SeeYouSpaceCowboy interview: sasscore purveyors made the album they always wanted to make
We've teamed with SeeYouSpaceCowboy on an exclusive clear/green/yellow splatter vinyl variant of their new album, limited to 300 copies. Pick up a copy in our store and read on for our interview with Connie Sgarbossa.
"This is the quintessential SeeYouSpaceCowboy record," frontwoman Connie Sgarbossa tells us of their sophomore LP The Romance Of Affliction, out today on Pure Noise, and it might seem like a presumptuous claim if the music didn't back it up. The album reunites founders Connie and Ethan Sgarbossa with original bassist/backing vocalist Taylor Allen, and it finds them tapping back into the original spirit of the band and taking that further than they ever have before. SYSC helped popularize the term sasscore, which they call themselves and which retroactively applies to sassy hardcore bands like The Blood Brothers, Heavy Heavy Low Low, and Since By Man. SeeYouSpaceCowboy consider all three of those bands to be core influences, but they do much more than rip them off; they constantly push their sound to different extremes, from dancey sass parts to metalcore breakdowns, from screamo fury to emo-pop bliss, from tech-y post-hardcore to ethereal atmosphere. At one point on Romance, there's a rapped verse (by labelmate Shaolin G). It's all over the place, with way too much going on for it to ever be pigeonholed into one niche or subgenre, and SpaceCowboy pull it off in a way that feels incredibly natural and increasingly unique.
The album was produced by Knocked Loose's Isaac Hale, who also helmed the new album by SpaceCowboy's upcoming tourmates Wristmeetrazor, and both bands describe working with Isaac very similarly. He's a guy who likes a lot of different types of music, and he really gets the bands he's working with. His own band, Wristmeetrazor, and now SYSC have all released excellent music this year, all of which sounds very different, but which also all scratches a similar itch. These are all bands pushing metalcore, hardcore, and post-hardcore in different directions, and together they're making the case that this music still has a lot more left to say. SYSC also nabbed guest appearances from two of their biggest influences for the album -- Every Time I Die's Keith Buckley and Underoath's Aaron Gillespie -- and not only do they fit in perfectly, it's no surprise that they were both so quick to be involved. Both of those bands helped define metalcore in the 2000s, and I'm sure they see something in SeeYouSpaceCowboy that reminds them of their own early days. SYSC aren't "reviving" 2000s-style metalcore; they're pushing it forward.
The album's other guest appearance comes from post-hardcore supergroup If I Die First (aka Lil Lotus, Zubin, Nedarb, and members of From First To Last), who SYSC released a split and a collaborative song with earlier this year. IIDF appear on the album-closing title track, which was actually one of the first songs SYSC finished for the album (two years ago), before they even had the idea for the split. The two groups are real-life friends and they gel as collaborators, which is just as evident on Romance as it was on their split and in the amazing video for the collab song.
Matching all the genre-defiance and all-star collaborations, Romance also has some of Connie's most vulnerable lyricism yet. She wrote much of the album about dealing with addiction, and made a conscious effort not to make it an uplifting record or about getting better, but an honest record about being at your lowest. "I'm just gonna tell the story of the past couple years of my life, all the ugliness," Connie said. Just two weeks after finishing recording it, she was found on a couch barely breathing after a drug overdose, and the experience confirmed that this was the album she needed to write. "It's interesting to have that realization reinforced for something that's truly negative, but at the same time, it's also a moment where I'm like, 'You know, I really made art that truly reflects myself.'"
The Romance of Affliction is out now on Pure Noise. Pick up our exclusive clear/green/yellow splatter vinyl variant and stream it and read on for the rest of our chat with Connie below...
Your last album proved to be a big breakthrough, not just for this band but also for the style of post-hardcore and metalcore that's been making a comeback lately. What would you say changed for the band since that album took off? What was different going into this album?
