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An epic chart battle, launching their own brand of craft beer and tackling the biggest fry up you’ll ever see. It’s been a hell of a year for Sports Team.
But it could get even sweeter this Thursday as they find out if their debut album Deep Down Happy has won the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize.
Their thrilling first full-length LP has been shortlisted alongside the likes of Stormzy, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, Kano and Michael Kiwanuka to be in with a chance of scooping one of the most prestigious accolades in music.
The six-piece dazzled critics and fans alike across Deep Down Happy’s 12 tracks as frontman Alex Rice humorously lays into modern Britain, Wetherspoons pubs, taking Ubers, and sunburnt necks over raw, spiky indie pop.
Its release in June triggered the most entertaining chart battle in years as it went head-to-head with Lady Gaga’s Chromatica at top the UK album chart.
The drama unfolded on social media as fans of both acts produced blood, sweat and tears to get their favourite to the summit.
In the end, Lady Gaga and her band of Little Monsters retained the top spot – but only by 571 copies.
Alex and fellow band members Oli Dewdney, Al Greenwood, Rob Knaggs, Ben Mack and Henry Young, watched the entertainment play out from their shared house in Camberwell. But lockdown rules meant they toasted their success with tinnies in a graveyard and not in the local.
And while those cans may not beat sinking a cold one sat in a pub, they went one further by launching their own beer called Long Hot Summer Lager in August.
If tackling pop behemoths wasn’t enough of a challenge, lead guitarist Henry last week took on a gargantuan breakfast at Margate’s Dalby Cafe made famous by The Libertines’ Pete Doherty in 2018.
He didn’t succeed – but not many can get through four rashers of bacon, four eggs, four sausages, hash browns and more.
At the time of publishing, Sports Team are 4/1 to win the prize with with Paddy Power. Based on their wild 12 months, anything could happen.
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Alex to talk about their Mercury Prize Nomination, writing and recording Deep Down Happy, missing live shows and what they’ll do if they win on Thursday.
Hi Alex. Firstly, has Henry recovered from the breakfast he ate in Margate?
“He says he feels a bit weird. He’s coming to terms with his celebrity, y’know. Kent Live did about three articles on it!
“He never wanted to do it. We all went down for the day. Rob dislocated his shoulder in the sea. He was the one who was really keen for it. Henry stepped up in the last moment. He said ‘I don’t even want to do this’.
“It’s a rite of passage. He had a Yazoo to accompany it. We got a load of messages from Yazoo afterwards.”
Congratulations on the Mercury Prize nomination. How did it feel to learn you’d been nominated for Deep Down Happy? It must have been special considering it’s your debut.
“We were all chuffed. We all watched it as kids. We knew the album had done well commercially getting the chart position.
“It’s getting recognition from your peers in a way. It’s people that are really obsessed with music and get it as well. That was something that had always been important to us.
“I doubt it would have made much of a difference to our careers but we care what music nerds on the internet think about us.
“We got really excited about what it’s going to be. Is there going to be a ceremony or anything like that? The grand finale and the winner is going to appear on The One Show. That doesn’t sound very rock ’n’ roll. There’s mixed emotions in that sense!
“It’s still incredible, it’s the best award going I think for people who love music.”
It followed the releases of EPs Winter Nets and Keep Walking. What was its writing and recording process like and what did you learn from your previous efforts?
“Winter Nets, we didn’t really do in a studio. We did it with a guy called Dave McCracken. He’s a producer who’s done a lot with Ian Brown and people like that.
“He has a an old timber yard in Hammersmith that he managed to cobble together some recording equipment on. That was quite casual. It was like going round a mate’s house.
“We still had to learn how to use a studio. I think we will be better on album two.
"I think it’s the only debut on there. It sounds scrappy, it sounds flawed, and that the ideas aren’t fleshed out. You hear this scrappiness that’s laced with energy. That’s all we really wanted to put into it.
“The bands we love, bands like Pavement, and Iggy Pop and stuff, they keep in all the mistakes and the bits where you hear a bit of them in it. That’s what we tried to keep. It sounds full of energy but doesn’t sound polished, which is great.”
It saw you team with producer Burke Reid. What was it like working with him?
“It was amazing. He did all the Courtney Barnett stuff, which is when we first heard about him, which we all really loved.
“He’s a machine. He doesn’t really eat all day. He’s first in, last out. He whipped us into shape.
“He pretty much likes stuff to be recorded live. Although he’s brilliant, I don’t really like being in the studio. It’s quite grinding. You get 90% of the track done in the first 20 minutes and you spend the rest of the day fiddling with a guitar pedal, which has been the bit that’s never really appealed to me.
“It came out really well. It’s a live album in that sense. We did 150 dates last year. It was always squeezing in a day or two here or there. It’s not recorded in one block.
“We recorded with a live audience in mind.”
Do you think the album is a reflect of who Sports Team are and all about? Has it captured the true essence of who you are at the moment?
“It’s a take on Britain which we all understand, for sure. You’ve got tracks like Here’s The Thing and us going around the world together, and the UK especially. Looking at characters and condemning the absurdity of the system we all live in and doing it with humour.
