Former teen pop sensation, Skye Sweetnam transforms into hot Metal star with her ground breaking band, SUMO CYCO.
By Thomas S. Orwat Jr. / Top Photo – by Francesca Ludikar
SUMO CYCO is an innovative, infectious- metal, punk, alternative influenced quartet from Hamilton, Ont. The band, who formed in 2011, is fronted by former teen pop star singer/songwriter, Skye Sweetnam, and also features: Matt ‘MD’ Drake- guitar, Ken ‘Thor’ Corke – bass and Matt Trozzi – drums.
SUMO CYCO has released two well received, musically diverse, full-length records: ‘Lost in Cyco City’ (2014), and ‘Opus Mar’ (2017). In addition, they have just recently posted their well-crafted, high-energy new single/video, “Undefeated.” This video has already received over 60,000 views since it was posted in February.
Over the years, SUMO CYCO has built up a reputation as an amazing live band, and many have taken notice. They will be kicking off their biggest tour of the US to date, commencing April 25th, as an opening act for the, ‘Kings & Queens Tour,’ featuring the Butcher Babies & Nonpoint.
What follows is an exclusive Rock Music Star interview with the powerful, talented and hotter than hell- lead singer/songwriter of SUMO CYCO, Skye “Sever” Sweetnam.
Rock Music Star: Hey Skye, I am calling you from Buffalo, NY, your neighbors to the south.
Skye Sweetnam: Awesome! I love Buffalo.
RMS: Have you played in Buffalo before?
SS: Yeah, I’ve been to Buffalo a few times. It’s fun. We went to- what’s that famous wing place- we went there. The one with all the memorabilia all over the place.
RMS: The Anchor Bar?
SS: Yeah, that’s it! Anchor Bar!
RMS: Yep, it seems that everyone that visits Buffalo, NY stops there. Skye, can you tell us, briefly, how SUMO CYCO formed, and the origins of the band?
SS: SUMO CYCO released it’s first music video online in 2011, but we really haven’t been touring until the last like, four years. The band started, basically because I had been into music ever since I was a young girl. I did pop music; I’ve traveled the world doing that. I was kind of going through a transition, where I realized that I didn’t know if I wanted to be doing that kind of music for the rest of my life.
So, I decided to reach out to my guitarist, who had played with me for many years; his name is Matt. We decided we were just going to kind of experiment with some new stuff. He gave me this album from a band called, Skindred, out of the UK. Their first record is called, ‘Babylon.’ I just fell in love with it. It had like dance mixed with metal, and it was just everything I wanted to do. So, I just decided I would kind of just jump in and try something completely different. Matt and I have been working on these songs ever since in his own studio.
Then, we called our long-time bass player who had been traveling with me, as well; his name is Kenny Corke. His real, actual legal name is Ken Thor Corke, which is kind of cool. So, he joined the band. We’ve been through a few drummers; right now we are working with a guy named Matt Trozzi, and he’s awesome.
RMS: As a solo artist, you were getting some very high profile gigs; you opened for Britney Spears, right?
SS: Yeah, I did. I did 50 shows with her for the Onyx Hotel Tour in 2004, I believe it was.
RMS: That was right when Britney was at the height of her career, too.
SS: Yeah, for sure. She had just released, “Toxic,” which was her big single at the time. It’s pretty crazy to be around that at 16 years old. I was living the dream, as a 16 year old, opening up an arena for Britney Spears in her prime. It was pretty cool.
RMS: Wow. That’s insane. Did you ever suffer any stage fright, or did you pretty much just go for it, right from the beginning without any issues?
SS: Yeah. It’s kind of crazy, but back in those days, it almost got to be like, more natural for me, performing, because I had been doing it for such a long time; ever since I was a little kid. I kind of bypassed that- you know, when you’re in your early teens, and you’re trying to figure yourself out, and you’re unsure of yourself, and you get nervous with that kind of stuff. I was performing constantly, and that’s just what I was meant to do. I kind of bypassed that whole nervous phase, and just loved it (laughs). It’s my second home, so it’s great.
