Hard-hitting and melodic; pissed off and groovy; energetic and catchy: upon first listen, it is clear that Sicksense is all of these things. The band — comprised of vocalists Killer V (Vicky Psarakis) and Rob The Ripper (Robby J. Fonts), guitarist Breakdown Bran (Bran Panic), drummer The Trve Cody Taylor (Cody Taylor), and bassist Spot-On Sam/SOS (Samuel Bedard) — recently unleashed their captivating debut EP, ‘Kings Today.’ From the opening riffs of “Kings Today” to the closing growls of “Heart Of Stone,” Sicksense is dedicated to making fans bounce and sing their hearts out through thought-provoking lyrics, rage-fueled raps, and powerful melodies, supported with low-tuned stomping nu-metal riffs and grooves. Having performed a range of styles in numerous heavy bands, Sicksense marks Killer V and Rob The Ripper’s return to a genre close to their hearts. Their dual vocal interplay reflects a personal and fun side of them as people but also takes on social and societal issues in the world today. The best part about it is that they’re just getting warmed up!
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Vicky Psarakis and Robby J. Fonts for an inside look at their careers. Along the way, this dynamic duo offers unique insight into their creative process, evolution as songwriters, and blazing their creative trails with Sicksense!
You both have dedicated your lives to something you love. Tell us a little about your origin stories when it comes to music?
Robby J. Fonts: I don’t think I had the easiest childhood. For me, music was my escape. After being bullied at school, I would come home and use it as my outlet. Instead of being negative towards other people or destructive, I would take it out by screaming! I would practice my hardcore and screaming metal vocals. I would drive my mom crazy for four hours every single day! That’s what did it for me! [laughs]
Vicky Psarakis: My story is not that exciting! [laughs] music was something that has always been in my life. I could sing since I was a kid, so I was thrown into school plays, choirs, and stuff like that without even being asked. It was like, “Okay, you can sing. You’re part of the choir!” It wasn’t until I heard heavier music in my teenage years that I actively wanted to listen to music. So, it was one of those things that was always around me. When I finally heard the music that appealed to me, I decided that I wanted to do this for a living.
What lessons did you learn early on in your career that continue to resonate?
Vicky: For myself, there are so many things. Working hard is the number one priority. I almost can’t stand it when someone comes to me and say, “Oh, you’re so lucky…” or “You’re so talented…” Yeah, I am, but I took my talent, and I keep working every day to be the best I possibly can be. That is one thing I will say to anyone aspiring to make music — Don’t be lazy. Don’t rely just on what is easy for you to do naturally. If you’re not pushing your limits, then what is the point? That is the first thing. The second thing is that not everything is as it seems, especially in the music industry from a business aspect. There are so many things that are out of your control. A lot of people romanticize music. They’re like, “I want to be a musician and live the rockstar life!” They see it as what it should be, but it’s actually not. In today’s day and age, a musician has to do so many things that have nothing to do with music. There have been days where Robby and I were dealing with business stuff from emails, merch, scheduling interviews, and so on. You find a whole day going by, and you didn’t even do anything music-related! So, that is a big lesson.
Robby: Adding to what Vicky said, there are gatekeepers in the music industry. They tell you that you have to do things in a certain way because this is how they have been done in the past. I’ve realized that there are different ways to go about the business within the music industry, and you have to get with the times. Times are changing, and the methods of consuming music are also changing, so you have to follow that. You have to pay attention to what the fans want to hear or how music listeners consume the product. You have to adapt, so we’re trying to do different stuff. For example, they push that bands have to be on a record label back in the day and even today. The prerequisites to be signed to a label have changed. They’re like, “You have to fill up the venues, do well at local shows, have certain stream numbers and followers on social media.” It’s to the point where if you get all of those, you can just do things yourself. That’s kind of how we’ve been approaching things.
Vicky: The DIY tools are there today, and they weren’t there 20 or 30 years ago, so you needed a team to do all of that work for you, which I’m not opposed to. We’ve been working very hard to build a team of people we trust and who have the band’s best interests. So, I would be perfectly fine with being like, “Hey, can I sing and write music, and you guys take care of all this stuff? Awesome!” However, it’s very hard to get that in this world because many people are in it for themselves or the money. For a young band starting, I feel like DIY is better in terms of learning a little about the industry. Then you can negotiate with record labels and other people and be like, “I’m not as clueless as you think. I know a little bit about the business!” [laughs]
How did you end up with such a strong creative drive and work ethic?
