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October 2020
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Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band

Frantic live shows, provocative interviews (ahem - Ed), and an ability to wind up all the right people; there's no band quite like Sports Team.
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Published: 11:00 am, March 16, 2020Words: Jake Hawkes. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band

Sports Team are a band on the rise. Don't believe us? Visit their swish new house in South London. Well, the washing machine isn't plumbed in yet, there are boxes everywhere, and one of them doesn't have a bed, but it is moving day, so we'll cut them some slack.

"Hey, look at this!" says guitarist Henry Young, dragging us down the hallway and pointing at a very new door. "That door wasn't there when we viewed the house, there was a second bathroom. The downstairs flat has made a land grab on our toilet." He grins and flicks the light switch next to the door. "We still control their lights, though, so they haven't won yet."

We're shown around the rooms too, which vary from 'almost unpacked' to 'duvet with no covers on it and a pillow still in its plastic wrap' (we're looking at you, Ben).

"Contractually it's a five-bed house with a conveniently sized sixth room," explains drummer Al Greenwood. "We'll be respecting the contract, but we might just have one friend stay over occasionally in the extra room, like, every single night."

An annexed bathroom and a legally grey contract workaround – so far, so glamorous.

A final look in the living room before we're whisked elsewhere to do the interview proper. "We've done a bit of decorating," says singer and resident loudmouth Alex Rice, gesturing at the two posters on the wall – one of Oasis, and one of... Sports Team. "That one isn't staying up, it's just for you," he insists, but we've got a feeling it might become a permanent fixture, they aren't exactly a band known for their modesty, after all.

Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band

We decamp to a nearby pub, mainly so the band can avoid unpacking for just a little bit longer. "It's our third time in here today," says Alex. "Gotta get a feel for your local, if this even is our local. This is why I wanted to live in West London, there's only ever one pub. Eliminates all this faff. You can get to too many places from South London, too, I'm overwhelmed by the choice."

"Easy to get to central London though," Al chips in. "Get straight to Oxford Street, shop till you drop in Topman, then back home as quickly as possible – that's what London's all about."

A few minutes later, we manage to wrestle the conversation away from the location of their house, and onto something almost as important – their upcoming debut album. "We all feel weirdly detached from it now, because we've heard all those songs so much during the recording process," begins Alex, before adding: "it's alright though, should get the Mercury, maybe a BAFTA... couple of BRIT Awards?" Modest expectations all round, then.

"What was nice was finally getting the full mastered album through," says Al. "Because it was all this ramshackle stuff and then it finally fell into place, and it was like 'oh shit, we've made an album!'"

"I think the hardest part for us was working out which old songs to put on there, actually," Alex cuts back in. "We wanted as much new stuff as possible, but I'm reliably informed that there are many technicalities in there about new vs old and presales and other stuff. Basically, the label just said 'better put some old ones on too'. We love the classics as well, and it is great to have a mix, but it's still as packed with new ones as we could make it.

"What's also great is the room it gives you to breathe," he continues. "All of the live tracks are really visceral, you hear them, and you want to mosh to them, but on the album, you can also do these more 'manifesto' pieces that talk about things no-one else is talking about. Not every track has to be chasing the single, so we can get pretty weird with it all, and a lot of it is definitely a bit odd."

"It's also a summing up of everything we've been doing since we started," adds guitarist and songwriter Rob Knaggs. "So it makes sense to have the older ones on there to kind of close the chapter on the last two years. We're always going to be using strange imagery and trying not to pick language that's overdone, but we're definitely ending one part of it all with this album. There are songs we've already got that we're thinking of putting on the next album, too, so it isn't like we're sat around waiting for the debut to be released."

So all change for Sports Team going forward? "Not quite," Rob says with a laugh. "We're still the same band, and we'll all always have terrible haircuts. That's the one constant, a bad haircut."

"The stuff that's really specific about us will always be there, too." Says Al. "The strange stuff in our songs that we're just drawn to because we find it fun and exciting, those symbols and characters that you wouldn't expect to hear. Everyone's talking about love and all the rest of it, and here we are in the corner talking about rhododendrons, and before you know it you've got a thousand teenagers chanting about them too. We're all about forcing you to reconsider stuff that doesn't necessarily play upon overdone tropes."

Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
"We'll always have terrible haircuts"
Rob Knaggs

As a band in their mid-twenties (despite Alex's protests that he's 19 and has just had "a horrible accident"), there's the feeling that Sports Team have lost the fear of looking silly that a lot of younger acts have. They're happy to make fun of themselves and say outrageous things with the confidence that their audience will pick up on the wink and the wry smile that goes along with it.

