Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Sumo Cyco


Interview by Dave Bott

Canada's Sumo Cyco have been around since 2011, though they may be an unfamiliar name to many. Their debut album, 'Lost In Cyco City', was released in 2014 and by the time you read this, sophomore release 'Opus Mar' should also be available. Both albums have received favourable reviews in Fireworks, in the process generating comparisons to both No Doubt and Skindred. Lead singer Sever (Skye Sweetnam) was something of a Pop music sensation thirteen or fourteen years ago but decided her destiny lay in a totally different musical genre. Fireworks caught up with Skye in Nottingham, before a show that formed part of a co-headline tour of the UK with Devilskin, to find out more about 'Opus Mar' and her musical influences.

Sumo Cyco Interview

You know, UK audiences really seem as though they want to have fun. It's a night out, as though the band is a bonus. We've been here before and so have Devilskin but I think having a co-headline tour takes the pressure off both bands. We're getting on really well together and there has been a lot of mutual love and appreciation. Sometimes on previous tours we've been the support, or even third on the bill and you don't get much time. You have to make the most of the time you do get, hit hard and make an impact. Having a co-headline tour means both bands get to play a full set to show what we're really all about.

Sumo Cyco opted to crowd-fund 'Opus Mar' independently and realised more than double their goal. Skye discovered she even had a business sense during the process and would be keen to take the same route again.

Wow, it was such a time consuming process. As a band we know what we are striving to achieve creatively but from a business point of view it is such a very steep learning curve. I learned so much during the pledge campaign. We were trying to do so many different things for the fans. For example we created a deck of cards with a different Sumo Cyco character on each one. You have to judge how much time and money the things you are offering cost compared to how much you are charging for them. At the end of the day the fans get a really cool experience and it is so humbling for us to see just how many people enjoy what we do. For us, being independent is very important. I've been with a major label before and you can be a small fish in a big pond and they can only dedicate so much time to you. We do all our own social media, create all our own videos and produce our own music. The pledge campaign is basically the way we fund all that and is just a case of taking destiny in our own hands.

Whilst trying to find out more about the album title and the creation process behind the songs it came as something of a surprise to learn that there is more to the album cover than just a picture of a train.

We wanted a cool name for the album that would also be a cool name for a train. An opus is obviously a collection of music and to mar something is to ruin its perfection. The heart of the idea behind the album was a non-stop train, barrelling through and creating the equivalent of a scar on the landscape. The songs deal with a number of social and environmental issues and highlights that as humans we are flawed and like a scar on the planet. My dad had an old toy train lying around the house and there was a lot of work involved in getting it back in good condition, then using it in photos for the album and also in some of the videos for the songs. The thirteen train carriages are represented by the thirteen songs on the album. The creation process was a lot faster than the debut because we had the pressure of the pledge campaign and our management required us to stick to a schedule. The first record took a long time to bring together but we had built up a lot of momentum whilst touring and 'Opus Mar' captures a twelve month period in our lives. We'd played a lot more shows together so had a better idea about what things worked and what didn't. For us a live show is not just about playing the songs really well. It's everything involved in the performance and the connection with the audience. When we were writing the songs for the new album we always had the live translation in mind.

The Fireworks & Rocktopia review for 'Opus Mar' implies that the material it contains is slightly heavier than that on the debut and somewhat less commercial. Skye agrees to a degree but indicates that the songs take on their own identity without necessarily writing with a heavier direction in mind.

There are certainly heavier elements to 'Opus Mar'. During the first couple of songs I scream a little more. Since the debut I've become a lot more comfortable with the intensity in my voice. It is part of my repertoire that I'm not afraid to use now without feeling I may be doing some damage to my vocal chords. The album contains moments of chaos for sure, but to me both albums seem to sit well next to each other and there is a natural progression from the first to the second. I love trying to fit crazy fast rhythms into the songs, to try to make them different and interesting. Matt (Drake, guitarist/producer) always says that one listen to our CDs is never enough because there are so many things that will be missed.

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As well as being the guitarist and co-writer of the songs Matt Drake is also Sumo Cyco's producer. Skye appreciates that an element of objectivity may be lost by not having someone who isn't so close to the band producing, but is also keen to emphasise that she has complete faith in him.

Matt did a lot of pre-production. We had James 'Lerock' Loughrey co-produce and mix the album, so he was like the outside opinion for the music. He took the songs away and then made us cut or re-work certain things. We are usually quite self-sufficient in that respect so there were a lot of mutual decisions that had to be reached and a lot of ideas batted back and forth. I love that Matt can do all the things he does because it is not only great for the budget but also for creativity. We have our own studio in which we can record, rehearse and do videos. It's far easier to set a schedule and also be spontaneous when everything is done in house.

The song 'Move Mountains' features a contribution from Skindred frontman Benji Webbe and Skye finds it difficult to disguise her excitement when talking about his involvement.

Skindred and Benji have been a huge influence on Sumo Cyco and me in particular. It was always the intention to collaborate but initially it was only with touring in mind. It was suggested that we should actually do a song together so I contacted James (Lerock) because he has worked on the last three Skindred records. We managed to get it to work even though it involved firing files back and forth electronically whilst we were on tour. I remember being in a coffee shop in Manchester, downloading and listening to the finished track. We only got to meet in person when we did the video for the song.

Sumo Cyco have released nearly twenty songs digitally, alongside some striking videos. A novel approach for sure and Skye is keen to elaborate.

We like the idea of being spontaneous. When we create something we want to get it out there straight away, without having to wait for the album to be fully completed or the whole marketing side of things. There was a video for every song on the first album and they followed on from one another with a thread. Creating videos for every song is hard work but a lot of fun and we have no rules, we can do everything our own way. It means every song gets its own chance to shine and it doesn't get lost somewhere in the album.

Skye's change from Pop music sensation to lead singer in a Rock band has been well documented but it was good to get the chance to hear about the change first hand.

To me it doesn't really feel like a change. Obviously the musical style is different but it is something I'm very comfortable with and it feels so natural, a progression of sorts. Matt and Ken (bass player) were both involved with my backing band so I have known them since I was 14 years old, for the best part of fifteen years. We make and create music together now and they are not just hired musicians for a backing band. They have a bigger role and receive greater acknowledgement. When I was doing Pop music I got to work with some really cool people. The first producer I worked with, when I was 13, was actually a guitar player and I was always insisting that the guitars needed to be featured prominently in the music. I got to work with Tim Armstrong from Rancid and also with Matt Wilder who produced the No Doubt album 'Tragic Kingdom'. I was getting nowhere with my record label so I decided to take control of my own career rather than wait until they had something for me to do. I took a couple of years off and tried a few song-writing sessions. Matt sent me away with a few CDs to see if I could get any inspiration and 'Babylon' by Skindred struck a major chord.

The Sumo Cyco calendar is pretty packed right now and there are so many things happening. When the band are not touring or making music they are creating videos and Skye wouldn't have it any other way.

We have festivals to do in the Summer and hopefully we'll be back in the UK before the year is out. My little sister is getting married when we get home. Who knows, maybe there will be the chance to do a song.

A short while after the interview the band took to the stage and blew everyone away with their energy and enthusiasm. The crowd may have been small but that made little difference, the performance would have been identical if there had been 10 or 10,000 in attendance and that highlights just how much Sumo Cyco love what they do.

Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Sumo Cyco

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