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Interview: Jack Callan and Sam McCann (Sprints)

29 January 2024

Photo by Niamh Barry

Sprints set the pace for the new year with the launch of a fiery and biting punk rock album (Letter to Self) that promises to linger in the minds of listeners, likely earning a spot on numerous “Favorites of 2024” lists eleven months from now. Originating in Dublin, Ireland in 2019, the band draws inspiration from a spectrum of influences including early Pixies and Siouxsie Sioux to PJ Harvey and Savages. Lead singer and guitarist Karla Chubb contributes deeply personal lyrics addressing themes of mental health, anxiety, sexuality, and the complexities of gender and identity.

Bassist Sam McCann and drummer Jack Callan recently joined me on a Zoom call to discuss releasing the first great album of the year, how music can be a form of therapy, playing sold-out shows, and both music and non-music escapes.

Letter to Self was released on the first Friday of the new year which seems to have been perfect timing since you really didn’t have any competition. Was that intentional or did it just happen to work out that way?

JACK: I think it was very much by intention. It was initially suggested by our label, City Slang. We were definitely a little bit like, “Oh, I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” but they explained that there’s not much else coming out. And, artists don’t usually release new music in December either, so it’s been a while since there’s been new music.

It was also a scheduling thing. By the time we had singles ready to go, and you go through the single cycle, releasing it before December would have been too soon but then we wanted to get it out as soon as possible. The idea was that, with a first album, there won’t be much going on at the start of January so hopefully we’d get as much traction as we possibly could. It’s worked out better than I think we could have expected.

Just about every website that posts album reviews not only posted a review of Letter to Self but had great things to say. It seems like everything worked out well.

JACK: Yeah, big time. We have more of a base in Ireland and the UK from the last couple years and playing live shows but the response in Europe and the U.S. has been great to see. We’ve gotten some coverage over there, but not a whole lot, so seeing things come in has been really amazing.

It seems like a lot of new bands are putting out single after single and then eventually an EP before putting out a full length. Was it always a plan to release a bunch of singles before an album or is that how things worked out?

SAM: It’s definitely a world now where people listen to singles more than albums or EPs. Obviously, lots of people still do listen to stuff in full. We always just have to release singles anyway to try and pull people in. I noticed today, I was on YouTube, the first single for this album, the video came out seven months ago, which is crazy. It seems like a long lead-in time but I guess that’s the way you have to do it. You have to slowly give people little bites to latch onto and then hopefully they like the little bites and they want the main thing.

JACK: I think there’s a name for the strategy. It’s “waterfall” or something like that. You just keep singles rolling until the album comes out. My understanding is that it’s all very much geared towards the streaming world, especially with playlists and stuff. You’re only going to get one song added at a time. It’s the same thing for radio, where you’ll be pitching to radio, but you’re only pitching one song at a time. If it gets picked up, you want to give it enough time that it actually gets played for a month, two months, whatever, before you put anything else out.

SAM: There’s been certain albums where there are at least four or five singles and then when the album comes out, you’re kind of like, “I’ve listened to half of this already.”

JACK: I think most of us in the band still like albums as an album. There’s part of me that wishes we didn’t have to put out so many singles beforehand. I think we put out four singles in advance of this album and one had been released previously already. But you could probably pare it back a bit as you release more albums. You probably don’t have to worry about it quite as much.

Have you been waiting and waiting and waiting for this thing to come out?

JACK: The first single, “Adore Adore Adore,” came out in June. That was the height of festival season for us. We were on the road for most of the summer, basically every weekend. We had enough going on that we could kind of forget about the album temporarily. We knew it was there and it was coming out but the album was announced in September so that was exciting, and we started thinking about it again. You go through these fluctuations of like, “Oh, right, the album’s coming out” and then forgetting about it. By the time December came around, we were all very much eager to have it out in the world.

The band formed in 2019, just before the lockdowns. Had you known each other before the band or were you getting to know each other during the pandemic?

JACK: We’ve all known each other for years which is probably a good thing. When we came into lockdown, it probably worked in our favor compared to some other bands in terms of where we were at. We put out one EP at the start of 2020, I think around the same month of the first lockdown in Ireland, which we’d previously recorded. We had that, but people didn’t know us very well so it gave us a bit of time for people to find our music. And then we had a good while to write new material because one of the few things we could actually do when there was lockdown here was meet up and rehearse. It was a good time because we were so early in the band’s development that it let us work on our sounds without any of those normal pressures of having to be ready to go on tour. It was just meet up and rehearse. By the time we came out of it, we already had another EP out.

Though you’ve known Karla for a while, are there things that come out in lyrics that you didn’t know? Are you hearing things and saying, “I had no idea you went through that” or “You never mentioned that that happened to you”?

