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Live & Direct: Sports Team

English alt rockers Sports Team made their debut appearance at WYEP’s studios with a Live & Direct session on Tuesday, Sept. 26! They were in town for a Mr. Small Theatre show with Sun Room stopped by for an interview with Joey Spehar.

Set List

Camel Crew
Light Industry
The Drop


Host: Kyle Smith
Audio Engineers: Tom Hurley & Thomas Cipollone
Videographer/Editor: Thomas Cipollone
Program Director: Liz Felix
VP, Broadcasting: Mike Sauter

Looking for more Live & Direct Sessions? You can find them here.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Joey Spehar: We are live and direct this afternoon with Sports Team here at WYEP. They have a show tonight at Mr. Smalls. And I believe me, I’m looking forward to the day when we no longer have to mention COVID again. But I feel like we should, because a couple of years ago when all that started to go down, you guys kind of turned it into an opportunity, right? You took the time to spend time together writing a lot?

Alex Rice: Yeah, big time. I think we got ourselves into a bit of a weird situation. So we were living in London, all six of us. And we’ve got this house together thinking, Oh, you know, what about our first album out, going to be on tour the whole time. We’re not going to be spending a lot of time in here at all. And then suddenly all six of us were living together for like a good year in very close quarters. So I think we were lucky in a way, but we were able to write, we were able to play shows, and that did come about because we had own little bubble.

Spehar: Looking back then, did you think that things would end up much differently? Or maybe you wouldn’t even come out of it as a band anymore?

Rice: Well, our first album went really well in the U.K., at least, it’s number two in the charts. And I think we knew there was kind of a big tour ahead of it. And kind of as soon as we did come out, it would happen. And I think that maybe it played into our hands a little bit as well because people were kind of so bored. And I think the sort of stuff we do is like watching six people with very very different — like there’s only four of us on stage today — but there are six of us in a band. Just watching a group of people that feels like your own group of mates trying to kind of navigate being in a band. Like none of us are top musicians or anything like that. It’s just people that fell together listening to the same kind of music. So I think that’s always kind of entertaining for people when they’ve got nothing to do.

Spehar: Yeah, for sure. And the end result is an album called Gulp!, which just came out a bit over a year ago and as you said, with a lot of hype. So a year later, how are you feeling about it? Do you feel like things went well after you took that big Gulp? Also, thanks for making an album called Gulp. Because it’s like one of my favorite words to say and I want to say it a bunch.

Rice: Yeah, I think it was trying to kind of summon that sort of second album thing that most bands have is that you get a ‘big gulp,’ especially when you’ve got a follow-up, something that’s gone quite well. But I mean, I think this one, especially, like a track like “The Drop,” has meant we can come to the U.S. a lot more, which is amazing. I mean, we love going around, and that’s felt the most important bit.

But yeah, that’s part of the biggest difference. It’s felt a lot more international, this one, which has been good. And I think more and more we’re kind of, we’re learning how to use studio environments. Like the first time we went and I think none of us had a clue how to make an instrument sound differently or what you could do with recording. Now I think we’re getting better at doing a bit more sort of loud, quiet and things like that.

Spehar: And then on a more, you know, at home level, you guys at one point had Jools Holland on the record. How did that come about and why didn’t it end up on the record?

Rice: Yeah, he didn’t make the cut. The iconic Jools Holland of Squeeze. And I think that when you’re on a major label you get into quite silly spaces a lot of the time. It’s like, ‘right, we need guest stars! Let’s bring him in, who do you want?’ We have this kind of piano bit that needs filling. Ben, our keyboard player, I mean he’s good but is still working up to two hands [laughs]. Then the label suggested to go and do the sort of honky tonks. We went to his house, where does he live again?

Rob Knaggs: Somewhere near London.

Rice: He’s a cool guy. He lives a very modest life. He’s got, like, little train sets and things ,ike that. He was talking about the best fish and chip shops in Margate and things like that. And he played this amazing sort of honky tonk bit on all the tracks. And then at the label, we got got it back and they were a bit boogie woogie. But it’s Jools Holland, what did you think it was going to be? Yeah, he didn’t make the cut at the end.

Spehar: That’s okay. I mean you got to know when to say no. I know the music business doesn’t really have much interest in sitting around and living with things for a while. So a year out from Gulp!, are you guys already working on new material? Do we have a new album in the works?

