Over the last two years, the word ‘unprecedented’ has been thrown around so much that it has almost lost all meaning. In the case of Sprints, however, there is a strong case to be made for the buzz they’ve generated so quickly to be called just that.
Sprints – namely Karla Chubb (lead vocals & guitar), Colm O’Reilly (guitar), Jack Callan (drums) and Sam McCann (bass) – formed just under two years ago in late 2019. Born out of a mutual love for contemporary post-punk figureheads like Savages and Idles, and a burning desire to drop out of the rat race and into a life less ordinary and more creatively fulfilling, the Dublin-based quartet, in Karla’s own words, “hit the ground running; pardon the pun”.
How Does The Story Go?
We caught up with Karla to discuss all the highs and lows of being in a touring band. Expanding on the band’s early days, she says “The first time we sat in a room and played together, it just really clicked. The chemistry was really natural and it just kind of snowballed from there to be honest.”
“The first six to eight months, maybe even close to a year, we would rehearse in the back of Jack’s house, where he had a little shed in the garden. We’d just go there every week and just write. We wanted to be really, not strategic, but we wanted to make sure that we were ready and that we kind of knew what we were doing. It was a love of Savages and seeing Jehnny Beth live at Electric Picnic, myself and Jack and Colm were standing there like ‘this is the music we want to write, this is what we want to do – so why aren’t we doing it?’”
So the band worked their way from their drummer’s back garden to their live debut in Whelan’s Upstairs. It was here that the band truly discovered their calling.
“That’s when we discovered that the live aspect of music is probably our number one passion and is definitely where we thrive and where we’re best. You can hear from the music that it’s written from the perspective of being performed live or from thinking about it in terms of dynamics on stage, how the energy is going to take a person on a journey with us.”
This energy was encapsulated well enough on the band’s debut single Kissing Practice, self-released in 2020. Raw and raucous, the track was a statement of intent, displaying Karla’s spoken word vocal style, noisy guitars and motorik rhythms. It would catch the attention of the well-respected Nice Swan Records, home to compatriots Silverbacks, and other notable indie favourites like Pip Blom and Sports Team.
“We wanted to work with someone that understood the sound we were going after."
“I remember when the email came in and I felt my hands shake,” says Karla. “It was one of those moments where I thought ‘maybe this is actually it’ because I was listening to Sports Team only the day before, talking about how I love them, and then the email came the next day. Pip Blom are incredible, too.”
Sprints would release The Cheek via Nice Swan, and eventually their debut EP, ‘Manifesto’, each earning the band even more plaudits and ample support from the press in both Ireland and the UK.
“I don’t think we’d have gotten where we are so quickly without them,” says Karla, reflecting on the business relationship “We have a lot to thank them for and they’ve definitely helped us through. Seeing bands like that on the roster does give you confidence that it’s the right move but we’ve worked incredibly hard and we haven’t stopped working and I think that’s what they respect as well – that our drive and our ambitions match our work ethic. We’re putting every minute we have into this.”
That the interview took place during the frontwoman’s lunch break from her day job is testament alone to Sprints’ verve and ambition. Making the most of every spare minute at their disposal, Sprints completed a tour of Ireland and the UK in the autumn of 2021 and have planned another to coincide with the release of their follow-up EP, ‘A Modern Job’, recorded with Gilla Band bassist and in-demand producer Daniel Fox.
“We wanted to work with someone that understood the sound we were going after. You can hear the early Gilla Band influences on the Manifesto EP, that noisy, industrial aspect is something we were exploring and he was obviously the man to go to for that.
We just wanted someone to guide us and help shape us, so working on Manifesto with him was great and when we went to him with the new EP, he decided to work with us again. As it progresses, the Gilla Band influence is obviously still there but we’ve stepped away and come into our own a lot more and he’s helped us embrace that. When we started giving him references like Bauhaus and PJ Harvey, stepping towards that gothic space, he was really excited about it. It’s been amazing to work with him and learn a lot more about textures and space and creating a world of our own in a sense.”
We have already been treated to a couple of snapshots of the new world Sprints have endeavoured to create. On lead single How Does the Story Go? Karla vents her spleen at the state of the emigration nation and the difficulties faced by a budding artist while living in Dublin and Ireland as a whole. Meanwhile on Modern Job, Karla tackles her issues with life expectations and identity as a queer woman.
“That is basically my kind of life crisis, existentialism and individualism and identity crisis all rolled into one. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s really me struggling with the idea of [how] I never wanted or could attain what was ‘a normal life’. It felt very far removed for me, it didn’t feel like something that was ever going to happen, so I had to speak out and it’s very hard to do that.
It’s all well and good that we’ve made progress in LGBTQ stuff but there’s still a long way to go. I’m still struggling to rewire my brain in that sense, I think. I was 24 or 25 when the vote passed so it’s hard to brush off all those insecurities and experiences you had and go “alright, well, everything’s fixed now, I can get married”, when that was never really the issue. I think Modern Job is me still struggling to come to terms with my identity and everything.”
