20 questions with Sprints: “I don't want to be like a superstar!”
“20 questions” is a feature where writer Tom Farmer touches on 20 topics with some of the UK and Ireland’s most promising new acts. It’s a bit like Vogue’s 100 questions, but a lot shorter and a fair bit less glamorous. May contain strong language and shit banter.
This week, I chatted to lead singer Karla Chubb of Sprints. Following on from the historical success of the Dubliners and the Pogues, coupled with recent successes of the likes of Fontaines DC, Sprints are another ground-breaking and bouncy outfit to come out of Dublin. Composed of two marketing gurus, a PHD student and a mechanical engineer, the four-piece’s tracks are crammed full of perceptive and honest reflections of society, coupled with a really exciting sound.
Described as a “the next no-fucks given” band by NME, as well as appearances across radio and livestreamed festivals, Sprints definitely have the mix of intelligence and charisma to go all the way. With such hype surrounding the four-piece, I was desperate to speak to the eternally-smiling Karla from “permanently grey” Dublin about Irish creativity, the relationship between poetry and music and gender equality.
TF: What’s the idea behind the name?
KC: I think picking a band is always hardest thing in the world to do. I suppose we wanted something that really reflected the style of music we're trying to write: really fast paced, energetic and punchy. We really like short one-word names and we got “Sprints” one day.
TF: How would YOU describe your sound?
KC: It’s very raw, emotive and energetic. We use the phrase “angry music you can dance to”. We're influenced by a lot of people like IDLES and Fontaines. We also like the classic post-punks like The Talking Heads and we're trying to bring a more of a modern side to it.
“I think everything's happened so quickly”
TF: Why has Dublin suddenly become the hub of post-punk in the 21st century with the likes of yourselves, Fontaines DC, Girl band, the Murder Capital and countless others?
KC: I think punk as a genre was born out of political turmoil and there's been a lot of change in Dublin, some of it good and some of it bad. In recent years, we've had very positive things happening like the Repeal Referendum and we’ve been at the pinnacle of a lot of societal and social justice trend. But there's also a very rapid homeless problem, there's been a massive rise in drug abuse and there's a real lack of support in terms of mental health and our health services in general. The rents are rapidly rising, the crowds are being pushed out of the city. With these challenges, people turn to music a lot of the time. There’s always been a great scene here, so it was almost inevitable. But bands like Fontaines DC and Girl Band have broken the barriers down and people now see us (“Dubliners”) as a credible creative option.
TF: Dublin has always been a hub of poetry, literature and music. Was it is about Dublin that inspires creativity in all areas of the arts?
KC: I think creativity quite inherently Irish. Even our accent, like it's quite sing-songy. The birth of whiskey, perhaps, brings out creativity! I think it’s a mixture of our heritage and history. Dublin is a city that's full of a lot of culture and it's becoming a melting pot. There's a lot happening here. We're very diverse, but obviously there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of representation and inclusivity. But yeah, I think it's kind of inherently in our DNA to be creative. Maybe I’m very biased!
TF: First single released in 2020. How have you been able to push all your music without playing live?
KC: It was weird. We released “Kissing Practice” (Sprints’ riotous debut single) before we knew anything this was going to happen. We released that single, played our first headline show and then two weeks later, everything was shut down. We're fortunate a lot of positive things have happened: we met Nice Swan records (home to fellow indie heavyweights Sports Team and Courting), released a couple of singles and got some great coverage. It's been challenging and it's been tough- mentally, creatively, financially- but it's also very rewarding. But just dying to go and play a gig.
TF: If one person slid into your DMs to compliment your music, who would you be most impressed with?
KC: God, anyone really! I think if the legends like Patti Smith even knew who I was, I would probably die. David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) is one of my all-time heroes. The Talking Heads were so ground-breaking and I love everything he does.
TF: What were the first gigs you first went to?
KC: Oh, God, it was definitely something like really embarrassing like Westlife.
TF: The first song you fell in love and had on repeat?
KC: I think the first song that comes to mind is “Stand By Me” by Ben E King. My mum was a big Motown fan and I always used to listen to Phil Spector and that kind of stuff in the car to school. I think that was my first connection to really emotive music, as well as being so fun and beautiful. It’s the first time I thought “Oh my god, music is amazing!”.
TF: What bands are tipping for indie stardom in the next five years?
KC: There's a band over here called “New Dad” from Galway who are really breaking through. They're going to be absolutely huge. The Magazine Club is another one. I think they they've been on a couple of big playlists already and they're really lovely guys and gals. Yeah, I think we’re tipping them for big things.
TF: Do you have any unlikely influences?
