As I sit backstage at Rebellion with Skye Sweetnam and Matt Drake of Sumo Cyco, their fondness for Manchester comes up quite a few times. In fact it’s one of the first things they mention. “We have lots of special memories (of Manchester)” declares Skye before she laughs. “And some that we’ve forgotten because we’ve had a few drinks! Especially at one of our favourite bars – The Liars Club. Have you been there before?” I have and I in turn share a tale of the time I finished one of The Liquorists’ excellent Rum Trails in the Manchester bar, before it all got a little messy.
Sumo Cyco are instantly likeable, easy to talk to, share laughs and jokes with and get to know. There’s no wall, no falseness, no pretence. This is a band who genuinely want to create a connection with people, with their fans and supporters.
Being a largely DIY band, Sumo Cyco are able to do this better than most.
“I’ve always really wanted to feel like anyone could come up to me, and just tell me anything, and just talk to me like I’m a regular person”
“I always want to make sure that no matter how many connections we have with the industry people that we never lose that feeling that we have with our fans. Which I think is most important,” Skye explains. “I think something can sometimes be lost when you have too many middle men in between you and the fan where you have to get everything approved. I just always want to have that real connection with the fans where I don’t want them to feel like we’re kind of distant rock stars that are unattainable, I’ve always really wanted to feel like anyone could come up to me, and just tell me anything, and just talk to me like I’m a regular person.”
And it seems to work. There’s a great sense of camaraderie when Sumo Cyco come on stage. The fans do seem to be almost like an extended family. Throughout the gig, there are laughs and jokes, smiles and cheer. Furthering the connection with the fans at Rebellion, Skye makes her way into the crowd, mid gig, singing amongst the mass surrounding her. The relationship with the fans has grown each time Sumo Cyco have visited the city, they explain. “It’s crazy now that we’ve been here, I think six times or something to Manchester, that we actually feel like we’re friends with some of the people because they’ve been here for so many years, come and supported us, and support evolves into more than just a fan-artist relationship, there’s more there.”
Rebellion is pretty packed for the show and they acknowledge that’s a far cry from the first time they headlined a UK tour. “Three or four years ago we couldn’t come here and do this” Matt admits. “Three years ago was the first time we came this way and there were nearly 10 people in each venue when we showed up. Now we’re doing 150. I think there’s almost 170 sold tonight. Last night was almost sold out in Glasgow. It’s pretty awesome seeing people sing our songs and know us, that’s for sure.”
Sumo Cyco are back in Manchester following the release of their latest single, Undefeated. “Undefeated is a song we’ve been working on in between tours over the last year”, Skye tells me. Being on the road (and taking stock afterwards) doesn’t stop the band from pressing forward, continually looking to find creative outputs. “The last year’s been really busy” continues Skye, “but Matt and I can’t just let our brains be quiet and not write. We always have to write songs. We’re always constantly coming up with new ideas. Undefeated just came to us. We are really excited about it. We kind of had a debate about whether or not we were just going to keep promoting Opus Mar, our previous record, before we came here or if we’re going to do something new. We had that song ready. I kind of convinced the team. I was like ‘Just put it out.'” “You didn’t convince us, you made us. All of us” laughs Matt. He tells us that he wondered whether they should wait a little, but that in the end they decided to press forward with the release with minimal lead time.
“That’s the positive of being independent … what we say kind of goes” enthuses Skye. “Even if it’s not a long lead up for planning. Most times you have to come up with your strategy … ‘what is it part of? Are you putting out a record? When’s that happening?’ Blah, blah, blah. We just write music. We put it out there and want the fans to hear it.”
“We’re hell for our PR company though” Matt laughs, “We tell them ‘We’re going to do this and this’, ‘We need prep five weeks to do this’ [they tell us]. No. Next week [we say] and they’re like ‘Great.’
“We really had a lot of fun with it” Skye tell us about the song and accompanying video. “The video we put together in maybe two and a half days of filming and editing. We needed to get it done so quickly. So far it’s had a good reception with the fans. Everybody seems to really like it.” The acoustic version in the VIP sessions at gigs has also gone down well (it’s unsurprising as their Acoustic Sessions release is stunning).
“We fight about this all the time actually.”
As a band, they certainly do things the way they want to. “We put a big effort into trying to do it ourselves really … independently” they acknowledge. But does this fiercely DIY approach have any drawbacks? Do they at times wish that they were able to push things on to others rather than putting everything upon themselves? “Yes, there are definitely pros and cons” declares Skye, whilst Matt laughs – “We fight about this all the time actually” he says with a smile. “I give it up to anyone that’s in our boat doing the same thing” continues Skye. “Doing it completely independently is tough. It’s everyday … we’re putting up the merch, we’re our own crew, there’s only four of us travelling together. We have to come up with how we’re going to get from A to B. We have to front all the costs ourselves. We take on all the risk ourselves. We don’t have anyone who’s a little bit more experienced so we have to learn things ourselves. Yes there’s tough parts but on the other hand like there’s so much control. We can put things out when we want, how we want. No one’s telling us what type of music to do. We can be free to do what we want. Yes there are those days where I’m like ‘Man, if we had one or two more people on our team that were just helping us out doing this or that that would be great’.”
