Interview – Sports Team

“Have you seen Robbie Williams doing Knebworth? We want to do something that big.” Impact speaks to Alex Rice, frontman of rising rock troupe Sports Team, to discuss the band’s early days, life on the road and what the future holds for a band slowly gaining cult-like recognition.

Recovering in Wandsworth, Alex Rice, the charmingly well-spoken frontman of Cambridge-born and London-based outfit Sports Team, is vocally self-destructing. “Smoking is making my voice go at the moment,” laughs Rice. “I reckon I’ve lost a whole octave.” Smoking aside, Rice’s chaotic last few months could explain his current fragility. His band, Sports Team, have gripped the country with their raucous live shows and general feel-good rock tracks, have headlined the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading and Leeds, toured with The Magic Gang, and have headlined London’s iconic Scala.

“Scala was amazing. We didn’t think we would sell that out…but then two weeks before the show everything exploded, it sold out easily,” says Rice. “We put quite a lot into making the decorations and getting outfits. We made these papier-mâché sharks as well.” Having released debut EP Winter Nets at the beginning of the year, the six-piece have already gained comparisons to Pulp and Talking Heads.

Speaking of their sound, Rice says “I think it has a very English, lyrical-bent, middle-England thing. We read a lot of [John] Betjeman and Cyril Connolly. We got a lot of Pulp comparisons but we couple that with a visceral energy of American bands we love like Parquet Courts, Twin Peaks and Pavement.” The band’s collective interest in the English, lyrical scene seems to unify the six-piece. “I don’t think we clash actually,” says Rice. “We’ve all bought into a pretty similar vision. We’re all very grounded, I think we know what we want to be and what we want to do. We’re all ambitious about it.”

Collective ambition might be noticeable now, but it was pretty non-existent whilst the band were forming in Cambridge. Development wasn’t an easy feat for Sports Team but nevertheless, they pulled it off in their own unique way. Rice confesses “I think it kills off bands at Cambridge as people want to play these May Balls, which are big, end of year parties and a bizarre focal point. It’s the most stifling thing about the music scene at university. We used to put on our own gigs at The Sports and Social Club…trying to build a community around us, make it a party and a night out, rather than just indulgently seeing a band play.”

“We try and contribute something unique I think”

Once graduated, Sports Team relocated to Harlesden, London, and started to find their dynamic as a group, soon gaining the support of BBC Introducing and Radio 1’s Annie Mac. “The dynamic is a really important thing first as a guitar band,” says Rice. “The reason it hasn’t died at a desk yet is we knew we’d have the dynamic between us. We’ve been watching bands like BTS and Brockhampton, and hopefully we’re doing something like that, giving people more to buy into…We try and contribute something unique I think. Whatever other people are doing, everyone’s contributing something quite new. There’s a lot to delve into other than just the music.”

Throughout our conversation, it’s clear just how important live shows are to the band. “They are the most ‘real’ thing for us,” says Rice. “You get radio play and streaming figures, which is great, but when assessing what’s going well, it’s when you see people in front of you who want to go for it.”

Over the past few months, the band have become a live force, but something not so familiar to Rice is the recording process. “We’ve been focused with shows and not been in the studio so we’re still working out what we can do,” comments Rice. “The recording bit is therefore quite new, which is different to other bands.”

Sports Team however, seem like quick learners. ‘Margate’, the band’s latest single, is an ironically cheerful track about the summer of 2018. “It’s about the heatwave and football,” declares Rice. “It felt like a feel-good track and tapped into [the positivity]…talking about England in a tongue-and-cheek way with this sense of upliftingness.”

The band will soon embark on a a winter tour supporting Spanish troublemakers Hinds, of which Rice enthusiastically says “It’s going to be great, I can’t wait. We’ve not really been into Europe before. [Hinds] have a similar ethic to us…they make themselves accessible over social media. They’re good at bringing people into their world…it’s something we share.”

With the tour winding around the UK and Europe, Rice is enthusiastic at this opportunity. “Berlin will be brilliant. Everyone has an idea of what it’ll be like. Rob [Knaggs, songwriter] wants to see Christmas markets, whilst Oli [Dewdney, bass] wants three days at [iconic nightclub] Berghain. We’ve got a few rest days there which’ll be troubling. Paris will be an amazing place to finish the tour.”

The thought of the two bands galloping around Europe is a devilish prospect (Rice wants to “blow Hinds out of the water and make it all about us”), but it’s not just live shows we can expect from the band in the near future. Having teamed up with Courtney Barnett producer Burke Reid (“an unbelievable, amazing guy”) recently in Wales, Rice says. “We’ve got a few tracks to release on vinyl before Christmas. Over the next three weeks we’ll get a body of songs down so we can go into the studio before November and put a lot of tracks down. We’ve got a tour to announce and singles ready to go. Our next tour has a very big London show in it which is similarly ambitious to the Scala show.”

“Have you seen Robbie Williams doing Knebworth? We want to do something that big”

Sports Team’s productivity seems to be in overdrive, but their ambitions reach a new level. “Have you seen Robbie Williams doing Knebworth?” asks Rice. “We want to do something that big. It was good when Oasis did it, but Robbie’s was the more entertaining one.” Whilst Knebworth might not be on the schedule at the moment, you can’t help but admire the ambition. In the next few months, the band will play bigger venues and will reach a new, European audience. Will a Robbie Williams moment be in the offering? Who knows. But one thing’s for sure – if they get that moment, they will certainly entertain you.

Ben Standring

Sports Team support Hinds in Nottingham at Rescue Rooms on November 25 as part of Hinds’ November/December UK and European tour. Tickets are still available.

Featured image courtesy of APB PR.

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