Deep Down Happy

Sports Team

Deep Down Happy

Though Sports Team had to finalize the track listing of their debut album in a hurry—specifically, after receiving a frantic call from their management while nursing beers in Spain—the 12 songs on Deep Down Happy neatly commemorate the enthralling whirlwind of their first two years together. “Whether we did it consciously or not, it charts this journey of starting the band,” lead vocalist Alex Rice tells Apple Music. “All living together, sleeping on rehearsal room floors, having office jobs, gigging and scrapping, and just kind of weighing up that whole process. I think it’s our attempt to try to find something more fulfilling; that search for a deeper happiness, and us weighing whether we’ve found it or not.”
It’s as good a description as any of an introductory collection that manages to crackle with both euphoria and mordant millennial wit. Having bonded at the University of Cambridge over bands like Pavement and Parquet Courts, this London six-piece has turned their unruly chemistry into a swirl of guitars, melodic effervescence, and eccentric, yelp-along dispatches from Brexit-age Britain. It’s an approach that has wrought a feverishly loyal live following (and a meme-hungry online community who share a WhatsApp group with the band). And that frantic energy was channeled into smash-and-grab recording sessions—with Courtney Barnett producer Burke Reid—that prioritized improvisation. “It was such an intense period for the band, and [the album] is very reflective of that,” notes drummer Al Greenwood. “We’d have these three-day bursts in our tour schedule to get something down. It was restricting, in some ways, but it generated a sense of urgency.” This urgency manifests in the stutter of “Here It Comes Again,” on the helter-skeltering rhythms of “Feels Like Fun,” and throughout the Britpop-hued refrain on “Here’s the Thing.” “We didn’t want it to be super processed, poppy, or neat,” adds guitarist, vocalist, and chief songwriter Rob Knaggs. “A lot of the bands we like tend to leave the mistakes in.” Here, Rice, Greenwood, and Knaggs walk us through the album, one song at a time.
Lander Rob Knaggs: “This is one of a few songs on the album that have me singing [lead vocals], and it was basically a demo that was a stream-of-consciousness vocal take. We had it for a very long time; our label really liked it, but I don’t think any of us necessarily thought we’d do anything with it. To be honest, there was a lot of debate between us about whether it should even be on the record.” Al Greenwood: “I certainly wasn’t sure about opening with it. But then somehow we were brought round to it, and now I get it. Now everyone thinks it’s this absolute masterstroke.”
Here It Comes Again RK: “This was written last summer, and it’s about that feeling of maybe going to the pub every day, seeing the same people, playing festivals. It’s just the idea of something that is initially amazing starting to feel a bit miserable and sad. We were at that point where we were starting to think about the record, and constantly having conversations about ‘finding the single.’ We were all sort of pent up. And so I just put that feeling and all that frustration in here, as a really fast, simple three-chord song.” AG: “It’s just relentless and really driving. Burke was trying to encourage us to make it a bit more complex. But we were so immersed in playing live that it probably affected the energy we were going for. It’s such a great one to play at shows now.”
Going Soft RK: “I don’t know if it’s the piano, but this—to me—actually sounds like a lot of the songs we’re working on now, which might be the singles for album two. There’s a similar energy.” Alex Rice: “I think of them as quite vaudeville, you know? This one is quite Rocky Horror. It’s quite rock, but it’s got a sort of flamboyance.” AG: “When we were writing it, I remember Burke talked about imagining stomping through the streets. That is ‘Going Soft’ to me. And it’s consistent with the [album two] sound. Stomping around and marching like you’ve got somewhere to be.”
Camel Crew RK: “The lyric in this one about Goldsmiths students [‘Just to know they've made it only/When they sign the rights to Sony’] is probably the kind of thing we’ve become known for. But I think we’re more brutal to each other and ourselves than we are to other bands or other people. I think there’s maybe the influence of an English band called The Family Cat on the sound of this one. They’ve got upbeat melodies but played really fast and tight. I had either their first album or EP on vinyl, and it was one of the things we played a lot [at university]. Same with Sunbathing Animal by Parquet Courts. I think we just really liked that it wasn’t super neat, it seemed like they were having fun, and it sounded like the sort of thing that, as non-musicians at that point, we could actually achieve.”
Long Hot Summer RK: “This song is just about that feeling of going back somewhere where you once felt at home, and not finding it. I moved about a lot as a kid, so there's some fascination with hometowns. And spiders, apparently. I also ripped off 'In Too Deep' by Sum 41 pretty blatantly for the ‘I guess I’m going under' line—it was a song that I really thought would be one of my all-time favorites when I was 12. This is another one that I sing lead vocals on. But really, Alex and I just think of it as a division of labor, where I’ll write the songs and he performs them because he’s a far better performer than I am.” AR: “I would say that I don’t trade on being a vocalist, really. I mean, our fans don’t care if we’re playing live and I miss every single note of every song. It’s more of an energy.”
