With the release of their debut EP, Spoort have put themselves into the conversation of most exciting new acts of 2020. We spoke to them about their journey from schoolboys in a quiet market town to being signed by one of London’s most renowned labels.
Spoort are a quartet hailing from the Leicestershire town of Hinckley who have just put out their self-titled EP. While it’s officially their debut release, they’re far from a new band, as they’ve been playing music together since they were pre-teen classmates.
This long-time union is evident in the mature and dynamic tracks found on Spoort, not to mention their fearless disregard for sticking within pre-supposed genre definitions – a show of unorthodoxy that can only come through years of trusting collaboration. In recent years, two of the band’s members, co-vocalist and keys player Andrew ‘Kingy’ King and drummer Ross McLeish, have relocated to London, while lead man Paul Cupi and bassist, engineer, and “all round practical handy person” Declan Rollings have remained in Hinckley. Despite the separation, they still make an effort to meet up every weekend to continue writing and practicing, the relatively short train journey proving no obstacle to the promise of further working together and pushing Spoort’s sound into unique areas.
Speaking to me from their London flats, Kingy and Ross take me through their journey from school friends to last week’s release of Spoort via Marathon Artists (Courtney Barnett, Alaskalaska, Max Jury). Originally started at age 11, before Ross joined, they were a band called Air Raid. “The drummer at the time thought it suited the Black Sabbath covers we did,” Kingy admits, somewhat embarrassed by the name. “We did some pretty questionable covers to be honest.” In their mid-teens Ross stepped in as the new percussionist, they changed their name to Feedback Voice (even more embarrassment at the reveal of this name), and became “basically a Strokes cover band.”
Hinckley didn’t provide much to inspire them beyond that. Ross describes the local ‘scene’ as “a lot of covers and a lot of pub landlords telling our [under age] mates from school ‘you need to buy drinks if you come in to watch the band.’” If they were feeling adventurous they might get a gig in the nearby cities of Leicester or Birmingham.
Nevertheless, they found inspiration in each other and the never-ending wormhole provided by the internet, and in their later teens they started writing their own material. While they naturally came out of their Strokes covers into an indie-centric style, they didn’t put any borders on where they could take their sound. They had a period where they were making Midwest emo songs; “That was quite a heavy phase,” Kingy recalls. “We wouldn’t have liked to refer to it as a ‘phase’ at the time, but I think in hindsight it probably was.” They also spent some time delving into math-rock, Ross recalling a gig at a carvery, “playing 7/4 while people were eating their roasts” – “I think it went down alright,” Kingy interjects. “Maybe I’m delusional.”
That multi-disciplinary appreciation has continued throughout their years together. It became even more pointed for Kingy and Ross when they relocated to London after finishing university and started immersing themselves in the South London jazz scene. “We were going to Steam Down in Deptford every week,” Kingy says. “We’d been living places where they don’t really have free entertainment and suddenly there were all these free or inexpensive shows to go to – and everyone was like a complete virtuoso.”
“Yussef Dayes and that collective used to play every week for two or three quid, so we took real advantage of that, and I think that’s actually the first time I’d been inspired,” Ross recalls. “That actually changed my perspective and how I wanted to play. I’d never really seen that kind of drumming live before; they were playing standards but improvising like crazy, a lot of hip-hop and trap-inspired drums were going into those arrangements.” It also provoked Kingy to switch from his trusty guitar and start playing keys on Spoort’s songs, a crucial step towards the band’s sound heard on the EP.
This band name, by the way, was chosen almost completely at random: “We were just umming and ahhing on names for this project to kind of start fresh,” Ross explains. “Anything that came to my head I would just chuck it in the group chat. I just typed in ‘sport’ but did it too quickly with two Os, but then I chucked it in Photoshop with a few fonts and it looked pretty good. I googled it and the only thing coming up was a Dutch translation that means ‘tracks’.” Kingy adds: “We didn’t agree on anything up to that point, but we were all like ‘yeah, I like that’.”
With a band name that they didn’t find mortifying, a greater musical appreciation and dexterity, and a back-log of more than 40 songs written, Spoort now had a true purpose. They hired a manager, and before long he had found interest at Marathon Artists by playing Soundcloud demos through his phone. This was enough to convince the label to pay for them to spend a week recording an EP at Bermondsey’s Press Play Studio, owned by Stereolab drummer Andy Ramsay (“I really like Stereolab and I really wanted to talk to him about it, but I was like ‘I don’t know how to start this conversation’,” Kingy sighs).
