Sports Team’s debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ should have been released back in April. They’re meant to be on tour in Mexico right now following stints at SXSW Festival, a US run supporting Bombay Bicycle Club and a whole load of other exciting things that never got around to being announced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, most of the band — bar Ben Mac (who can normally be found glaring at the audience from behind a keyboard) and drummer Al Greenwood, who is in Leeds with her boyfriend — are at their shared house in Camberwell, south London. After originally delaying the album’s release from April 2 to June 19, Sports Team brought ‘Deep Down Happy’ forward by two weeks to June 5. Right now, though, the band are constructing a giant papier-mâché person.
“We’re building a statue of a fan who bought the album. This is what we’ve got so far,” frontman Alex Rice announces before proudly holding up a floppy, human-like figure to the camera. “We’re just trying to keep ourselves entertained,” he adds, which has become something of a mantra for a band in these trying times.
Sports Team’s sound is a heady mix of the inflammatory heights of 90’s Britpop, the ambition of 00’s indie and the scrappy, outsider snarl of American alternative rock, while their often chaotic live shows see them make heroes of themselves while on stage. They can easily command gigs at sizeable London venues like The Forum as well as sweaty ones down at their local, and have no problem proclaiming themselves as “the best live band in the world.” The album is now in the hunt for Number One in the UK albums chart and only just a few hundred copies ahead of All Time Low, reports Official Charts Company.
So what happens when a global pandemic disrupts almost every plan you’ve ever made? NME hopped on Zoom with Rice, Greenwood and guitarist Rob Knaggs to find out more about a debut album launch that’s been in constant flux.
‘Deep Down Happy’ is finally out! Is it going to be weird releasing the album and not playing shows around it?
Rob: “The longest we’d gone without playing a show before this had been three weeks, so it does feel strange. But in terms of general issues, it’s a nice one to have. We sometimes get in a funk about missing certain shows or festivals, but in the bigger scheme of what’s going on we’re very lucky for that to be the biggest issue.”
Why delay it originally?
Al: “It didn’t feel appropriate to be promoting something when the virus was at its peak, and you also don’t want that to be its legacy. For us, ‘Deep Down Happy’ existed outside of that and we didn’t want it to be stuck within it.”
Rob: “It got to the point where we realised the stuff we were pushing it back for wasn’t going to happen for a while, so there wasn’t much point waiting. The difference in two weeks for us feels massive. We got a lot of messages from people saying: ‘Please just release the album.’ And at this point in time, why are we not?”
“The campaign for number 1 starts here” was how you initially announced the album back in February. Do you have high expectations for it?
Alex: “Obviously we think it’s the best record in the world. We think it’s amazing. A lot of that is also tied to us being the best live band in the world, though. Our reward has always been playing shows in front of loads of people, but right now you can’t even go to the pub and have a few drinks. So it’s hard to make success tangible.”
— Sports Team (@SportsTeam_) February 17, 2020
Rob: “To see a crowd singing back to you and to see people really up for it — that’s why you’re in a band. That connection, that moment: it’s the only thing that feels at all real around the music. Charts, streaming, radio play, all of that fun stuff is still happening, but what really gave this band a sense of meaning and felt like it was something worth doing was that sense of community around it. That’s the bit that really matters.”
Still, that Number One would be nice, right?
Alex: “It’s what it deserves, really. And you get those nice little trophies. When we sold our first ever t-shirts, I posted out a 10p betting slip for us to have a number one album in 2020 along with them. We sold about nine. If anyone still has one of those…”
Rob: “It’d be a nice little ego trip [to get number 1], but if you look at the charts now Lewis Capaldi is going to destroy us 60 weeks on with no effort, Lady Gaga is going to roll us over three weeks in and all the usual players are, probably rightly, going to put us back in our place.”
Most bands have been heading online to stay connected to their fanbase and to keep momentum going during the lockdown. What are your thoughts on that?
Rob: “I find it a little disappointing when bands I love do that. For us, we’re a band who thrive on that live experience — you can never get that atmosphere through Zoom. You do it when the cause is right because that feels more worthwhile.”
From memes, terrible banners and giving out your home address, Sports Team celebrate the silly parts of being a band. But you’re also vocally ambitious — how seriously do you take it?
Alex: “When we first started out, we talked about being six people in a band that you feel like you could be in. Now we can’t really parrot that because we’re professional musicians. We play live all the time, we’re alright now. But you meet other bands backstage at festivals and usually everyone is pretty cheery until they get on stage and they become this different person. We’ve always been conscious of not being a band that’s different off stage. There’s a lot of that on the album, the ridiculousness of everyday life and these characters in music that think they’re very normal people but aren’t. It’s got to the point of recognition where we’re as absurd as anyone else. What we’re trying to do and the whole nature of it, it is very odd.”
Rob: “Guitar music can change things but at the same time, it is really fun and ridiculous. Travelling around the world together, playing festivals, hanging out with your friends: at some point, you have to recognise that it is fucking silly.”
You’re not afraid of speaking your minds, are you?
Rob: “The whole thing with guitar music is that it can be incredibly powerful. You make music to entertain, but at the same time you do want to change things. You do want to actually be involved in change. Art should want to change things and should shine a spotlight where things are really unfair. I think now, in particular, there’s a lot of stuff that’s supremely fucked up. The record is pretty clear about what our political views are, what our allegiances are and who we think the villains of the piece are.”
Well, are Sports Team the best band around, then?
Alex: “You’ve really got to a sad state where you can’t say you think you’re better than another band. Punch up, at least. That’s a good rule. Fans love it as well when you make fun of someone like Idles. I’ve never been in a conversation about music where a normal person hasn’t said: ‘I don’t really like that.’ That’s how normal people talk about music. Obviously I’m going to be like that in public as well.”
Al: “And that’s why people hate us.”
Alex: “We recognise that, but there are worse things in the world than a few people on Twitter thinking you’re twats. I think we genuinely do have a huge impact on people’s lives, though. Our fans have formed this sense of identity around our band.”
Rob: “Right now there’s so much great music around that it’s a time where you should be ambitious. You have to believe what you’re doing is the best thing in the world. You have to want your album to be the best album ever made. Otherwise, why bother?”
Sports Team’s debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ is out now