KC: I got loads that I hate talking about. Taylor Swift is one my favourite people in the world. If she knew I existed, I would die. We’re all very eclectic in our tastes and just send songs back and forth to each other. We’re all big fans of the post-punk scene obviously. People like the Pixies, Patti Smith of course, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard who we all saw at Olympia together. But I don't know if any of them are that unlikely because we're all quite eclectic anyway.
TF: Both Kissing Practice and Drones have references to the pub. Is that where you feel most creative?
KC: “Drones” is literally written in the pub! I remember it so vividly! I went to watch a match with my girlfriend, drinking Guinness, and Sam sent me the demo on WhatsApp. I pretty much wrote the lyrics on the spot and sent it to him and he was like, “please go home record that!”. So we finished our pints and went home to record the vocals. Obviously pre-pandemic, the pub was not just about the drinking, it's like a social hub in Dublin and it's where you meet up after work. Because the city is quite small, you're gonna bump into people you know. And that's where a lot of the ideas can come from. We call it “pub chat”, writing about what we would talk to each other about in the pub.
TF: I saw that you stated Patti Smith as a big influence. What is the relationship like between poetry and music for you?
KC: I think they're naturally very intertwined, but they’re not mutually exclusive. With the likes of Patti Smith, who is a natural poet, I think you can really tell in her cadence and her rhythm that there is such a skill there. But I think there’s a very natural connection between poetry and music, particularly people who are poets and great lyricists. Even Grian Chatten (frontman and lead songwriter of Fontaines DC) is one of the best lyricists of our current generation. Lyrics have always been something that stood out to me before the music on a track, so I think it's an amazing skill.
TF: Any terrible gigs?
KC: Thankfully not! We’ve played in other bands where we don't really remember the ends of a set because we’ve had a few many drinks. I think we've only played about three gigs (as “Sprints”) in total, which is insane! But I'm sure when we go on tour in October and November, there'll be a few stories and a few horror shows.
TF: I’ll ask you again in a year’s time then!
TF: What is your experience of being a female-fronted band and being a woman in the wider sphere of indie music?
KC: It's hard to tell to be honest because my experience is my experience. I don't know any different and it's very rare that people would outright treat you differently in front of you. But obviously there's a massive disparity in the experience of female musicians and male musicians right now. There is a severe lack of gender balance in terms of line-ups and radio play. We're making a very big effort to ensure we have a gender split and gender-neutral split on our tour in terms of support acts- involving as many female and non-binary or ethnically diverse people as possible. And you notice very quickly that it's it is people don't really seem aware of it. You get promotors sending in suggestions for support acts and 99% of the bands are male and all white. We have to really hammer home like we really like to find some more diverse acts.
TF: What are the first steps in working towards greater steps to gender inclusivity in music?
KC: I think awareness is needed because it’s a massive education issue. there's a lot of great work being done with groups like “Keychange”, who do a lot of great work to support women in the arts. There's a really great directory in Ireland built up of female recording artists, producers and session musicians. Something like this internationally would be great. There’s the “We've Only Just begun Festival which was a female-focused Music Festival in Dublin. But it's left up to women to point gender imbalance out. When it comes to line ups, people always reply “Well, these people sell more music or sell more tickets”. They don’t realise that’s because of years of inequality and this systemic issue where men have been offered a platform above women and now we're trying to balance that out.
“We have to really hammer home like we really like to find some more diverse acts”
TF: Would you rather be invisible or be able to fly?
KC: I don’t know, maybe invisible? Flying would be cool, but invisibility would be a bit sneakier.
TF: What’s next for you?
The penultimate single “Swimming” is coming out (out now!) What's next is hopefully a second EP and an album. Very shortly. We have studio time booked in with Dan Fox (bassist of Girl Band and producer that we're hoping goes ahead in the next few months . We've been writing a ton and have a load of material and a new direction that we're really excited about. I think “Manifesto” as an EP was great, but was a very much a moment in time. We’re not so much a changing ouf style, but there’s a natural progression.
TF: So is a change of style on the horizon?
KC: think everything's happened so quickly, but we're obviously sticking to our garage rock and punk roots. I think we're working on some really exciting stuff that will that people will like the new kind of direction.
“People know see Dubliners as a credible creative option”.
TF: Where do you see yourself in five years?
KC: I hope that we’d have an album under our belt and touring. I’d like to be playing music professionally, but I don't want to be like a superstar- I’d be happy with just a couple festivals here and there. I'd love if we were Mercury-nominated or Choice-nominated over here in Ireland. But to be honest, we're not too greedy. We just really want to just make music.
TF: What lessons have you taken from the last year?
KC: I think it's appreciating the little things and expressing gratitude as often as possible. There’s been a lot of terrible things that have happened to a lot of people and thank God we haven't been too adversely affected. When we’re back to normal, we are going to appreciate the little moments that we took for granted, like just walking into a pub after work on a Friday being able to see your friends.
Sprints’ latest single “Swimming” is out now.