Quick question, Dear Reader: who's bigger, Sports Team or Lady Gaga? You're right, only one of them has been on the cover of Dork, so it's clearly Sports Team. We thought the same, so you can imagine our shock when scrappy upstart Lady Gaga managed to beat them to the Number One spot on the albums chart, seemingly without even noticing she'd done it and without the support of Shadow Foreign Office Minister Stephen Doughty (yes, he did tweet his support of Sports Team and yes, we also had to Google who he was.)
After the dust had settled and the numbers were in, we gave Sports Team frontman and Dork columnist Alex Rice a ring to get the inside scoop and see how he was taking defeat.
"We were robbed!" he shouts in mock outrage, before adding, "No, I'm kidding, obviously Number Two is unbelievable, plus we did actually get a Number One in Scotland, so we're looking at how soon we can move there, as well as ordering as many of those little chart trophies as we can. The guidelines say we can have 'a reasonable amount', so we might just fill the bathroom with them.
"I think the biggest thing was the hope during those days leading up to it, because obviously we weren't expecting to get anywhere near the top of the charts, even with us peddling enough record bundles to build a house. But then we saw we were ahead in the midweek charts and thought we could be in with a shot. Each day Gaga gained on us just a little bit more and finally overtook us on the Thursday, a real cricket scenario [we'll have to take your word for that one, Alex – Ed]. We made peace with it, thought it was inevitable, then Murph from The Wombats told everyone to get the album, and we all love The Wombats, so that felt huge and got us thinking about who else we could cajole into shilling for us – who else could be co-opted into this odd indie vs pop chart battle. It was just funny to start with, trying to get all these bizarre people involved like Jeremy Wade of River Monsters fame..."
And how exactly does an indie band managed to convince a celebrity fisherman to help them sell records? Alex laughs. "Truth be told we actually approached him when we were releasing 'Fishing' and asked if he'd be in the video, which I think he found quite funny and endearing, but wasn't interested enough to do it – which I think is quite indicative of the feelings the band inspires in people generally. So we messaged him again about this, and he thought it sounded funny enough, and he sent over the video. To be honest, I think he got more out of it than us, he was broadcast on the Radio 1 news bulletin to millions of bemused listeners, you can't buy that kind of exposure.
"We weren't sure how big we could go, but getting Lewis Capaldi and Sam Fender was the pinnacle, the crowning glory. The highest point of our career so far and we did it all online while poring over click-through rates, now that's rock and roll. Didn't work obviously, but what a rush! It all unravelled a bit after that, because we were pretty drunk and we read in the chart rules that you could do a flash sale of an album for a limited time, and it would still count – a concept pioneered by Lily Allen and Gaga herself. We basically had a master team of music industry people whispering in our ears and telling us the tricks of the trade.
"So we did all that, then finally went to bed and set our alarms for 10am, which is when the chart results normally come through for bands and that, but we were told they were postponed. So we're all there thinking 'Jesus Christ, have we broken music?' getting all these calls from people asking how we'd managed to bring the charts down, until finally we were told that the 99p sales were disqualified and we were Number Two." He pauses on that sombre note, before adding with a grin, "Probably too embarrassed to let us win. It's pretty on-brand, isn't it? Facing off against a completely disinterested international superstar, giving it everything we've got and not getting a Number One album due to a clarification of the terms and conditions. I doubt Gaga even knows who we are, and yet here she is crushing us with ease – we are genuinely chuffed with the placement though, fastest-selling debut in four years, can't argue with that."
While a Number One would have been a bigger deal for the band themselves, it makes sense that a group whose fans seem to spend every waking hour making them into memes would end up missing out by a whisker in dubious circumstances. Alex seems to have bounced back from the defeat already, with his mind firmly on the free tat he can secure for the band's Camberwell home. "I think you get a bronze disc if you sell 25,000 records – I reckon that'd look good in the living room," he muses. "We're still in the charts now, so sales are ticking along towards that figure, think we had a very satisfying drop of 69 places from week one to week two, so I'm happy – although not being able to celebrate with the fans obviously deflates you a little bit. Right now this whole thing is completely abstract to me, it's just a screenshot of a chart position, I'm still just stuck at home. I haven't met any fans or played any gigs, which is the stuff that makes this all real and enjoyable.
"That's part of the reason we announced that tour when we did [the band tour the UK next April], just to make it feel real again - plus it's traditional for us to announce a ludicrous London venue like Brixton and then frantically spend months trying to find people to fill it. Brixton's a very forgiving venue though, I've had a look at the blueprints, and we can make it seem full even if nobody turns up.
"What I'm hoping for is that the fans are so caught up in it now with all their bundles and memes that they're going to have to come, aren't they? I reckon we can harness that energy and pivot to being the musical equivalent of that group of mates that you feel duty-bound to see at least once a year. Brixton is going to feel like the biggest reluctant reunion of all time, that's my plan. If it is all gonna come crashing down, I want to fall hard, though. I don't want to fade away, I want 10 people to turn up to the Brixton gig and really drag us through the mud about the new album, really slate it."
Hang on a minute, the new album? "Of course," Alex replies, not seeming to notice that they've literally just released an album. "Second album is going to be soon, before the end of the year." Again, he doesn't seem to be joking. "Before the stores of goodwill are exhausted, we've got to release another one – we've got a lot of it done from over lockdown as it is, but we're in a big writing phase at the moment for lack of anything else to do. This time it probably won't have a load of old singles on it either, I don't know if the fans would let us get away with that again.
"My vision for it is that we've found our voice with the first album, we've grown up and worked out who we are, and now album two is more answering questions and being a bit more explicit about where we're at on things." He laughs. "That sounded quite competent, didn't it? I'm billing it as this considered, polished album, but what I actually see in my head is pure stadium rock. It's just going to be us on stage with a wind machine strutting around. More swagger and more strutting – Sports Team album 2."
Taken from the August issue of Dork. Sports Team's debut album 'Deep Down Happy' is out now.
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