Band To Watch: Sports
This story begins at an end, which makes Sports less of a “band to watch” and more of a “band to love and let go of.” Formed in Gambier, Ohio at the village’s small liberal arts school, Kenyon College, Sports self-released a short and promising LP, Sunchokes, and made it available on Bandcamp in 2014. From there, they played shows with heroes of the local and not-so-local underground, toured, and sold out of their first run of cassettes. All but one member of Sports graduated from Kenyon this past spring, and the band has since scattered across the United States with future plans obstructing their ability to continue playing together. Drummer Benji Dossetter will attend medical school in the fall, bassist James Karlin is moving to Arizona to teach Latin in a secondary school, and guitarists/vocalists Carmen Perry and Catherine Dwyer have plans to move to Philly together. Jack Washburn, who also sings and plays guitar, has another year left in Gambier, finishing his Kenyon degree. Sports won’t be able to tour their forthcoming full-length, but that doesn’t seem to faze them. Sunchokes made its way out of Ohio and across the country by word-of-mouth. This new album will undoubtedly follow.
Sports recorded All Of Something with Kyle Gilbride, who has engineered some of the most noteworthy DIY punk records in recent years and also fronts Swearin’ alongside Allison Crutchfield. Waxahatchee, All Dogs, and Girlpool are just a few of the bands that he’s worked with, and All Of Something harbors the same live, spontaneous sound that makes all of those other acts so appealing. After recording Sunchokes at WKCO, Kenyon College’s radio station, Sports decided that they wanted to record its follow-up in a semi-professional environment. Father/Daughter will release the album this coming fall, adding Sports to a roster of like-minded though sonically dissimilar bands that include fellow Bands To Watch PWR BTTM and Diet Cig.
All Of Something is a record riddled with tiny upsets, small moments of despair that derail an entire day when you’re 20-something and at a turning point. A troublesome pile of laundry becomes a metaphor for an ailing relationship, and small indentations in the bed are left in the shape of someone absent and important. All of the songs on the album are about making connections with lovers, with friends, and with the self, no matter how uninspiring the prospect may be. Perry tends to write off her vulnerabilities as bad habits, spewing vitriol as easily as she’ll admit weakness: “If you feel like giving up, make a mess of me I’ll always clean it up.” These aren’t huge, life-altering revelations — they’re just thoughts that keep you up at night, spiraling the drain as you sleep.
Not everyone will readily identify with All Of Something. The album chronicles a transitional period that, once you’re well beyond it, seems more like a series of trivial missteps than an emotional apocalypse. It’s true: The fear of dealing with post-graduate existence is often more crippling than the reality of it — a day-by-day, job-to-job experiment in being flexible and self-sufficient. It changes you, and if we’re to consider All Of Something as a product of end-of-college chaos, then it’s helpful to frame this album as a time capsule. All of the members of Sports have side projects; Perry is also known as Addie Pray, Dwyer as Spring Onion, Dossetter as Count Lenny, and Washburn as Cry About It. Dwyer and Washburn also play together under the name Ice Cream Social. All Of Something is a starting point for a group of musicians who undoubtedly have even bigger projects to come, and this will be the record that made them. Listen to All Of Something’s first single “Saturday” and read an interview with Sports below.
STEREOGUM: When you all started playing together, how did you decide on what you wanted the band to sound like? Was there any preliminary conversation or did it just fall in line?
CATHERINE DWYER: My sense is that it just kind of fell in line. We were playing mostly Carmen’s stuff and it seemed like the natural progression to make it this kind of poppy punk.
CARMEN PERRY: Yeah, I recorded some stuff on my own the summer after my freshman year and put it online under the name Addie Pray for the first time, and when we all got back to school, Benji was eager to take some of the songs I had and turn it into a bit of a bigger thing.
STEREOGUM: You said you make “poppy punk” music, are you comfortable with being labeled a “pop-punk” band?
JACK WASHBURN: It’s always hard to classify any music, let alone your own… but I guess there are elements of pop and elements of punk, so there you go.
PERRY: I think every genre label we’ve come up with has been a little uncomfortable because I definitely don’t want to pigeonhole our band, but we usually say pop-punk and that’s pretty close to what we do, I guess.
STEREOGUM: It’s a label that gets slapped onto a lot of projects with primarily leading female voices. Sometimes writers are just lazy, but Sports sounds like a tried-and-true pop-punk band to me.
PERRY: Yeah, I think my big problem with the label pop-punk is that people usually think of Fall Out Boy or Blink-182 which is like, I wish, but no.
