Bright-eyed and big-grinned: that’s how Brisbane’s Sasha McLeod – more commonly known as Sycco – projects. The three time NIMA-nominee and certified Hottest 100 favourite has only been known to Australia en masse for a little over a year, but she’s already fashioned a sound that is unmistakable her own. Born from a colourful fusion of early ‘10s Australian indie and the subtle, glittery bedroom pop of now, Sycco’s music can be counted on to fill you up with stabbing synths, strutting guitar lines and infectious hooks.
And she did it all in a year where she couldn’t play live.
Given all that went on in the year Sycco found her biggest audience to date, her success is truly despite the world constantly throwing obstacles at her – new outbreaks, new restrictions, new border closures. A revolving door of things ready to halt her momentum, yet Sycco continues to spin through it with energy and grace.
All of that has culminated in the release of Sycco’s first EP, aptly titled Sycco’s First EP. Released alongside an announcement of her biggest tour to date, Sycco tells MTV Australia that she’s clinging on to hope.
“I had a headline tour earlier in the year, and we luckily got through it all,” she says, in a tone that’s halfway between relief and disbelief.
“Those shows were awesome. But this time around, it’s a lot bigger. I’m going to a lot more places. Hopefully it happens, I’m manifesting it”.
But Sycco also acknowledges she’s in a strange position. While live shows famously make up the majority of an artist’s income, Sycco came into her own as an artist when no one was playing shows. She can’t miss what she hasn’t had, after all.
“I think that because I haven't experienced touring and doing festivals all that much, it hasn't affected me deeply,” she says.
“I don’t really know the difference.”
Sycco’s only had a few opportunities to play the string of singles live that preceded the release of Sycco’s First EP, like “Time’s Up”, “Germs” and the all-conquering “Dribble” – which took 29th place on this year’s Hottest 100, earned her a 2021 Queensland Music Award for ‘Song Of The Year’ and a nomination at the forthcoming 2021 National Indigenous Music Awards for the same category.
Despite her relative inexperience playing live, the music on her EP has been stewing away for years. The bass-heavy, slingshotting “Past Life”, what Sycco calls her ‘focus track’, was written almost three years ago.
“I was nervous about that one,” she says, “I was getting mixed opinions from everyone”.
Sycco sheds light on the reality that it isn’t just her opinion that matters when it comes to writing and releasing music; that her path is ultimately a team effort. “We're all on the same page, most of the time,” she says. “But it is sort of hard...I also really valued their opinion and, badly, I searched for their validation.”
If it were up to her, the EP would have been out ages ago.
“I get bored and I lose hope about things when it comes to writing songs,” she explains.
“When I'm really excited, I'm like, ‘Let's get this going now.’ And then it gets forgotten about and I lose that sort of feeling.”
But the frustration, the back-and-forth and logistics of releasing music for Sycco actually resulted in the EP’s title itself. Sycco’s First EP isn’t exactly self-titled, nor is it simply going with a numeric title like plenty of other artists’ have.
“It was going to be called the Time's Up EP but we didn't want to take away from the #MeToo movement, and the ‘Time's Up’ that’s associated there,” she explains.
“I was on the phone with my team and I was like, ‘Ugh! Can we just call it Sycco's First EP?’ My managers started laughing and they were like, ‘Sash, that's perfect’.”
That time and experience between writing “Past Life” and releasing it helped contribute to Sycco’s confusion about releasing it as a single. Of that song and “Dribble”, she still struggles to comprehend what she was even writing about.
“I know the gist of them, but they weren't super clear,” she laughs.
She later goes on to explain: “I feel like I was trying to write things about other people, but also about me because I was confused about given situations... I just didn't know myself all that well.
“I was trying to make sense of it, and putting it on paper, it was like chaos. And so now I'm a bit more understanding. Last year, I did a lot of self-discovery, and reflection, and understood what I was feeling more, and it's a lot clearer in songs now.”
That time spent reflecting and learning about herself – saw Sasha McLeod begin to understand how to separate Sasha, the person and Sycco, the artist.
It’s a balancing act many of us have had to reckon with over the past year, with work life largely being relegated to our own homes. Suddenly, our personal and professional lives were more blurred than ever, proving much harder to make that ever-important distinction between the two.
“I'm still working on it,” she says, “but [I’m] trying to not let the failures and success of Sycco manipulate how I actually feel as a human, Sasha”.
There are wins and losses in every artist’s trajectory that are hidden from the public, but a huge failure for most artists in the past year was the failure imposed on them by the pandemic, and the inconsistent and seemingly harsh treatment of the arts by government bodies.
“It is mean,” Sycco plainly says of the government’s shifting goalposts. In recent weeks,for example, Windang duo Hockey Dad were forced to end their Brisbane show early due to what were then-newly announced restrictions, despite doing “everything by the book”.
Earlier this month, the QLD government were criticised for allowing a full-capacity crowd at an NRL match less than 24 hours after a lockdown was lifted with businesses still having to operate at capped capacity.
“I feel more for the booking agents,” Sycco says, “and the people that put on the shows because that's their whole job.
“It does frustrate me, but there's really nothing we can do except for making people aware [of the discrepancy] because it's really rough.”
But, with a limited number of live performances under her belt, the rush of audiences singing your own words back at you is one that Sycco is still yearning to experience again and again. It also means she doesn’t place priority on how songs she is writing will translate live.
“I don’t think about how a crowd will react to a song while I’m writing it,” she says, “but I definitely love being in a crowd, and it being such high energy.”
While she might not think about crowds when writing music, she’s made sure she has songs in the vault ready to unleash once mass crowds can gather at concerts and festivals once again – specifically for her second EP.
She remains tight-lipped on details – she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself – but when asked if it will be called Sycco’s Second EP, she simply scoffs and says, “I’d really hope not”.
Regardless of her hopes for a less-literal EP name or hoping for a tour to actually be able to go ahead, Sycco never seems to let her reality interrupt her optimism. Sycco’s First EP isn’t a directly optimistic record, but is instead symbolic of it.
It’s a reminder of sun-drenched afternoons in festival crowds, shoulder-to-shoulder with someone you’ve never met without the fear of spreading a deadly virus and how those fleeting moments we could have taken for granted might come back again, and we’ll savour them like we always should have.
With a tour planned, new music to play and new music hiding away for just the right moment, Sycco’s future looks bright even if some of the rest of us can’t see through the fog.
“I hope that people still like music after this,” she says earnestly, flashing that ear-to-ear smile once again, “I hope that things will change but I can’t really change anything myself.”
“It’s about hope and self-belief, because there’s nothing else.”
And for the 25 minutes you’re listening to Sycco’s First EP, you’ll be left with no choice but to believe in her too.