Cub Sport On Letting Go Of Shame And Becoming The Band They’ve Always Wanted To Be

"It's my hope that by sharing my process of setting myself free from these residual traumas, that it can unlock a similar thing in the people listening to it"

Cub Sport Interview

“It feels like letting go of a whole lot of shame and fear and negativity.”

Tim Nelson, Cub Sport’s lead singer, is talking about ‘Party Pill’, the second single from the Brisbane four-piece’s self-titled third album. Despite the high-energy title, it’s a tender synth-ballad, positioning devotion as a steady yet all-consuming high.

Nelson’s sitting on the shady side of a street-side café table, next to his bandmate and husband, Sam ‘Bolan’ Netterfield. In-between sips of iced coffee, Bolan nods and listens attentively to each word, even though they’ve probably had this conversation a few times by now, both in private and public.

Their story is well-known to fans: while Nelson wrote BATS, the band’s 2017 sophomore album, the two overcame their separate issues with their sexualities and admitted their long-standing feelings for each other. BATS is coloured by that periods dual frustration and release — lead single ‘O Lord’ transforms Nelson’s internal struggle into an existential hymn, as if his voice is trying to push into a higher understanding.

Back in August, Nelson and Netterfield married. It’s Australian indie-pop’s ‘happily ever after’, especially given they weren’t legally able to wed when they were first engaged. So what’s happened post-revelation?

‘Sometimes’, the first single from Cub Sport, first gave us insight. We named it one of 2018’s best tracks, a song that balances the resignation and excitement in accepting that confidence and self-love isn’t a linear journey.

‘Party Pill’, which Nelson sung at their wedding registry, is a further peeling-back. It’s an admittance that Nelson and Bolan dated when they were 17, but couldn’t cope with what it meant — and hid it, from themselves and the world, even after coming out. “I feel like if we hadn’t had everything leading up to this point, preparing us for it, it would be more daunting,” says Bolan. “It just feels like now it was the right time to put it out into the world and let people hear it.”

Cub Sport is a post-story still underrepresented in LGBTIQ narratives, acknowledging that coming out is only the first of many revelations. Chatting to Music Junkee, Nelson and Netterfield talk about how Cub Sport came to form, the importance of embracing vulnerability, and how songwriting often unearths feelings before Nelson even knows they’re being felt.

‘Unwinding Myself’ is a really vulnerable intro, both emotionally and vocally. It was recorded in one take, right?

Tim: Yeah, I did it in three sections. I’d press record and start singing, then I listened to that back and then pressed record and kept singing, and then the same thing again.

When I went to [add in instrumentation], I realised that I was singing in-between keys, so I couldn’t actually put anything into it, unless I was going to detune a synth or something. But I took it as a sign that it was just meant to be as it is.

And since recording that song, I read a bunch more and learned more about the subconscious, and how when we surround ourselves with positive emotions, it literally relaxes our DNA and enables us to express ourselves more fully. I feel like that has been something that’s taken place throughout the creation of this album.

I wrote this song that I didn’t understand the full meaning of, and then over time… I find that with all of my songs, they reveal layers and I understand more about myself and the concepts that I’m singing about as I live and learn.

Cub Sport interview

Photo by Jennifer Medinaar

Did you listen back to older songs while recording this album and find that?

Tim: I feel like there are songs and moments throughout everything that we put out that have been hinting at what a fully formed version of Cub Sport would be like. There are songs from that first album, like ‘Come On Mess Me Up’, ‘Only Friend’ and ‘Runner’, that I still feel really connected to, because they were an unfiltered version of what I was feeling.

And then on BATS, there are a bunch more songs like that. [And with Cub Sport], every song is a properly pure version of a deeper experience that I’ve had during the writing process, without letting my mind or thoughts about how it will be interpreted, or what people will think or take away from it, without letting that whole side of it interfere. It feels like I’m finally comfortable enough with who I am, that I can just let it flow and be at ease with it.

 It feels like I’m finally comfortable enough with who I am, that I can just let it flow and be at ease with it.

Bolan: There were definitely plenty of times, especially when Tim was writing BATS, where I got an insight into where Tim was, before he realised it. And that is what gave me the confidence to tell him how I felt. [Smiles] I had a pretty good idea that it was reciprocated.

You’ve stayed independent across your releases, which must be a hard decision on one level.

Bolan: Yes and no. It gives us complete freedom, which is everything to us.

Tim: Yeah, [just] having the freedom to follow our hearts and listen to what our intuition is telling us — without having noise from people who are experienced in the industry and have an idea of how things are meant to play out. While [that] can be a really powerful thing, it can also get in the way of delivering the most pure form of your art.

I don’t think that it’s a path that you can necessarily plan out. It’s more for us about just always listening and doing what feels right, vibeing that out. And I think that the freedom to do that has been completely transformative [to] everything that we’re doing.

And you’ve built up quite a distinctive fan base with that as well. Looking at your Twitter or Instagram, you guys have full-blown stans! Do you think it’s in part because of that openness?

Tim: Yeah, for sure… It cuts out a lot of the gatekeepers. People don’t need to be told that they should like us because we’ve done this or that. It’s this direct connection: we care about you, you care about us. We all want the same thing.

A lot of our fans are people who can use the encouragement to see and know that there’s a lot of power in living your truth and being yourself, and our fans inspire us in the same way that we inspire them.

