Dublin band Sprints are starting off 2024 with the release of their debut album, Letter to Self, via City Slang. Taking inspiration from artists like PJ Harvey, Pixies, Bauhaus, Savages, Fugazi, and LCD Soundsystem, vocalist, guitarist and lead songwriter Karla Chubb builds tension by repeating her refrains until they come to a cathartic boil and explode over into a squall of noisy riffs, straddling the line between alt-rock and post-punk. The band told Stereogum that producer Daniel Fox (who plays bass in Gilla Band) was moved to tears a couple of times by the intensity of their in-studio performances, and while we haven’t seen them yet ourselves, they definitely have the sound of a band are a whole lot of fun live.
For more on Letter to Self, Sprints took us track-by-track through each song. Read on for their in-depth look at the album…
One of the first songs written on the album, “Ticking” developed out of conversations about trying to capture feelings of anxiety sonically and lyrically. Slowly building from a heartbeat drum and guitar the song eventually spirals into a chaotic final chorus, with the music matched by stream of consciousness styled vocals. From when it was originally written to being recorded, we really worked on trying to layer the build up and add textures that add to a sense of growing anxiety. Dark and moody, it sets the tone for what’s to come.
“Heavy” continues the spiral of anxiety started in “Ticking” as it fully takes hold. Inspired by the gothic sounds of Bauhaus, screeching guitars and whispered vocals add a sense of creepy dread. “Heavy” was written around the same time as “Ticking” and we always knew they belonged together both sonically and thematically. Lyrically, the song conveys feelings of being paralysed by anxiety, with intrusive thoughts taking hold. While most people are only hearing it for the first time now, it may be familiar to anyone who’s been to one of our shows in the past couple of years.
There was a lot of excitement in studio recording “Cathedral,” with producer Daniel Fox lending his ear for doomy soundscapes to layer and texture this one to lean into the dark and gritty sound. Continuing the gothic theme of our opening tracks, Cathedral again pulls from early 80s and 90s influence, particularly PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. Thematically it focuses on my experiences and struggles with accepting my sexuality – the inherent shame you feel growing up queer in Catholic Ireland, and struggles with internal homophobia.
With the particularly vile anti-trans vitriol being spewed across social media and Irish media at the moment, this song is a very on the nose defiant cry against them, and a cry of support to those of us trying to stand up for the people they consider ‘other.’ One of our favourite tracks on the album, it’s been a real joy to play live since we introduced it to our sets during the summer.
Shaking Their Hands
The first real pause for breath on the album. We always wanted the album to feel like a journey or sorts and this is the first of several twists and turns along that journey. A song that was born very naturally in rehearsal, it was first just a simple guitar riff that spilled out when I picked up second hand Gretsch – the emotive bass line Sam instantly improvised over the top and the softer drums form Jack really nailed it immediately for us as an album track. It embraces a lot more of Colm’s natural blues guitar style and Jeff Buckley influence, while drawing on early Hole and Radiohead as vocal and energy references.
Thematically the lyrics fell naturally from me in the rehearsal where we just played – it’s a stream of consciousness that I think was born from the emotional and mental exhaustion we felt last year, balancing our double life of music and quote unquote real work. It was one of the later songs written on the album and probably the biggest surprise from demos to recorded tracks. Having time in the studio to add texture with extra percussion and guitar sounds complimented the natural space in the song and the vocals all came together really nicely.
Adore Adore Adore
Possibly the song we spent longest working on prior to recording, it went through major changes before we realised the original idea was better and meeting somewhere halfway. “Adore Adore Adore” is a guttural reaction to my experience of criticism, gender and misogyny. People can’t seem to stop pressing their idea of what being a woman or acting like a woman is or should be upon us. You can’t act like this, you can’t say that, you have to be born with this or that and it’s exhausting. There is still a different standard of behaviour expected from me vs even the other members in Sprints. There is a different set of invisible rules I am supposed to abide by – I am supposed to fit their mould and give them what they want – and not deliver what it is I am here to do.
So at a time when trans rights are under attack, people are trying to force upon us what they think a woman is or should be, this is the outward expression of my own frustration, struggle and rage. We had a lot of fun making the music video for this one, with creepy doctors trying to reconfigure Karla in their image against her will, echoing the themes of the song.
Shadow Of A Doubt
Like “Shaking Their Hands,” “Shadow Of A Doubt” is a change of pace from much of the album, with the focus on the vocal delivery before exploding in a final chorus. It very bluntly deals with the experience of trauma, depression and the aftermath. It was written quite selfishly – to take the weight of some of those feelings off myself by placing them on a page in an attempt to feel like I was healing, or ridding myself of them. An entirely cathartic process.
The slow and intensifying build, the crashing drums, swirling guitars and chaotic climax all symbolise that pure terrifying fall into depression and the almost silent call for help. It’s the feeling of loneliness, abandonment and exile. It’s shouting out into the void and thinking everyone can hear you, but they can’t.
