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Sycco’s sounds of psychedelic sleeplessness

An interview with the Brisbane indie pop artist.

Brisbane-born Sasha McLeod, better known as Sycco (pronounced ‘psycho’), entered the indie pop scene with a distinctly psychedelic and infectious sound. She has seen success globally with over 9 million streams and her song Dribble placing at #29 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 Chart last year. 

Sycco’s new single My Ways epitomises the sleepless, liminal experience of quarantine with poppy electronic beats paired with honest lyrics. This week, I got the chance to speak to Sycco about her creative process, songwriting over Zoom, how TikTik is changing the music industry, and her Torres Strait Islander heritage.

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Nishta: So, you’ve just realised a new song, My Ways. Could you tell us a bit about it and where you drew inspiration from? 

Sycco: Well, I wrote it in lockdown last year, so it was about being cooped up and not having the best mental stability. It was just a big release. For me personally, that was the first song where I actually dug deeper, instead of just talking about surface level kinds of things.

N: How else has COVID-19 impacted the way you write music? 

S: It’s actually helped me connect with some people overseas to do Zoom songwriting sessions, which have been really fun. Although, it’s also kind of hard because it’s just a tunnel and you have to make a song through a laptop. Well, I guess songwriting is always on a laptop! [Laughs]. But it’s been good and exciting to have more opportunities. And because I was in Brisbane where the lockdown was pretty quick, it allowed me to spend quality time with my friends which was really beneficial. 

N: How did you pick your stage name, Sycco? 

S: I was in high school and I was just writing words — I love the word psychedelic because I was listening to Pink Floyd at the time and I came up with Sycco because it was spelt differently. I think Sycco with one C was taken, so I just added a C. 

N: I’ve noticed with My Ways and a lot of your other songs, sleep and insomnia are common themes. Where does that come from?

S: I think I feel unsafe when I sleep with other people, so I can’t sleep until I’m comfortable. That’s a big thing in my life, and I’m understanding it more. When I wrote those songs, I didn’t realise that was happening at the time, or that it was a security thing, but now I know!

N: Could you take us through what your creative process is like, from the songwriting to the actual production of the song?

S: If I’m just writing in my room, that’s just me producing. But sometimes, I’ll do a Zoom session with others and we’ll go back and forth with ideas, or we’ll be in the actual room together. I love working with other people because it’s two brains trying to work it out, even though I do like working on my own. It’s just another thing that makes it exciting. 

N: 2020 has been a really huge year for you, congratulations on Dribble reaching 29th on the Triple J’s Hottest 100! How did you first hear the news, what was your reaction like? 

S: Thank you! I was in a bedroom, then it came on and all my friends were dancing and I couldn’t believe it was real. I thought it was rigged at first — who voted? I don’t understand! [Laughs]. But it was so exciting. I just cried afterwards for ages because I couldn’t articulate anything. 

N: And you also performed on Like a Version for Triple J too. What was your approach to covering PNAU’s Embrace

S: I wanted to make it a lot more melancholic. I also desperately wanted to put in Tame Impala because they’re my biggest inspiration. It was just inevitable to put that ending in. I just produced it in my room one day and then we played it!

N: Are there any other artists you draw inspiration from?

S: Definitely all my friends from my hometown, I’m surrounded by musicians and they all inspire. Last year, I was hitting Clairo heaps, she’s amazing. And Charlie XCX — two different sides of the world. I love their songwriting and how they have pop sensibilities in all their songs, even if it’s not definite mainstream pop. 

N: That definitely comes through in your music as well. Not only do your songs sound evocative, the visuals of your album covers and music videos are so vivid. What’s the connection between your music and visuals?

S: I’ve always wanted my music to feel like there’s heaps of colour — a bit trippy in a way. So I wanted the music videos to also do that. I’ve also worked with the same people since the beginning so it’s been a cohesive project. 

N: Something that really drew me to your music was how you let your Australian accent show through in your songs. Was that also an intentional choice or something that just popped up? 

S: No, I don’t think so. I couldn’t sing with an American accent because it felt so strange and I always questioned how people went from talking Australian to singing American. That’s always how I sang!  

N: I’ve noticed that you’ve recently joined TikTok like the rest of us! How do you think the platform has changed the music industry?

S: Tik Tok is insane for the music industry. I saw a meme that said, “Artist: this is the music I’ve put my heart and soul into for ten years.” And then it said “Label: TikTok.” Everything is just thrown onto there now. It’s so accessible to find new music, but also I think it means that people don’t listen to the full song — you know the whole attention span thing. 

N: And what has it been like connecting with your Torres Strait Islander heritage? Has this affected your music or you personally?

S: It’s been good. It’s been a new thing, so I haven’t had heaps of time to hear stories or meet new people. But it’s nice knowing people support me and my journey because it’s super interesting and so important as well. 

N: Where do you see your music going in the future, in 2021 and beyond?

S: World domination! [Laughs]. I don’t know, I just want to keep doing it and keep loving it, and playing lots of shows. And just keep having fun. 

We’ve got four shows in Brisbane, which are sold out. There’s four shows in Sydney with some extra tickets that are out now at the Lansdowne. There are four shows in Melbourne, and there’s some extra tickets at the Northcote Social Club. 

Sycco goes on her Dribble tour in 2021, performing at the Lansdowne in April. Her new single New Ways is streaming now.