If you like punky, female-fronted rock with an attitude then Canada’s Sumo Cyco will be right up your street. But if you’re thinking that this is your regular female-fronted rock band, then think again.
Striking lead singer Skye Sweetnam, better known by the alter-ego Sever, is a former teen-pop sensation who toured with Britney Spears, signed to Capital Records / Sony, and performed in over 25 countries – all before her 17th birthday. After two solo albums she took an extreme career diversion and, craving artistic control and rock’n’roll, Sumo Cyco was born alongside lead guitarist Matt ‘MD13’ Drake and bassist Ken ‘Thor’ Corke, plus touring drummer Matt Trozzi.
So how does someone go from supporting Britney to sharing the stage with the likes of Hed P.E. and Mushroomhead? We caught up with Sever at their gig at Camden Underworld last week, and she told us: “For me it’s a pretty natural progression. Ken and Matt played as my backing band when I was a pop singer so I’ve known them since I was 14-years-old, and you can imagine them being in their early 20s they were thinking ‘this is cool we get to travel the world and play music’ but the music they love is a completely different thing. After every show I’d get on the bus and they’d be blaring Refused, Pantera or Metallica.
“On my second album I worked with Tim Armstrong from Rancid and I got to work with Matt Wilder who did Tragic Kingdom, one of my favourite records from No Doubt, so I was slowly meeting more people in the rock world and eventually thought ‘I can sit here and wait for some guy in an office to tell me what I’m going to do or I can be in charge of my own career and start again.’ At this point I’d been very active on the early days of YouTube and MySpace and I really saw something powerful in that I could be in direct contact with my fans and that, if I didn’t have a label, then I could write a song today and just put it out without having to go through five different peoples’ approvals. I took some time out to think about how I’d survive and came up with this DIY approach to everything I do.
“I realised how insanely lucky I was to be part of that industry, less and less people get to experience what it’s really like to be on that scale – with Britney being, at that time, the biggest popstar in the world. For a teenager it was probably the coolest thing I could have done in my life, everyone in my high school was jealous of me but I definitely look at it as a huge learning experience. My mum says this, which I think is a great phrase, that I definitely didn’t walk away from it with a million dollars but I got a million dollars worth of experiences.”
Sumo Cyco have now been together for almost six years, but remain independent and retain their novel approach to releasing music, and their much-loved grindhouse-esque videos that have attracted millions of views on their YouTube channel. They’ve also played alongside the likes of Mushroomhead, Butcher Babies, Coal Chamber, Finger Eleven, Hollywood Undead and Nonpoint, and are about to head back out on tour with (hed) P.E.
Tomorrow sees the release of second album Opus Mar, which was created thanks an impressive crowdsourcing effort from Sumo Cyco’s die-hard fans, who smashed the band’s targets by over 250%. We asked Sever about the importance of fans for independent bands, and those looking to get started in the music industry.
She told us: “It’s so true in this day and age, the more I think about the business side. We’re an independent band so we kind of have to have our heads in the creative, but we also have to think about how we’re going to survive and make it to the next tour. So to me, having a core group of fanatical fans that just eat up and love everything you do can be so much more valuable than the casual fan that can buy one single but then doesn’t really pay attention.
“It’s so valuable to have relationships with these people, to remember their names which is something we try to do at shows and just be accessible. That’s been proven by the crowdsourcing campaign we did for this record, where a relatively small group of people was able to help us fund an entire record – and that to me feels great.
“However, I will say as it was our first campaign there was so much I learned and we finished it up right before we went on tour. 500 of the orders were actual physical packages with various items, some of which were pretty elaborate, which made it difficult logistically, so it was a big learning experience – but as far as making a ton of money, the business thing is definitely a constant struggle and we’ll get better at it and make it an efficient, enjoyable experience.”
We wrote a review of the album this week, which you can check out here, but when speaking to Sever we also dug a little more into the bands that influence the Sumo Cyco sound. Aside from Skindred, who Sever is happy to admit are her favourite band, she told us they’ve also taken influence from fellow Canadian bands Billy Talent and Alexisonfire and many others.
She explained: “I’ve always also looked up to Gwen Stefani and other females taking music by the balls and showing the guys how it’s done. There was this one band I loved called Animal Alpha, which I heard on a video game, and this chick just rips into the lyrics with these crazy vocals like she’s ripping into a piece of meat. I was a fan of Bjork, The Cranberries growing up, I really don’t close myself off.”
If you have no idea who Animal Alpha are, then check out the track Sever is referring to – Bundy – and its super weird video here.
Sumo Cyco’s tour with (hed) P.E. kicks off tonight, then they’ll be heading back home for Canadian Music Week with a couple of festivals lined up in the summer and possible plans for a UK return later in the year. Fingers crossed. More details on their tour dates are here.