Wth that openness, do you ever need to shut off some certain things? Because there is a lot of you in Cub Sport, and your social media presence is pretty open-book. How do you tightrope that line of privacy and transparency at the same time?

Tim: It’s an interesting one, feeling so open and exposed. At times, it can be a bit overwhelming: it definitely was around the time when I wrote ‘Sometimes’, which was during the same-sex marriage debate, when it felt like everyone wanted to know what we had to say about the whole thing. We felt like it was a really important and amazing opportunity to encourage the queer community as well as educate some people who might not really-

Bolan: Have perspective.

Tim: Just to give perspective of an engaged couple who want to get married. And I think there was a lot of power in that.

I feel like I’ve become better at handling it… I’ve made some lifestyle changes to put myself in a position where I’m able to deal with that more. I don’t party any more. I stopped that about seven months ago, and I feel like my mental stability … I just feel emotionally stronger.

Bolan: Fortitude.

Tim: That in itself isn’t necessarily always easy, but again, I feel like it’s something that I have to do, to be able to give what we’re doing now my everything.

Cub Sport Interview

Photo by Jennifer Medinaar

As a left-turn, what’s your favourite song at the moment from the album?

Tim: My favourite song right now is ‘Party Pill’, I’m still riding the high of having that out there. I’m so proud of the video, and it seems like a lot of people are connecting with it already. So that’s my golden child right now.

Bolan: I find it hard to choose one. I love ‘Limousine’. I’m so excited for people to hear it.

It’s very different for Cub Sport. The first time I listened, I thought there was a mistake in the advance stream. And the lyrics about “fucking you being like on DMT”, I was like, ‘Ooooh!’

[Both laugh]

You co-produced ‘Limousine’ with Golden Vessel, right?

Tim: We worked together a bunch over the last year and five of the songs on the album were collaborations with him. Four of them are co-productions and co-write situations, but ‘Limousine’ is one that he had finished and it just needed vocals.

We did it in one day and then afterwards we were like, “This is really cool. What are we going to do with it?” It didn’t really feel like a Golden Vessel song or a Cub Sport song. We were like, “Oh, are we going to have to release it under a different name or something?”

[But] I listened to it on repeat on my drive home, and by the time I got home I was like, ‘no, this has to be a Cub Sport song. This is one of the best choruses I’ve ever written’. And it is a Cub Sport song now. I think that’s the beauty of being independent in so many ways, is that we’re not confined, really, by anything.

I really like ‘Lift Me Up’ as well, which is again quite different. I’m a sucker for those slow, pulsating, very sensual songs. How did you write it?

Tim: I wrote the main synth part on Juno at home on Boxing Day of 2017. And then when we were on tour in the States in April last year, we had a bunch of long drives and I just went through and opened every session on my hard drive and I found that one.

I just started building around it. And it was the first time that I’ve really taken a song from that really primary stage through to completion while I’ve been on the road… I was on vocal rest when I finished the instrumentation on that, and I think because I couldn’t sing, it pushed me to be more expressive with the instrumentation.

It’s representative of the last 18 months in my life, letting go of a lot of the darker, heavier things that I feel have been holding me back for years.

When I finally got my voice back, we were in Denver, and I recorded vocals for the whole song. When I listened to it back I was like, “I feel like that takes away from the instrumentation now”, so I cut everything except for the line “Lift me up.” And yeah, I really love it too.

It feels really repetitive, but it builds and has darker sections, and then at the end, it just feels so light to me like a bit of an ascension. It’s representative of the last 18 months in my life, letting go of a lot of the darker, heavier things that I feel have been holding me back for years.

You’ve said that that vocal rest week really changed the course of your life. What do you mean?

Tim: That week I was reading and writing a lot, and it was like a bunch of lessons that had been presenting themselves to me over a period of time. It all just started to fit together.

The day that I sing about in the start of ‘Light II’ [‘I think some angels broke my fall today’], I had a twisted ankle and I was fighting off the flu, and it was stressful having to play a show when my voice isn’t at a 100 percent. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

I was pushing through a door that I thought was going to lead to the green room. It was the next door, but it was really stiff and I barged through it… and on the other side of the door it was a few steps down onto concrete. And I just went flying straight onto the concrete. It was a big fall, but I didn’t hurt myself at all.

It was just a reminder that I need to be grateful for everything that I have in the moment, because things can always be so much worse than they are, and there are always good things that you can focus on as well.

Learning gratitude through a time that I was finding really challenging opened me up a lot. That’s one of the big things that changed my perception and the way I was living and shaping my reality with my thoughts.

I was interested in a lyric in ‘Come Out’ — “There’s a sadness inside of me”. That idea of residual trauma still isn’t really talked about, how after the coming out, there’s still a lot that you have to deal with. And you both probably went through that internally before BATS came out, then you’re then talking about it now still, two years later. How do you work through all of that continually?

Tim: For me, writing these songs and then discussing them at length and dissecting them and thinking about why was it those words that came out. It really is a bit like therapy.

Acknowledging it and being open about it sets me free from each thing. And it’s my hope that by sharing my process of setting myself free from these residual traumas, that it can unlock a similar thing in the people listening to it, that it can heal them in the same way that writing it has helped me.

Cub Sport’s self-titled third album is out Friday 18 January. Tickets for their national tour in March/April are on sale now.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Kula