I recently spoke with Skye and Matt of Sumo Cyco about their band’s upcoming new release, ‘Initiation”, which will be released on May 7th 2021, and is now up for pre-orders via Napalm records. We take a deep dive into the band’s music-making process, some details about the album and the world that they’ve created surrounding it, as well as what life has been like in the pandemic for them.
First, I want to say congratulations on the upcoming album release and signing with Napalm records. How did that come to be, and what’s it like being part of the Napalm roster?
Skye: It’s great to be with a Naplam. They kind of had their eye on us for a while, but we opened up for Jinjer in 2019, and when the team came out and saw the show, I think that kind of sold them on making the collab happen.
Matt: Might have been sold before that.
Skye: Yeah, one of the members of Napalm actually came out all the way back in 2017 and saw us.
Matt: And with Jinjer, that was like the third time that they saw us. We went back and forth with them a little bit, so it was a bit of a process.
Skye: Yeah, but now that we’re in the family, they’ve been really awesome with us and with letting me take control because I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to all the details of everything. They really came in and supported us with our creativity which is awesome; even though some might not feel like we’re an obvious choice for Napalm, I think it’s really cool of them to take on a band like us and support us. And I do feel like we fit in the fam, so it’s great!
Matt: Yeah, we’ve been receiving lots of love, and some weird hate from elitist metal people, which of course, is kind of expected. You can’t expect to win everyone over, but for the most part, we’re getting a lot of love, and it’s been really fun with Napalm. They knew they were going to rock the boat a little bit with us.
Skye: And they continue to help us rock it!
How long has the current album been in development? Because if memory serves me correctly, I think there was some crowdsourcing for it a few years ago?Skye: Yeah, this record does feel a little bit different from all are far other records because of the roller coaster rides and starts and stops with it. We had moments where we were kind of presented with a tour, for instance, where we were kind of expecting to work on the record, but then this tour comes up, and we’re like, do we finish the record, or do we just go with his tour opportunity?
So we end up taking the tour, which postpones the record. The signing with Napalm postponed it; obviously, covid-19 postponed it. Which I think gave us a lot of these opportunities to reflect on the music and figure out if this is the perfect record yet, or do we need more? So we wrote a lot of songs and had a really hard time narrowing it down. And a lot of the songs that are on the record probably wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for these stops and starts. About half the songs on the record were written during the pandemic. So in a way, it made the record what it is.
Even from the title of the album, ‘Initiation,’ it almost sounds like the start of something new for the band, exploring dystopian themes and taking the listener into the depths of Cyco City. What are some of the parallels with this creative universe that is Cyco City, with what we’re experiencing today in the real world?
Skye: So much. For me, and with how I’m feeling, I’ve just kind of vomited out everything I’m feeling. And Cyco City is almost like a weird reflection in a way, kind of like Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, which kind of warps is in a way influenced by the real-world but it works into almost like a fantastical comic book story.
The Parallels for me, are just anytime I’m feeling anxious or depressed, those monsters start showing up in the story. Kind of like the nemesis or the enemies. And when everything is happy, there’s lots of colors, and it’s all just one big analogy for everything that happens within the cyco city world.
For me, the theme of Initiation is not only initiating people into Sumo Cycos world, but it’s an initiation into these four factions are gangs that are within Cyco City. Which if people are interested, they can take a quiz at sumocyco.com. So for me, it was to show that we have a diverse fan base, and you don’t have to look one way or wear one type of color. There’s feminine sides; there’s goth sides, rock sides. There are all these different genres mashed up into our sound. But it was also kind of exploring the idea of the polarization of people.
And what I feel is happening a lot in the world is like these really extreme positions left, right. You know, all over the place on different issues and where people kind of buttheads a lot. I’m always interested in why people feel like they belong to a certain group or are drawn towards this or that. And the fact that you can be more than one thing, I think it is something that we need to understand as a society as well.
It’s that even though you disagree with your neighbor about X, Y, and Z that doesn’t mean you can have to be enemies for the rest of your life. It’s good to find those places of common ground and where these intersections overlap to be able to move forward together. And that’s kind of what Initiation means to me.
