Before Connie Sgarbossa and her friends walked into San Diego's iconic Che Café in 2010 she pretty much thought punk was a dad scene.
The high-school freshman had been a casual fan of the genre for years — thanks to her father, who sprinkled Eighties hardcore into the speakers at home between bands like the Smiths, Depeche Mode and INXS — but she thought that the community was a relic of the past. As luck would have it, California punk outfit Ceremony were on the bill that night, and they delivered a particularly blistering set.
"I had no idea that modern punk was a thing, that DIY hardcore was a thing still," the now 23-year-old SeeYouSpaceCowboy vocalist tells Revolver. "It changed my life. We started hopping on busses every weekend to go to the Che Café to see a show, not even knowing what was going on. Just to be there."
Sgarbossa recalls her formal entry into the underground music scene as SeeYouSpaceCowboy's tour van is speeding along an Arizona highway towards New Mexico. The buzz-building self-described "sasscore" quintet are on their way to the third date of a 47-show tour, this on the strength of a genre-obliterating trio of 7-inch releases and a demo tape — on which they cross-pollinate the art-metal camp of Daughters with dexterous, mercury-tipped grind and white-belt dance grooves.
The vocalist adds that after witnessing that first fateful gig at Che, she and her friends began volunteering at the DIY venue; later, she'd play there in bands of her own. Beyond the musical baptism, the all-ages space was also instrumental in bringing social and political topics to her attention, among them the transgender issues that, following a move to the Bay Area, led to Sgarbossa identifying as non-binary, and later towards accepting herself as a woman.
"I [first] came out as non-binary because I wasn't confident," she explains. "I was like, 'I'm not a man, but I don't know if I'm a woman — this is where I stand now.' A little over a year ago I finally came to terms with the fact that I feel like a woman. I am a woman. I went on hormones, finally came out as a woman and completed my metamorphosis."
Formed in Los Angeles in 2016, before Sgarbossa decamped to Oakland, SeeYouSpaceCowboy is the product of its members' musical evolution. For the vocalist's part, she had previously sung in the quiet-loud-quiet–leaning Flowers Taped to Pens, and then in the romantic and explosive René Descartes; her younger brother Ethan played guitar in those bands, but now drums for SeeYouSpaceCowboy. Guitarists Dominick Larocca and Jesse Price continue to perform in Los Angeles–based screamo unit Letters to Catalonia, with bassist Timmy Moreno completing SYSC's lineup.
SeeYouSpaceCowboy, however, violently veer off-course from their pedigree, as they clearly announce on "Stop Calling Us Screamo" — a 74-second mindbender from the act's 2017 split single with secondgradeknifefight. Beyond the facetious song title, it jettisons any expectations fans of their other bands might have in favor of catastrophic, atonal stomp-mosh breakdowns and a demented, Dillinger Escape Planesque dance rock–meets–free jazz finale.
"We all love screamo," Sgarbossa clarifies. "Everybody in this band came from the screamo scene, and we'd been doing it for a minute, but with this band we really wanted to make the distinction that this isn't a screamo band. [That song was just] our tongue-in-cheek jab at the people that want to throw us into that scene."
In another move away from screamo, Sgarbossa is shaking up her performance style this time around by balancing out cord-rupturing screams with an array of sassy shouts. Her attitude-heavy sprechgesang is admittedly a nod to artier '00s outfits, such as the Blood Brothers, that didn't comply with the more macho elements of hardcore — though the cheeky affectation takes on extra meaning for Sgarbossa.
"Being a trans woman, it's just really rewarding. I do it as this in-your-face form of femininity in hardcore. It's just super fun to be sassy, put your hand on your hip, and fucking swing your head around," the singer states with joy, while adding how the vocal style is also part of "a fuck-you attitude that comes with being a marginalized person." Similarly, Sgarbossa's lyrics have drifted from more personal exclamations towards more politically motivated poetry.
"I had done the whole personal-catharsis thing about my love and despair throughout my screamo era. [By the time] this band came around, I was a lot more political," Sgarbossa reveals. "So I just kind of decided that I would merge the two. I'll take this weirdly cryptic, overly flowery, heavily inspired by [hip-hop artist] Aesop Rock style of writing, and just infuse it with a political message, because that's what's important to me now."
While SeeYouSpaceCowboy are looking to create a dialogue with fans regarding LGBTQ representation, their personal politics also include anti-racist and anti-capitalist messages. Sgarbossa notes that the quintet hope to bring a zine library on future tours to help spread awareness of their intersectional beliefs.
"The right and white supremacists are trying to do a big show of power right now, and I think it's important that the left do a show of power, as well," she says. "We need to stand in solidarity against these rising forces that have this regained confidence. We need to send them back to the holes where they came from. I know the slogan is super corny, but we need to make racists afraid again. I know that not everybody can get onboard with our anarchist message — that's fine. But I feel like most people that we interact with can at least get behind [the idea] that we need to smash this uprising of white supremacy in this country."
To that end, Sgarbossa is not about to soften her hard edges. "Try and defang me," she cries at the tail end of 2017 single "Atrocities From a Story Book Perspective." The phrase likewise adorns a hoodie design (the frontwoman doubles as a self-sufficient visual artist) that features the internationally recognized symbol for transgender people. Whether screamed or scripted, the line is a counterattack to blind hatred, with Sgarbossa noting she's unafraid to fight for her ideals.
"It was this idea of, 'Look, these forces are trying to come up to bring us down, but the marginalized people, you can't defang us. You can try, but you will not be able to. We will always bite back.' That was the main [idea]. It also kind of plays into people who are telling other people to pipe down about social justice. It's not just the right, it's also centrists — liberals are also telling the heavy left to quiet down." She adds resolutely: "I will not hide my identity. I will not appease people."
To that end, SeeYouSpaceCowboy plan to release a sure-to-be brazen and uncompromising debut full-length sometime in 2019, but the group is only a couple of steps into the writing process. A song title Sgarbossa is toying around with is "Toxic Masculinity Won't Turn You Into a Super Hero, Just an Asshole," which popped into her head during a long, 10-hour bus ride home from L.A. to Oakland. While most of the music has yet to be written, Sgarbossa hints of what's to come: "There's going to be sassing, there's going to be breakdowns … there's going to be weird, screechy shit."