One year after the campaign for debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ was derailed by COVID, Sports Team have spent the past few weeks making up for lost time. They’ve taken a bus trip to Margate, stepped in as last-minute replacements at various festivals and finally played the numerous record release shows that were originally pencilled in for April 2020.
Last time we spoke to the band, they’d (narrowly) been beaten to a Number One album by Lady Gaga but had secured a Mercury Prize nomination. “We always knew we could put on a show and give people the best night of their life but to get some critical recognition as well, that’s brilliant,” said vocalist Alex Rice at the time.
Fourteen months after release though, things have changed. “Playing live makes it all feel tangible,” says Rice backstage at Reading Festival after a chaotic, communal set on the Main Stage West.
Watch our full video interview with Sports Team at Reading 2021 above
“It was amazing,” adds guitarist Rob Knaggs. “It’s the first time we’ve played Reading Festival where it’s felt like a club show expanded over a massive area. You see some of the circle pits being opened up and realise, that’s a big square footage.”
“This is our teenage dream. It’s the best feeling in the world. There was a lot of climbing, a lot of guitars breaking. I don’t think it was the set we intended to play…” says Rice. “One day I’d like to graduate to the point where we can just walk around in a cool outfit and pout,” he jokes.
Their set just made their resolve to come back and headline Reading Festival that much stronger. “Who’s headlining this weekend, Catfish & The Bottlemen? If they’re headlining, it seems pretty achievable. They’re one of those bands that you see and think ‘I can do that’.”
Despite their desire for shiny shoes and sunglasses, Sports Team have always been a group that have toyed with the idea of what a rock star can be. At their show for Margate record shop Elsewhere, the band got two different aspiring musicians onstage to give the spotlight a go and it’s something they’ve seen across the country.
“We meet a lot of people at our shows who have just formed bands. I think people see us and think ‘it’s not that hard’,” says Rice. “We’ve said it a million times though, we’re not musicians. You don’t have to be musicians to be in a band, you’ve just got to remember that you’re trying to entertain people. We don’t make music to challenge your musical horizons, we just want people to have a good time.”
“Courting came to some early shows and now they’re supporting us on tour,” adds Knaggs with the band also listing Pretty Preachers Club and Sterling Press.
“It’s so nice to watch. Honestly, the reason we do this is because it’s the best thing in the world. The fact we can chat to people and have them have the same experience, it’s great,” finishes Greenwood.
The band aren’t slowing down either. Later this year, there’s a huge UK tour that will include their biggest ever headline show at London’s Brixton Academy. Good news though, “there should be another single out before then,” Knaggs reveals to NME.
“We played a lot of new stuff on tour recently which was really exciting for us, but obviously not for the crowd. You can see what resonates and what feels exciting. It’s how we road-tested the first album so it’s nice now to see how people respond to big choruses or whatever it is. Hopefully we’ll have new stuff out very soon,” Greenwood explains.
The band are apparently ‘tinkering’ on album two which will be country, western and folk influenced. “We had too many good songs,” she continus before Knaggs interjects “well, too many songs.”
“There’s a lot of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music,” adds Rice. “The label always say Beck but I’m not sure they’ve ever actually ever heard Beck.”
They’re not worried about writing to satisfy their fans either. “We know they’re endlessly loyal. They will support whatever we do,” said Rice before Knaggs added “We’ll always write music to play live. Playing live is a lot more fun to us than going into a studio and doing a challenging and difficult album. We want it to be something that you come and watch on a festival mainstage rather than stand in a dark room and mull over.”
“It sounds joyful. It’s music to be happy too and I think it’ll be entertaining when you see it as well. It’s just full of choruses. People talk about landfill indie getting a terrible rep but that’s what we used to see here [at Reading Festival] and lose our minds to when we were fifteen-years-old. A chorus still works.”
As for who they want to take on in a chart battle this time around? “We’re trying to pick a week with no Lady Gagas this time. It worked in the end but that was a big surprise for us when it came on the release radar. If Oasis come back, that would be a nice one to pitch up against,” say Knaggs before Rice adds, “Liam Gallagher’s album would be good to take down.” The campaign for number 1 starts here…again.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021.