SAM: I got to know Karla after Jack and [guitarist] Colm [O’Reilly] so I did learn some things.

JACK: Me and Karla and Colm were in another band for three or four years before Sprints, and I knew her for a few years before that as well, so I feel like most of the lyrics she writes, I have a pretty good idea what they’re about. But, still, there’s the odd thing where I’m like, “Oh, that’s a new one.”

Karla’s lyrics are very raw, honest, blunt, and inspiring. Is she like that in real life?

SAM: Only if she needs to be and only when it’s appropriate.

JACK: Most of the time, she’s pretty quiet.

I love that she can express all that on stage. It’s got to be difficult to sing about some of the topics she addresses but, also, maybe a little cathartic.

SAM: That’s what music is. It’s a form of therapy. Your therapist might tell you to write your thoughts down on a page but if you can write them down on a page and then go record a song and then sing it on stage, that’s even fucking better.

JACK: Even in terms of playing music together, we’d be meeting up for a rehearsal after work and we’d all be wrecked and we’re all going, “Oh jeez, I don’t want to be doing this at all.” But you play together for two hours and afterwards you’re like, “God, I feel great now.” It’s a really nice communal activity going through that emotional process. I think Karla’s gotten a lot out of it.

All of you have cited artists like PJ Harvey and Savages as influences and inspirations. I have to imagine that, at this point, you’ve had people come up to you after shows and say that you’re their influence or inspiration. Is that ever a heavy burden, when people come up to you and treat you like their therapist?

SAM: There’s been a few times people have said that to us and it’s amazing and really sweet, but you are a bit like, “I don’t know what to say. I didn’t write the lyrics. You should go talk to Karla.”

JACK: It depends on the show and the age profile of it. When there’s a lot of younger queer people in the crowd and you can tell how much it means to them, they’re the first ones to come up to Karla afterwards. I think that’s quite special because Karla’s talked about it a lot – growing up, you would have had a pretty limited amount of women, and particularly queer women, writing this stuff in a heavier genre. It’s really amazing to see these people come up to Karla, especially when they’re not particularly old, they might be teenagers or in their early 20s. They are the next crop of people you help go up and form bands.

It’s really special that queer kids have role models to look up to with Sprints. It feels to me like the band has a way of bringing people together through more than just music.

JACK: I hope so. Things are better in one sense than say 20, 30 years ago and that representation is very important but particularly now because recently there’s been so much backlash to all that kind of stuff. That becomes more important, especially online, because there’s just so much culture wars stuff going on. To see stuff you can connect with and be like, “There’s someone like me,” it means something to you on a personal level.

When you were growing up, did you have a world view of music or were you mostly listening to stuff by artists from Ireland?

JACK: I think it changed when we were teenagers. I remember the first portable device I had was a Discman, so it was CDs. When I was going to school, that’s what I’d listen to. I was 14 or 15 when I got my first MP3 player, and I was downloading stuff off Limeware. We were right in the middle of all that. I think we got our first PC in our house when I was about 13 or 14. I had a few years with no internet access to music and then it all kind of changed very quickly.

SAM: Once we got YouTube, you’d spend hours, not just listening to your band’s favorite songs, but finding interviews with them and all sorts of content. That happened when we were growing up.

Was there any sort of celebration when the album came out? Did you go out to dinner? Did you play a release show?

JACK: We had a full week in the UK that started on the day of album release. We were playing record shops all over the UK. To get into the show, you had to have pre-bought a record so we were in safe knowledge that there were records in the shop, at least.

The first EP we released, I remember me and Karla going to Spindizzy, our local record shop, just to see it in person. That was quite special. For this album, we had a nice little party on Friday and Saturday when the album came out but we were also playing shows. It was very busy.

What is it like playing in a record store? You’re not going to play the same way that you would in a club, right?

SAM I thought it was going to be that we go on at 4pm and play maybe 3 songs but all the Rough Trade stores have stages, so we played for 40 minutes, full band and stuff. It’s not like a club show because people are standing there holding your vinyl and they don’t want it to break, but you do a full show. It was fun. They are a little bit more relaxed but still so loud.

JACK: These were our first in-stores, so we didn’t know what to expect.

Do you remember the first time you sold out a club show?

JACK: We did our first UK show in late 2021. We’d never played outside Ireland before. It was also just coming out of lockdown and we hadn’t gigged in a year and a half, nearly two years. A couple of those shows started selling out and we were like, “What is going? This is crazy.” At the time, I don’t think we’d actually played outside Dublin even, let alone Ireland, so to be going to England and Scotland and Wales and some of these shows were sold out was very surreal and we weren’t very prepared for it. It was a three-week tour and we were absolutely in bits the whole time. We’re not looking after ourselves and by day two of 21, we were all like, “I really want to go home. I feel so sick.” But then you play a packed-out show and you’re like, “This is amazing.” You have so much adrenaline that it keeps you going. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then to be honest with you.

