Sicksense Interview

Sound Escape

Sicksense are among a series of acts riding the wave of the recent nu-metal resurgence. The band is spearheaded by vocalists and husband and wife team ‘Killer V’ (Vicky Psarakis, formerly of Canadian melodic death act The Agonist) and ‘Rob The Ripper’ (aka Robby J. Fonts of rap/metallers Stuck Mojo).

The band is releasing their second EP Fools Tomorrow, and speaking from her home in Arizona, Psarakis chatted with Heavy Music HQ about the new material, honing her rapping skills, The Agonist’s recent split, her success streaming on Twitch, and more.

Brendan Crabb: There’s a lot written about in the press release for the new EP about openly wanting to embrace the nu-metal sound. The material on the EP is proudly in the nu-metal vein, too. Has that been the idea from the time the group formed?
Vicky Psarakis: Yeah. I mean, I think in terms of like genres and labels, like you need something there just to point people in the right direction. But I don’t I also don’t think our music can just be described by one genre. Also, nu-metal is just this genre where no band sounds alike (laughs). I feel like when it’s groovy, and you have like rap vocals, that’s it’s nu-metal automatically, you know?

For a long time, it was a dirty word, or an insult – the same thing happened with metalcore at a certain point. However, it’s had this resurgence in recent times – why do you think it’s enjoying this new wave of popularity?
Well, I’ve been saying it for years, these songs, we started writing them in 2017/2018. So they’ve been a long time coming. And I’ve been saying it since back then, that like nu-metal is going to have a comeback, for sure. And I think it’s just a genre that a lot of metalheads love to hate on. Or vice-versa; they hate that they love it. I feel like a lot of people that just talk shit on nu-metal are secretly actually in love with it.

So I don’t know, I can’t tell you why exactly. I think maybe bands like Limp Bizkit or Fred Durst specifically may have had a hand in people just loving to hate on it. But I never truly understood the hate. I was born in ’88, so I lived through the prime time of nu-metal. And it was the genre of music at the time, or when I was a teenager that got me into heavier music. And I remember what you’re talking about where it’s like, people didn’t want to admit that they discovered heavier bands through like nu-metal bands. And I don’t know why the stigma, like I think the older I got, I was just like, there shouldn’t be such a thing as guilty pleasures in music. You just should openly admit what you like listening to and that’s that.

How do you approach taking that familiar nu-metal sound and creating music that isn’t just a nostalgia trip, or just be a rehash of the past? How do you keep Sicksense’s music fresh?
I think that’s a very natural process, to be honest with you. Everyone in this band is pretty much a seasoned/experienced musician at this point. We’ve all been in other bands, different genres. We’re all very diverse in the music that we listen to as well. There’s not one person in this band that is close-minded when it comes to the music that they enjoy. And I think because of all these different influences that we have and the open mindedness that it just kind of happens naturally. It hasn’t ever been difficult to write a Sicksense song, it just kind of happens.

You have a versatile voice with the ability to scream and sing with great skill. When did you decide to try and hone your craft as a rapper as well?
Rapping, that was honestly something that was the result of my relationship with Robby, being married to someone that does it exceptionally well. I’m like a sponge, my brain’s like a sponge, and when I hear something a lot around me and then I try and do it, it doesn’t sound terrible, because I’ve internalized how it should be done. And I think he really helped me understand. Like, I was always hesitant, even though I enjoyed hip-hop and nu-metal bands and stuff like that, and I would rap along for fun. I never thought of myself as someone that could go out and do rap parts myself. I thought it would be like corny, or cheesy or whatever.

But I think the main thing about rap is that it needs to come from a genuine place, and the lyrics that you’re rapping to, they need to be honest, and they need to reflect who you are as a person. And as long as they do that, and you’re not trying to put on a voice or be someone that you’re not, I think it happens pretty naturally. And I think the result does sound good.

