DATE OF INTERVIEW:
11th April 2016
SKYE "SEVER" SWEETNAM
A onetime Capitol Records solo artist, Skye Sweetnam successfully transcended her teen-pop roots to exercise her creativity under the moniker of "Sever" within edgy, dancehall, punk-metal outfit Sumo Cyco. And the Toronto-based quartet initially proved to be music industry iconoclasts in eschewing album releasing conventions by, instead, seeking other, more innovative ways to present their art to the world. Fully embracing the twenty first century music fan's shift towards online browsing/listening habits, they opted to feed their ever-increasing, global fanbase with ten digital-only singles over a long period of time, before finally unleashing their debut full-length record, 'Lost in Cyco City', in 2014. And each single was accompanied by a DIY, band-made music video, with each micro-narrative wrapped up in an alluringly retro B-movie aesthetic, and loaded with kitsch charms with an ever so slightly deranged levity. Sumo Cyco are as much about fun as they are kickass music. It's infectious... in the most positive of ways.
Seemingly frequent visitors to UK shores in their touring schedule, the band found themselves back over here in April 2016 as main support on a run of Butcher Babies shows. Metal Discovery met up with Skye for a chinwag in Nottingham, a short while before she was due to hit the stage with her band mates for the opening night of the tour. Fully recovered from an unfortunate episode of airborne "cheap wine" vomit on what transpired to be a nightmare flight from Canada involving technical faults and delays, Skye's jovial demeanour is enlivening as she chats away candidly about all things Sumo Cyco...
METAL DISCOVERY: You were over here supporting Fozzy at the end of last year, you’re back already, so the UK really seems to have fully embraced Sumo Cyco?
SKYE: I think so. I mean, we love it over here and we have a lot of fun every time we come. The crowds are great and we get a great reception over here, even more so than in our home country too. So, we’ll just keep coming back if you guys will have us!
(Skye Sweetnam on her transition from major label pop star to rock-metal autonomy)
"...the transition felt very natural to me, to go this way. I’ve kind of always had that rebellious rock-metal side."
Skye "Sever" Sweetnam in Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 11th April 2016
Photograph copyright © 2016 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Move here!
SKYE: Exactly! [Laughs]
MD: Devin Townsend said to me once that apart from a couple of crisp flavours, there’s not much else different between England and Canada. Is that true in your experience?
SKYE: You know what, I think people are just as nice. Canadians have this, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”… we’re kind of known for apologising too much. The difference to me, the hugest difference, is the history and how old everything is, and I love that. I love just being able to drive around and, “oh, there’s a castle”… oh, make a big deal!
SKYE: Yeah, we don’t have that in Canada.
MD: You’ve previously billed one of your tours as ‘Lost in the UK’… have you ever got lost in the UK?!
SKYE: [Laughs] We have, yes! Luckily, this time, we’re not driving because, if we drive, there have been a few moments when we’ve gotten lost. And we’ve gotten a few tickets for driving in bus lanes when we didn’t realise we were in a bus lane! [Laughs]
MD: Ah right, yeah, there are a lot of bus lanes over here!
SKYE: Yeah! [Laughs]
MD: How did you settle on Sumo Cyco as your band name… I presume that’s partly a Suicidal Tendencies reference?
SKYE: You got it! Well, what happened was, we were looking for a band name and I had this master list of all the names we were digging. And I think we were about to release something, and I’m like, “we have to make a decision”. So, I looked at the sheet and I circled two words that, to me, most described what our sound was. Sumo, to me, brings those images of heavy and strong and powerful and super large and in your face, you can’t miss. And Cyco as in crazy and insane. So, I just circled those two words and we got the spelling from Suicidal Tendencies because I thought it’d be a lot shorter and kind of look cool with it only being four letters… easier to type in. Another thing we considered was something for getting your domain name and URLs for all your social media all being consistent, so it’s easy for people to find us. So, yeah, it just stuck.
MD: Were there any funny names you abandoned that you decided not to use?
SKYE: [Laughs] You know what, I should find that list because there were probably some really weird ones on there! I’m just a big fan of taking two words and trying to make a new phrase. The reason I like Sumo Cyco is because you never hear those two words… like, no-one says that, it’s not a saying or anything; you just make it up. So, anytime anyone says Sumo Cyco, you know they’re talking about the band.
MD: Sumo wrestlers do look a bit psychopathic, so…
SKYE: [Laughs] Maybe, maybe, yeah!
MD: One of my old bands, we couldn’t decide on a name, so went through the dictionary, chose random words, and ended up being called the Four-Wheeled Monkey Prawns for two weeks, until we settled on an actual name!
MD: There must’ve been quite a drastic transition for you from being signed to a major label as a solo artist to becoming autonomous in a DIY band. Obviously there are pros and cons for both, but did you feel emancipated by making that switch?
