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Interview

Sicksense Vocalists Vicky Psarakis And Robby Fonts (The Agonist And Stuck Mojo) Discuss Debut EP "Kings Today"

Even in its heyday, nu metal was controversial genre. On the one hand, metal purists saw the influx of rapping, turntables, trackie pants and lyrical themes which were often far removed from what had come before and saw everything despised coming into their home like an welcome brother in-law. In fairness though, until this point, the mainstream was convinced that metal was dead and grunge killed it and so to even have the word "metal" back in mainstream consciousness again was something of a miracle. Add to that that these bands were still name dropping icons like Black Sabbath, Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer, providing a gateway and introduction to heavier music for kids of the day, as well as the fact that almost everything gets appreciated more with age and one has to wonder if it was all that bad.

Little wonder then that in the 2020s, the world is seeing a small revival of the sub-genre and in the latest example of this, we turn to two known vocalists and a trio of Canadian musicians, collectively known as Sicksense. Featuring The Agonist singer Vicky Psarakis and Stuck Mojo frontman Robby Fonts, the quintet released their first EP, "Kings Today" just shy of a month ago and the response so far has been positive. Those who were nu metal fans back in the day tend to agree that they do a perfect job of capturing the fun and the spirit of the era and even some detractors have to agree that the music they offer is highly enjoyable. To find out more about the band, the EP, live plans and more, Metal Underground caught up with Robby and Vicky, in an interview which you can watch in full below.

Diamond Oz: I've been listening to the new EP and having grown up as a nu metal kid, I can say that it does a really good job of capturing the feeling of the nu metal era. Was that always the goal of Sicksense, not to emulate but to recapture the spirit of back then?

Robby Fonts: Yeah, I think so. Sicksense was actually started by our members Bran and Cody. They were in this other band called Keychain who were doing this unabashedly nu metal style and then they ended up parting ways with their previous singer. So they were looking to replace that person and I ended up auditioning for them, I worked on three demo songs that Brain had sent me and Brain really liked what I was doing on a lyrical and vocal level, but he was like, "Hey I would like to incorporate singing in this band as well, would you be OK with having another vocalist in the band?"

Vicky was already working on the demos with me, doing backing vocals on them, so for the third song, before I started working on the third demo that he'd sent me, I was like, "OK, well now that I know there's going to be a second vocalist, let's write this one with Vicky in mind" and that song ended up becoming "Make Believe." We went forward from there and so that's how we came to be working with Vicky and I think she did magic with the song and the music.

Oz: As she always does! Like you said, you ended up working together almost by happenstance, was there any apprehension about working together in a more professional environment, as opposed to just recording songs at home?

Vicky Psarakis: I wouldn't say "apprehension" really, I think on a musical level we get along pretty well. We don't agree every single time but when we do disagree, we realise it's for the better of the song, so let's say we're song writing and I come to Rob with an idea and he's like, "I kind of like what you're doing there but this is what I don't like. Can we fix this?" and vice versa. So we have that understanding that we're only disagreeing because it'll make the song better, so we work really well in that environment.

I guess the only apprehension was scheduling for me in the beginning, because I'd leave for a tour for example or record an album with The Agonist and he would stay home because we have dogs. Whereas now with Sicksense, we're both going to be hitting the road, so that just leaves question marks for how we're going to pull it off, but I don't think we really thought of that too much in the beginning, we were just excited because we were writing music that we loved and creating something really awesome together, so we didn't didn't think of the logistics.

Robby: Just to add to that, the only apprehension that I had, as well as Brain, was that she's very busy with The Agonist and that might be a problem scheduling wise, but at the end of the day we were like, "We don't care. She needs to be in this band. We need that voice to make Sicksense whole," so we'll work with whatever schedules come our way.

Oz: But of course it's not just The Agonist that you're balancing because you're in Stuck Mojo. How is it for you to balance Stuck Mojo with Sicksense?

Robby: It was at a crossroads for me, being in Stuck Mojo automatically puts me in a default where I have to do another band because the other members are in Fozzy, who were really kicking off in 2017 with their "Judas" record and that's around the time that I started thinking about joining another band or starting another project, to keep myself busy while they were busy with Fozzy. That's when i got introduced to Bran and we started working together, but ever since then Stuck Mojo's kind of been on a hiatus because Fozzy's been doing tremendously well, so I'm happy for those guys and I'm going to move forward with Sicksense for now.

Oz: Something notable about Sicksense when you look at the lineup is that you all seem to have monikers, for example Killer V. Was it important to give yourself monikers or was it just something that you felt added to the flavour of the band?

Vicky: Honestly, it started as a joke. Right after we filmed "Make Believe" we were all, except Cody, driving back to Montreal and I think Robby called me "Killer V."