STEREOGUM: Sunchokes was kind of a little-big EP, meaning that it got a lot of traction for you to be coming out of a college town in Ohio.
PERRY: We were all really pleasantly surprised about all the attention Sunchokes got just because we weren’t really trying. We literally just put it on Bandcamp and Facebook and I guess social media happened. My mom tweeted it.
DWYER: We would open for bands that played at the Horn, which is a student-run space on campus that brings bands.
WASHBURN: Playing some more shows around Ohio helped, also.
PERRY: Yeah, that’s true. So we did make some friends through that who are a lot more popular than us, which didn’t hurt.
DWYER: We played with Swearin’ and Waxahatchee, and Amanda from All Dogs was there, and then we ended up playing with Radiator Hospital at a bar in Columbus when they came through town…
PERRY: …and then Sam Cook Parrott tweeted something from Sunchokes earlier this year.
JAMES KARLIN: We also played a good amount of house shows in Athens, Ohio.
PERRY: Yeah, we love Athens. I tell everyone that.
STEREOGUM: What was it like to record with Kyle Gilbride? How did that happen?
KARLIN: I think Jack sent him an email.
WASHBURN: I had booked Swearin’ at Kenyon a year ago, so I vaguely knew him, then I followed up with him in March or so because I knew he’d recorded a ton of records we all collectively love and we wanted to try something new for our next record.
PERRY: When Jack first suggested it I don’t think any of us thought that it could be an actual possibility. But, we made a lot more money from Sunchokes than we thought because I accidentally cooked the books and didn’t realize it till recently…
WASHBURN: Recording with him was a really nice balance of professionalism, in that he knows his shit backwards and forwards, but it was also super casual and laid back.
PERRY: We were able to afford it and plan shows from Ohio to Philly to get there and his schedule worked perfectly with ours so it all happened nicely. He like let us go into his studio and do what we wanted to do but every now and then he would offer tiny criticisms and we would immediately agree. So it was really nice working with someone like that. It was like DIY recording on steroids because he’s a professional and has nice equipment but it didn’t really feel that different from doing something in your bedroom.
WASHBURN: Nice house, they’ve got a giant mirror.
KARLIN: Biggest mirror I’ve ever seen.
PERRY: Catherine played the slide guitar and I played the organ.
DWYER: Allison Crutchfield’s organ.
STEREOGUM: What’s “Saturday” about? A lot of the songs on All Of Something seem to be about relationships but I’m never sure if they’re romantic or just, like, issues between friends. Right now, I’m listening to “Reality TV,” and I’m curious if a lot of these songs are about the same person, or if they’re accumulated thoughts from years past?
PERRY: We never really talk about it but I guess probably everyone knows that a lot of this stuff is about Jack, since I write it and we are dating. But the new record has a lot of songs that I wrote a long time ago, too, so I guess it’s kind of a weird mixture of past and present.
WASHBURN: Also, I’m the other vocalist on “Saturday” and a few others, just for background.
PERRY: Sometimes, I will try to write about other people and it just kind of devolves into another song about Jack, and that is actually what happened with both “Saturday” and “Reality TV.” But I kind of like the idea of one song being about a bunch of different things or people because that’s kind of the way things happen in your head anyway.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, some free-association shit…
WASHBURN: There are some thematic threads on this new record though, which I like a lot.
PERRY: Well Jack, what are some of the themes you’ve identified?
WASHBURN: I guess I meant more like I’ve noticed lyrical motifs, just words and phrases used from one song to the next, which ties it all together kinda nicely. There are also connections to be drawn between Carmen’s lyrics and mine — which are paltry and few.
STEREOGUM: I notice that “you’re the reason why I can never hide” resurfaces. That’s one of the lines in the first song on Sunchokes, “Tiny Planets.” It’s a really satisfying moment for a listener to be able to make this circular connection back to the debut.
PERRY: Yeah, that was unintentional at first but I guess it has become intentional, if that makes sense? The “you’re the reason why” line in particular, I was trying to convey somewhat of a movement from like basically daydreaming and idealizing stuff to the idea that there is a reality that exists and it is hard sometimes and you have to do laundry and people get upset and stuff.
All Of Something tracklist:
03 “Getting On In Spite Of You”
04 “Reality TV”
07 “Get Bummed Out”
09 “Clean Socks”
10 “The Washing Machine”
All Of Something is out 10/30 via Father/Daughter. Preorder it here.