“We still feel like that but we’re probably more referential for the next album. You know where you want to fit yourselves sound-wise and we take on a lot more influences. We can use a studio a lot better now. It’s very raw and you hear the dynamic between the six of us that all live together I think.”
Would you say your lyrics are observational and on things you’ve experienced?
“I think it is observational and experienced based. But, as I say, it’s that take that it’s not whole-minded in the sense that you have wonderful solutions to the problems you raise. It’s recognising you're a part of it.
"You see these characters in a Wetherspoons or wherever you meet them, but you’re in there as well and it’s like ‘look at them’ but you look at your own table and it’s like ‘oh God’.”
The album saw you take on Lady Gaga in one of the biggest chart battles for ages. Was it a surreal experience?
“That’s the bit of it we never thought we’d get. In lockdown you wake up and you’re like ‘we’re number two in the charts’ and you’d expect your whole life to change. But you’re still in this house with six people.
"It was during the time when you couldn’t even go to the pub and celebrate with your mates. We sat on a park bench and got some tinnies in a graveyard in Camberwell
“The whole thing is unbelievable. I like the idea of a chart battle as well, which is nice. The Little Monsters, Gaga’s fans, are going to get us one day. As soon as they turned onto us it was terrifying.”
It’s been an incredible year for you. How would you sum it up?
“When we were playing live it was great. That was when we really felt like something was happen. It’s the part that any of us really like. The studio, it’s not fun, you do it so you can go and play live. We felt like something was happening.
"It feels like something is happening with guitar music in general. You’ve got these bands like Fontaines D.C. and Shame and Sorry, who are probably our favourite bands, that can suddenly sell a lot of tickets. It’s not smashing the singles chart or anything like that but you can create this community place with live music.”
You are part of this incredible charge of new acts in the UK and Ireland. What are you making of the scene at the moment and how do you think independent venues can recover looking ahead after the impact of lockdown?
“I think they’re incredibly important. We’ve done a lot with New Music Venue Trust and even had a charity cricket game.
"Like The Windmill (in Brixton) and Elsewhere in Margate, I don’t know how you’d break as a new band if you couldn’t cut your teeth in places like that. I’m pretty hopeful for it all. There’s such an appeal to it. It’s not something that needs saving or is in dire straights. They want to save them because they’re unbelievable and people love going to them. They’re as popular as they’ve ever been. I’m quite hopeful for the future of it.”
How eager are you to get back on the road?
“Unbelievably. It’s all we want to do. We’re talking about what we might be able to do in the future.
"We’re thinking about a residency somewhere like the Stones used to do. Like Eel Pie Island. You just camp out somewhere and play twice a day for two months. It will give back a real sense of place and destination to where people actually play gigs.”
You’re nominated alongside the likes of Stormzy, Dua Lipa, and Charli XCX, as well as Georgia and Porridge Radio. Are there any albums on the list that stand out to you that you’re a fan of?
“I love the Kiwanuka one. Georgia I’ve seen a few times and it’s completely different each time I see it. It’s just unbelievable and quite theatrical as well. The place she comes from is really interesting. Club-indie almost.
“One of the best bits would have been meeting everyone from all these genres and stuff. I know in the past they have events where everyone meets up for a party. I would have loved to have met Stormzy and Dua Lipa and people like that.
"But it’s great, it’s a great list. It’s diverse this year, which it isn’t always. I think I’m the only white male singer on it, which is great. Brilliant news.”
If you win the award, what will you do?
“Stick it behind the bar somewhere. It’s got to be that! Get as many mates as we can feasibly get down at the time. I remember when Wolf Alice won. We know them a bit. They took it in the Hawley Arms and stuck cash behind the bar. I think we’d do something like that, for sure.”
What’s next for Sports Team?
“Album two is done. We’re recording that in October. The whole thing for a month, which will be brilliant. You’ve got to get it quick. Young fans, they’re fickle. We were saying how much music is out there at the moment but I think we don’t expect anyone to keep liking it. You’ve got to keep being interesting, keep changing and keep doing things.”
What can we expect from it?
“It’s definitely darker. A lot of the political sentiment that we address in the first album is still there. I’m wary of other bands saying they get more reflective with the second album but you do kind of get there.
"The first album is about searching for something. We all moved to London together. You feel this sense of yearning and wanting more. You still don’t feel fulfilled even though you’re doing these things that are supposed to make you happy. I think with the next one we’re living our dream.
"If you told any of us we’d be doing this off when we were 18 year old kids, we’d have bitten their hand off. This is everything we’ve ever wanted. You get reflective about other bands that have been here, what they sounded like and what they did with their sound, but also you start to look at your own life in a different way and finding a model for how you can be happy in the world.
"I think we ask those questions on the first album and answer those questions a bit on the second.”
The winner of the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize will be announced at 7pm on September 24 on BBC One's The One Show
Full 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize shortlist:
Anna Meredith – FIBS
Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Georgia – Seeking Thrills
Kano – Hoodies All Summer
Lanterns on the Lake – Spook the Herd
Laura Marling – Song for Our Daughter
Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA
Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Porridge Radio – Every Bad
Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
Stormzy – Heavy is the Head
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