Vicky: Maybe I was blessed, in a way, that I wasn’t from a musical family. I didn’t have anyone guiding me or mentoring me in terms of music. I had to learn it all on my own. I took inspiration from my dad and other family members that grew up in much more difficult times where getting a loaf of bread on the table was the goal. It wasn’t “I want people to listen to my music!” My dad has stories where, in his village, they only had one radio at the local cafeteria, where they would all gather and listen to the news. This was back in the 50s. My dad is an immigrant, so he came to the United States and tried to make his life better. He worked in kitchens and things like that until he bought his own business. Seeing my dad’s ethic made a big impact on me. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in; work hard, find the proper way to do things, and don’t take anything for granted. If you sit back, relax, and don’t worry about it, someone else who is hungrier or more hardworking than you will come along and take that spot.
Robby: I have always been inspired by old-school punk bands. I would always read about what bands like Minor Threat, Cro-Mags, and Madball were doing it. I loved the DIY work ethic where you would build yourself up in your local scene. They built a sense of community and did things outside the box to make a living off of music. That always inspired me. People look to role models and emulate them. However, it’s cool to look at mistakes or failures. I’ve learned a lot from previous projects of which I’ve been apart. Not to drag anyone through the mud, but they were doing what they thought was best for the bands. I would have ideas that I wanted to implement. I would say, “Listen, I think things are happening this way in the music industry right now, so maybe we should try doing this, for example.” They’d be like, “Ah, what do you know. You’re just a kid. You’re young! We’ve been here for 20-30 years.” So, I felt a little under-appreciated regarding the business aspect of things. Now, with Sicksense, it’s the first time that many of my ideas are finally being implemented! It’s cool to see that they are paying off. We’re finding success despite obstacles we’ve come across or a lack of support from a record label. I think it’s very cool, so I’m thrilled.
This project wouldn’t have taken shape without the two of you. How did you cross paths initially, and when did the creative sparks come about?
Vicky: We initially met backstage in 2015 at Heavy MTL. The creative spark happened a lot later. Robby was with some people I knew, and I got invited over. That’s where I met him, and we hung out the rest of the day. We watched Slipknot together and started chatting through Facebook like all the young kids. [laughs] After that, we started dating and eventually got married.
Robby: Yup, we’ve been stuck together ever since! [laughs] We met at Heavy MTL in 2015, and we’ve been inseparable ever since!
Vicky: When it comes to the creative side of things, I never thought, “Oh, let’s do a band together.” You hear about these things in the media where two people started dating after being in a band together. They met through the band and started dating in the band. Then they broke up, and there goes the band! This type of thing happens so much in the music world, so I have always tried to keep it separate. I approached it as, “You do your thing, and I’ll do my thing!” We don’t necessarily have to be in the same band to do something together. Robby was doing rapping stuff, and I’m in a melodic death metal band with The Agonist. So, it didn’t seem like we would ever do anything together until the opportunity presented itself.
It started with a band that existed, Keychain, back in late 2017. They were looking for a new vocalist. That’s when Robby stepped in, started talking with them, and auditioned. They really liked what he did, but he’s not a singer. So, the guitar player said, “Hey, how do you feel about working with another vocalist?” That’s when he turned me on to the idea, and we started working on music together. Everyone liked it so much that they said, “Okay, let’s ask Vicky to join the band.”
Robby: Yeah, it was “Let’s make it work despite her being very busy with The Agonist.” I pointed out that it was a completely different style of music. Exploring this project would allow her to do things that she can’t do vocally in The Agonist because it wouldn’t make sense. With that said, there are things she does in The Agonist that wouldn’t make sense here in Sicksense either. I think it’s a very creative outlet. At the end of the day, everybody in the band, our guitarist Bran and our drummer Cody, were like, “Let’s make it work! We don’t care what we have to do. We want Vicky to be part of the band!” We made it happen!
Sicksense just released the ‘Kings Today’ EP. What can you tell us about the creative process for Sicksense and the creation of these tunes?