Robby: Yeah, this was during the "Make Believe" video shoot and before I was getting everybody hyped like, "We're going to be chopping heads! Killer V's in the house!" paying homage to Wu-Tang Clan as like an inside joke between us.

Vicky: He kept saying that in the car and I think that inspired us to give everyone else a nickname. So because Bran always talks about breakdowns, so he came Breakdown Brain and then Sam, he's a man of few words, he doesn't really say anything but then when he says something it's like an instant one liner, so you get Spot On Sam. We had a harder time with Robby but all this to say that it just started as a joke and then we were like, "Well, why don't we do this? How many people are actually doing this right now?"

Robby: And Cody's was funny because his actual name is Cody Taylor but of course there's the most famous Taylor in the world, which is Corey Taylor, they're both CT. So as a joke we decided to give him the little black metal treatment and call him The Trve Cody Taylor.

Oz: I like that it kind of came from Wu-Tang Clan. It means that by that, there has to be a point in a Sicksense show where you demand people open up a gravel pit. And as for the record itself, "Kings Today," there's five songs on there. Why was the decision made to do an EP straight off rather than build up to a full album?

Robby: We initially wanted to do a full album and that's what we did. We recorded a full length album with Christian Donaldson here in Montreal, but then the pandemic happened. So we recorded ten songs in January 2020, but the pandemic happened and Vicky and I live in Chicago, whereas the rest of the band members live here in Canada. So we were like, "OK, we need to be filming music videos for these songs," and we weren't able to do that. The travel restrictions were insane for a very long time. Finally, before we did "Make Believe" in 2021, we decided to get vaccinated and to go through the quarantine process in Canada so we could record the video for "Make Believe."

But yeah, we did record a full length album and decided that we're going to save ourselves and split it into two separate EPs, that way we can promote them and elongate the material. Whereas if we'd released a full length album as a brand new band with no label support, that would have just got thrown in the dark and we don't think it would have been as effective for us. But now doing an EP, we get to do three music videos for a set of five songs and we plan on doing the same thing for the follow up EP. In fact, we are going to film a new music video for the follow up EP very soon.

Vicky: Yeah and I think it's a good way with people's attention spans being what they are as well, it's a good way to highlight all your songs, because pre-release we've already released three songs, so it's just two more songs that people will have to listen to instead of another seven. It's always bothered me as an artist to look at let's say the Spotify numbers and see that your singles have thousands or millions of plays and then when you get towards the end of the album, the last song is overlooked. Sometimes that could be your favourite song but people just haven't heard it.

Oz: I think that's kind of a problem with what a friend of mine calls the "headphone generation" in that people will start Spotify or whatever when they go somewhere, then put it back to the start when they put their headphones on again. Is there any tentative idea of when the second EP will be released?

Vicky: We're thinking either later this year or the beginning of next year. In less than a year anyway.

Oz: OK. As for the recording process itself, like you say the rest of the band is in Montreal so there's that roadblock right from the start, were you able to get together or were these more done via file sharing and things like that?

Vicky: Well the demos are really easy to do because we just do it all through the internet. Bran usually does the whole instrumental by himself and then the bass and drums will change accordingly to what the other guys want. We just work from the instrumental to start with and we have recording software at home so we can record there, so the demos are really easy to do. As for the final recordings, like Robby mentioned, we worked with Chris Donaldson, longtime producer and friend and we actually did it in segments. I believe it was drums first, then bass and guitar but those guys did that in November 2019 because I was on tour. Then when I came back from tour, Robby and I went into the studio and did the vocals a month later, so they kind of fit us in in spaces here and there. But it's always been pretty smooth. We have no issues with that per se.

Oz: Like you said, you've done three videos so far, obviously the first one was "Make Believe," which is a really cool video and the "Forgotten Days" video has some really cool lighting and things like that. Were these difficult to record with restrictions and things like this?

Vicky: Yeah especially "Make Believe."

Robby: Yeah, "Make Believe," like I mentioned earlier, we really had to go through a lot of hoops, we had to take numerous COVID tests and get the vaccine.

Vicky: No, there was no vaccine at that time.

Robby: Oh there wasn't, you're right. We had to take the vaccine for the second video.

Vicky: There was no vaccine available for "Make Believe," so we had to quarantine in Canada for two weeks after crossing and when we filmed the guests for example on that white background, we had to make sure that they had a slot in which they arrived, so it was like, "You're coming from twelve to twelve thirty then leaving and another person's coming" because Montreal had restrictions as to how many people can be in a room together at the same time. We couldn't just say, "Hey it's a video shoot! Let's all get together and have fun!" We had to go through some stuff.

Robby: It was a process but then there was a point where we went to this abandoned military base to film the full band shots and there were just people partying. They were just hanging out, having a good time, drinking, smoking and hanging out above us as we were performing, so we just thought, "Yeah just whatever. Hang out, be a part of the video" and everyone was having a good time. That was kind of cool.