The vocal was recorded in three takes with jagged breaths and some misstepped lyrics purposefully left in. Here, we felt emotion was more important than perfection. This was the most difficult song to record and release and one we all love dearly. Being so vulnerable is scary but hopefully it connects with listeners because of that.
Can’t Get Enough Of It
Another step-change from our usual sound, it draws on Sam’s love of bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Black Angels. CGEOI was written in the depths of lockdown for the few weeks Sam moved into Karla’s apartment to escape the monotony of life during Covid-19. I think the repetitive nature of our days, lives, work, no-work, naturally found its way into the rhythm and style of the song. The rolling drums, repeated guitar lines all reflect the idea of endless cycles of life and our sometimes unbreakable patterns of behaviour. Lyrically it touches on a negative relationship – how the memory or mention of someone ever years after you had any involvement with them, can still trigger a shudder or pit in the stomach.
This is one that almost might not have made it onto the album. One of the older tracks on the album, it sat in a folder of demos for ages before we came back to it and realised we couldn’t leave it off the album. This is another one that really came to life in the studio. After initial tracking we just kept layering up more and more guitars, at one point running a guitar with a tremolo pedal through four amps at the same time.
“Literary Mind” has been a fan favourite since its release, now re-recorded for the album. This album version is closer to how we’ve been playing it live, much faster than the original and with some additions here and there. “Literary Mind” is probably one of our most light-hearted songs in SPRINTS in terms of subject matter, and while I’m not sure it entirely comes across, probably could be classified as a love song. It’s a real deep dive and exploration into the feeling of falling in love, particularly queer love, in which you feel like you’ve been conditioned to believe a heteronormative way of life is the only “right” way to live, which leads to incredible difficulty and emotional oppression.
You push these feelings down, ignoring them, praying them away even but eventually with acceptance comes a rush of emotion that you never thought you’d feel. You unlock, finally, what it means to be happy and with it comes the rollercoaster of emotions, hot sweats, fever dreams, happiness, giddiness and excitement that we’ve tried to capture in the energy and pace of the song. It’s a live favourite and probably the best SPRINTS song to sing along to at a show. It’s the only track we’d released already prior to recording the album and we actually needed convincing to put it on the album because of that. We’re glad we were convinced.
A Wreck (A Mess)
Every time we go into the studio to record, a song seems to come together out of nowhere at the last second and “A Wreck (A Mess)” is that track. Whenever we get new gear (pedals, guitars) it seems to inspire a wave of creativity and this riff just fell out of us. Think it pulls a lot of influence from early Strokes and Fucked Up, and definitely matches the light hearted energy of “Literary Mind.” Played for the first time a week before recording, the structure was changing right up until we got to the studio and it was exciting having something so new and fresh to work on in the studio.
Thematically and lyrically it’s a play on hyperactivity and social anxiety – the regret you have agreeing to loads of plans the day you have to do them and my inability to juggle the ten thousand things I have to do at once. We introduced this to our live set during the summer, with the sound, if not quite themes, matching the sunny festival season perfectly.
Up and Comer
“Up and Comer” is a pretty dry take on a fear and self consciousness that has been ruminating in me since I picked up an instrument. This innate fear that maybe I would always be “good for a girl”, but would I ever actually be great? It’s an invisible narrative that has been constructed by the doubts and negativity I’ve been fed by others, as well my own imposter syndrome. It’s a sister song to “Adore, Adore, Adore” in a sense, dealing with some of the internal fallout of issues raised in that track.
It’s a song that takes aim at the idea that some of these traits and behaviours may almost be hereditary, and instead of letting that continue to hold me back, finally break free of the expected, embrace the anger and let it rip. The only way is forward. It’s one of our most fun songs to play live, with a double verse slowing things down a little before erupting into a frantic chorus and usually a pretty good mosh pit.
Letter To Self
The closing track, title track and most pointed track, “Letter To Self” is quite literally that. In an attempt to close a chapter of my life, to take past experiences, pain and traumas, process them on the page and leave them behind, hopefully, for good. It explores the idea of hereditary behaviours, patterns or experiences and attempts to reassure the listener, and myself, that no matter what you’re born into, or have experienced, there’s a way to emerge from this and be happy within yourself.
Sonically it’s dark, gritty, spacious and loud. It’s triumphant, while soft, it’s embracing and empowering. It’s the closing of the book and hopefully the beginning of a new one. The bones of the song were there before the name or outro had been written. When Sam started messing around with playing the notes really softly it sparked the idea for the spoken outro and a chance to capture the message we wanted to leave listeners (and ourselves) with after everything that had been dealt with on the album.
Having made their US live debut in Brooklyn back in November, Sprints will return to the US for a March tour, including an NYC show at Elsewhere Zone One on March 22. See all dates below.
SPRINTS: 2024 TOUR DATES
3/06 – Seattle, WA – Madame Lou’s
3/07 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
3/09 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom Of The Hill
3/11 – Los Angeles, CA – The Echo
3/19 – Chicago, IL – Shubas
3/22 – New York, NY – Elsewhere Zone One
3/23 – Washington, DC – DC9 Nightclub