Sports Team : "I’m really pleased to see the strides we’ve made as a country in normalising how we talk about mental health."
Bronte Evans | 18/06/2021
Following the much anticipated release of their debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ it felt essential that the team at Head Above The Clouds got to speak all things music and mental health with Sports Team. My first introduction to the Cambridgeshire based six-piece was their incredibly cool and chaotic set at Truck Festival 2019, and while I may have already been a few months late to the party, I definitely knew I was watching the birth of something amazing and this group would be destined for greatness. But who would have thought then that a year later they would be battling it out with Lady Gaga for the UK Number One Album?
It is an unnerving time for the music industry right now, with the familiar comfort of a sweaty, glorious beer filled mosh pit a distant memory, it has forced musicians to be more creative with their time and how to engage with their fans. Releasing an album during this time couldn’t have been easy and it was the first thing on my mind when I caught them for a chat.
“We are coping pretty well, our time has been split up a bit by studio time to work on the second album but we’re all a bit restless. Exercise has helped a lot, me and Oli have at least been running every day. I’ll be taking the 6 pack in 30 days team to court at some point too.” The restlessness can’t be helped by the fact the group were supposed to be embarking on an extensive festival and touring season to promote their new release. “Last year we did 150 shows and you don’t quite realise how cathartic that is until they’re gone. After shows is usually the time I feel calmest. It’s just trying to replace that feeling with something healthy.” The sudden come to halt of a jam packed schedule has been something a lot of the artists we have spoken to for this issue have raised as being a significant factor in their depreciating mental health, but I imagine being in a group of six has the benefit of a much wider and stronger support group to fall back on.
I was interested in that dynamic of larger than normal group, you must think it’s harder to work together and divvy up their individual roles with so many voices and opinions flying around. “I think the appeal of our band has always been that it feels a bit like a group you’d recognise amongst your own friends. Everyone is a very different uniquely flawed person so we’re all interested in different aspects. I like putting together the live show, speaking to press, Rob does a lot of writing, playing around with sound, Henry works on our label Holm Front, Al’s been mentoring and writing, Ben and Oli are doing designs for merch today."
The release of ‘Deep Down Happy’ was hotly anticipated and critically acclaimed, receiving the highest first week sales for a debut album by a British band in four years (thanks to the help of some very inventive merch bundle deals) and just beaten to number one by Lady Gaga in a chart race widely compared to that of Blur and Oasis. But how did the response go down in camp? “It’s a strange one, we’re so proud of the album and taken back by how well it’s gone down with the charts and support. It all feels very abstract when you can’t get out and play it to people though. We still wake up in the same house together, live the same lives. We got a screenshot of our chart position and that was about as real as it got.”
It is no surprise that the media liked to focus on the chart race and the negative “beef” being stirred on twitter from some of the bands and Gaga’s fans rather than the music being produced itself. But Sports Team aren’t a band that have shied away from controversy nor did they try and quell the online spats that were popping up in the trending tab, rather they leaned into it gaining support from other artists such as The Wombats and Lewis Capaldi. I asked them if there has been a shift in the media response following the release of their debut album.
“I think the press have always been really good to us to be honest. The idea that we’re fully formed characters getting everything right on album one always seems odd to me, you’re watching us grow up on stage, and in person. For our fans I’d hope that’s part of why they follow us. You’re right about album two though, it’s a chance to flesh out our sound, ideas and the way we talk about them. It’s constantly reacting to what’s going on around us.”
What is going on around them currently being the pandemic and the inevitable stress, panic and paranoia that it has brought especially to those working industries that have seemingly ground to a halt. Working in the creative arts isn’t easy for your mental health at the best of times, never mind being told your main source of income is now potentially banned until early next year. And while a lot of negative stigma still floats around these topics its something the group have been very open about sharing with their fans.
“For me the hardest bit is the juxtaposition between these ecstatic highs on stage and all the deeply mundane stuff in between. Trying to find a mindset. I’m sure it’s different for everyone though. There’s enough risks though. Lack of structure, certainty, supposedly being a public figure. And then there’s access to all kinds of terrible ways to deal with things. I always think we’re lucky to have each other. We’ve always lived together, toured together, shared everything so you don’t feel like you’re on your own.”
Our mission at Head Above The Clouds is to educate an inform. Yet despite mental illness becoming increasingly normalised in pop culture and more open and honest communication is encouraged across society, we still see evidence of the demonetisation against particular diagnosis’s and their harmful stereotypes. I asked the band what changes they would like to see in the world regarding mental health.
“I’m really pleased to see the strides we’ve made as a country in normalising how we talk about mental health. For me it’ll always be a political as well as a health issue though. You’ve got a rate of suicide in this country, especially amongst young men that’s horrible, and countless people who feel unsatisfied with their lives in between. There’s something about the society we’ve created that fundamentally fails to make people happy. I think it’s about a lack of sources of community, unfair expectations made of people, social media, low wages, exclusion and discrimination, the amount it costs to just live. Mental health isn’t as political as the Tories so often make it out to be.”
And speaking of the misinterpretations Alex has faced personally “In general it’s just the expectation that I’d be a well formed and well-adjusted character just because I’m the singer in a band. I’m not. We play for the fans though, we meet them, we know them, and they trust us. It’s always comforting when people treat you like a human.” It is bitter sweet that their album ‘Deep Down Happy’ has been released during this time. While we haven’t had the joy of being able to experience it live, and probably won’t any time soon, we have been granted the time and space to give the album the attention it deserves. To immerse ourselves in it completely rather than in the background of busy commutes. Sports Team are beautifully bizarre and like a lot of people, their chart success has filled me with hope for the future of British Indie Guitar Music. Without sounding unbelievably cringe..deep down this album makes me very happy.