RMS: When you decided to your musical direction, did you meet any reluctance from your managers, or your family? Did anybody say, “What the hell are you doing?” Or were they supportive?
SS: I think that was more in my head, probably, than it was actually, in real life. At that point, it was kind of like, a transition all around, so I didn’t really have a team of anyone working with me, at that point. There had been a lot of drama in my life. I had been shelved on my label, and decided I wanted to leave, so I didn’t have anyone from that respect.
I had a few tragedies happen with some management situations. I was at 19-20 years old, and I didn’t want to hang out with my parents anymore. I wanted to be out of the house as much as possible, hanging with friends. So, I was kind of just, on my own, and I really wanted to take that step to do something that was exciting to me. I felt like it was something that, maybe, I shouldn’t do. I’ve been told for a long time, “Oh, you’re so young,” You’re so talented for such a young age,” “You’re so cute,” and I just wanted to get away from that. I almost hated the idea that I had to be anything, “cute.”
I just wanted to feel free to express myself in any way possible. So, I was rebelling a bit from my previous career- even though I had a lot of run-ins with a lot of really cool rock ’n’ roll cats- I had worked with Tim Armstrong from Rancid for a couple songs. I worked with Mark Hoppus on one song during my pop career. I worked with Matt Wilder, who was a producer on my favorite record by No Doubt, ‘Tragic Kingdom.’
So, I’ve worked with a lot of people who weren’t just like, the Disney, young type; it wasn’t like that. We were trying to do some pretty funky cool stuff. It wasn’t that I wasn’t completely in love with what I had done; I am still super proud with everything I had done at that young age. But, I don’t know, I just wanted to do something more crazy that didn’t need any approval from any one person, if that makes sense.
RMS: What were some of the more challenging aspects of reinventing yourself?
SS: Well, the thing was, I was a bit nervous about how my fans would take it. After I finished doing the major label thing, I really took to online, like YouTube, Facebook, and Myspace. I really liked the idea of having that one-on-one kind of conversations with my fans, where I didn’t feel like I had to be perfect or photoshopped. It was my thoughts and my pictures, and whatever I wanted to post. Right when that was in its infancy, I really took to it.
So, even though I wasn’t releasing a lot of music, I would put out videos or makeup tutorials; just a lot of things online to keep my fan base engaged. When I started SUMO CYCO, it was really under wraps. I didn’t tell anyone online what I was working on. I kind of kept it quiet until I was ready to release it. I guess that’s what was nerve-racking- sending new pictures and new videos, and show all of the people that I know had believed in me for years and stood by me. I was a little bit nervous about what they were going to think. But, what’s so amazing is, you realize that everyone else was growing just as much as I was in the same time frame. So, even though they loved my pop music back in the day, they’ve all been growing up, and they’ve all been changing in musical taste.
By the time I came out with SUMO CYCO, a lot of them were grown up to the point where they wanted something new like that. A lot of them have actually moved over with me and have come to SUMO CYCO shows, and really enjoy the new stuff, which is great.
RMS: Have you been based out of Hamilton the entire time you’ve been in SUMO CYCO?
SS: Yeah! I grew up in Bolton, which is north of Toronto. Matt and Ken were from Hamilton, so I moved out there. Now, we have a studio outside of Hamilton which is built-in like, an old church. So, that’s where I live and work on music and do music videos and everything like that. It’s a fun little getaway from the world. I like to create there. It’s awesome.
RMS: One of the reasons we are doing this interview is because you’re going out on a pretty major tour right now, beginning on April 25th with the Butcher Babies, called “The Kings & Queens Tour.” Nonpoint is also on there. This is the biggest tour that you guys have gone on so far, isn’t it?
SS: Yeah, the longest, for sure. We’ve actually toured with Nonpoint and Butcher Babies before overseas. We do a lot of our touring in Europe and the UK. So, what’s really awesome is that we are huge fans of those bands, we get along with them like crazy. So, it’s really cool that we are all familiar with each other. We’ll get to meet Kane Hill for the first time. As far as going through the States, this will be our longest tour. We are really stoked for it.
