“I cannot stand most modern indie music,” declares Sports & Leisure singer/guitarist/songwriter Richard Dubourg. “I don’t like how electronic it has become over the last few years. I really wanted to do something that was not that, which is why I recruited as big a band as I could and got people who played more than one instrument so we could experiment with different combinations of natural sounds.” With Sports & Leisure boasting six members that between them cover guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, violin, trumpet, clarinet, and ukulele, one can say Dubourg has achieved his goal.
Sports & Leisure, who will play Voodoo’s Flambeaux stage on Sunday, November 3, is a local modern indie-folk act with classical sensibilities and bursts of raucous punk energy. This, of course, has everything to do with the five men joining Dubourg in the band: guitarist/violinist/percussionist Jeremy Peres, keyboardist/clarinetist BJ Blue, guitarist/trumpeter Scott Hannan, bassist/ukulele player Whitney Brown, and drummer Russell Shelton. “We all previously played various genres of music and could therefore bring a large plate of ideas to the table,” says Blue. “So the songs Richard and I were trying to flesh out were pulling from all kinds of styles.”
While Dubourg’s affinity for indie-folk group Delta Spirit was the initial driving force behind the formation of Sports & Leisure, each member leaves his mark on the band’s sound, resulting in a tapestry that is part folk, part pop, part rock, and wholly unique. “Whitney has a solid hardcore background, while Scott and Jeremy both excel at indie/emo rock with heavy guitar work. Russell is a classic rock guy and Richard has a keen ear for pop melodies,” says Blue, a Music Composition graduate from Loyola, “I’m good at arranging all the sounds.”
Sports & Leisure is defined by the use of musical instruments unusual to a traditional rock band. Dubourg first had the idea to utilize such instruments during his days as local indie outfit MyNameIsJohnMichael’s keyboardist. “Prior to being in MyNameIsJohnMichael, the idea of having a trumpet in a rock band that didn’t play ska never occurred to me,” says Dubourg. “But working with them opened my eyes to different possibilities of using atypical rock instruments, so I really wanted to incorporate that into any future project I was going to do.”
While Dubourg knew he wanted a folky sound with different instrumentation, it was Blue who developed the band’s intricate, classical-influenced sound. “The classical aspect comes from trying to arrange the sounds in a way that sounds large, like stacking all the instruments of an orchestra to produce a huge wall of sound,” says Blue. And although the group’s folk and classical aspects were by design, the punk energy found in Sports & Leisure’s songs comes from the history of its members. “We all were in some sort of punk or power-pop band at some point in our lives,” says Dubourg, “so I’m sure that bleeds over a little bit.”
One may expect the focus on multi-instrumentalists to lead to a band of hired guns, but the members of Sports & Leisure have a long history of friendship and musical camaraderie. “Most of us played with and around each other since high school,” says Brown, “so this line up felt natural.” The focus on friendship led to the formation of the band when Dubourg wanted to start a new project. “The biggest reason I stopped playing in MyNameIsJohnMichael was because they were touring so much and I found out I was having a kid,” says Dubourg. “As I began to settle down after my son was born, I got with BJ, someone I collaborated with in the past, and we started writing songs.” The rest of the band fell into place with other friends and past-and-present bandmates, resulting in a band that is a family as much as a group of musicians.
Since the band began playing shows in early 2012, Sports & Leisure have quickly become a mainstay in the local indie-rock scene, culminating with the recent release of its debut EP, Fitness. According to Dubourg, while the album’s lyrics reflect the often-turbulent learning curve of newfound domestic closeness with his son and partner, Fitness’ production came from trying to find the common ground between discordant elements. “We recorded with Rick Nelson and Jason Rhein at Marigny Recording Studios, which has a lot of different rooms,” says Brown. “So some of us would be recording instruments in one room while Richard was recording vocals in another. With things being separated, it felt like a lot of disparate elements being pulled together in the end.
We all knew the songs and had played them together a bunch of times, but we all went off and trusted that everyone was doing their end of the deal and meet back up at the end,” Brown continues in describing the recording process, though he may as well be talking about the band itself. “the songs came out completely different than I had imagined them, but I was really happy with the end product.”