Two weeks after SeeYouSpaceCowboy finished recording their new album, The Romance Of Affliction, frontwoman and lyricist Connie Sgarbossa overdosed and almost died.
It was the culmination of years of addiction, despair and grief, after the death by suicide of her girlfriend left her “in survival mode”. If the San Diego band’s 2019 debut album, The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds – written in the wake of that tragic event – was an open wound, fresh in the aftermath of loss, The Romance Of Affliction is a dissection, a deeper, more curious and more analytical look at the hurdles Connie has faced over the last two years.
“[The overdose] became the perfect example of why I wrote this album,” says Connie, who is reluctant to go into specific details of it specifically, or her addiction in general. “It isn’t about triumph over adversity. There is no happy ending yet.”
Forgoing the more straight-up metalcore of its predecessor, The Romance Of Affliction is more ambitious and ambiguous, mirroring Connie’s multifaceted experience of addiction, recovery and relapse. “This album was my own little catharsis,” says Connie, “but I hope people can take away that it’s OK – shit happens, and it’s messy but you just gotta keep working on it.”
It was this determination and straight-talking approach that prompted Connie to form SeeYouSpaceCowboy in 2016 along with drummer-turned-guitarist brother Ethan and original bassist Taylor Allen. A handful of singles and EPs together with their debut album positioned them as an exciting new voice on the underground scene and pitched Connie as an invaluable voice for the queer community.
But while SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s music has evolved into a meticulous balancing act of intensity, irresistible melody and unbridled chaos – they call it “Sasscore” – the singer’s unflinchingly honest lyricism keeps it all grounded in a reality that can be brutally bleak and cathartic in equal measure. “My brain tells me multiple times a day to kill myself,” Connie says candidly. ‘But I just keep touring, I keep creating.”
While the nature of her lyrics offers a beacon for those marginalised people who face similar struggles, the new album finds humour within the darkness. “When we wrote The Correlation…, it was dark and depressing, which worked at the time,” says Connie. “But that’s not an accurate representation of me now. I’m more satirical and cynical. I like to bring in humour and ridiculous, heavy breakdowns in these dark songs.”
There have been major line-up changes between the two albums, with their old bassist and guitarist leaving (they were rejoined in 2020 by Taylor Allen, who had departed three years earlier, plus drummer AJ Tartol). But these personnel upheavals turned out to be a blessing in disguise, opening up new avenues for SeeYouSpaceCowboy
“It felt like a new band,” says Connie. “Our main songwriter left, so we didn’t feel pressured, because we weren’t trying to live up to what we did before. We wanted to do something different. It felt more like growing pains.”
Still, “growing pains” were the least of the shake-ups in the two years between albums. Whilst The Correlation… dealt with the immediate grief of the death of Connie’s partner, The Romance Of Affliction deals with a much longer-term fallout. Connie’s lyrics have never shied away from difficult topics, but the new album is stark in its portrayal of grief, addiction and relapse: the jarring roar of Anything To Take Me Anywhere But Here is an out-of-control depiction of drug abuse punctuated by screams, laughter and disorientating jazzy sections.
“Originally, my whole idea for this record was going to be ‘exit wounds’, with The Correlation… being ‘entrance wounds’,” says Connie. “I was thinking I would write about how everything’s better and this is how I conquered all. But I’m not better. It felt ingenuine for me to write a record that was a grandiose statement about healing. I tried to write those ‘it gets better songs’ and it’s just not what’s on my mind. What’s on my mind is how I’ve been in survival mode for two years since my life got turned upside down.”
If the past has been dark for Connie, the future looks bright for SeeYouSpaceCowboy, especially now they can connect with their fanbase in a live setting again. “Every show we’ve played, since live music came back, has been our craziest show in that area,” she says. “You worry that people are going to forget about you over the pandemic – but we’re playing shows that are wilder than before everything shut down!”
And despite the many personal challenges she’s faced along the way, Connie isn’t planning on giving up any time soon. “Even when everything is terrible, I still find time to laugh at it. Life has no meaning and it’s fucking absurd that we exist. I think of it like a shark – they have to swim in order to breathe. Whilst I have the capabilities, I will just keep going.”
The Romance of Affliction is out now via Pure Noise Records