It’s interesting that you raise authenticity. Australia has a really strong local hip-hop scene, but there was a time when certain rappers in Australia copped a lot of criticism, because there was a belief they were trying to rap with American accents and that was deemed as not being authentic.
Yeah, yeah. And I think especially with women that rap, like they either, it’s even harder because they either sound very like bubblegum. Like, I don’t know, Gwen Stefani style. Or the opposite, and they try to sound butch. They try to sound like the men. That’s where I think sometimes it just feels, to me at least, listening to women rap that it’s like, doesn’t feel really honest.

And I don’t do much (rapping) in the songs here right now. But I am doing it more in the newer stuff that we’re writing for future material. And I feel like I’ve unlocked an even more honest place where it’s like, I’m not doing any of those other approaches, I am just sounding like me, and I create something really unique. I think when you create something unique people are either gonna love it, or they’re gonna hate it. And I think that’s a good sign that you’re doing something right.

So you’re working on new material at the moment, and you’ve released a couple of EPs. Is this going to be a project whereby you’ll have that approach of putting out EPs and singles, and maybe not have much of an album focus, more in line with streaming culture?
Yeah, for the time being, unless something changes, of course, unless, like a big opportunity comes along or a record label that offers us a great deal and they need a full album, we’ll revisit that conversation. But for now, I really see that the singles approach is the way to go. When you’re young, when you’re independent, when you’re still just trying to spread the word and get people on board, it seems like it’s all about the singles. And what we’re doing with Sicksense, there’s no throwaway material. Musically, lyrically, vocally, it’s all stuff we firmly believe in. And we really want people to focus on each individual song. And I think it’s getting harder and harder these days, with people’s attention spans with the outpour and influx of content out there, it’s really hard for people to just take 45 minutes, 50 minutes of their time and listen to a full-length and give it all their focus.

So what happens is, you end up with a great album with all these B-sides that arguably are even better than the singles, and people just don’t listen to them. And I don’t want Sicksense to be that. So for those reasons, we’re just going the singles approach for now. And we’ll see, unless something changes.

People joke about being in a band as a four-way marriage or a five-way marriage, etc, but what’s it actually like being in a band with your husband?
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s even more intense, I suppose. But the good moments are even better and then the bad moments are even worse, I suppose. What’s really great about it honestly, is the songwriting between us because there’s just that mutual respect. And I am fully aware that the stuff he does I can’t do, and vice-versa. And sometimes, you know, we butt heads for a minute where we may have a conflicting opinion. But ultimately, I think like, the songs that we write collaboratively, end up being our best songs. And I think that’s just because, there are a few bands out there where there’s just one songwriter, and it works. But I believe in collaborations, I believe that no matter how good I am at what I do, there’s people out there that are better at other stuff. And if I can just create that genuine connection and create some awesome music through collaboration, I think that’s the ultimate goal.

So doing that with your spouse is next level because there’s really no, there’s no boundaries. Like if I want to, like, say something that’s on my mind, I just say it, whereas maybe, if it’s just a band-mate, you’re like, “maybe I shouldn’t say it this way. Maybe it will be taken the wrong way”. You second guess yourself. But with us, it’s just like pure honesty, and I think that leads to just magic.

What are the plans in terms of taking this project on the road, or do you think it could be more of a studio endeavor?
No, we do want to take this on the road, eventually. The thing is, touring right now is really difficult, especially for up-and-coming bands. So we’re not in a rush. But that being said, like we’re focused on growing the band on the internet, because that’s how things are done these days. And after the EP is out, we really want to reach out to people and try and build those connections, maybe find a booking agent or a label or… We want to find a team of people that see our vision and believe in what we do. And if the offer’s right, we’ll go along with it, and we’ll start touring as well. But yeah, we want this to be an actual thing, not a studio project, not something we do on the side. We want this to become a full-time band.