Part of what makes Sprints so appealing is their refreshing take on social issues. Impostor syndrome (Drones), sexuality through the gaze of toxic masculinity (The Cheek) and relationships in the digital age (Ashley) are all presented in an instantly relatable, honest way. This is in large part due to the instances described in Karla’s songs being real life incidents she has witnessed or conversations she has engaged in or overheard.
“I think everyone has to be politically conscious and care about what's happening in the world around them..."
“I think people like to throw the ‘political’ label around and I do think that now, in this day and age, ‘political’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” Karla reflects on the Sprints’ labelling as a political band.
“I think everyone has to be politically conscious and care about what’s happening in the world around them, whether it’s global warming or LGBT rights or the marriage referendum or the repeal referendum, so I’m comfortable with the label. I think it definitely challenges us lyrically, and I do feel like it adds a bit of pressure, but I also don’t think we’re just a political band. I think punk is inherently political so it comes with the territory, it’s borne out of anarchy and individualism.
The core message of what Sprints are trying to do lyrically is write about stuff that matters, real experiences, real stories, real moments of our lives. No one’s really challenged me on them because all the things I’ve written about have happened. I’ve heard them, they’re words that have been spoken to me, I’ve experienced it so it’s all very, very honest and very raw and people can feel that so if the inherently personal is political, then I guess that’s a label I’ll just wear proudly.”
At the time of our chat, Sprints had just become victims of the restrictions the government had put in place until the end of January 2022. A performance at the Grand Social had just been postponed for the second time.
“That gig was supposed to happen in May 2020, now it’s January 2022” says Karla, regretfully. “We were devastated, we were literally waiting, watching the TV and listening to the announcement that came in. We’re just dying to play.”
Despite this setback, and all of the strain that Covid-19 has put on plans, relationships and mental health the world over, Karla maintains a refreshing sense of gratitude, while acknowledging the difficulties that the band have faced.
“I think we’ve been fortunate enough that we have never stopped writing and that the music has just kept flowing. The pandemic has been a blessing and a curse. Obviously, a lot of terrible things have happened but it has allowed us the time away to really kind of hone our sound and constantly push. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been afforded support from Irish press and Irish radio, UK radio. We’ve managed to achieve a lot of good things, like getting the first EP and now the second one out but it’s been very difficult emotionally.
“You constantly feel the setbacks and continue to pick yourself up and try to push yourself to keep going is really tough, particularly since this isn’t our full-time job, we’re trying to make it, we’re working as hard as we can to leave our employment and become full-time musicians and work but things like annual leave and personal lives and relationships and time with family and friends and holidays and everything over the last two years have been so challenging, it has been really hard.
“The anxiety is very real, it’s very tough, you can see it in the audience even. Reschedule after reschedule, it’s just going to get to a point where it’s going to tarnish the experience of live music as a whole. My fear is that even when it does come back, how long will it take to actually come back and re-realise our passion? It’s tough but thankfully we’re in a band, we’re super close as friends and we’re ready for anything. We live close enough so that during the restrictions, we can still see each other. We’re thankful that we have people around us that will support us and keep us going but it’s definitely been a very, very challenging year.”
Along with the press plaudits and significant radio airplay from the likes of Dan Hegarty and Steve Lamacq, and the steady release of singles and EPs to date and yet to come, Sprints have achieved major milestones already in terms of where they’ve been and where they have yet to go. In November 2020, the band played at Other Voices alongside a stellar weekend line-up that included Villagers, Damien Dempsey, Sam Fender and many more. More recently, the band have been added to the schedule for SXSW next March.
“Playing Other Voices in Dingle is definitely the Mecca of Irish music in terms of what you can achieve here so to be asked to do that in our first year or two is absolutely massive. Then to be announced for SXSW schedule, we’re still pinching ourselves, crossing our fingers, waiting with baited breath that it actually goes ahead but I still can’t believe it. We were talking about it the other day, we won’t believe it until we’re stepping on that plane but seeing that festival and the bands that have played there, knowing the footsteps we’re walking in – to be asked to be a part of that is just unbelievable.”
With the ‘A Modern Job’ EP due for release in Spring 2022, and a coinciding tour due to take place, you’d think that’d be enough for any band about to take part in a prestigious international multimedia conglomeration. However, Karla reveals that an album is in the works.
“We have a lot of it written. I think the main thing we’re focusing on is that we’re all big album fans, myself and Jack love to listen to albums and always talk about our favourite bodies of work and Sam and Colm and myself as well want to have it thematically and conceptually nailed down. What we want to say, especially with that political label, we want to make sure that what we put out stands to us and will stand to us for a long time.”
I think the jump between the ‘Manifesto’ EP and ‘A Modern Job’ EP will feel a little bit significant, and then the jump from that EP to our album will feel even more significant but there’s definitely a natural progression.”
The next single from the ‘A Modern Job’ EP, Little Fix, will be released on January 11th with the release date for the EP yet to be announced.