I think there's been a big shift in our attitude, and a big swap of band members that coincidentally happened at the same time. We lost pretty much everyone in the band, except for me and Ethan, just from people wanting to do their own thing, or just like it not working out, and then we brought back OG members. We brought back Taylor, who's one of the three people we started this band with -- it was me, Ethan, and Taylor in the beginning. We brought him back, and we brought in new people, and another member recently rejoined the band, and that was a big thing for us. When we had the new lineup, it was like, "Okay, what do you wanna do?" 'cause we had this album that people weren't really involved in that sounded like Correlation, but we wanted to shift that to bring back what SpaceCowboy was initially, the idea of just throwing a bunch of shit in a blender and seeing what happens and making it work. So that was a huge part of what pushed us to bring the sass back, to do really heavy stuff and still be weird, to be melodic and introduce clean singing. It was just this thing of like, we're gonna experiment a bit and just see if we can make something cool if we just go back to that first mantra we had when we first started the band.
You made the album with Isaac from Knocked Loose. What made you want to work with Isaac, and what did he bring to the table that was new or different for SeeYouSpaceCowboy?
We decided that we wanted to work with Isaac years ago, because he's a person who likes a lot of different music from a lot of different genres, and he's been a fan of SpaceCowboy for a while. So he just made the most sense to me. I was worried that if we went to another producer, they'd kind of pigeonhole us into one sound and not get it and push us to sound more like Rise-core bands from back in the day or something. But Isaac was somebody I knew would appreciate and enjoy that we wanted to become weird again, and that we wanted to do weird shit and try to combine things together that in theory should not go together at all. So it was really cool to go and sit down and write with him, because he had the same kind of mindset as us and just wanted to make a really interesting record. That's like the main goal: it's gonna be whatever the fuck it becomes, and that's it. And he was really able to help us a lot, and take that idea and really turn it into an album. Because we went to him with like 30 fucking songs that we wrote throughout the year that we were working on this album, and so he was really able to help change things around and write and edit songs together, and kind of fashion this big concept we had into an actual album.
You mentioned in press materials for the album that the album deals with addiction and that you had suffered a near-fatal drug overdose just two weeks after you finished recording it, which you said sort of reinforced that this was the album you needed to write. Can you elaborate on that story?
Yeah I mean, the fact that that happened so shortly after we finished recording just kind of reinforced that the decision I made to not write a concept album about this big statement on mental health or whatever, this "get better / don't give up" record. I wanted to instead just be like, "No, I'm just gonna tell the story of the past couple years of my life, all the ugliness, this is a confessional album." And just the fact that I almost died afterwards reinforced that writing a record about getting better would have been extremely disingenuous, and it would've not been an authentic expression. So as grim as it is, almost dying kind of showed that this was the record I needed to write.
Looking back on the songs now, after what happened, how do they resonate with you compared to when you were first writing them?
I literally wrote a line that says, "Oh, I think I took too much, stop breathing," and hearing that line now after I was found on the couch barely breathing, just kind of showed that it wasn't a front, none of this shit was. It's interesting to have that realization reinforced for something that's truly negative, but at the same time, it's also a moment where I'm like, "You know, I really made art that truly reflects myself," and that's all I could ask for as an artist, to authentically make art that reflects me.
You've been pretty open about what happened -- clearly you want the message out there -- so what do you hope that people most take away from listening to this album?
I wanna kind of shift the dialogue and let people know that it's okay to open up about things. I know that as a society we're moving towards being able to talk about these kinds of things more and more, but even the things that are still taboo to be open about, like being a drug addict, not just waiting until after you're better -- or if you die, then everyone will talk about it -- but like talk about it in the moment, in the process of it. And it's not necessarily an album I want people to identify with, because it means that that person's in a shitty position, but if they do, I hope that they can get that sense of like, "somebody's talking about the things that also pertain to me" -- some sort of representation. And hopefully there can be a shift towards people being more understanding and more open to helping people who struggle with addiction, and also understanding that relationships don't have to be this super clean fucking thing, you know? Like people can be kind of promiscuous and it doesn't make them a bad person. Not everybody's built to have this perfect monogamous relationship.
You have Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die and Aaron Gillespie from Underoath on the record. Were those bands big influences on you growing up?
Oh yeah, they definitely were. I mean they were big influences back then, and they were big influences when we were writing this record, so it's kind of perfect that they're on it. Those were definitely two of the bands we were thinking about when we were thinking of what elements we could throw into the blender we had for this new album.
How did you end up getting in touch with them about being on the record?