But for Sumo Cyco this works. They have been able to take what they initially conceived as an online project and build on it, releasing the music they want, when they want; writing in the style they desire; producing videos inspired by their own creativity. Nothing is forced upon them.
“We had no idea that we would be able to travel anywhere. Afford to travel anywhere, have any fans anywhere”
“We started off with the idea that the band would mostly revolve around being an online project” they explain about their origins. “At the time we started this, we had no idea that we would be able to travel anywhere; to be able to afford to travel anywhere; have any fans anywhere! We thought the one tool we do have available to us is to get out on the internet and just let people hear what we do. We just started making videos and just posting them.”
“We think creatively and outside the box with some of the ideas” continues Skye. “For our first record, we started the idea of doing chapters. Every song continues where the last one left off. For the second album, we thought we had to have some type of concept to follow that up. Opus Mar is themed around a train, where every song takes a place on different car of the train – I have a very vivid imagination! Sometimes I drive the guys crazy with all my massive ideas that probably should have an entire production company to make happen. But I’m like ‘We can do it the five of us. Yes completely. Like me, my friend and you!’ and (their reaction is) “Okay Skye, you really think you can accomplish this?” … “We can do it!”
Moving forward, there’s talk of a new EP and more singles. But in Sumo Cyco’s own independent DIY approach they aren’t doing things the traditional way. There’s no waiting whilst they write and record four or five tracks for an EP; no thought of holding back until they’ve penned a dozen or so for an album; they won’t deprive their fans of new music in the meantime. “Our idea” Skye tells me, “is let’s just keep putting up singles the way that we have with Undefeated until we have enough material that we’ve built up for an EP. That’s the idea but it does depends if we have enough time. Or we might be writing so much that we’ll feel like what we want to make a whole record. I know that Undefeated will eventually be part of some compilation of songs, it’s just a matter of how many we get done and in what time frame.”
A continuous stream of new music rather than waiting for one big release. Sounds good to me and in an age of ever increasing streaming, it makes complete sense. “I find it loses something because you get a one piece of 12 or 13 songs all at once. Everyone listens to them like crazy and then the feeling is ‘I’ve worked so hard over a year on putting that together I’ve nothing left until I’ve worked for another long period of time’. When you are constantly putting out (singles) as you make them I think it creates an excitement and a newness. Everything is constantly on the cusp and nobody’s heard it before. I find that actually builds more momentum for our band than putting out (a release), waiting two years and putting a record. I think that’s the way that a lot of other genres work. It seems like metal especially and rock genre still hold on a lot dearer to the album concept than obviously pop and country does. It’s ever evolving and the industry is ever changing … I’m always just trying to ride the wave and see where we go.”
“We’re animal-friendly people. That’s why we’re good!”
Astonishingly, Skye has been spending time touring and gigging for at least a couple of months each year since she was 14 years old. “It’s something that I really enjoy” she enthuses, “Being in a different place, having the unpredictability of what’s going to happen. We all support each other whenever there are moments where you need friends to help you through but luckily we haven’t had any terrible experiences.” Although they have had some humorous experiences in the past – in Manchester they admit they were previously turned away from every bar on Deansgate Locks before finding salvation and flaming zombies in the Liars Club; and in Chester just a day earlier the sound engineer’s first introduction to them was finding them all stood over a dead pigeon (they’re at pains to explain that the pigeon had been the victim of a Falcon in front of their very eyes and that they don’t actually sacrifice animals – “We’re animal-friendly people. That’s why we’re good!” declares Matt); whilst you can google some of their other on the road experiences!
And quickly following their UK tour, Sumo Cyco are back out on the road, with a packed schedule running through until June. “We’re not sure we know what we got ourselves into!” laughs Matt – you can tell he’s confident about it though. “We weren’t 100% that the Butcher Babies tour was happening until we were actually in the airport here and it was just being announced” reveals Skye. In the truest sense of DIY, they are also taking care of their travel arrangements themselves – “We just recently bought a new tour vehicle. It’s an old twelve passenger minibus. We still have all the work to do to turn it into a touring vehicle with bunks and everything there. As soon as we get home it will be a rush to get that all ready before we leave again. Then we’re gone for a good two, two and a half months.”
After Sumo Cyco’s electrifying set at Rebellion, I prepare to head out. The band had put on a stunning, energetic performance. They showed why their fanbase is growing and what sets them apart from other bands and why fans keep coming back for more. Turning around, I notice the merch stand. Typically DIY, there’s Skye at the stand, taking sales and posing for photographs as practically the whole venue joins the queue.
Author: Mark Kelly
Music lover. Gig reviewer.
Often found at the merch stand.