Feels Like Fun RK: “I remember there was a photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg slithering around on the front bench of the House of Commons. It was doing the rounds last summer and it became one of the central images that the song revolves around. Just that idea of evil in a well-cut suit. The Male Online [comic strip in Viz magazine] by Barney Farmer is mixed in there somewhere too. This one was written at Konk, The Kinks’ studio in North London, which was pretty cool.”
Here’s the Thing AR: “We wrote this one in late 2019, when we were on tour in the US, and Brexit and the [UK] election was going on. It came from that sense of [hearing] a lot of absolutist statements—and people maybe thinking that it’s the only way for a viewpoint to be legitimate. I think I’m as guilty of that as anyone, especially when doing interviews. Because you know that the line that will get printed, or that people will take notice of, is the one that takes a statement to as far a pole as it’s possible to take it. This is all about looking at that heightened climate, poking fun at both sides, and poking fun at people’s sense of certainty.” RK: “This was one of the last ones we wrote for the record, I think. The reason that there’s my vocal at the end was that when I was demoing it, I just didn’t have an outro at all. So I just decided to do the verse again but really quick, thinking we could figure something else out in the studio. But, of course, we didn’t figure anything out and it just became this thing that kind of works.“
The Races RK: “This one has been compared to Blur and, yeah, I kind of get it. I think when you grow up in the UK, even if you’ve never sat down and listened to all of those Britpop albums, I don’t think you can avoid hearing them either. And one thing I do like about that era of music is definitely that there was an emphasis on songs being about a proper chorus and a proper lyric. There’s an effort to tell stories and to think about songs as more than just mood pieces or expressions of pure anger.” AR: “I also think it’s nice to look back at a time when the music that we play really mattered and was nationally important.”
Born Sugar AG: “This is probably my favorite on the record at the moment and the song I’m proudest of. It’s such a simple song, but there’s a [drum part] in the chorus that almost killed me. I was genuinely on the verge of tears. I couldn’t get it—everybody in the room was going, ‘No, Al, it’s ba-dong-dong-pow,’ or whatever helpful way they were trying to explain it, and I was just gradually getting more and more worked up. Plus I was still working [a day job] at the time, hadn’t booked the day off, and so I was getting loads of calls coming in and all this stressful stuff happening. Burke’s incredible, but he won’t settle; he won’t take a shortcut and is like, ‘No, no, we’re going to get a full take.’ I got it in the end, but it was a memorably dark time. I’d like to think I’ve improved because of it.” RK: “The idea behind this one was about being sat in your bedroom for extended periods of time, not going out and seeing your friends, and maybe pining for flowerbeds, pubs, and people.”
Fishing AR: “There was a fan—and I’m not sure whose side they’re on—who started this rumor that [The 1975 frontman] Matty Healy had written ‘Fishing’ for us. Obviously, because of what we’ve said about some other bands, there were plenty of people who had been waiting for that moment to pile on us just going, ‘Oh, of course! They give it all the lip about other bands, but they’re not even writing their own songs.’ So we did a confessional on Twitter, saying that we’d met Matty last year and that he had all these spare tracks from an album he was doing with Noel Gallagher and one of the guys from Hanson. Obviously our fans got it, but there were a lot of people who thought it was real and were crying, ‘Proof! Proof!’”
Kutcher RK: “I didn’t have MTV or anything like that growing up—I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t let me have it—so I was fascinated by Punk’d. I just remember being absolutely blown away by how naughty it all seemed. He did awful stuff—I remember that he took all Justin Timberlake’s belongings and convinced him that his dogs were going to be killed. But, yeah, the idea of being punk’d seemed like a nice metaphor. And I think I enjoy throwing quite weird words into songs. Names like Ashton Kutcher or [British TV presenters] Trinny and Susannah [on ‘Going Soft’] and tongue-twister-y words like ‘rhododendron.’”
Stations of the Cross RK: “The Stations of the Cross [depictions of Christ’s crucifixion], as an image, came from when we went to this big cathedral in Liverpool while we were on tour, and it was the first time that I think I had properly seen them. Al is the only one of us who was brought up Catholic, but my parents are kind of vaguely Church of England. It was low-level Christianity. But when I was younger, the idea of religion and having to constantly say my prayers freaked me out a little bit. Like I was definitely going to die because I wasn’t being a good boy. That’s the Christian angle of it, and it’s there on a few songs.” AG: “I remember talking about the Stations of the Cross and just assuming everyone knew about them. But then of course everyone else in the band thought it was kind of gothic.” AR: “This is one that always gets a visceral, natural reaction from a crowd that hasn’t heard it before. Which is odd, because it’s probably one of the ones we were most skeptical about. It definitely took quite a long time, and we had three or four different versions of it with different lyrics and melodies, just trying to get it to work.”

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