Oz: And did the heavy restrictions prevent you from doing anything musically?

Vicky: No, I mean, we haven't played any shows or anything like that but we perform at home I guess, so that's OK!

Robby: For the most part we filmed our music videos in private locations. "Kings Today" was filmed at our bassist Sam's aunt's house.

Vicky: We didn't rent any public spaces or anything like that for these videos so we were lucky in that.

Robby: "Forgotten Days" was filmed in our homes. That was the only one which we had to film remotely because it was a last minute idea. We weren't planning on doing a third music video but we were talking to our publicist and they said they thought it would be a good idea to promote a third single before the EP comes out. So we scrambled and filmed it two weeks before its release. We did this last minute, Vicky and I filmed each other's parts in Chicago. Sam and Bran went over to our regular videographer's house and filmed their parts at his place and Cody filmed his drum parts at home as well, so there was like four different camera people, Vicky and I included.

Oz: Something else I like about the EP is the artwork which is really striking. It wouldn't have looked out of place on a nu metal album twenty years ago but it's also not a throwback or anything like that. It's just a great piece of art in and of itself. Who was the artist for this EP?

Robby: The artist is our guitarist Branislav's wife, Alexandra. She's a tremendous painter and that's her style. I loved her style of paintings and whenever I do work with an artist, I always go to them because I appreciate their work. I don't ask them to change what they do or try to do something that I want to do, I'm coming to them because I love what they do. I just told her the concept for "Kings Today," and asked if she could do a certain thing and gave her some direction and this was the end result.

For me, I was inspired by Korn's "See You On The Other Side" artwork, which is kind of an Alice In Wonderland type of vibe and it just so happened that Alexandra's art style reminded me of that, so this was perfect. The more people that are close to us, that can get involved in the project and become a part of our team, I'm all for that, I'd love to include as many people as possible.

Vicky: It's good to mention too that it's an actual painting. It's hand painted, not digital, which I think is something rare in this day and age.

Oz: As for the title "Kings Today," where does that come from?

Robby: It comes from the song, "Kings Today." We can't say too much because it's going to make a lot more sense when our second EP comes out, because they're related so we've got "Kings Today" and "...." coming out soon!

Vicky: It is the title of the song itself and that song, lyrically means various different things. When you say "kings today," to me there's two ways of taking that saying. One is the positive, where you think "I'm going to overcome everything that's happening and I'm gonna be a king" metaphorically. Every obstacle that's thrown at me, I will overcome it and I will sit at that throne so to speak. But then there's also the negative, how I perceive it, that a lot of people live lavishly I guess and they don't consider tomorrow, whether it's financially or just the decisions that you make, how they can impact you or your environment tomorrow or a month or ten years from now.

Oz: Just finally, like you said, you do have plans to perform live at some point. Once the Agonist tour is over do you think you'll start looking more at live dates?

Vicky: I think for us, it's more about building right now and growing a fan base through social media and our content, making people aware of who we are and what we do. With only five songs, we could be the opening band on a tour package and do twenty/twenty five minutes, however from a realistic perspective, I don't think that's going to happen. I feel like you need to build yourself in this industry. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter if you have prior experience, when you start a new band, it's still a new band.

So our focus is on writing music, shooting music videos, growing our fan base and showing people what we're capable of. So we're kind of thinking right now that we should wait for the second EP and when that drops at least we'll have ten songs and maybe more people will know about us and then if we do get a tour opportunity, at least we'll have ten songs to choose from instead of only having five. So that's our main focus right now.

Oz: I like that, I like that Sicksense is building up its own thing, because it is its own thing. When you listen to it, you don't go, "Oh that just sounds like The Agonist or Stuck Mojo," so to build on it and create its own identity is great. If you remember Stillwell, which had Fieldy from Korn and Q Unique, they released a five song EP and then were immediately opening for Korn, so people dismissed them without hearing them. Whereas to build Sicksense into something different from The Agonist or Stuck Mojo, it gives it its own freedom and independence.

Robby: Yeah, definitely. We'd love to earn our opportunities.

Vicky: And I was going to say, for that reason too, we didn't really go to the same resources and connections that we had with our other bands. For myself, I have a whole team of people that I work with in terms of labels and management and all that for The Agonist. This music is very different, so I'm not going to contact our agent who works with extreme death metal bands, that makes no sense. So we've approached it very DIY and see what we can get that's more related to that music and that sort of genre.

Robby: Completely rebuilding from the ground up. That's what's very cool for us, we're doing everything ourselves and the team that we're building, it's completely from the ground up, one hundred per cent. So we're just excited to see how far we can end up taking it.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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