SKYE: Yeah. I mean, I was growing up slowly and making the transition myself. It seemed black and white, like one moment I was pop, the next moment is like this crazy rock-metal chick. But there was a really easy transition. The two guys in Sumo Cyco, the bass player and guitar player, Matt and Kenny, they have been my backing band from when I was doing my pop music. So, they were my big brother influences of what is music and they taught me, like when I was on the road and I’m sixteen, I’m looking to them to show me their musical knowledge, and they’re playing all their favourite bands. Like, they’re in the rock world, so they list all their favourites and indoctrinate me into that. And then, for my second record, I got to work with Tim Armstrong from Rancid, so I kind of learnt his way and his world and his life, and kind of saw things through his eyes, and got on stage with Rancid for a few shows and played with them. So, the transition felt very natural to me, to go this way. I’ve kind of always had that rebellious rock-metal side.
MD: So, going from being signed to a major label who have a lot of governance over what you do, to doing what you do now, that must feel quite emancipating, I guess?
SKYE: Yeah. What was kind of cool with my solo career was, when I wrote my first record, I had no strings. So I wrote an entire record with a young producer – at the time, I was fourteen and he was twenty one, it was like two kids in a basement – and we did it so DIY; I made my first music video myself… everything… and then the label took that and kind of did a sheen around it; like, packaged it their way and put it out there. And I was really proud of it because I’m like, “I did this myself and I was so young and I put it out there.” But, then, after that was released, the second record I kind of went through what you would expect for a major label pop girl to go through – writing with every other major LA writers, and being told, “no, no no, you’ve gotta go in this direction and that direction”… and being pulled every way. But, at the end of the day, Capitol never released my second album and I released it myself in Canada. It was right when the downloading and all the major labels were restructuring, and I got mixed up in that whole shuffle, and it was actually a kind of perfect out for me to just be like, “see ya, I’m going!”
MD: A big middle finger up at the majors then!
MD: You opted to release a series of ten digital-only singles over a long period of time before releasing your debut album, ‘Lost in Cyco City’. Were you initially looking for a different approach to the standard album format for releasing music?
SKYE: You got it, you’re totally on the right track. We love our music videos, we direct our music videos, and we’re like, “every song’s got to have a video, that’s how kids find music these days, through looking online, and there are visuals to go with it." So, we thought, why don’t we just do a song and, as soon as we write a song, we make a video for it and just put it out right away, and put it right up on iTunes that second… there’s no waiting for an album or any of that. And, at that point, it made so much sense because we hadn’t been touring that much, we were just kind of playing locally, and so much of our fanbase was online, so it really made sense to do it that way.
And then, in Canada, they have FACTOR grants, which is government funding for music. It was a shot in the dark, we applied for it and got it. But, in order to fulfil the grant you need to have a full album presented to them at the end. So, we’re like, “okay, I guess it’s kind of worth it if we’re getting some money to put it together.” And we did and then, now, we’re like, “it’s been so long into the record and we’re still trying to make a video for every song,” and we’re like, “wow, this is like… we kind of like the single way of doing things!”
SKYE: I find that it feels so fresh when you write a brand new song and you’re so excited about it, you just wanna get it out. You have all these ideas for the videos right away, rather than it being like, you know, some of these songs that are on this record written over a few years ago, and then you’re like, “okay then, now we have to do a music video for that one,” and you’re all kind of writing new stuff. Things happen so fast these days and I think… I don’t know, I like the single approach but, I mean, the album has brought its own cool challenges too with a continuation of our music videos to make it one full storyline throughout all of our music videos for ‘Lost in Cyco City’.
MD: It’s almost like you’re too ahead of the game and the music industry needs to catch up with your approach!
SKYE: Maybe! [Laughs]
MD: You’ve gone down the PledgeMusic route to fund recording costs for the second album and secured nearly 200% of your goal, which is mightily impressive. Did you expect that level of interest?
SKYE: No, we’re really happy with how it’s gone, and we specifically undershot our goal a little bit, just because they have a clause where you lose the money if you don’t make your goal. So, we wanted to make sure that we knew we could make the goal. But, the continued support is just really awesome. We actually just did, today, an announcement on our PledgeMusic page about how we have to postpone the release, just because we’re on these two tours and we’re not going to be in the studio, so we’re gonna have to push it back. It was supposed to be this summer, but I think we’re gonna push that back, just so we have more time to work on it when we get home.
MD: And you switched drummers recently, so I guess that must hamper the whole recording process too…
SKYE: Yes, well, sure, getting a whole new guy up to speed with everything and him learning how we work and everything like that. It just takes a lot of time. It’s going really well, but it’s still definitely something that has kind of taken us away from focussing on writing the record.
MD: Are you going to track all the drums from scratch with the new guy?
SKYE: Yeah, I’m not sure how we’re gonna do it, it’s kind of still up in the air. Literally, tonight is the first show he’s ever played with us.
MD: Oh, wow!
SKYE: So, we’re gonna see how that goes!
MD: This is like his audition then, tonight!
SKYE: Yeah, exactly!