"It's so easy and safe to work on what's already been done and play up to what people expect the music to reflect," says Al. "But it just isn't that interesting. I just think at the moment all of the younger generations are so disenfranchised, nobody's happy with the way the world's going, and we want to look at how everyone experiences that day to day. Even if that does mean talking about suburbia and driving down the motorway."

"I think what a lot of people latch onto is this supposed irony to the lyrics, which often isn't there in the way they think it is," Alex adds. "We're very character-driven, and we talk about things some people don't, but our songs aren't mean." He stops for a minute, trying to find the right words, and for the first time, he doesn't sound like he's having a laugh. "There was a piece calling our trip to Margate a 'poverty safari', and I genuinely think that is the most offensive thing I've ever read about us. This alleged 'posh band make fun of Margate' narrative, which just isn't true in any way. We write in Margate, we record in Margate, our manager even lives there. We just wanted to go to the seaside with some fans and have a good time, there wasn't some arch narrative waiting to be pulled apart.

"It hurt because we genuinely love the town, and the stuff they do at [record store / venue] Elsewhere is great – it was just trash journalism. If you hate our music, then that's fine, but that was a bit far. We're dickheads, but we aren't dickheads in the way that piece made us out to be. We're a real Breakfast Club bunch, and we're all left-wing Labour supporters, do your bloody research."

He relaxes again, "I know that brought the mood down a bit, but we felt it probably needed addressing – what were we talking about? The fans! Love 'em, the rascals. I think we are very fan led. I know every band says that, but I genuinely believe it. We meet them a lot more, we speak to them a lot more, and they're absolutely horrible to us a lot more – genuinely foul a lot of the time. They might happen to like the band, but they do not like me or the music or the shows... or anything we do, actually." He laughs, before adding. "I mean that positively!"

An obvious example of this 'positive' hatred is the vast number of Sports Team meme accounts, all pumping out obscure jokes and Photoshopped pictures of the band. They range from an account dedicated to Oli drinking pints to one focussing on the band's management and even a 'Sports Team Seniors' account ("I am almost 100% sure that one's a piss-take by a younger fan, rather than a genuine community," keyboardist Ben remarks). When we suggest that maybe a few of the accounts might be *ahem* curated by the band themselves, there's an immediate outcry. "I barely even do my own social media!" Alex protests.

"We could put a picture up of you shaking hands with Alex right now, and by the end of the interview, I bet there would be a meme." Al offers by way of proof that none of the band are sat at home cranking out pictures on their off days. The photo is duly taken and uploaded to the band's story with zero context. "If nobody makes one this is going to be embarrassing," jokes Ben. "I might text my mum and ask her to put one up, just in case."

Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band

The propensity for cruel memes taps into another aspect of Sports Team's fanbase that set them apart from a lot of bands – the number of younger fans they attract. "Look, before I say anything else about this, I don't wanna patronise these kids. They come and see us because we're better than all the other bands," Alex starts, in what is surely set to be an extremely humble statement. "We put on a better live show, and we've got better songs. If I was 16 I'd be down the front of our gigs too, why wouldn't you be?"

"Sweeping statements aside, I think a lot of what people want is a sense of identity, and that's something we can offer that a lot of bands can't. We've always known that guitar music isn't the most popular genre out there, and right from our first gig our mates absolutely did not want to go and see guitar music. We had to make it an event and make sure there's loads going on before and after – and to make sure that there are lots and lots of opportunities for people to drink, basically. Carnival + drinking = packed gig, in my experience at least.

"I've got nothing against older fans either, but our fans do skew young, and bands like Fontaines and Shame have fans who skew older, nothing wrong with that at all." He stops for a second, but, true to form, can't help having a quick dig in the ribs: "Having a young fanbase is better though, isn't it? I don't condemn the old..."

"Not condemning the old probably isn't as complimentary as you mean it to be," Al cuts in, attempting to remove Alex's foot from his mouth. "I'm doing it with a wink and a smile, the oldies love it!" Alex protests, grinning. "Look, all I'm saying is that even though we do this kind of 'beardy craft ale dad' joke, we love all of our fans, we really do. But there is something special about looking at the front row and remembering when we were that age and attending gigs, and you've just got so much energy, and the bands mean something to you in a way that they just can't when you're a bit older."

"I think all of the highlights from my teenage years are gigs," Al agrees. "Going to these little venues to see people who you thought were absolute legends but were probably sleeping in the van after and selling merch just like we are now. My week was just built around going to gigs on a Tuesday night, seeing everyone beforehand, it was all just the most exciting thing at the time."

"I remember my first gigs making me feel like I was actually in an episode of Skins," Rob laughs. "We were all just jumping about all over the place, and the whole audience was people my age, that's what made it special. Although come to think of it, that was at Underage Festival, so it would've been a cause for concern if they weren't all my age. There were definitely parents at other gigs, standing at the back with a carling or two. Not that it's a bad thing, the more the merrier – gotta shift those tickets somehow."

