The Cover Story

SeeYouSpaceCowboy: “This is the uncensored, no-holds-barred version of us”

San Diego sasscore stars SeeYouSpaceCowboy are no strangers to turmoil and destruction. Where 2021 breakout LP The Romance Of Affliction looked brutally inwards, though, upcoming third album Coup De Grâce takes a more “playful” approach as the world falls apart around us. For the band’s Cover Story debut, Connie Sgarbossa lifts the lid on the record, talking creativity, cabaret and pure chaos…

SeeYouSpaceCowboy: “This is the uncensored, no-holds-barred version of us”
Mischa Pearlman
Errick Easterday

If the world was about to end, where would you want to be? For SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s Connie Sgarbossa, there’s only one answer: on the dancefloor. That question lies at the heart of her band’s new album. Titled Coup De Grâce, its 12 songs take place in a world that straddles reality and metaphor, but which is quite literally going up in flames.

That’s the overarching premise of the record, but it’s also the very specific concept underpinning latest single To The Dance Floor For Shelter. Featuring Spiritbox’s Courtney LaPlante, its two characters spin each other around as the building they’re in – which in Connie’s mind is a Moulin Rouge-esque cabaret club – is engulfed in flames. While it’s literal in terms of the album’s narrative, it’s simultaneously symbolic of the powerful and positive impact that hardcore shows and music have had on Connie’s life, and the role they’ve played in making her – and allowing her to be – the person that she is today.

“It’s about the idea that we go to shows because that’s where we feel best,” the singer explains. “That’s where we can express ourselves, and where we feel safest. It’s also where we feel we can let out some things we might not be able to let out in our day-to-day life. Think about crowd killing and moshing – I love doing that shit at beatdown shows because I can’t just walk down the street and kick somebody in the stomach. But at a hardcore show, I can ‘accidentally’ kick someone in the face if that’s what the singer of the band told me to do.”

She smiles coyly and cheekily as she says this, shifting in her chair as she does.

“So it plays very much into that notion,” she continues, “but it takes this romantic turn as well, because I really wanted to accentuate that. As much as that’s why hardcore is so appealing to so many people, there’s also a romantic element to it in my mind – that even if the world was collapsing around you, there’s no place I’d rather be than there. Even if the whole fucking world is drowning in fire around me, I can at least go to shows – or anything that I deem cathartic, whether it be a person, sex, a show, skateboarding, any fucking thing in the world – and I’ll still have that, even if everything is collapsing around me. It’s To The Dance Floor For Shelter.”

At the same time, the song also represents the sense of community, the hope and camaraderie of the hardcore scene she grew up with. Admittedly, though, it’s also a scene whose conventions SeeYouSpaceCowboy have always resisted fully conforming to or fitting in with, no matter which sub-genre they’re lumped in with. Courtney’s appearance on the record – one of a motley crew of cameos that also include Kim Dracula, nothing,nowhere. and IRIS.exe – is the perfect example of that.

“Courtney’s someone who’s been in the music scene for a while, and she’s someone I can look at and be like, ‘You’ve been there. You’ve done it,’” says Connie. “She’s also got a beautiful fucking voice. She comes from a very different scene to SpaceCowboy – Spiritbox is this huge band that appeals to the masses, and I felt it’d be really cool to pull something from that extremely successful world into this more underground weirdo band. It’s the notion that we’re all in this shit together, which is really beautiful to me.”

“We go to shows because that’s where we feel best”

Hear Connie explain the meaning of new single To The Dance Floor For Shelter

This is one of numerous occasions across the hour-plus conversation that Connie refers to SeeYouSpaceCowboy as a weirdo band. It’s not self-deprecation. On the contrary, it’s something she’s extremely proud of.

“What the fuck else would I be doing?” she asks rhetorically with a little chuckle. “What the fuck else would I be making other than Cowboy? Cowboy is it. This is the ultimate expression of me and us. It’s literally the uncensored, un-held back, no-holds-barred version of us. We could be making very different music and probably have way more success and shit, but I don’t give a fuck. We make what we want to make. Why would I want to play in a band and not a) write the music that I want to write, and b) not be myself?

