After months of bedroom concerts broadcasted via Instagram, most of us are longing for the return of IRL concerts. But how does it feel like to be in a band, that has been build around a community and experience that only occurs through live music? That’s what I asked myself before Zooming with Sports Team singer Alex Rice.
His six-piece band from London (via Cambridge) has been playing over 120 shows within the last year and was set to continue with shows at SXSW and other major festivals this year. With their tongue-in-cheek version of indie pop, they gained an ever-growing fan base, that connects via a notorious WhatsApp group chat and dozen of Instagram meme accounts. With their debut album Deep Down Happy being just released, the band is currently en route to top the Official Charts, battling All Time Low. Receiving the Number 1 trophy would be one of their long-term band goals, alongside headlining Knebworth one day. However, while speaking to Rice, I found out, that the band is more committed than cocky these days.
How have you been holding up with the album being released finally?
It obviously feels like an odd time to be releasing it. There’s the whole COVID thing hat went on first, when we had to push it back and forth a few times and now there is Black Lives Matter kicking off in the UK. We’re trying to find a way to do it sensitively. We are going to be very mindful about however the album does or whatever platform it gives us having an album out that week. how we use that to promote the cause as well. It’s really important for the music industry, with our record label having an incredible history of supporting black artists.
You pushed a week ahead again, like last week, so what was the decision behind that conscious decision? Or was it just a let’s get it out mentality?
It was a bit of ‚Just let’s get it out‘, we were eager to do it. There was also a sense that we got a bit sick of hard-selling bundles. We just wanted people to hear it as quickly as we possibly could. It wasn’t a particularly thought-through decision, we just wanted to get it out.
Do you still hope for that Number One Record though?
I really don’t know how it’s gonna go. I mean, we hope that we chart pretty well. But as I said before, I think it’s about whatever success it does have just using that platform that we’ll have to speak sensitively about the cause and be in midst of that conversation.
You are very engaged in fan culture and live shows. How has it been without these things going on?
I think the first time we moved the album we just thought it’s gonna be South By Southwest that’s down, and if we push it towards the summer, we probably would be able to do live shows again. So it’s had been odd for us not being able to do anything because that’s what’s the album is really, it’s a live rock album. With the fans, the live shows have always been where they met this friendship group that they have online but they managed to meet up in person which is great. We’ve tried to stay in touch, we have been writing letters and receiving letters from them. There’s the WhatsApp group and they’d just call or write us.
How many fan letters did you receive and what did they write to you?
Probably 200-300. We’ve got quite a few to the studio when lockdown came in and now we’re back home, we have lots sent back here. It’s teenagers pouring their hearts out. That’s pretty amazing. They feel so comfortable chatting to us in a very personal way. It’s not a fan like adoring friendship. It is a genuine one. The live shows are their focal point, they became an important event in their lives. We looked at so many of them and think, okay, that’s us when we were fourteen or fifteen, all our formative experiences for going to gigs, going to London, spending all your money for the ticket, having your first drink at one. When we’re on stage and see them, we always remember seeing Egyptian Hip Hop.
Do you wish you had a band you could have written letters to?
Yes, we always had the longing and jealousy seeing people on stage. It looks amazing, like the best thing in the world. You get to do these incredible things, going around the world with your mates. All the best bands have that. You see a group of people on stage and think I could be part of that. It makes you think you could start a band as well. But I think we’re just really lucky in that sense, that we all sort of met each other at exactly the right time. None of us have been in bands before, none of us were musicians. I think we sort of imagined or dreamed of doing it, but never really thought it happened, because it does take this kind of perfect circumstance for it to come about.
Fostering what live shows are about
You use a lot of specifically British nostalgia and romanticism. Would you have liked to have emerged at a different time?
I actually don’t think the sort of model of how people engage with a band has really changed. They’re making silly content and like mocking up our faces, posting memes. There are probably 200 fan accounts on Instagram. It’s kind of exactly the same as when the sort of NME era music when people would do their own artwork and make their own badges and things. Our fans still do a lot of that, it’s great.
Have you developed a strategy on how to connect with your friends for the next months?
I hope we foster a sense of kind of longing for what a live show is and everything it means because it is about not about going and hearing the tracks played perfectly. That’s kind of the last thing it’s about. Everything that we enjoy, stays on, like the friendships, the experiences. People still got these lockers of videos from when they’ve seen us live. And they’re still chatting to each other and they’re still arranging to meet up, we still speak on the phone. I think it’s amazing of what endures from a live show. In the medium term, it looks like maybe smaller venues could open. That would be kind of brilliant because that’s what we love playing anyway. None of us are from London, originally. We were always kind of subconscious that you have to travel to the big city if you want to hear music, big music doesn’t really come to small towns anymore. You don’t do huge tours. And if we have tiny venues, we could play them.
It would be incredible. Imagine getting to all these parts of the country where kids haven’t had a band playing for ages. We’re also we’re talking about having residences. If you look at all the old bands, just pick up a venue play it twice a day for three months or so. I’d love to do a residency.
What I’ve noticed seeing Sports Team live is your erratic live performance. Is this your normal state?
I think a lot of the charm of our shows has been that anything can happen. This is a sense of erraticism and originally when we started, we were genuinely very, very amateur musicians, we missed some of the notes and so on. You would have to sort of doing everything you could to distract the actual playing beneath. I hope the feeling maintains hat so much of what we do is the flaws and the fact that we’re very flawed characters.
But you’re no longer amateur musicians.
Well, yes, it’s a funny one, because we always used this saying that we’re sort of amateur musicians and now we’re obviously professional. The album is going to maintain the charm and the quirks. I think a lot of the amateurism is kind of just the dynamic between people. When everyone has started playing, sometimes it clashes, and sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t really lose that, you’ll always have the dynamic between people on stage and in the studio.
Why have you released the debut on a major label and not on your own label Nice Swan Records?
We always hope we would in a way. A major label allows you to do a lot of things, a lot of people have these major label sob stories where they say they ruined our band whatever it was but usually it’s the acts that get dropped. The labels do things on a bigger scale and bring it to a bigger audience. It’s been brilliant from start to finish, they’re our friends and come to our house, they get it. They know us and deep down understand what we want to do. If we had a problem, we would have released it on our own label. But ultimately if people had a lot of money to give to you, I’d say no. (laughs)
As a final question, how did your relationship with Matt Healy from The 1975 start off?
We were always pretty open about talking about which bands we like and don’t like, I think that’s really important. There’s this weird thing where people act like Matt Healy’s sitting on his tour bus crying because we said his band isn’t good. He’s on the same page as us, he knows we’re joking. He posted ‚I wish I was a sad indie boy from London’ alongside posting an old band picture of us in his Instagram Stories. We put it on a T-Shirt and donated to CALM, a mental health organization. Everyone has got a sense of humor about it. He’s got a shirt that he’s gonna wear at some point, I’m sure. It’s quite nice.
— Sports Team (@SportsTeam_) April 13, 2020
All photos by Louisa Zimmer backstage from Reeperbahn Festival 2019 in Hamburg.