It’s a good time for a certain kind of rock band. The kind of band with a kick-ass vocalist who just wants to make music and let everyone know they don’t give a damn. The kind of band where that vocalist also happens to be a girl; a girl who wants you to listen to her music without defining it as ‘female-fronted’.
You’ll have heard of Marmozets and Pvris, and of Rolo Tomassi and The Distillers before them, but snapping at their heels are new-kids-on-the-block Sumo Cyco. Like Pvris – who Sumo Cyco’s Sever cites as one of her current favourite bands – they’re a Canadian outfit whose abrasive brand of performance-rock is ready to burst out of Toronto and assault our eardrums here in the UK. In the nicest possible way, of course.
“I just want to be treated like any other awesome band out there,” says Sever, aka Skye Sweetnam. “I do feel like females are a bit underrepresented in rock and there aren’t as many bands featured on the line ups of big festivals, but I think the industry is starting to realise that women have as much of a voice as men.”
If she sounds surprisingly confident for a newbie on the scene, it’s because she’s been in the business for 12 years already. At the tender age of 14, she embarked on a pop career and has even opened for Britney Spears. Don’t let that put you off, though. She’s well aware of the criticism that could be thrown at the ‘pop girl turned rock-chick’ and wants to make it clear that her new sound with Sumo Cyco is no gimmick.
“When you’re that young, you’re still developing your taste and finding out who you are,” she says of her early career. “I found myself gravitating towards more heavy rock sounds, and on my second solo album I was able to work with Tim Armstrong from Rancid. I was influenced by him, and slowly started realising that rock and metal was where my heart was at.”
Did Skye worry about people’s reactions to that transition, then?
“It was expected of me to continue in the pop world, rather than follow my heart,” she explains. “I had a lot of soul-searching to do to prove to myself that I could go in whatever direction I wanted and not be judged. I want to empower girls to believe in themselves and realise they don’t have to fit into society’s expectations of what they should be.”
Sumo Cyco’s spiky, punk-metal influenced sound led to them opening for Hollywood Undead in Toronto in 2011, before making their first trip to the UK to perform at Indie Week Ireland in 2014.
“It was that kick in the butt we needed once we got to Ireland,” says Sweetnam. “We didn’t really know what to expect as a new band on our first time over here, but we were thrilled with how it went. We can’t wait to come back to the UK at the end of this month.”
The debut album, Lost in Cyco City, was released last June, and features a collection of in-your-face rock songs about being true to yourself. On the scale of schmaltz to butt-kicking, it’s firmly at the latter end. The titular Cyco City isn’t just words, either; through their videos, the band have created their own, comic-book inspired universe in which they appear as their alter egos: Sever, M.D., Wolf, and Thor.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously in real life, though; I’m still Skye to the rest of the band,” says Sweetnam. “But we love comic books and horror, so we work that into our videos to create this world of Cyco City where anything goes.”
Impressively, she directs all the videos herself, and is planning to release one for every song on the album. You’d think, with the current No Mercy tour underway and set to arrive in the UK on April 24, and directing duties on the side, that she’d be too busy to think about their next album. Not so.
“We’re thinking forward, we never stop writing,” Sweetnam says. “But it’ll probably be later this year before we sit down in the studio and properly put something down.”
Between now and then, Sumo Cyco will be releasing their album in the USA and playing the Vans Warped Tour, before arriving in the UK at the end of the month, where Sweetnam hopes they’ll win over audiences once again. For her, that’s the most important part – as she says: “I don’t just sing my songs when I’m on stage. I live them.”
Sumo Cyco are on tour in April. See their official website for full details.