting stories to tell from over the years.

Keith:  I’ve personally been trying to spend less time in social media and more time with personal interactions/conversations because I think it’s more productive and a healthier form of communication.

Peter:  Going to bed at 3 AM feels like going to bed early right now. I need to log off.

Matt:  I post drum covers on my Instagram (@mmatthewryann) about twice a week and quarantine has made that pretty hard but lance let me borrow his Roland electronic kit so I’m back at it baby!

Madness To Creation:  We cover mental health awareness, with normalizing mental health conversations and suicide prevention, what helps you get through when times are difficult and tell me about a time when you had to dig deep to rise up again?

Lauren:  When times are difficult, what helps me get through it are my amazingly patient and understanding boyfriend and support network, my IFS therapist, and my Ativan prescription. Which reads like dark humor, but honestly, it’s true. As far as mental health goes, those are three incredibly important tools for many people: supportive home environment and social network, professional guidance and instruction that is tailored to your specific psychological condition (not all therapy is the same), and effective medications for your specific needs. There’s still so much stigma against medications, and that has GOT to stop. They aren’t for everyone, but they can be massively helpful to many, and it’s high time we stopped shaming people for taking something to help them feel more like themselves. If you cannot make your own neurotransmitters, store bought is perfectly acceptable!

Lance: I keep myself busy and constructive. I’ve had very bad issues from eating disorders, to very severe self destructive depression issues until I hit around 30 years old or so. I realized I need to just be productive somehow and do anything I can to look back at the end of the day and feel like I did something to move my life forward. To try and make it better than where I left it. That can be as simple as taking a rest for a day and tell yourself you needed that to fight better the next. Whatever you can do give yourself a positive mindset, and a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Now, that’s not to say it works for everyone. I feel there’s room for experimentation in what works for you as far as depression, but it’s something that worked wonders for me and keeps my head above water. This band has been that for me, it’s saved my life several times during those processes.

Keith:  Years and years of cognitive behavioral therapy to be honest. Building a support system of people around you to reach out to when you need more than just yourself helps as well.

Peter:  I try to remind myself that none of this is linear. Just because I might feel good about something one day, doesn’t mean that a week from now I won’t have those same feelings return, even two-fold in intensity. For me, remembering this helps me to stop from feeling like I’m regressing or not making “progress” in the way I think I should be. I tend to think through my problems a lot, both by myself and with others, and sometimes I know that there isn’t any good way to sort of rationalize yourself out of feeling bad, you just have to feel it. I get a lot out of having mutual support systems for people, where we can both be open and honest and there for each other when we need it. A lot of us can’t afford therapy or medication, and don’t even have health insurance in the first place, so it’s important to find the courage to be vulnerable with people who listen in ways that you find useful. Not all help is helpful, but it’s a process. I tend to feel depressed quite often, but the things that have always helped me are finding connections with others and finding some kind of larger purpose beyond myself to put my attention towards.

Madness To Creation:  Take us into the music video “Say Nothing(In The Absence of Content)”, what was the most fun part about the music video and what was the mindset when you all were writing the lyrics?

Lauren:  I wrote Say Nothing about a long-building frustration I’ve had with our music scene these past few years; specifically the frustrations I’ve felt at feeling like the odd band out who wants to talk socio-political issues… in a genre that’s supposed to be founded on protest music. I feel like a lot of people and bands in this scene have forgotten their roots, and while I don’t think any music HAS to have any kind of a message, I think it’s a blatant disrespect to the forefathers of the genre to treat those of us who do like we’re doing something wrong. I feel like I sound like such an old person, with the “back in my day” talk, but it’s true. Where are the zines at shows anymore? Where are the food and clothing drives? The impassioned diatribes at hundreds of basement and art space shows that got me fired up and inspired to take tangible political action, and taught me I have a voice? I think people these days either start bands as a front for a clothing company, or to “get big”, and the rest are so afraid of alienating potential fans that nobody wants to say anything that could be potentially divisive. I just keep going back to those H2O lyrics “What happened to the passion, what happened to the reason for screaming, what happened to the music and the message that I love?”.

Lance: I can’t attest too much on the lyrics (which I agree with whole heart and love), but the most fun thing in the video was just seeing how fun it was for everyone else.  We made that video right before all this COVID stuff went down, right before everything shut down and you couldn’t do anything. During the lead up to that was kinda dark and scary, but when we shot the video with all our friends there making a video about how we feel “we’re the kids at school who sit by themselves at the lunch table”, felt awesome. It just felt like a lead up to our entire lives to have this moment with each other and just enjoy each others presence. That was wonderful.

Keith:  Every part of making that video was super fun and just a refreshing change for me personally. All the people involved were friends and it was a fun creative environment to be part of.

Peter:  What I love about the video is how much meaning is packed into the video, and how paradoxical those meanings can be. It’s at once, both functioning as a critique and as a sort of fun celebration. I think the misconception I’ve seen about the video by some, is that we are somehow saying that “pop music is bad” or reductive, but I think the intention is actually quite a bit different than that. The original idea was to inject some color and femininity into a heavy video, where those things are often not allowed. The pop-star aesthetics of the video are meant to acknowledge how formulaic and apolitical a lot of heavy music has become, without embracing any of the fun or connective aspects of pop music. Yet simultaneously, also acknowledging how our band might be made more digestible to people in such a form. 

Matt:  I didn’t write any lyrics! But Lauren is a beautiful lyricist and she really went above and beyond on the new record. The most fun part of shooting the video was loading all our gear into the apartment we shot it in. Carrying drums is so sick.

Madness To Creation:  What’s the first thing you want to do when this pandemic is over?

Lauren:  A completely irreverent evening of dressing up, dancing, and partying with my girl gang. Also, a trip to the zoo; I miss seeing weird birds.

Lance:  I want this band to hit the road. Across the world. Hard.

Keith:  Play D&D in person with my weekly group.

Peter:  Something banal, like sitting with a group of friends outside at a cafe or a bar.

Matt:  Go to the container store.

Madness To Creation:  What else would you like to add about the record or Sharptooth as a whole?

Lauren:  It’s big, heavy, dark, and personal while also feeling universal. I love every song on it, and if anything on it makes you feel validated, or gives you catharsis, or inspires introspection, then I consider it a resounding success.

Lance:  This band is not the same band it was a couple years ago. We have new songs, new members, a new outlook, a new vibe, a new sound and a new energy. And I want people to see that, experience that. This record has some serious content, it’s a huge step up from our last album. And we only got more where that came from. This album was very stressful and wild to make, but it’s a good setup for the next one that I’ve been working on since then. 

Keith:  This is Sharptooth at our best right now, we’ve never been a more cohesive unit as a band than we are now and this new record is a step in the direction we’ve all been pushing musically for a while. Very proud of my bandmates and of this record.

Peter:  I think the record has got a nice mixture of different elements of hardcore/metal/punk without losing itself in the process. Even though some of the songs are quite different from one another, they all retain a similar vibe/energy/ethos, and I think that’s kinda neat. About our band, I think the ire that we sometimes receive says a lot about some of the things our scene(s) might want to reckon with, if it is going to have any potential for being part of creating a more just world.

Matt:  Travis Orbin can play programmed drums which isn’t something any human should be able to do but he can and trying to play shit he recorded really sucks man I’m honestly not that good at my instrument

And there you have it!  Check out the lyric video for “The Gray” to get you even more hyped for the release!

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