That’s really cool. And you mention all these things coming together, which is a lot like your music with metal, pop, and punk influences, which isn’t easy to do. How do you guys pull that off and find the middle ground in your sound?
Skye: I think what Matt does really well is if he has some type of rhythm that he’s grooving on, whether that’s like a dance hall rhythm, or whether that’s like a punk beat, he’ll always come to me with the other elements of the song, say with either like the guitars or the vocals and ask me to do the opposite of what is kind of almost the natural thing to do.
So if we’re playing a punk part, try to sing like a reggae version over top of it, or if we’re doing like a dance hall part, it’s like now scream over that part. So it has this real kind of contrast.
Matt: I like to try and think of a little bit more out of the box. Not always, like, we definitely like to try and structure songs and be smart about things. I always like to try to think it has to be catchy no matter what. And I think that catchy is the biggest thing. If it’s catchy, it doesn’t matter how you format it or what kind of styles, if it’s just cool, then it works.
So I try to write like that where we’re like, oh, you know, sure this is what you’d hear now, but let’s try something a little different. And as long as it rocks, then we’ll keep it. And if it doesn’t, then we’ll go back. So it’s kind of this push and pull of trying to find something that just sounds a little more unique than what you’d expect, you know?
Something I find that’s great about fusion genres is that there can be a lot of overlap for fans and a way for them to discover new forms of music. Say for example, you have a fan of Folk Music, someone who is a hardcore Stan Rogers fan, that might stumble upon a folk metal cover of ‘Northwest Passage,’ and then before you know it, that person is listening to Slayer. For you, Skye, have you brought over any fans from your pop days to a harder style? What is your audience like now?
Skye: Yeah, it’s true. There has been a lot of people that have followed me through my career, which is it’s kind of fun. I think that they’ve grown with me because they kind of knew me a little closer than I think some fan musician relationships, it’s almost like they really wanted to buy into whatever I was selling because they had an invested interest.
Matt: We were only going to do the band as a music videos. We had this idea, of this songwriting thing, but I think if Skye didn’t have her diehards, that kind of just follow her and were like, I really like what you do all the time, whether it’s this or that and we just want to check it out. I don’t think if we had them at the beginning we would have probably even moved forward more than a couple of song writings.
She had some real good diehards that cared about what she was doing right from the start. So like when we dropped our first songs, that’s why I think they were the first people that kind of came forward. And a ton of them walked away.
We knew that was going to happen. We got lots of emails, lots of messages of people saying ‘what are you doing with your career?’ ‘What are you doing with your life?’ And it’s like, I want to do this, fuck off kind of thing. Then the rest was from touring.
Everything came from touring. When people ask us what our fans are, there are people that met us, personally. We’ve met a lot of people. Skye goes behind the merch booth. She gets off stage with a mic and tries to kind of bring them over like lemmings, just like come and meet me.
We want people to understand that we try to do this as organically as possible so that they can feel close to us and we can feel close to them.
Skye: It is like the fan base is very diverse because it is some of those young girls that grew up listening to me that ending up liking this. And it is also some metalheads that just stumbled upon us at like a Jinjer show or, or Butcher Babies show.
Matt: We try to invite everyone to feel safe with us. So we get a lot of communities with us. That’s for sure.
Your music is unique and Innovative. I’ve described it as something that you can both headbang to and dance to. And you guys have been expanding your fanbase quite rapidly and have been getting a lot of positive feedback. And of course, as you mentioned, there’s always those metalheads that need a little warming up to something different. But overall, you’ve been getting some great feedback; how have you felt about it all?
Skye: I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that you can’t please everyone. And I think Matt and I both have a pretty thick skin when it comes to negative comments online and whatnot. But you know, when you cast a wide net, you also get some people caught up in that net that aren’t really too happy to be there. So to me, the more kind of negativity you see on your videos are like comments sections, it shows that we’re reaching a bigger audience than we normally have, which is what needs to be done.
Matt: And if they don’t like it, they just won’t follow. Then the ones that do are with us for good. Skye and I have done percentages, literally locked down and looked at our averages. And I feel like there’s about with the Napalm world that we’re in which can have some metal elitist or whatever you want to call it, I think that we’re winning about six to seven people out of ten people over right now. Which is not a bad average. That’s a pretty solid average!
