Interview: Skye Sweetnam On The Evolution Of Sumo Cyco And The Journey To ‘Initiation’

Skye Sweetnam doesn’t believe in labels or genres. “That’s why I love the name GENRE IS DEAD! because I do feel that way. It’s more freeing when we get rid of the idea that you have to conform to any one type of genre.” This is the thought behind the bright, colorful, metal, rock, pop, and whatever else they feel like act Sumo Cyco, which Sweetnam has been fronting for the past ten years. Their fun and vibrant image along with their genre-blending sound has earned them a cult following that just keeps getting bigger. Now signed to Napalm Records, the band is ready to bring their wild, groovy, Cyco-brand of music to the masses with their new album, Initiation.

Sweetnam sits down with GENRE IS DEAD! to talk about the ups and downs behind the new album, signing with Napalm Records, and staying true to herself.

GENRE IS DEAD!: Last time I saw you guys was on the Wednesday 13 tour in 2020 before the world shut down. Once lockdown happened, what was Sumo Cyco’s next move? Did you guys start working on the album?

Skye Sweetnam: We basically went back to our home in Canada and bunkered in. It was a bit hard right off the bat to focus because you’re taken aback by all the news and what’s happening. Everything seemed so strange and half of us were hoping it wasn’t going to be as long of a journey as it has been. Just getting our information straight and figuring out how we were gonna move forward was a shock to us. The one silver lining is that we didn’t have anything planned as far as the next year. We anticipated to be working on the record, so it’s not like we had to cancel any perspective tours. We had it a little easier compared to many people out there who had tour plans or their jobs taken away. We were very fortunate to have just signed a record deal in January, so we had a bit of security going into the next year. It was hard mentally, but I’m grateful it wasn’t as bad on our end as it was for other people. But yeah, it was strange in the studio brainstorming what to do with this time we had on our hands.

GID: Some of the songs on the new album talk about anxiety and making sacrifices. Did the events of 2020 influence the album at all?

SS: Yes, very much so. This record is quite a roller coaster not only as a listener but also with making the record. There were a lot of stops and starts. There were times we planned to put the record out and had to put it on hold because we’d be on tour for months. Or we got excited and launched a pre-order campaign and then got a record contract, and had to slow down the release strategy. Some of the songs on this record were written back in 2017, so a lot of different things have happened since that time. Songs like “Bystander” and “No Surrender” came at the end of the writing process so those songs were completely impacted by what we went through during the pandemic. But then there are songs like our next single, “Vertigo,” which we wrote in 2019 when we were traveling to Vegas doing fun stuff – everything seemed really positive and optimistic. There are many different emotions and times we went through when writing this that I think shows in the songs. There are just so many different moods going on.

GID: Speaking of “No Surrender,” the song was recently released as a single. Can you tell me how that song came about?

SS: [Guitarist] Matt [Drake] came up with this pounding, driving verse that made me feel this tension that echoed what the world was going through. We had riots happening, we had the Black Lives Matter movement, we had COVID – everything felt so tense. Part of me felt silly being a musician trying to promote myself singing. The world has such big problems and here I am trying to write rock/pop songs. I was struggling to find a balance between feeling like I’m contributing but feeling like you can’t really contribute when you’re locked in your house and can’t do benefit concerts. I just felt this whole tension like don’t move, don’t do anything. Just sit there and try to be good and wait for this thing to pass.

But I don’t live like that. I’ve got to be true to myself. I’ve got to live like no surrender. I really commend people who actually stand for what they believe in and don’t do what they’re expected to from society or the status quo. They live their true selves and speak their truth. That’s kind of what “No Surrender” is. You can take that on a personal level like being comfortable with yourself and getting through whatever internal issues you have. Or standing up for a cause or your beliefs – that’s what no surrender meant to me. When I look back on them, most of my songs end up having a theme of empowerment. By writing the song, it’s like I’m telling myself what I need to do.  I give myself strength by actually writing it into a song. I find when I’m in a dark place, if I write a song about overcoming then I feel like I can help myself overcome those issues.