Shifting topics, since you’ve had a little time to digest it all, how do you feel about the decision for The Agonist to part ways?
We just announced it last week, but it’s been a decision we made a while ago, like months ago, we just hadn’t really decided when we were going to announce it. And it was just becoming increasingly more difficult to avoid fans asking about what we’re doing, and if we’re planning stuff, and it all just led us to say, let’s announce it.

But it really is for the best. I’ve come to terms with it. I came to terms with it a long time ago, but obviously, the announcement brought up all these feelings again, and you can’t help but be compassionate with what your fans are feeling and the sadness and all that, it makes it all very real once you announce. But it really is for the best.

I felt it was unfortunate, because I thought the most recent EP The Agonist released (Days Before The World Wept) had some great material. The band seemed like it was creatively still in a good place. So it was a shame from that perspective, I feel.
Yeah, I agree. Honestly, our EP, I think it’s the best work we’ve ever done. And a lot of fans that have followed us since the beginning do agree. At the end of the day, it is personal taste, but I just think we had something really strong and at the time, I didn’t know that it would be the last piece of art that we would put out there. But I am happy that it is, you know? We’re ending on a high, we’re not ending on a low.

I think it’s just a lot of self-reflection. I think what we did and the decision we made was the right one, and it was the brave one too. I think a lot of bands aren’t willing to admit when they should call it quits, just keep going and they keep pushing and it becomes detrimental to their mental health, their personal, interpersonal relationships within the band members (and) with their families.

You sacrifice a lot being in a band; the time that you spend writing new songs, recording, mixing, mastering, doing interviews, going on the road. It takes a lot out of you. So unless you’re a very strong collective unit that has the same sort of focus and ambition for the future, I feel like it’s time you’re not going to get back. And I see it more and more, especially with a pandemic and how hard it is to tour right now, I’m seeing the effects it’s having on a lot of bands. And I think for a lot of them, it’s very hard for them to say, like, that’s it, we’re done. We’re ending this.

Because sometimes out of fear, because if this ends, then what am I going to do? This is all I’m known for. So it was scary in that sense. When we were deciding this, I was a little scared. I was like, I don’t know how people are going to receive this. Are they going to keep following me, if they’re going to want to check out Sicksense, or if the genre is so different that they won’t care. So it was scary in that sense. But then on the other hand, you’re literally like taking, I guess a jump into the unknown, and that’s sort of liberating as well (laughs).

Obviously, Sicksense is the focus now, and so is your Twitch streaming. Has the latter taken off in a way that you didn’t anticipate?
Yeah, and here’s the funny thing. So I’ve been streaming since 2021, a little over two years now. And Sicksense too, we put out our first song in mid-2021, and the first EP last year. And I do think I had to see it with my own eyes, things had to happen this way for me to realize it. But I do think that in a lot of people’s minds, they didn’t necessarily take these other efforts as seriously. People saw them as, you know, side projects, something I do for fun, or while the pandemic was happening.

Not everyone, of course, likes the Twitch streams, and I’m also on Patreon. They’ve generated a very strong community throughout the years. But the more sort of, passive fans, the people that listen to my music, but don’t necessarily follow me on a daily basis, they had to see that The Agonist was ending for them to say, like, “hey, let me go check out Sicksense, let me check out your streams”. Because in their heads, they couldn’t believe that I could be doing all these different things at the same level. And I was always serious about Sicksense. People asked me in the beginning if this is a studio thing, or just a side project, and I said, no… I’m almost 35; I’m not old, but I’m old enough to know that I’m not going to waste my time with something that I don’t see being beneficial in the long run. So I’ve always been serious about this band, but I think people had to see me step away from The Agonist to be like, “okay, let me take this seriously now”.

Any famous last words?
I guess just the obvious – check out the music and give it a few listens, even if nu-metal isn’t your thing. Some of our stuff may require a few listens to get on board with, but I really think we have something great going on here. And I’m excited for the future.

Watch Sicksense – “Fools Tomorrow” Video

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