Here they recorded the six-track release Spoort, which they describe to me as “a time capsule of the last five or six years,” since it incorporates songs written back in their school days right up to their most recent material . “Because we knew it was an EP there was less pressure for the songs to be conceptually linked,” Kingy explains. “It was just about which six songs reflect us best at this time.” They approve of my suggestion that it’s a ‘tasting menu’ of what they can do.
This also means that Spoort is an unrestrained display of their genre fluidity – although you won’t find Midwest emo or math rock on it. Instead it’s nominally indie, but with inflections of UK garage, space jazz and hip-hop, to name a few of their myriad touchstones. Mostly, though, it displays a young band with bundles of potential.
Conspicuously absent from our conversation is Paul, the band’s main songwriter and lyricist, whom they describe as a “quiet genius type,” which perhaps explains why he was reticent to be interviewed. “He’s quite secretive about his lyrics and he likes to keep it ambiguous,” Kingy explains. “I’m always asking him ‘what this about?’ but he doesn’t like to over-explain things.” Nevertheless, the duo employ a thrilling dynamic as Spoort’s co-vocalists and lyricists, with Kingy interjecting moments of sweet human release amid Paul’s grittier, downcast reflections.
Perhaps there’s no better example of this than on “Self” the EP’s opening track; “My parts are about self-expression and self-love and your importance,” Kingy explains. “It’s basically from the perspective of being on Earth, and then Paul’s part is from the perspective of being in the universe, where the sun’s gonna burn out.”
Celestial imagery crops up several times across Spoort, particularly the figures of Jupiter and the Pleiades. “I think of it kind of like how David Byrne uses buildings and houses all the time,” Kingy comments. “Paul likes to use the inevitable heat death of the universe as inspiration, he once said to me he doesn’t understand the point of writing music about anything else.”
This doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom though, in fact Paul uses this ticking clock as an opportunity to celebrate life’s ephemerality. On “Drake” he urges us to “live life like it’s the first time / an ape has tasted red wine,” while on “FLYY” he channels the boastfulness of grime, singing: “It’s the same four brains in your head again, it ain’t a game / I’m opening the port you know you’re listening to Spoort.” In discussing these images, the three of us found we each had a different interpretation of that last line; I thought it meant he was popping open a bottle of port, Kingy pictured the opening of a sea port, and Ross understood it as a computer port or a portal – and in the universe of Spoort, all of these things is equally valid.
This urgency to seize the day gives Spoort an edge, almost as if they’ve just have to get these songs out before the universe does indeed implode. It adds a buoyant undertone to the loping “FLYY”, where Paul sardonically repeats “I feel good, I should, it’s another day”; it gives extra emphasis to the full-throttle intergalactic bounce of “Drake”; and by the time they’re wrapping up closing track “Distant Worlds” it actually sounds like they’re blasting off our rotting “pale blue dot”, perhaps in search of a new, untarnished planet.
These last two tracks, “Drake” and “Distant Worlds”, both feature guest rappers, who slip into Spoort’s orbit with aplomb, and further demonstrate the band’s chameleonic abilities. The wildly differing ways that these two features came to fruition also provides some insight into the kind of modern band Spoort are.
“Drake” features a verse from Ashbeck; “I was scouring the depths of Soundcloud and found a few of his tracks,” Kingy recalls. “I emailed him and he came back to me after a while with a question I didn’t understand, something like ‘Do you want straight bars or clout?’” It seems they went for the ‘straight bars’ option, since Ashbeck delivers an effusive torrent of words that adds to the song’s all-or-nothing momentum.
For “Distant Worlds” they have a guest verse from Jars Pierre, which Ross hooked up: “I work in Selfridges and he used to work there. In my first week I was like ‘I’m a musician’ and he’s like ‘I’m in a rap collective.’” This unlikely meeting in one of London’s most renowned high-end retailers led to a recording session in Kingy and Ross’ flat in Clapham, where they captured the verse that now illuminates the finale of “Distant Worlds”.
The six tracks of Spoort cover impressive amounts of ground for a debut, but it makes sense given how far they’ve come together as a unit. It’s unlikely you’ll find another release this year that ties together slowed-down garage drum loops, clips of William S. Burroughs, themes of freedom-through-nihilism, and literally too many other diverse elements to list, all wrapped up in such a uniquely-produced package.
But, what’s even more exciting is what Spoort might do next, as the main thing their EP proves is the limitlessness of their music’s scope and possibility.