Robby: Our guitarist Bran is the primary songwriter in this band. He will come up with the instrumentals. He will give them to me, and I will start writing lyrics and most of the vocal parts. If there is ever any section in a song that needs work, which will become more apparent in our second EP, Vicky would take over. She would either finish the song or would write the song entirely. She adds her magic to it, and she will add some keys to the songs as well. Once everything is finalized, our bassist Sam will do his thing and add his basslines. The second EP will feature more Vicky songs, as I call them! [laughs] That’s usually how we work.
Vicky: Yeah, we will take a song that is 80% and will make the necessary adjustments. It’s like, “Oh, now that the bass line is doing this, maybe the guitar needs to hold back a little bit…” or “Maybe we don’t have guitar on this part…” or “Okay, this chorus is so good. Let’s bring it back again.” We make adjustments after we have an idea of what the vocals are doing.
How do you view your evolution as songwriters?
Vicky: I will say that it’s become a lot easier. When I first started songwriting, it was always like, “Oh, I have to wait for inspiration to strike!” or “I ought to drink some whiskey to get the muse going.” It’s a job! [laughs] The more you do it, the easier it gets and the more it makes sense. You will hear a riff and say, “Okay. I know what vocals I want to put on this riff.” It’s not hard. The difficulty with songwriting is that the more songs you write, the more you tend to revisit some topics. You’ll find yourself saying, “I already spoke about this in my lyrics two albums ago. How do I write another song about this theme but in a different, fresh way? I don’t want to write the same song over and over again.” You can’t buy experience! That’s something as a songwriter that will change and shape you for the better.
Robby: I have an entirely different side to my writing process in my backstory. I’ve always had a natural aptitude for writing lyrics to music. I was always very quick with it naturally. I learned a lot in the first band I was in, Hasta La Muerte. My guitarist Dave and drummer Kevi helped me become a better rapper. It allowed me to understand how to record vocals better, be on time, have a better flow, or do minor changes within my verses to make them different, so it wasn’t the same every single time. I’m grateful to them for helping me with that. When I joined Stuck Mojo and worked with Rich Ward and Andy Sneap, they took my songwriting to the next level.
Seeing how guys in big bands like that write and work was an entirely different process. It was a great studio experience working with them. They showed me all these little tricks to add backing vocals and ad-libs. That was great! Since then, I just wish I had been a little more confident in myself. It takes time, experience, stumbling, and failing to realize that you’ve got this! When I was working with Rich, I was afraid to write choruses and parts for other people. I just wanted to write my own parts and the stuff I was doing vocally. But, working with Vicky through the years and now in Sicksense, I’m a lot more confident in proposing singing ideas. She will take my ideas and take them to the next level. That’s how I’ve most evolved as a songwriter; I used to stick to writing for myself and what I was capable of, but working with a vocalist like Vicky it’s almost limitless. Those experiences allowed me to feel like I could work with anybody. It’s very cool and liberating to feel that way!
How do you typically tap into the lyrical content and themes you explore?
Vicky: We write to the music, so it’s really about what am I feeling in this moment, the emotions the music is giving me, and building a story off of that. Both Robby and I don’t write lyrics beforehand. We write to the tracks. One thing I have always done as a songwriter is never second-guess myself. I just run with what I’m feeling in the moment. If I have a mental block, I might leave it and revisit it in a few days, but I don’t force it. I don’t force songwriting. So, if I’m not getting anything, I just drop it and revisit it. When I have an idea, and I like my idea, I just roll with it. I’ve met some songwriters that will do alternate verses, like Verse A, B, and C, and compare them. I’m like, “What are you doing?! You’re just killing creativity! Just write a different song!” [laughs] For me, songwriting is about what I’m going through and what I’m feeling at the moment.
Robby: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
We’re coming out of a unique period that impacted artists in so many ways. What does the future look like for Sicksense?
Vicky: There is definitely a lot of uncertainty within the industry, and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. For us, I think it’s just like more is more. We plan to release more music later in the year, more music videos and singles and continue to build the band’s presence online. We are fortunate to have a community building from our previous projects. We continue to bring people on board. We want to have Sicksense be its own thing and not just focus on our previous band’s communities, so we’re really focused on that. We have another EP coming out, either later this year or the beginning of next year. At that point, we can start to approach touring.
