Music

We Need Cub Sport’s Queer Love Songs Now More Than Ever

Three cheers for these guys.

When Cub Sport decided to push for a September release for their second album BATS — just over a year since their debut, This Is Our Vice, came out — they didn’t know it’d arrive a few weeks into a vitriolic public debate, a dredging up of discrimination many of us, perhaps naively, had considered long past.

“We wanted to build upon momentum [of This Is Our Vice], but there was something more pressing in it,” says lead singer and Cub Sport’s songwriter Tim Nelson. “I think the way this situation has panned out, it’s made more sense.”

That situation, of course, is Australia’s postal vote on marriage equality. It’s a debate that the Brisbane band refuse to remain quiet on, given a Yes result will mean that next year Tim can legally marry his fiancé, fellow bandmate Sam ‘Bolan’ Netterfield.

That’s not to suggest Cub Sport is demanding equality with anthems or rally cries. Instead, the quartet argue the Yes case by singing about queer love; to listen to BATS is to witness what love offers and can do.

After all, BATS was born of a very particular circumstance. Friends of 15 years, bandmates of eight, last year Tim and Bolan overcame their separate issues with their sexualities, started dating, and publicly came out before getting engaged this June.

Since then, the couple have talked extensively and openly about it in interviews. They even filmed a video for triple j featuring their two dogs, Missy and Evie. They’re here, three out of four members are queer, and, more importantly, they want you to listen to their music.

But before the publicity cycle, they wanted to start off with a statement. When existential hymnal ‘O Lord’ was released as BATS’s first single earlier this year, it was a very conscious choice — as was its music video, a tender and boldly queer portrait of Tim being held by Bolan.

With the background of Tim’s Christian school upraising, it’s a maelstrom of doubt and devotion, shame and self-acceptance. ‘O Lord’ centres vulnerability. On a vocal level, it’s a push forward: on a personal level, it felt freeing.

“Sam and I got engaged in between the two days of shooting,” Tim wrote in an article for The Best Of Line Fit, “and as funny as it may sound, it felt amazing to wear makeup, be shirtless and lathered in oil with my fiancé’s arms around me and not feel like any less of a man for it.”

“It felt amazing to wear makeup, be shirtless and lathered in oil with my fiancé’s arms around me and not feel like any less of a man for it”

They’ve returned to the feeling for their ‘Chasin’ music video. Written as Tim came to terms with his love for Bolan, the songs asks the questions you inevitably spiral towards in existential moments: “What do you want out of life? What do you want out of love? Does anybody want this?”

Shot across Brisbane at Tim and Bolan’s childhood homes, among other significant locales for the couple, the video is aggressively beautiful. Embracing soft linen shirts, makeup and sentimentality — all things men are traditionally taught to reject — the video speaks of a confidence not there when the song was written.

“We wanted to take it a step further and really embrace all things soft and gentle and beautiful and show how there’s power in vulnerability,” says Bolan.

The Year Of Realising Things

It’s hard to detach Tim and Bolan’s whirlwind of personal acceptance from the band’s own growing momentum. Where Cub Sport’s debut took near seven years to release, BATS took one, and album three is already taking shape.

“It almost feels like at the start of writing BATS, I had my head underwater,” Tim tells Music Junkee.

“Stripping it down to my barest of emotions and being my most vulnerable has made me feel stronger. And I think it did take writing this album to process it, and understand it. Now on the other side, where we’re engaged, so much is clear.”

Tim points towards earlier This Is Our Vice songs like ‘Come On Mess Me Up’ as painfully obvious in retrospect, a pre-awakening of emotions still undefined. Lyrics like “I fell in love with avoiding problems” are pretty pointed, but at the time, it was the song’s success — reaching #24 on last year’s Hottest 100 — that pressed against the bubbly indie-pop mould they felt pressured into.

“I feel like for so long, it was a case of trying to find out which parts of ourselves to cover up to feel palatable or digestible,” says Tim. “And I think that that came down to a lot of denial.”

“‘Come On Mess Me Up’ felt like a big step outside of Cub Scouts [the band’s name from 2010-2013] territory and it definitely felt like we were stepping outside of our identity as a band. But in reality that was our first step into our true identity. And it can be nerve-racking putting yourself out there on that level — and I suppose it comes back to that idea of being vulnerable again–”

“And sincere,” adds Bolan.

But sincerity is scary. Listening to BATS, it’s possible to trace a geography of their relationship, especially as Tim has outlined “the Bolan songs” on Cub Sport’s Tumblr. Even the album’s cover and titular song call back to the sunset view from their old apartment of Brisbane’s Windsor bridge. Isn’t that a little jarring, to create such an intimate record and then invite a world in?

“[BATS] felt like was ours, like it was in this tiny little world for so long,” says Bolan. “But it feels cool for everyone else to have it. It feels like that’s where it’s going to shine brightest.”

“We get so many people telling us the album has helped them understand and appreciate themselves just the way we are, and I think being able to do that during this time… it feels like it’s the right time out,” says Tim.

Both know how guiding someone else’s music can be. ‘Solo III’, an organ synth-filled highlight from BATS, is a sequel-of-sorts to ‘Solo’ and ‘Solo (Reprise)’ off Frank Ocean’s album Blonde. But where Frank sings of self-love, Cub Sport build upon that to create harmonies of support. Tim and Bolan even show me their matching Solo tattoos, the word handwritten on their arms.

“That song, that whole album is our absolute favourite,” says Tim. “We still listen to Frank every day, no matter what.

“That album came out pretty soon after [we got together] and for the first few times, every time we got to ‘Solo’ I would cry. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I get to have what we’ve got.’ It immediately became our song, but the lyrics didn’t match up with our situation at all, and so I wanted to take from that and make it out own. And I think the melody’s just different enough that we could get away with using it.”

We talk about how Blonde came out at just the perfect time for them, how everything seems to have matched up. And while neither Tim or Bolan are arrogant enough to make a parallel to BATS and any listeners, they acknowledge how helpful representation can be — especially considering their many teenage fans.

“I wouldn’t change anything about the way my life’s panned out,” says Tim. “But I feel like it could have been easier if I was encouraged to embrace who I really was from a young age, rather than feeling like I needed to cover or do things that didn’t feel natural.

“If we can make that path easier for people, then it’s sweet.”

Tickets for Cub Sport’s 2018 national tour are on sale now.

Jared Richards is a freelance writer and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. He tweets at @jrdjms