Sprints hurl themselves into the limelight with deliciously dark debut album, ‘Letter To Self’.
Words: Ciaran Picker.
“I feel like in the last eight months I’ve aged about six years,” Sprints’ frontwoman Karla Chubb admits, and no wonder. 2023 has been a massive year for these Dublin garage punks. Since the release of single ‘Literary Mind’ at the tail end of 2022, they’ve been hammering away, carving their name into the mind of anyone who has had the good fortune of seeing them live. From supporting Suede in the spring to playing almost every festival going in the summer, it all culminated in a first-ever gig in the US, a sold-out gig at London’s Scala, and a homecoming at Dublin’s Button Factory, which was “absolute insanity”. Not bad, eh?
Nonetheless, it’s the little things that mean the most to Sprints. “At the New York gig,” bassist Sam McCann reminisces, “some guy came over and said: ‘I flew from Chicago to come and see you guys!’ Like, what the hell is going on?!” Karla agrees, “I remember listening in to the first spin of our single on the radio whilst in the States eight hours behind; it’s the spark of joy you need to keep going.”
The endless touring, alongside working full-time jobs and trying to write new tracks, helped to create the atmosphere of debut album, ‘Letter to Self’. A searing punk record, it embodies the anxiety that’s been swirling in Karla’s mind throughout her life. Thrash guitar and layered drums mirror the imminent and unstoppable arrival of a midnight panic attack, with Karla screaming for salvation through spat-out, unleashed vocals. “We gave you 30 seconds of peace and then 41 minutes of chaos,” Karla chuckles.
“We gave you 30 seconds of peace and then 41 minutes of chaos”Karla Chubb
There is much to enjoy about this album, but what really shines through is that Sprints just don’t care what you think anymore. Where they may have restricted themselves on previous projects, not wanting to make too much noise or cause too much of a fuss, this LP has seen them not just loosen the reins but take them off altogether – and then set them alight.
“We had a few reservations about it being so heavy and aggressive from the start,” Karla admits, “but like, it’s a debut: you’ve got to make a statement.” Sam concurs: “There is a build for about a minute in the first song, but if it had been soft, people would’ve just been annoyed, especially if they’ve seen us live.”
He’s not wrong. Sprints have made a name for themselves for the exact anger-fuelled swagger that makes this record so impressive. The first three songs on ‘Letter to Self’ – the brooding opener ‘Ticking’, the aptly named ‘Heavy’, and explosive anthem ‘Cathedral’ – are a celebration of a DIY punk scene overflowing with talent. Musically, they contain all the elements of a classic punk record, but tuned up to the max, with more experimental, thumping drumbeats fighting tooth and claw alongside driving basslines and brash guitar licks. “We would spend days playing with songs, just adding parts to make songs feel fuller and explore more textural spaces,” making this the most polished and professional body of work that Sprints have produced.
“It’s a debut: you’ve got to make a statement”Karla Chubb
These sonic choices were all by design, mimicking the subject matter of the album. “The whole thing is an anxious spiral,” Karla says candidly. “It’s lying in your bed, not being able to sleep, slowly feeling your heartbeat race, the panic start, and the descent into madness.” This is where modern punk bands separate themselves from the more superficial, stylised bands of the 1970s and 80s, writing from the heart about genuine trauma that brings in a cross-generational crowd.
The album is immensely personal, referencing Karla’s German upbringing, Catholic guilt, and her sexuality and gender identity, but it also speaks to wider societal flaws. “Everyone’s feeling it, living paycheque to paycheque, with so much going on in the world, it just felt right to capture that fear on the record, and it helps you to process it a bit more.”
This process dragged Sprints away from another hackneyed cliché of punk by introducing softer moments on the album to break up the noise and create a bridge between their previous EPs and this new chapter. Scattering acoustic guitars throughout the album, most notably on ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ and title-track ‘Letter to Self’, represented the point post-spiral when you can finally catch your breath. Not only does it highlight Karla’s talent for observational and vulnerable writing, but it emphasises just how far the band have come with regard to understanding their own instruments and how they fit into the wider Sprints soundscape.
To have done all this while working full-time jobs is no mean feat. Sure, they’re not the first people to have jobs alongside being in a band, especially in today’s social media-and-stream-based industry. What is exciting, though, is that they are now officially full-time, professional musicians. “I’ve thought about it every day since I was six years old,” Karla says, “and we owe it to ourselves to make a proper go of it. Look at what we’ve done so far; imagine what we’ll do next year with only music to focus on?”
“We owe it to ourselves to make a proper go of it”Karla Chubb
The next twelve months look to yet again be huge for the band, with their upcoming album tour seeing them undertake their first proper US and European tours. In true Sprints style, though, they’re not content with just doing the shows and hoping they go well; instead, they are using their platform to keep chipping away at bias in the music industry.
“90% of questions I get are about being a woman in music; it’s like it totally detracts from any aspect of me being an artist. Like, we want it acknowledged so we can solve the problem, but you’ve got to actually do something about it.” To that end, they’re bringing visceral Leeds outfit VENUS GRRRLS along with them for their UK tour, curating a truly 21st-century punk experience.
So, what are Karla and Sam’s hopes for 2024? “A Top 10 album”, Sam says instantly. Karla is slightly more hesitant in her agreement, “Yeah, I want to say the same, but I don’t want to jinx it! I think I basically just want the album to be received well, for people to sit with it and appreciate how much of ourselves we’ve put into it. Oh, and a support slot for a sick band!” Based on the strength of this album, this is well within their reach.
“I don’t have to take the path that was carved out in front of me”, Karla sings on title-track and closer ‘Letter to Self’. If Sprints have proved anything during their rise to the top, it’s that they are in full control of their journey. From the darkness of their past to the iridescence of their future, Sprints are lighting the way for punk – and long may it continue.
Taken from the February 2024 issue of Dork. Sprints’ debut album ‘Letter To Self’ is out now.
ORDER THIS ISSUE
Please make sure you select the correct location for your order. For example, if you are in the United States, select ‘Location: US & Rest of the World’. Failure to select the appropriate location for your delivery address will result in the cancellation of your order. Please note: International orders may be subject to import taxes, customs duties, and/or fees imposed by the destination country.