Skye: Yeah! But you know to have people hate us and love us is kind of a better place to be to me than kind of a mushy in between.
Matt: But those four people suck! (laugh)
Earlier, you mentioned filming music videos, which a lot of bands are finding difficult in the pandemic given they only have a limited crew. I know in 2020 I just saw an explosion of lyrical videos. But you guys seem to go all out with amazing wardrobes, excellent effects, and such. What’s the secret for you guys when it comes to making great videos with such limited resources during the pandemic?
Skye: Thanks, Jeff. Well, we appreciate that. We’ve been able to practice the skill for the last 10 years. We’ve always done our own music videos. So it’s almost like our lives have prepared us for this moment where the only two of us can really work on the videos. Matt and I have always built our life around our band, which I think some people don’t necessarily have the option to, or realize how much you kind of have to change the way you think about your life. Just in order to make it easier for you to create and easier for you to do the things that you need to do for your band.
And one of the things we’ve done is when we were looking for a place to live, we went out into the boonies into the country because we knew we needed space to create. And we knew we didn’t want neighbors knocking on the door saying you’re playing your music too loud. So we found a great place that we have a home studio.
Matt: It’s an old church that was turned into a daycare that didn’t work well because it’s too far out of the town. So Skye was like, let’s rent this thing. That way we can basically make a headquarters and run this as a proper as you could, like a store. So we’ve got our one-stop-shop where you’ve got a big loft space you make music videos in, and we have our little studio here that we record bands in and ourselves, of course. And we have a merch store/kitchen (laugh)
Skye: Yeah! Everything is something else like our livingroom/drumroom. But the videos are really fun. Matt and I usually just come up with whatever resources we have. So for instance, Vertigo, we have a neighbor who’s an electrician, and he’s always throwing kind of old lighting fixtures and stuff out that he doesn’t need.
Matt: And I just sort of go over there and collect it all! I think the biggest thing that we learned a long time ago, the main thing we learned when Skye stopped with Capital is how much Capital made mistakes spending money in the wrong places.
Sometimes they made amazing things for Skye, it was amazing, but you do see mistakes made. And Skye and I tried to avoid those mistakes. We were like, why would we spend, you know, 6,000 to $7,000 on one music video for one company to do that for us or 10,000 when we could spend seven or 8,000 and buy a camera and buy the laptop and by the crane, and like, just start learning how to use the gear?
And we did that 10 years ago, literally just threw like 30 or $40,000 on our credit card, basically. Seriously. I think that’s how much we almost put in between our camera gear, budgets, and trying to get us on tour. We probably invested about $40,000. That’s how truthful I am about what we try to do 10 years ago to start this band.
We knew what you needed to do, which was spend real kind of like label money on ourselves instead of letting a label do it. We just did it ourselves and it took eight years to pay ourselves back. Even now we go into debt every other year that we go into tour and then we try to pay everything back.
We’ve always done things independently, and that’s what we did with the videos. We can spend the X amount of dollars and make seven videos for the same amount that somebody will do for one, because they don’t want to do it themselves.
Obviously, live engagement with fans has been challenging if not impossible for many bands during the pandemic. But you guys seem to always be there for your audience, be it with your live chats, for example. Is that something you plan on doing more of, or maybe even some live stream shows?
Skye: I think it’s so important to have some type of connection. And I think that for even Matt and I just going on the live chats and streaming with our fans, that it does mentally help and brings us back to a place of, “yeah! our fans are still there!”
There’s still people out there going through this as well. And it can feel isolating in this time. Unfortunately, where we live is in a very strict lockdown right now. It’s actually illegal to do any live concert streaming right now. They actually specifically said that in the press release.
Matt: Yeah, we can’t do live-stream concerts. Like technically grabbing our acoustic we can do a live stream here. But if for some reason we posted right now that we have the whole band in with a crew in here and we were doing it and we posted it to try and generate income, it would be looked upon as illegal right now because they blocked out.