Robby: Yeah, we really want to earn our keep and have people there to see us come to the shows and stick around to watch the headliners afterward.
Vicky: In the next six months, we’re building materials for the next EP release. We’ve already filmed one music video for that one, last week. I think we will sit down and figure out some ideas for other songs and music videos and start writing songs for the follow-up. That’s our plan. At the same time, we’re releasing something and figuring out how to present it; we are songwriting for the following thing.
Robby: Yeah, we always want to be three steps ahead. We just put out our EP a week ago. The very next day, we filmed a brand new music video for the next EP! [laughs] We’re always looking forward to the next thing. We plan on working on even more material for the third and possibly fourth EP. I don’t know if it will be a full album, but we’ll see!
Sicksense has plenty to offer in the form of some killer tracks. So which were the most challenging to create?
Vicky: I always say that “Make Believe” is the one I am personally connected to the most. It’s not necessarily my favorite song, but mostly because it’s the first song that we wrote with me in mind to be in the band, so that was the first chorus I wrote with Robby. It was that emotional value to me. “Kings Today” was probably the most challenging. It was the last song we wrote out of all the tracks we have. It’s a bit unconventional. It’s a very different song structurally and with what the vocals are doing. That one gave Robby a bit harder of a time as well.
Robby: Oh, yeah. I get very frustrated if I ever have a mental/creative block in a song. I was having that with the bridge section of this song where I am doing that funny voice and end up doing this funny rant scream afterward. That section gave me such a hard time! The verses came out super easy, and I think Vicky came up with her chorus idea. Then we had this last bridge section to write, and I had no idea what to do! Whenever that happens to me, I usually take a jokey approach to it. I tend to write sarcastic or over-the-top funny lyrics, and that’s what happened there! I was like, “This is going to be it! I don’t care; I’ve had enough of it! Take it or leave it!” [laughs] But people ended up loving it, so that was great. That’s just my go-to. Don’t take it too seriously if you ever have a mental block. Just have fun with it!
Going back to the song I like the most on the record, it’s “Heart of Stone.” I just think it’s a big thank you letter to anybody who supported all of us over the years. I really love the vocal interplay my wife and I have together. We are screaming, singing, and rapping together right at the end in the bridge section. I think it’s phenomenal that we were able to do that. It was a tribute to bands like Run DMC or Beastie Boys, where they were finishing a lot of each other’s sentences. That’s what we were going for there, and I couldn’t be happier with it!
The way you are building out this project is inspiring. So what’s the best lesson aspiring musicians can take from your journey?
Vicky: It goes back to what I was saying initially. Don’t be afraid of hard work. Don’t be afraid to fail because that’s how you’re going to learn. There is so much unpredictability in this business. You could write your best song, shoot your best music video, and expect that people will love it, but it ends up not being what you anticipated. Then maybe you write another song that you’re not personally crazy about, but everyone loves. There are so many factors in this business. Sometimes your gut will lead you down the right path, and sometimes it’s going to lead you down the wrong path, but you’ve just got to keep at it, work hard and stay consistent. Embrace the victories but also embrace the failures and learn from them!
Robby: That’s an excellent way to put it. I agree. Set your goals and know that they are achievable. Just be realistic with yourself. Come up with a game plan, follow the steps, and slowly build. Don’t give up and do your thing. Many people will try to tear you down because they’re coming from a negative headspace. You just have to block out the noise and do your thing. If you want to be a musician, you can be a musician. There are ways to go about it. Don’t listen to everyone who gives you advice because some people will provide you with bad advice. Most importantly, stay focused always!
Thanks so much for your time today, guys! I appreciate it and can’t wait to see what you bring our way!
Vicky: Awesome! Thanks, Jason!
Robby: Thank you so much! We appreciate it!
‘Kings Today’ Track Listing:
1. Kings Today
2. Forgotten Days
3. Make Believe
4. Soul Snatcher
5. Heart Of Stone
Killer V – Vocals/Keys
Rob The Ripper – Vocals
Breakdown Bran – Guitars
Spot-On Sam/SOS – Bass
The Trve Cody Taylor – Drums
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.