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Sprinting out of the blocks

Karla Chubb, of highly rated Dublin punk band Sprints, told David Hennessy why she feels female performers have an ‘expiration date’, how she struggled to accept herself and her sexuality growing up and why she was so ‘pissed off’ by plans for a white water rafting facility in Dublin when the city has so many homeless.

Karla Chubb, lead singer and guitarist of Dublin four-piece punk band Sprints, was recovering from Covid when she spoke to the Irish World last week.

Over the worst of it when we talked, it meant the entire band has had the virus now.

But then the band, who have had a buzz building around them for some time now despite only forming in 2019, have had all their success to date through a pandemic.

Since they released their first single Pathetic in 2020, the band have signed with respected UK Indie label Nice Swan Recordings and have been working with producer Daniel Fox from Dublin rockers Girl Band.

They were soon receiving radio support from industry champions like Steve Lamacq on BBC6 and being featured in the NME and are now selling out shows at home and in the UK.

The band travel to Austin, Texas in March to play by South by Southwest festival.

Their new single Little Fix deals with the double standard that exists for women in the industry.

Karla told The Irish World: “Little Fix is about my self-applied pressure and my experience of being a woman in music.

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“I always felt like I had like this invisible clock hanging over my head.

“That when I reach a certain age, which probably now, I feel I’m expiring quickly.

“Now that I’m over 30, I only have a couple good years left in me in the industry’s eyes.

“Like I’m like a food product going out of date.

“So it’s kind of all about that pressure I put on myself.

“Because I’m a girl and I front a punk band and play guitar, I can’t just be good. I have to be great.

“You read the portrayal of women in magazines and on TV and it’s always about their looks and their weight and their age, never about their talent.

“Madonna had to reinvent her image every five years because people would be like, ‘Oh same old, same old’. Whereas Ed Sheeran can put out five albums that sound exactly the same and he’s going to be number one and hailed as one of the best songwriters.

“Why is it always the women that have to reinvent themselves and give you something new? Whereas- no offence to the men but they put out album after album that’s basically the same and it’s considered just good talent.

“Growing up around that you really felt like, ‘God if I don’t make it by 30, I’ll never make it in music’.”

Little Fix follows Modern Job, the title track from the band’s forthcoming second EP.

Chubb describes the song as a “critique of modern existence but also an exploration of growing up queer” in a society that forcefully pushes the 2.4 children ideal.

“I could never really accept that our entire purpose of life seemed to be: Grow up, get an education, get a job, get married, get a house. And that’s it.

“I wanted to find a purpose for existing.

“Modern Job is about me growing up and really struggling to accept who I was and what I wanted.

“It took me a long time to accept myself.

“When I was growing up, I was always very tomboy. Obviously, I love punk music and rock and I played guitar from a young age. I was always looking at people like Kurt Cobain and Slash as opposed to what all my other female friends were looking at.

“Even though I’m thirty, I think there’s still parts of myself that I’m only truly becoming comfortable with and accepting.

“I think the only way to make these topics that are slightly stigmatized unstigmatized is just talking about them.”

While Ireland has made great strides in equality in the last few years, Karla is quick to point out how long coming this was and where there is still work to be done regarding trans rights.

“We have made a lot of great social change in the last few years and we’re getting way more progressive.

“I think there’s still a lot of separation of church and state and education still to be made.

“But I couldn’t get married to a girl until I was 24, 25 so I grew up my whole life being told that this was something that was not normal, ‘You’re supposed to grow up, get married, have kids’. And it was illegal for me to do that.

“So the last five years have changed my entire perspective on life.

“I was never very religious and my family thankfully weren’t that religious but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t worry about me coming out or it wasn’t hard for them to accept.

“Homosexuality was only made legal in 1993 so it’s very much our lifetime.

“We were still considered sinful. So it’s a big change.

“But obviously, behaviours take a lot longer to change and it doesn’t mean that slurs aren’t still spoken.

“There’s still a lot of progress to be made for trans rights.

“I think trans rights are where gay rights were 20 years ago and I think there’s still a lot of lack of acceptance and lack of education around that.

“So there’s still work to be done.”

The Sprints line-up is completed by drummer Jack Callan, bassist Sam McCann and guitarist Colm O’Reilly.

The other three members are childhood friends from Coolock and Kilbarrack.

Karla, from Rathfarnham, says: “I’m the only outsider, they call me the ‘token southsider’.

“One drunken night I said to Jack, ‘I play guitar and I’ve always wanted to be in a band. I never knew anyone who played drums. Would you play drums with me?’

“And that kind of snowballed. He recruited Colm on board.

He’s like, ‘My friend’s a guitarist’. Brought him down and then we kind of brought Sam on board.

“And we literally hid away in his shed in his backyard writing for a year and haven’t stopped since.”

Did it really come from an offhand drunken statement? “You wouldn’t believe how much of Sprints is born out of a bar. Many a song is written at a pub table on my phone with a pint in front of me.

“If James Joyce and Yeats did it, it must work.”

In their music they have not been afraid to take on topics like homelessness in the song Swimming off their debut Manifesto EP.

“We don’t shy away from any topic and it’s all based on our personal experiences and what we see in our lives and the world around us.

“We get labelled as quite a political band and as a punk band.

“I think punk is inherently political.

