Interview: Sports Team on the chaos and building a community

Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Photo by David Titlow

“A lot of them generally don’t like our band. I’m not saying it as a gimmick or anything like that,” says Sports Team frontman Alex Rice. Many bands might say they have a close relationship with their fans, but no-one does it quite like Sports Team do.

The six-piece openly share their personal contact numbers through their WhatsApp group, they don’t hide where they live, and just like mates do, there is often back-and-forth roasting between the band and their fans.

Rice admits that to outsiders, it all might come across as a little ‘cult-ish’, but it’s all part of the chaos of Sports Team. Their shows, which have the energy and buzz of a world-class travelling circus, bring in an array of attendees — there’s the die-hard fans, people who love to hate the band, and those who don’t even like the band at all. The latter two are part of why they have one of the most intriguing fanbases around.

Even for the fans who aren’t into them, Rice ensures that they’re going to have a good time at a Sports Team show too. “They come in and then they’re involved in this thing whether they like it or not. So you end up with a more diverse cross section of people. They say, ‘we’re going to the Sports Team show tonight’ because that’s where their mates are going. So they all meet up through that and it’s still fun whether you hate or love the music”

Sports Team are arguably one of the most talked about UK bands of the last two years. Sometimes it’s because of the music, but many times it’s because Rice has called out another band or made a comment, usually giving a UK music publication a one-liner to run with. There’s also the unavoidable opinions some commentators have about the band’s origin story — meeting whilst studying at Cambridge — and using it as a way of questioning their privilege or wrongfully asserting that they’re conservative (the band are firm and vocal Labour supporters).

They’re not asking for sympathy — Rice notes that the comments don’t bother them too much, but they hate to see their fans dragged into a fictitious narrative. “I think our fans are really diverse people. They're a group of fans that span class, gender and borders and live in completely different parts of the UK,” says Rice. And if you do have any questions for the band, they aren’t afraid to answer them. “If you want to ask us about politics or our backgrounds, anyone can ask. We’re always really open, we never lie to people.”

Inaccurate narratives aside, what Sports Team have done is create a community of young people who may feel like they’re at a crossroad or might feel overcome by ambition but are trapped in a 9 to 5 job that they hate — in fact, it was only a few years ago where they were in the same predicament as some of their fans, which is why they’re able to connect with their fanbase at the level they do. Fresh out of university, they all found themselves working jobs whilst playing shows on the side. Their debut album Deep Down Happy captures this period of uncertainty.

“When we first got to London, we always had the sense that we were working,  being in a band, and that’s it. It’s comfortable and it's prosaic and it's fine and we're lucky to be in this situation. We've always been told this is a lucky, happy situation, so this is what you think you’re supposed to be doing.”

But they still had a lingering sense of wanting more. “We always would come home every night and think, there must be more to this. This feels crushing. It doesn't feel like enough. And so I think that a lot of the band was spawned out of that. This sense of yearning that I think a lot of people in their mid-twenties in general have. About just wanting more out of life and feeling like there should be something more transcendent than a steady march to retirement”

“The album's bookended by the line: if you want to find love you can always move to London. And the Deep Down Happy title also, I think is just this questioning tone, it's saying, has our alternative model made us happy? That we're all still living together, we're a bit older now. Do we still like it? Are we still a really good group of mates? Is this the best thing in the world or is this actually just really scrappy living that's worse than before?”

For them at first, it was about the parties and messy live shows. “I think you get a lot of bands that start off as quite proficient bedroom producers and then the live stuff comes after,” says Rice. “When we first started and we first recorded we were quite amateurish about it. We went into the studio for the first few times and realised we couldn't play to a click and it was actually really hard to record a song that sounded the way we wanted it to.”

Instead, they focussed their attention on live shows and developing the songs after testing them out during a gig. Having played approximately 150 shows last year, it was near impossible for them to spend any extended period locked away in a studio. “We’ve always had that quite scrappy lifestyle around when we were recording it. So I think you hear a lot of the personalities of us and the dynamics between us and how much we probably annoyed each other at the time.”

Outside of the band, Sports Team keep occupied with their own imprint, Holm Front, which they haven’t only used to release previous singles of their own, but to also share a single with Glasgow up-and-comers Walt Disco, as well as music with Amsterdam-based band Personal Trainer. According to Rice, they have big plans for the label and have a couple of bands they are looking to work with.

Whether it’s through the shared experience of a live show or writing a song that perfectly captures the mundanity of working a tedious job, Sports Team know how to relate to twenty-somethings trying to figure life out. Deep down, they're after something that's bigger and more profound than the quick headlines and one-liners in the media. "We've tried to build this community of fans around it, that's been a big part of why we do this, and I think the bigger the music gets the more you can do that, which is brilliant."

Sports Team's debut album Deep Down Happy will be released on June 19th. Click here to purchase it. 

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

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