"Hold that thought," Henry shouts. "The first meme is in! SO rapid, what a wonderful invention social media is. This particular delight is from 'Sportsteamspam'," he adds, passing the phone around the group.

"It is a bit scary sometimes though," Oli says. "Not the memes, just the pictures they're based on. Sometimes I don't even know where they've got the original photo from, I've never seen it before, and suddenly there it is as a meme."

"We're hoping for a lot of memes when we release our new video actually, only reason we're making it," jokes Rob. "It's real high-concept stuff. We turned around, and we said 'look, we're on a major label, we've finally made an album, let's do something big'. A proper 'Common People' moment. So we found this incredible group of professional cheer... champions? Cheer... people? [It's just 'cheerleaders' - Ed] And they agreed to do this video where they all mimic his ludicrous dance moves..."

"Basically we'd just finished playing in Spain, and I've gone straight from the fucking airport to the rehearsals, and all these cheerleaders have turned up with these deeply offensive dance moves. I'm just standing there watching them like 'is this how you all see me?!' It was a real body blow. But there we are, anything to sell the album. Same reason we've got a mailing list, actually. Someone at the label said that the only way to sell an album was to have a good mailing list, so here we are, delivering content."

"Worst thing is I had to write out a fucking cassoulet recipe for the mailing list," Ben complains. "Alex just sends me over this picture like 'oh can you write out this Rick Stein recipe please, but it's for band stuff so try to make it a bit edgy, a bit cool'. And then all it gets used for is an email." He shakes his head in mock disgust.

"Woah, it wasn't just a Rick Stein recipe," corrects Alex. "It definitely had some personal tweaks, no copyright was infringed. Please do not sue us, Rick, we love you. We could do with more recipes though, for when we're on tour. We tend to eat a weird variety of things going from place to place."

Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
Sports Team: Moving in with 2020's most chaotic new band
"Wearing clothes is the bare minimum you can ask"
Alex Rice

"Speaking of which, let me tell you about when Henry locked himself in the van," Al begins, to a groan from Henry. "We stopped at a petrol station that had about 50 flavours of Slushie, so obviously Henry's in there experimenting, high on rainbows and sugar. Back in the van, drive up to the next show and start the soundcheck, no problems. But Henry hasn't turned up, which is a bit worrying..."

"We had some theories," Oli cuts in. "The leading one was that as he was wearing white jeans, he may well have had an 'accident' and had to go buy some new jeans on the quiet. The other theory was that we should go and check the nearby road to see if there had been any incidents, like with a family cat. We've looked everywhere, and we're thinking of calling the police, but then we all hear this high-pitched noise coming from the van, only just audible to human ears. We open the back doors of the van and there he is."

"That's not the punchline!" Alex protests. "The best part of it is he was trouserless, and there was a soiled pair of jeans in the corner which he to this day claims were not his. The glamorous life of a touring band, that." Henry sinks a bit further in his chair and grins sheepishly – although no admission of guilt is forthcoming. We decide it's probably best not to probe any further, in case the horrible truth comes pouring out. We frantically deflect to a less disgusting topic: the touring plans.

"Plans for the future," Alex begins. "The road to Knebworth, what's our timeframe for that? We'll probably just keep doubling the venue capacity, so stop off at Ally Pally at some point, nip into The O2..."

"Exact timings are important," adds Rob. "I'd say a week between Ally Pally and The O2, then straight to Knebworth on the train and play that six hours later. Sounds feasible enough to us. Although we would have to get the BBC 6 Music dads on side, all the ones we've alienated. You tell a 16-year-old you're playing Knebworth and they'll just whack it into Google Maps, see how long it takes and not bother coming. We'll probably have to play the Milton Keynes Bowl instead, just become My Chemical Romance 2.0. MCR only have one good song anyway, don't they? 'Welcome to the Black Parade' is such a banger that I'd sit through two hours just to see it, but that's all I'd be there for."

"We'll basically be playing the gigs as soon as I've sorted my outfit for each one," says Alex. "I can't use the matador outfit again, so I'll have to improvise. There's definitely been a lot of crotch prominence in some of my choices, so I might reign that in. But it's all part of it, wearing clothes." He pauses, realising what he's said and adds: "Well wearing clothes is the bare minimum you can ask – I'm not intending to turn up to a gig without any clothes on, don't worry about that."

On that bombshell, we decide to leave the band to their fizzy pop and re-enter the real world. Any last words?

"We're the biggest band in the entire world," Alex says, smiling.

"And please buy the album, it's very good, I promise," Rob adds.

Taken from the March issue of Dork. Sports Team's debut album 'Deep Down Happy' is out 3rd April.

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