"To me, the death of Cowboy would be giving a fuck. I mean, we have sass vocals. When’s the last time sass was popular, if ever? And so many people hate us for it, but it’s a core part of us and it’ll never go away because that’s just who we are and what we like. Taking these little niche things and shoving them together is something that we’ll always fucking do, because Cowboy is a reflection of us, ultimately. And if it’s going to be a reflection of us to the world, it better be fucking accurate.”

There’s a cliché that you have to be in great pain to make great art. It’s a cliché, though, because for so many people – whether rock stars, writers, painters, poets, filmmakers, whoever – it’s true. It had been true, too, for Connie. Formed in 2016 with her younger brother Ethan after the demise of their previous outfits, Flowers Taped To Pens and René Descartes, SeeYouSpaceCowboy was violent catharsis from the very beginning, a way for Connie to offload and exorcise her life traumas in a productive, rather than self-destructive, manner.

These days, she isn’t anywhere near as fucked-up as she used to be. Although she refutes the term ‘sober’ – “I still drink,” she says, “I just don’t do opiates and benzos anymore” – Connie has come a long way in the past few years when it comes to her recreational habits. Once SeeYouSpaceCowboy – currently completed by bassist/vocalist Taylor Allen, guitarist Tim Moreno and drummer AJ Tartol – had finished making 2021’s The Romance Of Affliction, Connie tried to take her own life.

When it came to the making of this record, she struggled at first – not being a junkie any longer, she didn’t know what to write about. She didn’t need SeeYouSpaceCowboy in the same way anymore. As a result, her mind turned outwards towards the things that she loved rather than the pain inside her. One of those things was the noir world of Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels, from which she got the spark visual inspiration for what she wanted Coup De Grâce to be. That visual concept soon turned into a way for Connie to express different facets of her personality and reflect her day-to-day life in the real, not-so-noir world. Indeed, the songs on Coup De Grâce could almost be viewed more like film scenes, each one featuring characters who exist in its universe. Of course, those characters are very much still rooted in Connie’s life and experiences – it’s just that she’s scattered who she is and distilled it into the many different people who exist inside these songs. They’re all fragments that make up a whole.

“The characters are essentially an extension of myself,” she explains. “I definitely see myself in them, especially being non-monogamous, and I’m definitely seeing more parallels in the ways that my life is going. There’s definitely situations I’ve been in – talking to certain people and engaging in certain relationships – where I’m like, ‘Oh fuck, this is like that song.’ It’s coming to life more so than when I initially wrote it. As much as you put yourself in the songs, it’s almost like a subconscious thing at times. You don’t immediately connect the dots – like, this is exactly like that situation or like this situation might be in the future – but then you’re like, ‘Oh. Fuck.’ Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Does that make the songs on Coup De Grâce a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, then? Has Connie tempted fate on this record in the same way that she did with The Romance Of Affliction, whereby an album about getting better and recovering from addiction actually led to her overdosing?

“I feel like it just speaks more in volumes of me and how I’m a person who’s very cyclical in nature,” she replies. “I tend to do things again. So I might be writing about a past scenario that then might occur once more. Because these characters don’t really exist outside of myself, so to speak, in an independent way, as much as they just are me. And it shows that these things are really kind of a revolving door in the sense that old habits die hard. That’s not to say that things aren’t different than they once were when I was originally writing these ideas down, but there’s things that echo that for me in myriad ways. And it’s interesting when you’ve built this narrative and portray these things that have happened to you in this fictional setting and then it kind of comes back and it all makes more sense to why I wrote this. It’s like when I wrote and recorded Romance... and then overdosed two weeks after recording it. It made sense to me then why I wrote that record – and I find myself sitting with that reality, too, with this one since we wrote and recorded it.”

Of course, clean as she may be now, that doesn’t mean Connie’s past doesn’t exist. Who she was is still very much a part of who she is – something that’s true for all of us – and it always will be. She’ll never be able to shake it off entirely.

“That kind of ties into the whole love and sex and romance of this record,” she admits. “That’s part of me, and being a slut – being what my partner calls a ‘feeling slut’ – is a big part of me. I love emotional connections as much as I love sexual connections with people. This album wasn’t meant have a deep, personal meaning to me, but it’s becoming more and more so as time goes on. It’s in a less destructive way than when I was a drug addict with Romance, where I was running away from my emotions with that record. I’m just glad that this time it’s a little bit more playful and a little more fun and far less demeaning and destructive than it was. It’s just like, ‘Yeah, okay, I’m a whore. So what? I don’t fucking care.’ That’s not the worst thing in the world – I used to be a junkie. It feels a lot better to know that the world’s on fire instead of myself.”