It was a super last-minute thing. The only feature that we had when we were going into recording was the If I Die First one. But kind of last minute, I was talking to Isaac, and I was like, "Hey, do you think Keith Buckley would do this?" and Isaac was like, "Oh yeah, I think he'd definitely do it," and then sure enough, our manager hit up his manager and got the yes right away. And then with Aaron, we were literally in the studio, and Pure Noise came to us and were like, "We think it'd be cool to get another feature on here, who would you like?" We made a list of people we thought would be cool, but Aaron was the top tier. We were like, "I don't think he'll do it, but he would be like the top of the list." And within 24 hours we got a call, like, "Yeah he's down to do it." And that was it, it was super nonchalant.
What were some other big musical influences on the album?
Of course we had a lot of sass influence, like Heavy Heavy Low Low, Since By Man, and white belt bands, and pure sass bands like The Red Light Sting, and The Blood Brothers, and also stuff like Saosin and Underoath. Ethan always likes to bring a little bit of Misery Signals into everything he does. And then there's also a lot of influence in terms of feeling. I have no musical talent whatsoever so my way of explaining things to people is like, "This song I want to be really cinematic, so it has to have this big crescendo at the end," or like, "I need this song to be like this turbulent, back and forth, like this song's gonna represent my bipolar, so we gotta think really about playing with two polar extremes." So there's a lot of that influence into it, and Ethan can kind of just take that and be like, "Okay, I got you, give me a day" kind of thing.
I feel like because of SeeYouSpaceCowboy, the sasscore thing has come to prominence a little bit more. Like even though it's obviously describing these 2000s bands, I feel like there's more attention on it as a specific thing now, at least in the mainstream. How would you describe that kind of music to someone who's never heard it, and what specifically draws you to this niche?
I would describe sasscore as very flamboyant, pseudo-feminine music that's really tech-y and really grindy but also really dancey and has really heavy breakdowns. It's kind of funny that "sasscore" has become such a thing, because I came up with that stupid genre tag for SpaceCowboy back in the day, and there's become this like cult around sasscore. I think people think that's what they actually called it back then. It's cool, 'cause I love those bands, and it's really sick to see all those people flocking to that niche fucking style of music that existed for a very short period of time, and that was super influential to starting early SpaceCowboy. And it's cool to be able to play with bands like Duck Duck Goose now, in like 2021. It's kinda wild.
It's cool -- like you said, no one called it that back then -- but it's nice that has a term. 'Cause I feel like when that was all happening, you knew it was all related, but you just didn't really know what to call it.
Yeah, I mean when we were first talking about it, we'd call it "white belt." And then I was talking to people, and I was like, "Why don't we just combine the term sass and the term metalcore, 'cause that's like what we do. We do sassy music with breakdowns, let's just call it sasscore." 'Cause there were other bands, there was this band called The Cambodian Heat and they called themselves sassgrind. And I was like, "Well, SpaceCowboy's not super grindy, so I'll make a new term and use that." 'Cause nobody knew what the fuck "white belt" was back then, nobody knew what we were talking about, they'd be like, "What do you mean, 'white belt'?" It's really interesting how like, creating a term and having a few bands doing it in modern day produced a bunch of kids are just finding out about it now.
Yeah. And you mentioned Duck Duck Goose -- it's cool to see some of these bands having comebacks, probably because of the increased interest.
I mean that would be sick if it was because of that. I don't know if they had plans forever, but if they're coming back because that genre has a resurgence because of bands like us and .gif from god and shit like that, that's pretty cool.
So a lot of the influences we're talking about are from the 2000s, and we see a lot of bands in underground rock that people will call like "worship bands," like bands that set out to channel one subgenre or one era or one group of bands. But I feel like SeeYouSpaceCowboy kind of channel all these 15-20 year old influences without ever really feeling like a retro band. How do you approach channeling all this much older music in a way that doesn't feel vintage?
