A bonafide supergroup of Sydney’s most dynamic DIY idols, Sports Bra mesh themes of platonic love and queer liberation into monolithic post‑punk anthems for emo kids seeking a slither of wholesomeness.
Words by Matt Doria. Photos by Cath Connell.
From the moment they stepped into the spotlight, Sports Bra positioned themselves as much more than just another pop‑leaning rock quartet churning out angsty songs for bored teens (though they’re effortlessly apt as such). Their manifesto is sharp and succinct: “No gods. No masters. Gender is fake. F*** cops.” It’s scrawled around the border of their 2017 self‑titled debut, and weaves itself into every facet of the band’s ethnology, from their live show – which acts as a call-to-arms for queer and trans punters to command the pit like their cishet peers often do – to opaquely necessary, soul-thumping gems like “Try Harder” and “Survival”.
Borne from the ashes of a festival lineup’s worth of slain Sydney emo staples (Hannahband, Skin Prison, Dog Dirt, Mortgage… The list could fill this whole damn page), the band never intended to find their way onto sold-out theatre stages and in the hearts of thousands. It’s a passion project that quickly outgrew its practice space, but not its embryonic mentality of friendship over fame. Such a project has been a long time coming for each of its members, and at its core is an ethos of compassion and collaboration – especially prevalent on their recent second LP, Talk It Out.
“[This album is] a collection of moments and concepts that revolve around the importance of community and interpersonal connection,” says guitarist and vocalist Zoe Lane. “I feel like a lot of it has to do with love in general as well, either for yourself or from other people, and in a platonic or romantic way. That feeling of togetherness is really important for me; before this band, I’d made a bunch of music by myself, and I’d been in other bands when I was younger, but it just always felt bad. And with Sports Bra, it just feels so good to be making things with other people again.
“So it’s about collaboration, and vulnerability, and expression, and fear, and the safety you feel when you’re surrounded by people that love and care about you. I guess the title itself encapsulates some of that: it’s important to have people you can talk it out with. Like, the four of us have gone through some pretty tumultuous times over the past couple of years that we’ve been a band, and we’ve all remarked that [Sports Bra has] been a huge part of what’s keeping us going.”
With the family vibe that Sports Bra revel in comes a creative dynamic that is truly bulletproof. The band often switch roles on a whim – there’s no one definitive frontperson, and though their mixes are often defined by tempestuous walls of sound, all four of their individual talents are given cordial spotlight on the disc. At the fundamental level, the camaraderie that borders Sports Bra came from a history of trial-and-error with bands that choked under the harsh clutch of intemperate egotism, and a conscious endeavor to dismantle any semblance of hierarchy.
“It’s a really f***ing easy band to be in,” Lane says. “It’s by far the easiest collaboration I’ve ever been in. Usually, someone will bring an idea the group – which could either be a fully structured song, or just the start of a riff or a bassline or whatever – and usually the person who brings that first idea will be the person who ends up singing on that song. And then we just sort of write around that.
“I think we’re gotten really good at responding to each other’s playing, and writing parts that all sit with each other; at no point in the writing process does anybody tell anyone else what to play. And I think that’s really important, because we’re all done things were someone has been in control, or an ego has gotten in the way of the dynamic. But that’s all out of the window in Sports Bra, because we’re all people who deeply care about and love each other, and respect on a musical level. It just feels really special. Like, every time we finish writing a song, we’re like, ‘Holy shit, this is so cool!’”
Since releasing their debut album, Sports Bra have soared to the top of watchlists en masse. They’ve played to sold-out theatre crowds ahead international scene icons like Camp Cope and La Dispute, and in the process, cultivated an unequivocally passionate community. By proxy, the cuts on Talk It Out were brought to life in spaces that bellied much a greater scope than their earlier work. So while their self-titled LP worked as a DIY feat that came together on the fly, the new record presented barriers that could only be knocked down in a professional setting.
“We made the first record in an afternoon,” Lane explains. “Just in the practice space that we were in at the time. And we did it all ourselves apart from the mastering, which was done by Jonathan Boulet who did [Talk It Out] as well. It was entirely DIY, and that’s reflective in the sound quality and the songs – which I think is beautiful, I’m still really proud of that first record and I really like records that sound DIY – but for this one, the songs were just bigger and needed more work space to breathe. We’d been playing a bunch of shows, too, so for the first time, we could spend some money on it; y’know, we still had to do it on the cheap, but we had a lot more options.”
As Lane rhapsodises, “It was the first kind of ‘proper’ studio experience that a lot of us had, so it was cool being like, ‘Ooh, we get to play through a fancy amp,’ or, ‘Hell yeah, we have enough time to do multiple takes!’ That was really special for us.” But as expected, the band felt a touch of culture shock in going from the lawless amenity of recording independently to stepping into a polarising world of abundant equipment and. Lane was anxious about the excursion at first, but quickly found her balance when she freed herself of the preconceived notions she had about ‘the studio experience’.
“The biggest challenge was having to unlearn all the bad habits we’d picked up from making records in the past,” she admits; “Learning that we don’t have to do everything ourselves, and that it’s okay to take a step back if we needed to. It was also just a bit weird being around all the expensive gear and stuff like that, and having space to experiment and really figure out what worked for us. It was a small step, but it felt like a really big progression from everything we’d all done in the past, which was nice.”
As for the sounds pasted all over Talk It Out – consistently massive, and riddled with unique tonal characters that dip and dive between parts – Sports Bra took advantage of a deliriously drool-worthy toolbox. Lane’s go-to axe was a late ‘90s Fender Jag-Stang – “the old Kurt Cobain signature one, which is sick” – that bandmate Naif Jamie battled with the punk-perfect combo of a blacktop Jazzmaster and DuoSonic. Add to it the slick Mustang basslines that Allison Gallagher was pumping out, and the band became an unf***withable force of Fender-driven fury.
“It was a lot of Fenders with single coils and short scales – that’s that shit that I like,” Lane chuckles. “The Jag-Stang is pretty grungy, but it gives you more space for everything else when it’s not just that big, overbearing Gibson-y sound… F*** Gibson. You can’t print that in your magazine, but f*** Gibson!”
The rest of their setup – Lane’s in particular – is definitive proof of why pedal forums are a bonafide catalyst for life-crushing debt. Her arsenal of pedals includes – but certainly isn’t limited to – a TC Electronic 3rd Dimension for chorus; a Pro Co RAT and Smallsound/Bigsound Mini for distortion; a Strymon El Capistan for tape delay and tap tempo; a Dr. Scientist RRR Mini for reverb, “which I got exclusively because of Flynn Mckinnirey from Mere Women, who has the best guitar sound in the world;” a Smallsound/Bigsound Team Awesome! Fuzz Machine, “to put in after reverb and delay in the signal chain to cop a big shoegaze sound;” a Rainbow Machine and DigiTech Freakout for feedback, “depending on if I have to bring my amp, because that affects whether I can bring all my pedals or just some of them;” and a Zoom MSG–50 “because it’s a really solid multi-effects pedal, but I can also use it as a tuner, for a bunch of short delays, or as a reverse reverb.”
Lane’s bandmates have relatively simple kits by comparison, Gallagher rocking BOSS Tuner, Bass Chorus and Bass Overdrive pedals, and Jamie with a BOSS Tuner and Delay, plus a Crowther Hotcake. “Naif is the only person I’ve heard make a hotcake sound so f***ing good,” Lane quips.