Skye: So it’s pretty strict. So, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be doing a live stream concert right now.
Matt: We will do some kind of listening party.
Skye: We will do a listening party, and we’ll find our own twist on it and we’ll make something fun happen. I do feel like we put so much of our effort into making content. I’ve done some piano playing recently, so we’ve got some acoustic versions that there.
Matt: We’ve just been slamming the content. And we’ve been making these music videos every month. And when you ask how much we put into it, like Skye and I put in 24 hours a day. It sucks because I had to turn down a popular band out of Canada, that had a big single and they wanted to rerecord it recently, and I was like, I can’t do it right now, guys. I’m just too swamped of what we’re doing.
It’s like wow, we really are that busy. Two days ago, we were upstairs in our loft making a set and filming Skye she has prosthetics and this big skull face on, and today which we’re editing it. And it’s like, the biggest thing that you can tell any band though, is if you’re not ready to invest in yourself, you’re really in trouble right off the start.
Like it sucks to want to spend money on yourself cause you’re not sure if you’re going to get it back. But if you don’t have the balls, then you obviously don’t believe in your project enough in the first place, you have to have a great project that you believe in to one invest, but bands make that mistake.
I used to be a band that would never invest in themselves. Nobody thinks, “wait a second, we’re supposed to be pouring that into the business to grow.” And that’s what we’ve done for the past ten years. And it’s got us pretty far so far, and Napalm took notice and kind of picked up with us.
Definitely. It is indeed some sage advice to say the band, hey; you have to invest in yourself. As more and more people are getting vaccinated, and things are starting to open up a little bit more in various spots around the world, do you think we’re going to get back to normal, or do you think this is left a permanent mark on the music industry?
Skye: I was just thinking about what it would feel like to get back into a room with people, and I’ve already, unfortunately, developed a weird recoiling mechanism that is subconscious now from people. As soon as I’m in the grocery store and someone gets too close, I just automatically recoil from them. And that sucks. Maybe it’s going to be an instinct in the future. The future to feel like I can’t handshake or jump on people. I don’t know if I’ll be able to jump right back in, but maybe I will.
Matt: Maybe this is wishful thinking, but for yourself too, Jeff, everybody, but society has overcome a bunch of pandemics and everything went back to normal. This was before the medical world is where it is right now. So even if it’s going to be 2022, I believe one day we’re going to walk back into venues and stadiums, and like anything, especially the way the business are with these anti maskers.
I’m not into that, but you’re definitely going to have half a society that wants to go back to normal the way they do. So I think that when you beat the black plague, and you go back to normal, I think that eventually there will be like it was before.
It’s just going to take a while, and maybe there will be new precautions so that they never run into it again. Maybe they will be testing a week before you come into the venue or for temperatures, but I don’t think we’re going to be that far off.
I think whether it’s a year and a half, two years, I think at one point we’re going to get normal again. And the only thing that’s going to suck is the venues that don’t survive and the companies, and thats the worst thing. I think eventually you’ll see something come back to some form of normality.
Skye: I do feel bad for so many venues and bands too.
Matt: And for a band that doesn’t know how to attack the online world right now, like properly, that must really suck. Although I heard in some of the states, they’re pretty open right now. And I mean some of the cover bands are killing it because they don’t care, they’re just playing bars and doing their thing. So again, there’s some of the world is already trying to be that way.
So we got to stay safe, everybody should try and stay safe because the only way we’re going to get the normalcy back is is if everybody pays attention.
Yeah things have been interesting and it’s been a bit of a situation here in the U.S. with some shows going on with no restrictions.
Matt: It’s like I’m jealous, cause I want to go. And then there’s this side of me that knows it’s not safe. I’m not for the anti mask world. I’m very for it. Everybody is trying to be safe and not spread this thing. And you know, even if we’re healthy, you can still be a carrier. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that people forget.
For sure. And lastly, I want to the new album is excellent, and thank you guys for taking the time to speak with me, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Skye: Thanks again for having us, Jeff! And for anyone out there, if you’re interested in learning more about Sumo Cyco you can all find us on all of our socials and the Sumo Cyco website and Napalm records. Where you can pre-order the record!
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