Karla Chubb of Sprints: ‘I was never hyper-feminine, never super-masculine or butch, but always somewhere in the middle’

Dublin band’s lead singer on identity issues and why punk resonates to this day

“Thank goodness for that, otherwise I’d be out of a job.”

Karla Chubb, the lead singer/co-songwriter of Dublin band Sprints is responding to the fact that, despite some groaning and aching from various quarters of the pop culture multiverse, guitar bands and guitar-based music are not going away anytime soon.

It is, she agrees, a cyclical beast, but being at the coal face, she senses that “alternative music, punk, in particular, is definitely on the rise. You see artists like slowthai and PinkPantheress, who are very mainstream, sampling it [punk], referencing it and using it as an influence. Grime and punk share in their respective birth a lot of idealistic issues and struggles, and because we’re living through turbulent times economically, politically and socially, that’s always going to lead to a rise in more empowered music.”

Punk rock hasn’t lost its veracity or value, notes Chubb. The songs are “as vibrant to me as they are, I presume, to those who were around when it first emerged”. She mentions Patti Smith, Siouxsie and the Banshees and PJ Harvey as forces still to be reckoned with, while also noting that frontwomen such as Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice) and Amy Taylor (Amyl and the Sniffers) are flying the flag for a younger audience.


There are very few female artists that have been allowed to break through, Chubb adds, so, in that sense, Patti, Siouxsie and PJ remain central and influential figures. “The people who troll Sprints on YouTube and Instagram leave comments about our videos along the lines of ‘what is this shit, it’s just ‘90s music again, so why regurgitate it, do something fresh’, and the like, but what we try to do is to take those struggles that are still prevalent today and give it a bit of a refresh, a more authentic touch with a ‘90s-inspired sound.”

Sprints have been in the refreshing business for more than four years, although all four members have been involved in music for longer. Initially influenced by bands such as UK’s Savages and Irish band Bitch Falcon (RIP), the band’s sonic baseline is fast and loud (Gilla Band’s Daniel Fox locates the sweet spot between out-and-out shredding and textured sheer art attack) while the songs are largely based on Chubb’s personal experiences. Assertive music, unambiguous words, live shows that pivot on drama and thrills, a lead singer that gets into the zone song after song with a vocals style that blends rhythm with intonation – what gives?

“Cathartic is the best word. With punk music, you can get pigeonholed as being just aggressive; the nature of it is that because it’s loud and fast it’s perceived as angry, but anger isn’t always bad, it’s also a way of healing. As for personal experience, yes, the music we have already put out and what we will be releasing over the next while is definitely chaptering a part of my life where I have struggled a lot with identity, sexuality and just not knowing what the right place for me in the world is – if there was a place at all, to be quite dark and honest.

“I think processing that is difficult, whether you’re in your 20s, 30s or whatever age you are. The boys give me the open floor with the lyrics and the music reflects that. The anxiety-inducing bass, the snarling guitar, the music build-up – they are supposed to represent the internal struggle and the spiral that many of us suffer from.”

The subject matter for Chubb’s lyrics includes misogyny and sexual harassment (The Cheek), fragmenting relationships (Pathetic) and emigration (How Does the Story Go?). She says figuring out “what I wanted to say and how to say it became a barrier, so what I’ve tried to do is just not to think about it too much. I pick up the guitar and play around with it, and the music evokes an emotion; whatever is in my head is the topic and I’ll just splurge it out. I have found that if I’m not too worried about coming off poetic or well-written then it’s more honest. I have a lot of emotions – I’m Cancer, so I’m very sensitive – so I process a lot but the subject matter comes down to honesty… me figuring out what I should do with my life.”

That shouldn’t be an issue this year or next. Sprints’ recent signing to highly regarded Berlin-based indie label City Slang has presented to the band members (all of whom are in full-time jobs – “we’re very fortunate that the people we work with are kind enough to allow us to balance work with the band for so long”) a projected level of stability.

“What you have to do as a musician – and this is the worst for me as someone with ADHD, who is a complete overthinker and constantly overactive – is that you just have to take it day by day. As much as that means there are big, scary things possibly coming down the timeline – pensions, marriage, houses – you just have to live on a day-by-day basis, take everything as it comes.”

Slings and arrows, indeed. One such dart was thrown in January of this year by TD Ciarán Cannon, Fine Gael spokesman on arts, culture and media. A now-deleted tweet that included the comment “I’ve heard better music from slightly embarrassed TY students” (an opinion based on a performance by the band on The Tommy Tiernan Show), was followed by another tweet (“Wishing @sprintsmusic every success in their career. My sincere apologies to them for my unkind comment, now removed. I’m never going to enjoy their music, something that won’t cause them any concern whatsoever. It was unfair of me to undermine young people doing their thing. C”). While some irritable parts of Twitter had a mini-meltdown, Sprints, wisely, kept quiet.

“Art is inherently subjective, and everyone is entitled to their opinion,” reasons Chubb. “You are fully allowed to not like something, and if you want to share that opinion online publicly, then have at it. However, I think if you enter positions of power, whether they be in politics, media or popular culture, then you are, rightfully, held to a higher standard. That standard is not having to like things you don’t like but if you represent the arts, media and culture then you should represent all arts, media and culture.”

The point of the arts is that it’s for everyone, she resumes, “yet it’s consistently devalued, and it isn’t known it’s needed until it’s needed the most. At that stage, where will we be if we don’t have the support of people who are supposed to be lifting us up? Listen, the guy is entitled to his tastes, but it’s water off a duck’s back. We are going to move on and do the best we can to progress the arts.”


“In life, there are all these boxes that people like to put you in and with those come assumptions of who you are, how you are, and what you act like. What being a woman means to me is something I have struggled with a lot in my life. I was never hyper-feminine, never super-masculine or butch, but always somewhere in the middle. I was always sensitive but also quite stone-cold upfront. I struggled a lot with my sexuality, I just didn’t know who I wanted to be or how I wanted to act.

“Being a woman you’re told so many things – you can only be this certain way or play that kind of music. I found myself leaning into some of those stereotypes. But I am gay, and I do like angry punk music, yet that’s not all I am so you find yourself battling against things you enjoy. Also, I think coming from a middle-class family – by no means well-off but I was afforded certain privileges – has led assumptions to being made about me.

“Now? I don’t really care – I wear all my labels like badges of honour and fully embrace my benefits and my flaws. Everything I am has always been in the middle of two very clear binaries. I’m not butch but I’m not feminine; I’m neither upper-class nor working-class. Straddling the middle of all of these has made me understand gender fluidity and sexual fluidity – and all of that – much better because I am living in the constant middle fluid space.”

Sprints perform in the St Patrick’s Festival Quarter at the Museum of Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks, Dublin, on Saturday, March 18th (as part of an evening curated by Pillow Queens). stpatricksfestival.ie