Sumo Cyco – Moving MountainsTuesday, 29th May 2018
In a music scene that’s becoming increasingly homogenous, it’s rare to find a band that is off the beaten path and doing their own thing. Canadian act Sumo Cyco does fit the billing though, with a sound that pieces together hard rock and metallic riff structures and aggression and puts it through a filter that encompasses everything from pop, dance, and even reggae. It’s a sound that does need to be heard in order to best be described.
The band has been around since 2011, and delivered two full lengths along with some singles and a plethora of uniquely done videos to accompany them. The band’s most recent video, for the single “Undefeated,” was released before they started a UK tour, and their current US run with Butcher Babies and Nonpoint. We caught vocalist Skye ‘Sever’ Sweetnam as the band was driving towards their next show and she was happy to catch us up to speed with the all-encompassing world of the band – everything from music and videos (along with their over-riding concept of Cyco City), to touring and maintaining independence. We even went a little bit into Sweetnam’s former solo pop career and how it impacted her outlook into music as a whole.
Dead Rhetoric: With your solo career occurring before Sumo Cyco, what made you decide to move from a pop sound towards something far heavier?
Skye ‘Sever’ Sweetnam: I guess it seems like it would be a drastic change, but for me, it almost felt like it was an easy move from one genre to another. I’ve always loved rock music – pop rock as a younger girl, which was kind of commercial, and as I got older, I got into more bands and started working with other musicians with more rock and metal tendencies. It eventually just evolved into what Sumo Cyco is. I was 16 years old when I was on the road with Britney Spears and I would get off the stage and start air drumming to Metallica [laughs]. So it didn’t come out of nowhere – it was something that was always there.
Dead Rhetoric: I did see that you had opened for her at a young age. Do you feel that doing tours like that prepped you for gaining some perspective that you now use with Sumo Cyco?
Sweetnam: Oh, of course. I mean, I’ve been performing since I was a kid. I think my first in-studio recordings where at age 12 – I don’t think I know anything else but how to be on-stage and being a performer/recording artist. It’s quite easy to get on any stage when you have already broken in, performing on stadium stages at a young age. Anything else doesn’t seem intimidating [laughs]…doing the Jay Leno Show at 16 and you are like, “What else could rack my nerves more than that?” [Laughs] I’m pretty unafraid of any opportunities these days.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing that caught my eye on your Instagram was your description of the band as “being murdered by a cheerleader.” Could you discuss that a little bit?
Sweetnam: I find that I’m very happy and an energetic/bubbly person, personality-wise. I really like theatrical costumes – I have actually worn a cheerleader costume on stage before. I’m a very preppy and happy kind of chick, but at the same time, I can scream my head off and get really aggressive – do the whole rock/metal thing. From looking at me, you would think one thing, and what it sounds like is something else. I think that was where I was going with that analogy. I feel sometimes that someone is trying to describe your sound, it turns into a bunch of descriptive words and genres, and I wanted something more eye-catching than just what our genres were.
Dead Rhetoric: Sumo Cyco has a very unique sound, I would say. What place do you feel that pop and dance music have in hard rock and metal?
Sweetnam: I kind of started Sumo Cyco because I didn’t like all the rules. I didn’t like having to abide by any genre or whatever. For me, there’s not that many bands that have that dancehall feel. My top band that I have loved my whole life has been Skindred. They have that really awesome, dancehall vibe mixed with rock & roll. That’s been a major influence in my life and one of the reasons I started Sumo Cyco. It’s kind of important to me to do rock & roll and still add dance and groove to a song.
Dead Rhetoric: With a more unique approach that might be a bit ‘outside the boundaries’ for some people, in a live show, do you find people to be pretty open-minded or are there some grumpier folks as well?
Sweetnam: People who are unfamiliar with us may have some pre-conceived notions when they see me get on stage, or if they are there to see one band…especially on a tour like this one where we are meeting a ton of new people. There are those guys with their arms across their chest, looking and judging, but in my mind, that’s the best scenario. It pushes me harder to try to perform and really kill it on the stage. I pride myself on winning over those guys. If I can get the guy in the back with their grump on into Sumo Cyco, I’ve done my job properly.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve recently released your latest single, “Undefeated,” and there’s been a lot of single releases outside of ‘albums’ with videos to accompany them. Is it important to keep up momentum and not wait 2-3 years just to release new material?
Sweetnam: I think because we have, up to this point, done most things by ourselves, we haven’t had that typical ‘album cycle’ rule that labels abide by. Part of that was due to the fact that we could just write and record a song ourselves, and put it up online. We didn’t have that big, PR machine with tour cycles and all that stuff at the beginning, we were just creating music and putting it out there. So for us, it was natural to just go, “Hey we just created this, why not make a video and post it?”
As we got further into doing more tours, we realized that having a single out before we go out on tour was really important, and as well as having the proper promotion for a record if we are going to put all the time and effort into it. If you are going to put the energy into the record, you have to make sure that people know about it in the first place.
We started with the mentality of just releasing singles, and as we got the demand from the fans that they wanted records, so we started working with tours and PR companies and moved closer to the album cycle world. But we definitely have not tried to make that mean that we can’t put out more videos or put out more of the art that goes with our singles, because we direct and produce our videos. We try to get as many out per album as possible. I think some fans have been really hoping that we would do more, but it just got to the point in doing everything ourselves, and with touring, that we can’t do every single song on the record. But that would be the goal if I could [laughs]. If we could have like 10 of me, that’s what I would do!
Dead Rhetoric: You are involved with the production of the videos too – does that add an additional element to the music/complete a creative vision outside the music itself?