“It’s obviously born out of anarchy, speaking out against the system and advocating for individualism.”

Swimming was Karla’s visceral reaction to plans for a white-water rafting facility in Dublin’s docklands.

“I literally wrote Swimming on the bus on the way for rehearsal one day, because that was when they announced that they were going to build a €12 million white water rafting centre in Dublin City Centre when we’ve got one of the highest rain rates in the entire world, if not Europe at least.

“I don’t know when you’re going white water rafting.

“We pay one of the highest taxes on wages in the world and then we see our public funding being spent on ridiculous stuff.

“For a normal person to read that while you can see people on the streets and struggling, I think that was just pure ‘pissed off-ness’.

“And that’s why Swimming is so aggressive and rageful.”

The song How Does The Story Go? landed the band on the cover of NME’s New Bangers playlist.

The song deals with emigration, something Karla could see the band doing in the future.

“I think it is kind of the unfortunate truth that with the cost of living rising here, the rents rising here, the constant lack of appreciation of the arts- Even the way we’re handling lockdown. Standardizing drink prices here- It’s kind of like hit after hit for young people. There kind of isn’t a choice but to look abroad.

“So I think as a musician, it’s an inevitable when, not if we’re moving to London.

“I love the city, I think it’s a great place and the UK has embraced us with open arms.

“We’re considering traveling over there to record and continue to progress if the opportunities aren’t here for us.

“I think unfortunately with the nature of Ireland being small, we just don’t have the media space for alternative music.

“There’s great people like John Barker on 98 FM and Dan Hegarty on 2FM who have supported us from day dot and they still support us to this day.

“But I just think we’re so behind in terms of support of home grown talent or even alternative talent.

“I think we’re just a little bit slow to nurture talent and realize the benefit of it.

“Whereas in the UK, I think there’s a real focus and appreciation of music and the arts.

“I think it’s a problem that a lot of Irish acts face. It’s hard to make it at home but once you kind of break the UK, then you’re kind of like a homegrown hero all of a sudden.

“You just try and not focus too much on those things. We’re just going to keep working away and we know that eventually the recognition will come if we’re deserving of it.”

Sprints tour the UK and Ireland from February but were disappointed to see the Omicron variant throw live music in Ireland into some doubt once again.

“It’s kind of like our go to solution is, ‘Alright, close the pubs and stop all live entertainment and music’.

“But they don’t increase the hospital capacities. They haven’t done anything to improve the health resources.

“Schools are still opening despite there being 20,000 cases in schools.

“No one needs a negative test to come into Ireland anymore.

“It just doesn’t really make any sense so I think everyone is really fed up to be honest.

“We have had to reschedule shows five times now.

“It feels a bit nihilistic but there doesn’t seem to be a point in bothering to try to play music in Ireland right now.

“We’re just gonna focus on abroad.”

The visceral breakthrough single The Cheek tackled misogyny and the attitudes to gay women.

“We were trying to make light of quite a dark topic and how much you kind of realize you have to brush off in clubs and bars.

“I think we’ve all suffered probably one too many idiots in a bar and it’s just a natural part of life.

“So it was kind of about the experience of a woman in a bar.

“That was the first Sprints song we ever wrote.

“I think it was kind of the turning point for us.

“It just really felt like I hit my stride and had found my niche or my thing.

“It’s very much inspired by David Byrne(Talking Heads)’s classic talking the verses and singing the choruses.”

Industry magazines like Golden Plec are naming Sprints as one of their acts to watch out for 2022.

“I’d love to be really cool and say, ‘I don’t read the press’ or, ‘I don’t care about any of the recognition’.

“No, I suffer quite badly from imposter syndrome.

“When we got our first NME article, or the Golden Plec list or DIY- When we saw our names on those websites, it was a real nice moment.

“And sometimes as much as we all like to pretend we’re super confident and we have a persona onstage, at the end of the day music is so subjective.

“You put it out there and also not being able to play live, essentially releasing everything we have through a screen and during COVID where we can’t gauge, have no idea what people are going to think about songs.

“We usually test them at gigs and get the audience reaction so to get that feedback from major players in music press and radio was incredible.

“We used to always like playing live and we always called ourselves a live band and live musicians and would always use that live sphere to test material and see what people think and to not have that and to only be releasing music during the pandemic.

“And we only got out on the road for the first time in October last year and that tour was originally supposed to happen in May 2020.

“To get out on the road was anxiety-inducing. To finally go from no gigs to playing 16 gigs in 21 days.

“It was literally like zero to 100.

“It was incredible, exciting, exhilarating and really confirmed that we know we’re a live band.

“But it was hard to get back up there after two and a half years.

“I think we were very fortunate that our first gig was London.

“We have a lot of friends who have emigrated to London so there was a lot of familiar faces in the crowd and I didn’t feel one bit nervous.

“But I think it was the next day in Bristol it really hit us all hard because that’s when the friends are gone and you’re in a city we’d never been to before.

“It hit us, ‘Oh God, this is day two. And we need to do this 17 more times’.

“But then, once we stepped on that stage, all the nerves kind of washed away and it was the best experience of my life.

“And we’re just so excited to get back on the road now.”

The single Little Fix is out now.

The EP Modern Job is out on 18 February.

Sprints tour the UK and Ireland from 24 February.

For more information, click here.

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