RMS: The Butcher Babies and Nonpoint, they both have great reputations as live bands. Is that a bit intimidating? Or do you go out on stage and thing, “We are going to show them that we belong here?” What is your attitude, going into that?
SS: I feel pretty comfortable. Like I said, we’ve done this in the UK. All of the crowds seemed really receptive to what we’ve brought to the table. It’s been great. Elias from Nonpoint was telling me that he thought I did my best show ever. He was like, “Look what you did there, that was pretty dope!”
The Butcher Babies have always been super supportive of us. I’m not intimidated at all. It will be interesting to see what the audiences are like in different parts of the States with their crowds. I definitely love being introduced to new people. One of my favorite things is to win over a crowd that might be a little cold at first, especially since we are on first, opening the night. It’s kind of like a challenge. It makes my blood get pumping and gets me excited to get out on the stage when I know that I’ve got to win these guys over and work extra hard to understand what we are and what we do. It’s kind of fun (laughs).
RMS: It must be difficult going out as an opening band, but it must also be very gratifying when you start winning those people over, and they start meeting you afterwards and telling you how great you are.
SS: Yeah, for sure.
RMS: You recently released the single and video for your new song, “Undefeated.” Can give us some insight on the filming of the video.
SS: We direct and produce all of our own videos. “Undefeated,” was one where we had to get it done in a span of like, four days, max. So, we found this old warehouse that we ended up filming at. At the time, it was really kind of grey, but in Canada- as I’m sure you know in Buffalo- weather can change at any moment, especially at the end of January. So, two days later, it was super snowy, and we were in the middle of a snowstorm. So, the grey, post-apocalyptic look drastically changed to like, a bright, white snow.
So, we decided to use that to our advantage. We had these great masks that were made by a fan named Glenn out in California, and he made these customized skull masks that were all different colors based off of our mascot. So, they’re bright colored, and contradicted well against the white background. Yeah, we filmed it all, and got everybody out there into the cold to film for a good day. Then we had to edit it in a couple days and get it out. It was a little bit more of a planning issue, because we wanted something that we knew we could edit really fast that didn’t require a lot of effects or a lot of time in the editing room, because we knew we had to get it out.
So, if you notice in, “Undefeated,” there’s a lot of kind of, longer shots that the camera moves with me. I think there’s a couple sections where they were all done in one take. The reason why we did that is because of the editing. We thought if we could make it interesting, and pick one of the takes that we really, really liked, it would cut down on our editing time. I thought it worked really cool. You’re in one, fluid motion with the camerawork. It was a fun day, and we had a lot of friends come out and help us, which is always great. We have such a supportive team, and they’re all willing to get suffocated in those masks and freeze their butts off. We appreciate it (laughs).
RMS: I’ll wrap up the video with asking, where would you like to see SUMO CYCO three years from now? Where do you see the band? What level of popularity do you see the band at, and what would you like to be doing with the band at that time?
SS: We’re stoked to just keep growing and expanding our fan base. We’ve worked really hard on doing the underground thing, and doing a lot of DIY. We pride ourselves in having a strong work ethic to make sure we can get everything done ourselves. We’re not going to let the fact that we don’t have a label hold us back from doing what we want to do. We’re really proud of that.
Moving forward, we are kind of getting to the point where we are finding the right team members to expand our team and collaborators to work with. I’m just excited to grow. I want to be able to play festivals next year. Next year, I hope is going to be a good year for us. We can start doing the festival circuit, and just playing bigger and bigger shows. We’re pretty stoked on how things are going, and we are going to move into our third record, probably by the end of the year; we are going to start writing for that. So, I’m really excited. We’ve got some great ideas for that.
I think our song writing skills just keep getting better. So, hopefully that will translate. Breaking into the US is tough. We’ve done a pretty good job ourselves independently over in Europe and the UK, but we are realizing we are just at the beginning, but we are hoping to finally go to radio in the States with a single at some point next year. By the time three years rolls by, hopefully people will know who we are in every city in America.
For more on SUMO CYCO, click here.
Special thanks to Denise Santoro for setting up this interview. And, also Dana Kaiser for transcribing it!