Sweetnam: For sure! I’d definitely be more into that…if I wasn’t doing music, I’d probably be into films. In today’s world, half the time people discover a band through watching YouTube; I think it’s really important to have that consistent imagery that really introduces us the way we want to be introduced. We really enjoy our quirky, odd videos, and it’s a big creative outlet for us. So yeah, I wish I could do more, but trying to do everything independently, you have to pick and choose the priorities to keep growing. But it’s a huge passion of ours.
Dead Rhetoric: You do have the skulls and Cyco City concept – does having something else visual to associate with the band add another level to it as well?
Sweetnam: I’m one of those people that love creating worlds. I’m a total geek when it comes to that. Getting into all these different reoccurring characters and having all these videos take place in this weird world of Cyco City. We even work it into our merch store. If someone gets a package from us, it says it came from Cyco City. I love those little easter egg things for people to appreciate if they are in the know of what its all about. It’s another fun and creative outlet for the band. The skull guys you are talking about, we call them Terrornauts. They are like astronauts but with terror, because they are the intergalactic mafia that took over Cyco City.
I have lots of ideas that I haven’t even completely gotten into yet with storylines and my theory behind it all – where all these characters came from and why Cyco City is the way it is. It’s fun to just work that slowly into the videos. I know fans are really curious because the first series of videos we did for the album Lost in Cyco City all [connected] and we didn’t quite have time to finish an ending per say, to that story, because we had to move onto our second record. I know fans have been wanting to know how that ends up, so I have work cut out for me to maybe make a graphic novel or a story, just to write out what happens so the fans know what happened to those characters.
It’s something I definitely would love to work on more in the future and add another element – whether it’s more filming, graphic art, comic books…it would be great. But like I said, I’m only one person here and as much as I’d love to do everything I have to make my priorities, so for right now it’s the live show and touring…getting out there and spreading the word about the band with the fans is our number one [priority].
Dead Rhetoric: The way you describe it, it could be an entire multimedia universe that you could wield.
Sweetnam: One day it could even take on a life of its own. You never know right? People could see Cyco City but not even know what the band is. It could be fun.
Dead Rhetoric: Based on your current 2018 tour, you are working on a tour book. Where did the concept for that come from?
Sweetnam: I run my own online store with the band. It’s been a slow learning process for me to see what typical things fans want. What sells? What are they demanding? What are they curious about? What makes them invest in the band, and what parts of the band make it interesting for them? That’s a big component for how bands make money these days, through merchandising. Bands have been really creative with how they work this stuff, and how they put it into their crowdfunding campaigns and whatnot – how they can fund some cool projects out there.
This is the first tour that we are bringing a full-time photographer with us, Francesca Ludikar, and if you follow her Instagram you can see all the pictures she’s done so far on the tour. Because she’s on the tour this whole time documenting it, we thought about how we could use all this content in a way that’s not just social media. So we are going to compile it into a book that fans can have as a keepsake if they were able to see the tour, or for fans who weren’t able to make it this time, it gives them an inside look at everything we are doing. We are making lists of every movie we watch, what we are eating, taking exclusive photos, I’m doing journal entries and letting people know what’s going on day to day. So hopefully by the end of the tour we will have it all ready to go. You can pre-order it right now. It’s our first time trying this out but I think it’s going to be really cool.
Dead Rhetoric: Last year you put out some acoustic songs. Is the idea that if you have a good enough song, you should be able to strip everything away from it and still have it sound good?
Sweetnam: I think it was this one gentleman, who runs a songwriting circle type of event that I’ve been familiar with in Toronto. He was bugging me forever because he knew I was a writer. We’ve never really done more than like 1-2 songs acoustically. There will be an opportunity if you do a radio/TV show and they can’t fit the whole band and they request an acoustic thing, so we worked on a couple songs that we never thought of releasing that way. But he kept bugging me and told me I had to be a part of this songwriting circle, so my guitarist and I sat down and reworked some of the songs to be acoustic.
We really liked it. We thought it showed off the songwriting and everything. There are obviously some adjustments – you can’t do a lot of crazy guitar licks and the screaming gets toned down into more melodic stuff. I knew it would be something that the fans would think was fun, and on top of that, we were leaving for a headlining UK tour. We wanted to offer something special for the fans, so we decided that we were going to do an acoustic performance before every show. So wouldn’t it be great to release this before the tour so people can get familiar with hearing us acoustically and know what they were getting into in seeing us perform live. We did the acoustic EP live – one-take, real simple, showing off what we can do – the guitar, me, a couple egg shakers and a bass drum in a few tracks. It’s really bare bones…like you said, just showing off the songs underneath all the chaos.
I think sometimes what is interesting, is that people who aren’t really into heavy music can kind of get into things that they can maybe relate to the songwriting in that way, then once they hear the heavier version of the song, they “get it” – they can hear the hook and the melody between all the heavy guitars. I think that’s one thing, that even my family – my mom and my grandparents – they are super supportive of the band but they cannot take the heavy stuff. I think the acoustic thing is a good segway into the band if you aren’t into the crazy heavy stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: Definitely! And for you, having that pop background, anyone who followed you who thought Sumo Cyco might be too much, it’s a good entry point for them.
Sweetnam: It’s been interesting too, how receptive some of the fans that are really into the metal and craziness are – they can hear the song in a different way. I think it’s definitely worth doing, and we are planning on doing more in the future, hence we called this EP Volume 1. We are hoping that the more records we write, and the more songs we do, we can get more songs written down that way.
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