Sweet and Cyco: A Conversation About Skye Sweetnam’s Sumo Cyco

Although perhaps best known as a star of the teen-pop variety, who actually spent her mid-teens supporting Britney Spears on the Onyx Hotel Tour, in her later life Skye...

Although perhaps best known as a star of the teen-pop variety, who actually spent her mid-teens supporting Britney Spears on the Onyx Hotel Tour, in her later life Skye Sweetnam has re-branded herself Sever, lead vocalist for Toronto-based rockers Sumo Cyco, who blend the sonic sentiments of punk, industrial, and groove metal, among others.  They’re the band that I desperately wish had been on the stages of Ozzfest during my angsty teen years, but am grateful to have now remind me of the existential beauty of those very same years.  Sumo Cyco has been at it since 2011 and June 10th of last year saw the release of their debut LP, Lost in Cyco City, in Canada and this June 10th, will have the album finally hitting US shelves.  Following the release Sumo Cyco will join the Vans Warped Tour from June 19th – June 28th.  Skye “Sever” Sweetnam recently took some time to catch me up on what she and her crew, Sumo Cyco, have been up to for the past several years.

Izzy Cihak: First of all, I have to ask: How is Toronto’s music scene?  I feel like I interview really cool artists from there constantly.  Any favorite local peers?

Skye Sweetnam: The Toronto music scene is great. We have some really cool and diverse kinds of venues. Toronto is the hub for many of the surrounding cities so there’s always lots going on. Some of our peers include Courage My Love, a Kitchener three-piece, two of which are twin sisters, Partycat, a more hardcore rock outfit who always start a riot, I also can’t fail to mention Die Mannequin, especially when it comes to females who rock in our town.

Izzy: Your latest album, Lost in Cyco City, is about to drop in the US, but it’s been out for about a year now in Canada.  Have you had any favorite reactions to it?

Skye: Yes actually, we’ve been floored with the response. We recently have been getting lots of reviews in UK because our album just dropped there. It’s been really humbling to read things like from “One of the most exciting bands of 2015” to “Lost in Cyco City is a lesson in how to cross genres,” but it also comes with bad reviews too. All in all we try not to let the good or bad go to our heads.

Izzy: I’m curious, now that it’s been about a year since the album dropped, do you currently have a favorite track, whether one you’re most proud of, one that might signal your current direction, or just one that’s especially fun to play live?  The album is exceptionally cohesive, but I think “We Ride” is my favorite track…

Skye: Thanks. Good to hear. Usually when I start playing a track live it instantly breathes new life into it and it becomes a fav. Recently we finally got around to learning “Like A Killer,” which was the only song from the album we hadn’t played live. I’m really proud of “Fighter,” which I think straddles the line between hard, in-your-face rock with a “hey this is something different” feel, but still using my pop sensibilities to hide hooks in amongst it all. We submitted that song to the John Lennon Songwriting contest and were selected as a finalist, which is actually how we ended up being awarded the opportunity to be on Warped Tour this summer.

Izzy: Not to ask a huge question, but what have been the highlights of Sumo Cyco so far?  You’ve shared some stages with some really big names and earned a number of impressive accolades.

Skye: Well I’d have to say winning the Toronto Indie Week competition really jump started our touring and exposure outside of Toronto. The prize was flights and a headlining spot at Indie Week Ireland. Once we had that opportunity it encouraged us to independently tour UK. I’d also have to say playing recently with Life of Agony in their hometown of Brooklyn was quite an experience. Many of the shows on our recent European tour were pretty amazing. We played outdoors in front of a castle in Villafranca, Italy and it’s moments like that that make you pinch yourself.

Izzy: How would you characterize your process of writing and recording together… if there even is one notable “process”?

Skye: Yes, loosely, we do have a process. We don’t always come across a song the same way but most of the time Matt “MD13” Drake will write and record an instrumental and send it to me, I’ll work on the lyrics and melody and then bring back. From there it’s a bit of an experimental process of format, changing lyrics, redo-ing melodies until we find the sweet spot. It’s nice that we have access to our own studio so we can live with a rough track and then go back and rework it. Once we settle on the song, we bring in Andy and Thor and they do their thing, add the extra flavor with fills and riffs.

Izzy: Have you notice patterns amongst your fans, or the kinds of people who seem to “best get” what you’re doing?

Skye: Actually I wouldn’t say there are any patterns. We have pretty diverse fans, all ages, and locations. The difference we do see country to country is the structure of the media and press.. For instance in Canada more radio stations, magazines in music feel to skew more indie rock than hard rock. We’ve had a hard time getting airplay in Canada, but in UK we’ve felt like many of the press opportunities really suit our band and we’ve been very welcomed. We started this band with releasing everything ourselves online. Online, barriers of location are broken, so we still get tons of requests from fans all over the world to make our way there on tour.

Izzy: Your music does seem to draw from a pretty wide array of influences, so I’m curious, who are your favorite artists, whether they’re actually doing anything especially similar to you or not?

Skye: We’re most often compared to acts like No Doubt, System of A Down, Skindred, and Rob Zombie. All of those artists are actually huge influences on our sound, look, and style. So it’s really cool that most people really get where we’re coming from. Some other acts that come to mind that we love are Rage Against The Machine, Refused, Faith No More, and The Distillers, to name a few.

Izzy: I find your music videos to be especially intriguing, so I’m curious: What is it that inspired the visual elements of Sumo Cyco?  Are there any filmmakers or film movements that you’re especially into?

SkyeL Yes, we love the b-horror genre, but we joke that our videos are like c-or-d-horror genre. But it’s not just horror, we love wacky weird fantasy or dark fairytales. Some of our favorite movies are Evil Dead, Tank Girl, and Pan’s Labyrinth, to name a few. Matt and I are huge fans of film but if Matt ever walks into a video store with good deals he will not leave for hours. Some of the recent absolutely out-there buys are Wolfcop, and an Italian film called The Last Circus.

Izzy: And finally, you’re going to be playing the Warped Tour this June and a bunch of UK dates later this year.  What can fans expect of the live experience?  What does it draw inspiration from, if that’s even the kind of thing you think about?

Skye: We are so stoked for the shows! We take our live show seriously, because we want everyone there to have a seriously good time and walk away telling their friends about us. We pride ourselves in being on our game musically but also step up as performers. There’s a reason people come out to a show instead of sit and listen to the record with headphones on. It’s because they want the experience. We recently played a show in Toronto and for the first time I was able to showcase our videos on projectors and make things a little more theatrical. We imagine huge things for our stage show, we’re building up to it.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.