Did you play a show in the U.S. last year?

JACK: Yeah, we played Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn in mid-November. There was press and some radio sessions too. We had three or four days of activity. We’re coming back to the U.S. for a full tour in March. I think it’s ten dates. We’re doing South by Southwest so we’ll probably do a bunch of shows at that.

Will you do festivals again during the summer?

JACK: Yeah, it’s pretty busy. Not everything is festivals in particular. We have a bunch locked in but there’s probably still way more to be added on. In February, we’re doing Europe. March is in the U.S. April is Ireland and the UK and then the end of May is the start of festival season, June, July, August, realistically. And then later in the year we’ll probably do some more headline shows definitely in the UK and Europe and possibly in the U.S. again.

Is there any hesitation about coming to the U.S. because of financial reasons?

JACK: We won’t be making a lot of money doing it, we’ll be lucky to break even, but it’s one of those things where, because we’re kind of early on, we need to try and get bigger in these places. We’re not going to make any money off it now but on the next tour, hopefully we’ll be playing bigger venues where we can start making money.

Music is an escape. What kind of music is an escape for you? And, outside of music, what is your escape?

JACK: We all listen to lots of types of music, but it’s very mood dependent. A lot of mornings, I’ll put on something kind of folky or quiet to ease myself into the day. If I’m reading or writing, I generally listen to anything that has no lyrics in it so either classical stuff or electronic stuff. I also still go back to a lot of classic rock stuff that I grew up with.

Non-music, for me, is probably reading. I fully switch off when I’m reading. I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, it’s very escapist in its themes. It’s nice because you’re not looking at your phone or engaging with anything else. You’re just looking at the book. I do have a Kindle but I try to read actual books because it’s a bit nicer.

SAM: I listen to folk music to start off the day. If I’m cooking, I’ll listen to something Spanish or Italian. I’ve made a mental note to try and be better at finding new music this year because I struggle since there’s so much out there. I want to listen to more albums in full. There’s loads of classical albums I haven’t fully listened to.

Outside of music, I like gaming with my friends and watching comedies that really turn my brain off. I like football as well and hanging out with friends. I just quit my job so the last three days I’ve had a bit more time on my hands so I think I need to find something else to do, maybe reading.


2024 Tour Dates

2/8 – L’Ubu – Rennes, France
2/9 – Le Krakatoa – Mérignac, France
2/10 – Point Éphémère – Paris, France
2/13 – Cactus Club – Brugge, Belgium
2/14 – Trix – Antwerpen, Belgium
2/17 – Molotow – Hamburg, Germany
2/18 – Cassiopeia – Berlin, Germany
2/20 – Kranhalle – Munchen, Germany
2/22 – Vera – Groningen, Netherlands
2/23 – Rotown Rotterdam – Rotterdam, Netherlands
2/24 – Paradiso Tolhuistuin – Amsterdam, Netherlands
3/6 – Madame Lou’s – Seattle, WA
3/7 – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
3/9 – Bottom of the Hill – San Francisco, CA
3/11 – The Echo – Los Angeles, CA
3/19 – Schubas – Chicago, IL
3/21 – Elsewhere – Brooklyn, NY
3/22 – Elsewhere – Brooklyn, NY
3/23 – DC9 – Washington, DC
4/3 – Heaven – London, United Kingdom
4/5 – Actress & Bishop – Birmingham, United Kingdom
4/6 – The White Hotel – Manchester, United Kingdom
4/7 – King Tuts Wah Wah Hut – Glasgow, United Kingdom
4/9 – Patterns – Brighton, United Kingdom
4/11 – Thekla – Bristol, United Kingdom
4/13 – Bodega – Nottingham, United Kingdom
4/14 – Brudenell Social Club – Leeds, United Kingdom
4/18 – Dolans Warehouse – Limerick City, Ireland
4/19 – Róisín Dubh – Galway, Ireland
4/20 – Ulster Sports Club – Belfast, United Kingdom
4/25 – Coughlans Bar – Cork, Ireland
4/26 – Mike the Pies – Listowel, Ireland
5/3 – The Button Factory – Dublin, Ireland
5/4 – The Button Factory – Dublin, Ireland
5/23 – Bearded Theory Festival 2024 – South Derbyshire District, United Kingdom
5/25 – Temple Newsam – Leeds, United Kingdom
9/5 – Polideportivo Municipal de Anduva – El Burgo De Ebro, Spain
11/12 – Marble Factory – Bristol, United Kingdom
11/13 – O2 Forum Kentish Town – London, United Kingdom
11/29 – New Century Hall – Manchester, United Kingdom


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