GID: It does have this empowering message. It makes me think about the video where you have all these different versions of yourself. I correlate that with people in lockdown spending all day inside their own thoughts. And if you’re in a dark place, it can be that much harder to deal with.

SS: It’s really scary when people are left to themselves because you’re confronted with every part of yourself, like the dark sides you can sometimes distract yourself from by going through everyday life. When you have those moments of complete silence and nothing else around you, it really lets the demons in your mind take hold, which can be a struggle. I feel like a lot of our fans can relate whenever we write songs that talk about overcoming and fighting those inner demons. A lot of people share those experiences with us and how the songs have helped them.

That’s another side – me grappling with the thought of what am I doing with my life? I’m in an industry that’s hard enough as it is and now, we can’t perform. We can’t do what we need to survive and you wonder if your contribution to the world enough. At the end of the day, I realize how much a song can transcend past yourself and make an impact in ways you don’t realize because people take that one spark of inspiration and it goes into their headphones. Maybe they listen to it in the gym, and it inspires them to work out harder that day or to feel better about themselves when they’re in a lonely place. There’re so many things it can spark down the line, so it does make me feel I’m helping people deal with their emotions in a healthier way.

GID: That’s the beautiful thing about music. There’s some sort of comfort when an artist you really admire is very honest about their own struggles. It allows you to connect with them in a different way.

SS: It’s amazing that music is so powerful and whenever I doubt that it sucks. I love getting back to that place where I realize it’s a super important, very worthwhile endeavor to go through. Music’s a weird balance because it lets you be emotional in ways that sometimes society doesn’t always accept, like crying out your problems. Rocking out to your favorite song and singing those lyrics at the top of your lungs is a way to get that out. People can feel that emotion, that real connection to it and it’s a little bit more accepted than going out into the street screaming “WHY?!” even though I always feel like I could do that! Just run out into the street like “WAH WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!”

GID: At least with music you can run out into your living room and do that if you’re not quite ready to run out into the streets. So, Initiation marks your first release for Napalm Records. How did you guys team up with them?

SS: One of their marketing directors came out to a show we played in 2017. They took us aside and said they really loved what they saw and they would let the label know. So, we kept in touch. Then we had the amazing opportunity to tour with Jinger, whose also on Napalm. During that tour, their label came to a few shows and saw us play as well. Then it kind of all came together. We’re managed by Dez Fafara of DevilDriver, who’s also on Napalm Records, so it seemed like there were all these arrows pointing in that direction.

GID: Because you guys are an independent band, was there any hesitation signing with them?

SS: Yeah. We’ve been a fiercely independent band for the last ten years, so it was a huge decision to sign a deal with a label because we’re so used to doing everything ourselves and having complete control. They allowed us to keep every single piece of creative control, they’re just lending a hand in some of these other areas of the business I would’ve had to take care of. It leaves space for me to do more creative stuff. As a growing band, you realize the more jobs you have in a day becomes overwhelming. I find myself being more glued to emails than actually creating art or making music videos or writing songs. So, having a team to alleviate some of that pressure is really helpful.

They’ve been a great partner so far. They embrace our ideas and our identity and that’s something we were hesitant about because Napalm’s known for being the metal label. We love metal, but we’re not a typical metal band. We have pop elements and tons of other genres [in our music]. Napalm is letting us be who we are, which is so liberating. It’s awesome to have that support behind us.

GID: That’s part of what makes Sumo Cyco great. The band embodies this fuck the rules mentality. Sumo Cyco isn’t just one thing. It encompasses all these styles of music you love from the catchy pop-inspired hooks to the heavy as hell riffs and your screaming vocals.

SS: Yeah, we love that. In some ways, it’s inspired by one time I was in Japan as a young teen doing my pop music. I remember going to a radio station and it blew my mind that it wasn’t labeled by genre. I had the opportunity to make a playlist and I was like what do you mean? I could put Spice Girls back-to-back with Metallica? And they were like yeah go for it! It was the most liberating thing! We’re taught to think you can’t like this music and that music. Those are two different things! And I’m like no! Let’s show all the facets of what makes me who I am and what influences me. It really is a construct we’ve been taught and once that illusion is shattered, it opens us up to a lot of different possibilities in music.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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