“This is the ultimate expression of me and us”

Listen to Connie proudly discuss being a “weirdo” band

It was in 2015 that Connie came out as a transgender woman. But she’s never wanted it to be the sole focus. And although she knows that increased trans visibility in the alternative space – especially the hardcore scene – is incredibly important, in the same way she doesn’t want SeeYouSpaceCowboy to fit inside any one particular genre, so she doesn’t want to conform to what most people expect (or want) a woman to look like.

“There is a feminine side to me, as this photoshoot shows,” she begins, “and I enjoy doing that, but very few people get to see that. For the most part, I skate and go to hardcore shows. When I came out as a trans woman, I never wanted to be put into that fucking box of like, ‘Oh, you have to be a caricature of femininity.’ I wanted to just be myself. It’s not going to change who I am. It’s just literally like, ‘I am Connie, and I am a girl.’ But that didn’t change my whole fucking personality. Why would it? But when I came out, that was a thing. One criticism I have is that there’s that pressure for a lot of trans people to become overly feminine. You have to pass [for female], you have to do this, blah, blah, blah. And for me, I was like, ‘No, I don’t, I don’t fucking care.’ Coming out didn’t make my personality do a 180. I’m still me – I’m just a girl. So be it.”

Although Connie says that, she’s also very aware that there’s a contradiction hiding in plain sight in terms of the cabaret imagery of the record – and indeed, as she says herself, this photoshoot. She personally doesn’t have much desire to make herself look particularly feminine in real life, but she knows that views (and laws) today – though still stacked against trans and queer people – allow her to be who she is to a greater extent than the era after which she fashioned this record’s artwork. That aesthetic was the one of the reasons for Connie choosing a cabaret setting, but it was also always deeper and more profound for her than just that.

“On the album and in the way that it’s framed, there’s always going to be those little hints of queer culture, like in our music videos," she explains. "It’s not explicitly in the lyrics, but definitely in my own little headcanon. A big part of being attracted to that burlesque backroom speakeasy freedom is that that’s where queer people would be allowed to exist. At the time, the only place that you could exist is in those backrooms, in that seclusion. So it’s not explicitly in the music, but there is a large notion to why that aesthetic appeals so much to me is that if you’re a lesbian couple, if you’re gay, if you’re trans back then, probably the only place that you would ever be allowed to express yourself and express love and lust and all these things was in these hidden little spots where you could exist and be free and be yourself.”

Of course, there are present-day correlations to that. Connie doesn’t want SeeYouSpaceCowboy to be seen as a trans band, but rather a band with a trans singer. But therein also lies a huge contradiction at the centre of the their existence. Because while trans visibility is paramount for Connie, she also hopes that one day it won’t actually be necessary to have to make that point.

“There’s not enough people doing what needs to be done,” she says, “which is just to normalise and push trans people to the front, to the point where you forget that I’m a tranny to begin with. But the oxymoron of it, and the sick, fucked-up nature of the pendulum, is that in order to get things to change, you have to push them forward and put them in front of people.

"I can’t remember the last time I wrote a song about being trans, but in this day and age, my mere existence is a form of protest in the scene and to the world. I get criticised for not singing about being trans and not putting out enough fucking merch with the trans symbol on, but I don’t think it needs to be like that. The mere presence and existence of this band should be enough to move towards normalising it. The more that we’re put in front of people, the more it’ll become normal. It doesn’t need to fucking be made into some commodity. All that trans people want is just to be accepted, and not made out to be a freak or a groomer and demonised by media. I’m not asking for a tiara and fucking a special title. I’m really just asking to be respected and to be allowed to exist.”

Coup De Grâce, then, is a bold step in the right direction, one that challenges the paradoxes that Connie talks about head-on. It addresses the issue without overstating it, diluting it, or even explicitly being about it. It then watches as the fire destroys everything. That destruction is a form of creation, though, and out of the ashes there’s a hope for change, for new beginnings, and, ultimately, for more than just the bare minimum that Connie, and all trans people, are asking for.

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