I think it's because we've always approached it with the idea of taking influence but trying to do it in our own way. Like take the demo. I think the demo is the closest thing we ever did to like, pure that era shit, but we were also combining a bunch of bands. We were taking from Daughters, we were taking from Heavy Heavy Low Low, we were taking from I Set My Friends On Fire, but we were also taking from screamo bands, like OG screamo bands that we loved. So I think that's how we managed to set ourselves apart as not just like a complete worship band, because we've always wanted to put our spin on everything and have shit in there that's uniquely ours. And that's why this album is -- it might be indulgent to say -- but this is the quintessential SpaceCowboy record, because this is the record that I think is the fulfillment of the original concept of SpaceCowboy: do whatever the fuck you want. We went from starting as wanting to be a melodic hardcore band, to just continuously throwing in different ideas, like, "Now I want breakdowns in there too, 'cause like, mosh parts are sick, but I also wanna do sassy stuff, like weird, dancey, sassy stuff. Or I wanna do grindy ass shit like The Locust and Daughters and throw that in there to be weird." And then it's like, "Oh, well, that's already been done kind of, so what else can we throw in there to make it ours?" And this album is truly taking all the things that we like and making it work. So to me, this record epitomizes SpaceCowboy more than any other record has.
If this album is quintessential SpaceCowboy, what do you think is next?
I have no idea [laughs]. I have a bunch of ideas of things I want to do that we didn't do on this record, like things pushing almost more indulgently into doing what we want. Like I wanna do a song devoid of breakdowns and have a drum machine as like a purely sassy, weird song, and figure out how to put our own spin on bands like Test Icicles and shit like that, or Red Light Sting, Hot Hot Heat. So I have ideas like that, but I don't really know what the fuck the full culmination of the next record would be. I think everyone's burnt out because we spent a year working on The Romance of Affliction, and in my head I want to start writing again, but I'm also kind of shit out of luck for ideas of what to do next.
I wanna talk about the other two collaborators on the record, Shaolin G and If I Die First, who you also teamed with for a split EP with a collaborative song. How did those two collaborations come about?
So If I Die First was kind of a no-brainer. That feature was done even before we started working on the split, like that was kind of the first seeds of the split being born. We were up at Nedarb's house, he let us pre-pro vocals at his place, so we were up there for like three or four days and we're just throwing shit down, and we were like, "Hey do y'all wanna do a feature on it? Could be cool to combine y'alls voices with our style." And so we recorded it then and there like two years ago, and that's what's on the record. And Shaolin G was a really clutch favor because we had somebody else who was gonna do that part, and they couldn't do it last minute, so then homie stepped up and saved our asses essentially. 'Cause that song is kind of built around this whole idea of this rap part, and he just swooped in and saved the day.
How did this relationship with If I Die First start?
My personal friendship started with them years ago. Ned hit me up on Instagram and I saw he was wearing Saetia shirts in his shit and I loved his work, so we became friends, and then I became with Lil Lotus and I met Zubin from going up and hanging out. And then, right in the beginning of quarantine, Ned came down to hang with me for a few days in San Diego, and he started telling me about this band that he wanted to do, this kind of post-hardcore-y band. It was a little different than what If I Die First is today, because of member changes and shit, but he just like talked to me about that, and then within a month he was sending me demos. And I was like, "This is fucking sick!" And then when we were writing vocals for SpaceCowboy, I just kind of threw the idea out there, "You know what, like, what if we just did a collab song together and a split?" Well first the idea was just a split, but then I was like, "It would be sick if we did a collab too," 'cause I've never heard of full band collabs really, where it's not just singers switching, but actually writing the song with all of us together. And we've been best friends pretty much ever since.
So what was that like, making a song with two full bands?
It was kind of crazy. I think I stacked like seven people sleeping at my apartment, and we set up one computer with one interface, and people just kind of cycled around. Ethan probably spent the most time writing shit, because we were all getting drunk and fucked up, but we'd always come together and sit down and write shit together and somebody else would be like "I have a part." The piano part was all Zubin and Lotus. So it was kind of like this big party, but you're also writing a song at the same time and playing musical chairs almost. And then we went and recorded it the day after it was done. SpaceCowboy went back to LA and we recorded all the vocals, and we went up and recorded all the vocals the next day, and then we built a set the next day for the music video, and then we shot the video the next day with an incomplete song. We spent 12 hours building that set at 1720 in LA. That was the one good thing about quarantine, that we could take over that venue for two days to do that video.