SPORTS Are Dead, Long Live SPORTS

Geoff Nelson

sports band interview

Entering the Kenyon College campus involves leaving civilization. From Ohio State Route 229, a seemingly accidental bit of asphalt bisecting the corn, the college rises before visitors on one of those bucolic hills where rural educational institutions are so often situated. Kenyon’s campus is neither the strip-mall hellscape to its west or the withering poverty to the east. It definitely isn’t New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, or LA, where much of the student body comes from and to where they inevitably return. It’s a snow-globe pastoral setting—so pretty you almost want to punch its arm. And it’s a trade: an idyllic slice of the world in return for denying the rest of it.

The members of SPORTS, a much buzzed, punkish but somewhat precious outfit of nice young people, met on this Ohio hilltop. Their second full-length album, All of Something, is a ripping and excellent 20-minutes, though the band isn’t exactly around to tour or promote it. When they played their one CMJ show—technically speaking, the one promotional show for All of Something—multiple band members were absent. All of the band members but one have graduated, dispersed in the winds of a disinterested adult world.

The details of their meeting and their separation are either incredibly important or not important at all; band members disagree. Guitarist Jack Washburn chafes at the narrative of their creation: “I guess people like to mention that we’re a ‘college band,’ which makes sense, but I don’t see how that’s particularly interesting. Lots of bands are in college.” Drummer Benji Dossetter agrees, “Sometimes I wonder if people overplay the whole post-grad thing. We’re just a band that happened to go to school together and is now not in school any more. I’m not sure that being out of college has really influenced any of our writing.”

Singer Carmen Perry sees it differently, “We recorded [All of Something] literally five days after we graduated so all the songs on it are definitely pre-grad. But while we were recording it we were definitely still trying to get out of the whirlwind of a mindset that was, like, graduation. So it’s sort of a bizarre mix of pre and immediately post.” She continues, “Recording these songs at that specific time felt like part of the process of mourning the end of college and leaving and everything.”

All of Something is a broadcast from the vacuum of absence, the sound of the landscape receding in the rearview mirror as you drive out of town.

Their Waxahatchee, Girlpool, and Quarterbacks. Dwyer says, succinctly, of Gilbride, “Dude knows his shit.” They were suddenly a long way from playing house parties on the weekends and opening for the professional touring acts peregrinating through Kenyon.

The latter experience, opening for better-known, itinerant acts, launched SPORTS beyond Kenyon in 2014. After opening for Waxahatchee and Swearin’ at the college’s Horn Gallery, Amanda Bartley of All Dogs, in the audience that night, suggested SPORTS open for Radiator Hospital—a band they closely mirror in sound—in Columbus. Perry missed class for the show; Dwyer couldn’t make it at all. From there the band began to tour around mostly around Ohio for reasons of practicality: “Had to do that homework,” Washburn notes.

Sports’ arc feels familiar: blithe passion and optimism of undergraduate education complicated by the world as it exists.

Nevertheless, Sunchokes had traction. Jessi Frick of Father/Daughter heard the LP and signed the band, calling it her favorite record of 2014. The culmination was a mini-tour around Philadelphia and the recording of All of Something with Gilbride in the days after the majority of the band graduated in May 2015. Perry reflects, “It felt like a lot of important parts of my life were kind of ending at the same time.”

SPORTS’ arc feels familiar: Blithe passion and optimism of undergraduate education complicated by the world as it exists. People brought together by circumstance and torn asunder in the same fashion. The same pattern recurs each spring and fall as graduates confront the unfolding ribbon of life without the compartments of semesters, without the comforts and claustrophobic certainty of institutionalized living. Perry calls not being able to tour All of Something “a big bummer,” a piece of colloquial existentialism for anyone who, in the quiet moments of late night or early morning, has ever stared at a ceiling in a basement apartment in Brooklyn, LA, San Francisco, or a parents’ house, at 22 years old and wondered, “So what the hell happens now?”

But such bourgeois endings contain power too—both marking passage of time and new beginnings. Perry, who continues to pursue music as Addie Pray, is moving to Philadelphia with Dwyer. If the present is uncertain, it is fecund too. “We all met at college and we were all there for different reasons, so being SPORTS was never our first priority,” Perry says. “I think this band has meant a lot to all of us and definitely became the highlight of my time at Kenyon, but we always knew that we would graduate after four years, and it was never really an option to plan the rest of our lives around it. This has become something that right now I think I want to do for the rest of my life, but that didn’t happen for all of us, and that’s okay.”

The David Foster Wallace story “A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” critiques the institutional fun of a Caribbean cruise. He becomes infantilized and angst-ridden amidst the deck chairs, buffets, and colored lights. Undergraduate education is like that: a supposedly fun thing you never do again. But, what about things you have to do over and over again? Perry’s description of the fulcrum between post-adolescence and adulthood, “something that right now I think I want to do for the rest of my life,” represents a best guess—a supposedly fun thing I’ll try for now.

Band members insist SPORTS isn’t done for good. Using the same language as the album’s title, Perry remarks, “Hopefully this is also the beginning of something and not just the end.” Later pushing back more firmly against the band’s demise narrative, she writes to me, “It’s funny how the narrative about us has gone from ‘their future is uncertain’ to like ‘THIS IS THE FINAL ALBUM THEY ARE NOT A BAND ANYMORE.’ I definitely wouldn’t say this is the end of us. We are still planning shows and planning to tour when we all have the time. It’s just a little harder.” Dwyer glibly adds, “You haven’t seen the last of ‘ol SPORTS.” They’re planning a reunion of sorts for December—their diaspora briefly reversed.

Any portentous quality in a run of December shows remains to be seen. Washburn, easily the most obstinate about reports of SPORTS’ end, reflects, “For some reason people like to make mention of the band being totally dead, like it makes the album more dramatic or something, but that’s not true.”

Washburn identifies a sense of living pageantry in Perry’s songwriting. “[Her songs] are more universal and zoomed-out, more about plotting the healthiest approach through your day-to-day life, determining the very precarious degree to which you should depend on other people,” he says. Seen as such, All of Something isn’t a fixed document of SPORTS’ final days or a missive from friends before they’re torn apart—it’s unfinished, ongoing, unresolvable.

American post-adolescence involves staring into the abyss. As Perry says, “Leaving college has been really weird, because it’s the first time I won’t have grades or semesters with which to measure my life.” He continues, “So, it seems like from now on there really is no beginning or ending to the other parts of my life, it’s all just happening, and I’m, like, floating.”

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