Rice: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So I think we’re in the U.S. for a roughly another month and then pretty much as soon as we get back, we’re off to hopefully Norway to record and start recording a new album basically with a producer we’ve not worked with before that we’re really excited about and think is going to be incredible. Like quite a different sound as well.

Spehar: Great. Well, I’m sure that we’re all very excited to hear more from Sports Team as well, and we’re going to talk a bit more about the record and your time here in America so far. But I’d love it if you can play us a couple of songs.


Light Industry

Spehar: 91.3 WYEP, we are live and direct with Sports Team, who have an album out called Gulp!. They’re playing at Mr. Smalls tonight and delighting us with some tunes here this afternoon now. This obviously is much tamer than what you would normally do on a stage. I hear that you guys get people pretty riled up sometimes, even take them out drinking after the show.

Rice: I know that sounds like sinister thinking about drinking, but yeah, I think I think we’ve always had a pretty close relationship with our fans. And it’s nice because you don’t always get a young fan base for guitar music. That’s definitely what we’ve got in the U.K. There’s a lot of energy.

Spehar: So now that you’ve been here in America for a couple of weeks, traveling around, playing shows, what’s your take away? I mean, can you give us some feedback as an audience? Are we holding up our end yet?

Rice: Well, you know, genuinely, one of the big differences is you can drink in the U.K. 18. So I mean, kids are going to the pubs too from about 15.

Spehar: Like, right, I was only 18 when I was doing it illegally.

Rice: Well, yeah, and a lot of venues are over 21, which is crazy. We get a slightly sort of older, more mature audience. You got a lot of very sort of serious music fans. But I think that genuinely I really mean it when I say I think it’s the greatest country on earth, like we love coming. Everyone’s got a huge ambition for everything they do. I think everyone you meet wants to be the biggest band in the world. You know, people want to play stadiums, they want to be huge. But no, I’m just trying to sort of like knock about with their mates. Even the people you meet who are playing to five people. That feels the most inspiring, I think.

Spehar: I think at least for American kids, there’s this whole process of discovering America that becomes such a big deal romanticized to the point where if you don’t get out and see the country, you feel like you’re missing out on some potentially life-changing experiences. So here you are playing these songs on the road, do you feel like you guys are discovering America in the process? I mean, have you gone off the beaten path or the main highways? What are some interesting things that you’ve discovered so far on this tour?

Rice: What are some interesting things? Yeah, well, it was my birthday a few days ago and we had a sort of stop off on the way to Chicago. And we went to spend a day in Hannibal. (This is part of the most American thing we could possibly done.) Hannibal is the birthplace of Mark Twain. So we got one of the sadder photo opportunities where you can stand by the white fence with a paintbrush. So we’ve got that photo. I mean, if that’s not America, I don’t know what is.

Spehar: I mean, for what it’s worth, at the beginning of COVID, I tried to do a little British discovery myself. Well, I didn’t get into the, you know, the Bake Off show, but I spent hours and hours and hours watching Monty Don work on his garden.

Rice: And he’s a lovely man, Monty Don.

Spehar: I loved it. I mean, I loved it. I could watch it for days. And I and I think that, you know, that sense of finding beauty in the mundane comes out in your music at times. Can you talk about that? Like the importance of reflecting a life that may not necessarily be that exciting?

Rice: That’s what music kind of always does to people in a way. We’re all from slightly different backgrounds, but a lot of us grew up in basically suburbs, kind of pretty dull. There’s a contest called Britain in Bloom, for example, where it’s like you’ll see roundabouts with flower beds painted on. They’ll be kind of a point of pride for that town. And it is very prosaic, a lot of that. But I think that’s actually how most people grow up. Most people aren’t going up in kind of the center, New York living this crazy life or whatever it is. So I think it’s important to kind of try and put some romance back in. Well, actually, most people spend every day doing and say, you know, what they say is still important. They say it’s meaningful to you. So it’s meaningful to us.

Spehar: It’s meaningful to us. And we’re glad that you came in to sing about and play some songs. We are live and direct with Sports Team today. They are playing at Mr. Smalls tonight and their latest album is Gulp. Thank you so much.

The Drop

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.