- 23 Jun 20
They’re funny, irreverent and they’re coming after your favourite “craft beer” band. As Sports Team’s debut album rockets up the charts, frontman Alex Rice talks about feuds, fans and why they’re not a novelty act.
Do you wanna be in Sports Team’s gang? Judging by the speed with which the Cambridge six-piece’s debut album, Deep Down Happy, is vaulting up the charts the answer is emphatically in the positive. They’re the best sort of throwback – a giddy, glitter-bombed, entirely in-on-the-joke crew whose driving mission is to make life – theirs’ and yours – that bit less glum and dreary.
“It’s reasonably rare nowadays to get a band who are a group of mates,” says frontman Alex Rice (the one invariably wearing white pants in photoshoots). “To go around the world and make music together – it’s the best thing.”
Sports Team are great and not just because of their zippy anthemic pop, which asks you to imagine what a non-appalling version of Blur’s Country House might sound like if re-contextualised by a mildly hysterical troupe of Oxbridge graduates. Along with that, they’ve also revived the under appreciated art of the band feud.
Shame, Idles and – pauses to genuflect – hallowed Fontaines D.C. are among those to have popped up in their firing line. In the case of Fontaines, Sport Team have lamented the Dubliners for having a “middle-aged” following of “craft beer” fans.
Okay, so it’s hardly Noel Gallagher wishing AIDS upon Damon Albarn, as happened at the height of the Britpop wars. But that’s the point. Sports Team may have a bark and a bite, but ultimately they’re incredibly cuddly with it. If there is a guiding purpose it is to be polite, considerate and never, ever boring.
“It’s not like we’re slagging off everyone,” says Rice. ‘There are bands we like.”
Such as? “Well people like Fontaines.”
Wait, what? As Hot Press does a double-take he plunges on. “It’s just how people talk about music in real life isn’t it? When you’re down the pub, people aren’t going ‘all those bands are brilliant’. You’ll have bands you don’t like, too. But as soon as you say about someone, ‘I don’t think they really mean it’, it’s like, ‘oooh beef’.”
There’s a lot of humour in their music. They have a disarming gift for blending wise-cracks and shade. Consider 2018’s ‘Camel Crew’, with its digs at London art-punks (and friends of Hot Press), HMLTD and their brief, unhappy dalliance with Sony Records.
“Avant garde is still the same/ Go to Goldsmiths and they dye their fringes/ Just to know they’ve made it/ When they sign the rights to Sony”.
It’s wickedly funny. And let’s be honest, at this point in human history, we could all do with a laugh. However, Rice is wary of being branded part of a novelty act. If Sports Team are amusing it is because they communicate in an honest and unpretentious way. It isn’t about milking larfs from the punters.
“There’s been a bit of, ‘Oh you’re the funny band – do you funny thing,” sighs Rice. “We say a lot of things that are deliberately provocative. But we have a close connection with our audience. They know what we are talking about.”
The other misconception is that they’re apolitical. Take a second glance and that obviously doesn’t stack up. Single ‘Get Along’ for instance, with its chorus of ‘I Guess He Can’t Get Along, Get Along, Get Along’, casts a cold eye on the schisms created by Twitter and Facebook.
“We were going around America at the time we wrote it,” says Rice. “Brexit was happening. If you look at social media it’s people making absolute statements. And with absolutist statements you always end up in a place of conflict. ‘It’s wrong,’ ‘you’re shut down’. There’s a lot of piousness.”
Still, they’re wary of coming across as pretentious or as having “a message”. Sports Team all live together in a big house in London and, in the most positive possible way, keep one another in check. Egos aren’t tolerated.
“We aren’t one of those groups where the manager has this idea that we should all be dressed like granddads. You’re not going to get any airs. The rest of the band won’t let you.”
They formed at college, remaining a going concern as the individual musicians moved to London and took day jobs. Those they have since given up to live their best rock ’n roll dream.
“People think there’s not much money in music. But doing live music… you can make a living from it. I mean, we were already skint when we were working in London.”
Rice and his bandmates are shocked at how far they’ve come. With their album poised at time of writing to crack the British top ten, clearly they’re set to travel lot further.
“You’re getting played on BBC Radio One, you’re going to headline Brixton Academy. It’s amazing. The thing is, you get quite greedy. It feels like guitar music is getting cool again and people want to be part of it. You’re in front of a crowd and everyone is singing the words – it’s like a drug in some ways and you want to keep topping it up.”
• Deep Down Happy is out now. Sports Team play The Grand Social, Dublin on April 20, 2021.