Popular perceptions of the term ‘self-care’ tend to involve the booking of a spa day or treating oneself to a takeaway. What doesn’t generally spring to mind, however, is facing demons head on: engaging directly with negative emotions, rather than plastering them over with pedicures and pizza. The former can be messy, yes, and undoubtedly uncomfortable. But, as Dublin quartet Sprints exemplify, healing, somewhat ironically, can begin when you stop running.
“It was a case of trying to take what we’ve experienced in our lives so far and almost mark the page, close that chapter of the book,” says vocalist and guitarist Karla Chubb, discussing the creation of the band’s forthcoming debut, ‘Letter To Self’. “It was a process of putting all that pain on paper in the hopes of moving on from it.” We’re sitting in the green room at King’s Cross venue Scala, ahead of a sold-out London show - one of their final gigs of what’s been a very busy year indeed. 2023 has seen them become mainstays of both festival stages and radio airwaves, cementing the band’s wholly-deserved word-of-mouth reputation. But for Karla, the biggest milestone has been something a little less tangible.
With ‘Letter To Self’, she’s “putting this very personal part of [her] life out in the public”, and while its writing was hugely challenging, it was also hugely cathartic. “There was so much weight on my shoulders my whole life, and now I feel like a little bit of it is gone,” she says, her voice thick with emotion. “All these stories are like stones weighing me down, and now I’ve shed a few of them.”
These aren’t mere pebbles, either. Lyrically, the album explores mental ill-health (‘Ticking’ and ‘Heavy’); internalised homophobia (‘Cathedral’); suicidal ideation (‘Shadow Of A Doubt’) and more. But none of these are crosses Karla has had to bear alone. Born, like so many other bands, out of the pandemic, Sprints was “such a positive thing to turn to in such a dark time,” and the relationship between the four band members quickly flourished into something approaching familial.
“We’ve all got so much better at knowing how each other works,” adds drummer Jack Callan, “so you know when to leave someone alone, or when someone needs a bit of extra support.” In conversation, this almost intuitive bond is self-evident. When Karla compliments guitarist Colm O’Reilly’s playing, Jack leads us all in an impromptu round of applause; when she mentions her anxieties over reading the album’s reviews, bassist Sam McCann gives her a steadying smile - “We’ll take them as they come”.
“All these stories are like stones weighing me down, and now I’ve shed a few of them.” - Karla Chubb
These moments, though seemingly inconsequential, capture the band fairly succinctly: a united front that deals in humour and compassion, but with an underlying steely resolve. Take the show they perform just a few hours later. Karla leaves the stage momentarily to don a Taylor Swift ‘Reputation’ t-shirt, before pronouncing: “Support the strikes and fuck the Tories. We’re Irish, what did you think we were gonna say?” They’ve had this keen political edge since their inception (over which time they’ve released two EPs, 2021’s ‘Manifesto’ and 2022’s ‘A Modern Job’), but never has it been more apparent - or more important - than right now.
Karla and Sam have both just quit their jobs - “We can’t physically or mentally manage the balance of them and music anymore” - which, while daunting, is a prospect that’s only become feasible thanks to the notable success of Irish artists in the past few years. “If you see people doing what you want to do, it obviously increases the chances of you actually thinking it’s a possibility, tenfold,” Karla states. “You have to acknowledge the cultural significance of bands like Fontaines DC and Pillow Queens. There are so few acts who managed to break out of Ireland and make careers abroad until recently, but if they’ve done it, we can do it.”
There is, of course, still a long way to go, however. Karla references a recent interview that Rolling Stone and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner conducted with the New York Times, in which he commented that no women are included in his new book - “the Mount Olympus of rock and roll history” - because “none of them were articulate enough on this intellectual level” (there are also, astoundingly, no Black musicians included - but there is Bono). “[Wenner] said that Mick Jagger was ‘a philosopher of rock and roll’,” Karla says incredulously, “and that Janis Joplin or Patti Smith or Stevie Nicks - some of the greatest songwriters in the world - were…” she trails off and shrugs. “I might appear one day on a list of the ‘best female punk bands’ or ‘best female guitarists’, but I’ll never appear on a list of all-time great guitarists, whereas Colm probably will.”
“Anger doesn’t mean bad. Anger means you’re standing up for something.” - Karla Chubb
Self-doubt doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and Karla’s proclaimed imposter syndrome - tackled on incendiary single ‘Up and Comer’ - is closely tied to her identity as a queer woman in a male-dominated space. While being part of Sprints hasn’t necessarily helped quash her insecurities, it has given her a medium through which to rally against the social structures that supported them in the first place. “Sometimes I think, ‘Am I talking too much about being angry?’” she says. “There is a part of you - a very dark part of you - that thinks, ‘Would my life be easier if I just shut up?’
“There’s always been this idea of the angry woman, or the angry gays, or the angry trans people,” Karla continues. “But anger doesn’t mean bad. Anger means you’re standing up for something; anger means you’re addressing an issue; anger also means collectiveness.”
Signed at the bottom of ‘Letter To Self’, then, is a signature of hard-won hope. Hope that “no matter what we’ve experienced as individuals; no matter what habits or hereditary behaviours you may have inherited; no matter what society or city you’re stuck in, we can get out of anything and make our situation better, just by standing together.”
Listen Éire! After more smashing sounds from Dublin and beyond? SPRINTS give us their top picks.
I stumbled across them after they played Ireland Music Week, and became obsessed. They only have three singles out but it’s equal parts gothic, grunge and post-punk. Love them.
Sam: Cruel Sister
She’s an amazing artist and songwriter. I can hear influences from My Bloody Valentine to Wolf Alice, but still its very own thing. The song arrangements are interesting and she’s a great live act.
They effortlessly blend rage and euphoria to make music that’s equal parts anxiety-inducing and uplifting, what more could you ask for? One of the best live acts I’ve seen this year.
Colm: Enola Gay
It’s heart-pumping adrenaline punk. A band breaking boundaries in Belfast and always keeping you on your toes. There’s not one person left un-captivated at their live shows.
‘Letter to Self’ is out 5th January via City Slang.
As featured in the November 2023 issue of DIY, out now.