The blossoming of Cub Sport, as told through their discography

The blossoming of Cub Sport, as told through their discography

As we celebrate the release of Cub Sport’s new album LIKE NIRVANA, we trace their evolution through tracks plucked from their career.

Header image by James Caswell.

It’s impossible to find a band that have grown so much in such a short amount of time as Cub Sport. Over the last eight years, the Brisbane-based outfit - Tim Nelson, Zoe Davis, Sam Netterfield and Dan Puusaari - have blossomed from a band on the cusp of Australia’s indie-pop explosion to otherworldly cult favourites; their sound and image changing as the group grow from a bunch of teenagers making pop music to something much more than that.

Back then, Cub Sport - then Cub Scouts, and before that Tim Nelson & The Cub Scouts - felt in many ways like a band with their future painted out in front of them. They were looming favourites amongst Australia’s alt-pop world - there’s a distinct, strange memory of ‘alt’ Tumblr accounts having Evie automatically play when you clicked on their profile - that’d soon become triple j favourites too, with a trajectory bound for them that at that point, was tried and tested: triple j success, a small festival run, a solid album, a Splendour In The Grass appearance, and then the constant album-tour-album-tour rush that would come to define similar-rising acts like Flight Facilities and Tame Impala, albeit on slightly different levels to one another.

Cub Sport, seemingly, had other ideas. Over the last few years particularly, the group have seemingly emerged as one of Australia’s most constant, consistent and celebrated groups. The passion for creation and ever-growing inspiration through the band’s personal lives mean that their musical output has remained more constant than many other bands on their level (it felt like their Cub Sport record only just came out, and they also dropped a live record on streaming services in the time since). On another level, they don’t tend to disappear from the limelight in the short time between records either, constantly gassing up peers and elevating fans, inspiring them to grow and become their authentic selves.

Through their discography, you can feel how Cub Sport have grown, both as musicians and personally speaking too. Their earliest work felt like quirky indie-pop much alike fellow Brisbane break-outs The Jungle Giants, and the group - rather fresh-faced, back then - seemingly blended into the crowd. BATS saw the group started to shift. First came love (and second came marriage, you know the rest), with the band’s Tim Nelson becoming engaged to keyboardist Sam Netterfield. BATS, at its core, depicted the processes of acceptance and assurance that lead to it all happening, and thus began Cub Sport’s transition into a unique, defiant addition to Australian music that thrives on authenticity and queerness (of three of its members, also including Zoe Davis, and in its fans too)

Since then, these core values in the Cub Sport story have stuck, and become deeper explored. 2019’s self-titled Cub Sport goes deeper into the complexities of romance and the rich, potent passion that can arise from queer love at its most true and beautiful. Party Pill, an exploration of their love - and authentic, queer love for the first time - through a lens that many queer people couldn’t find as truthful anywhere else, summarises it best: “When I was 17 I fell in love / We had anniversaries each month / He was my first kiss / The real kind of kiss where I kissed back.”

However, if Cub Sport was an album of finding freedom, then LIKE NIRVANA - the group’s new album, out July 24th - is about finding so much more than freedom. On a surface level, the record moves with a grittier, darker pace than its predecessors, drawing comparisons to the glitchy havens built by Frank Ocean and Lorde in the past. It’s notably more passionate, and while albums like Cub Sport emphasised the highs of the band in their then-prime, LIKE NIRVANA is more well-rounded; the highs and mirrored by lows, acknowledging how moments of darkness can shape and inspire creativity, even when it seems near-impossible.

The end result, is an album that encapsulates Tim Nelson in a way that you wouldn’t find in many other places. It’s a moment of fleeting freedom, capturing Nelson navigate the depths of his pain and come out of the other side of it a stronger, multi-faceted person. At one point, the lines between religious spirituality and personal spirituality blur, a nod to Nelson’s past - he’s spoken, often subtly, about his experiences growing up religious, especially as a queer person - and the freedom that comes with following your heart, and being whatever feels truthful to yourself: “Free to follow my heart, free to flow with the energies inside and around me, free to form my own self not built by others.”

A lot of Cub Sport’s history is distilled in the depths of LIKE NIRVANA, and to celebrate the album’s release, we’re dissecting the history - and glow-up - of one of Australia’s best bands, through their own music.

Evie, Told You So EP (2012).

For many people, Evie is where the Cub Sport story began. It’s a shimmering three-minutes that really introduces the core of the band at their earliest peak, capturing the sense of excitement that’s been prevalent around their success over the eight years since, but has only grown and grown. It’s an introduction to Cub Sport, positioning the group as frontrunners of Australia’s indie-pop future, all while allowing us to be first acquainted with the inspiration that fuels Tim Nelson at the front, and how his long list of influences often goes beyond the boundaries of just music, or even art.

Named after Tim’s dog / pure angel Evie, the single really captures Cub Sport at the beginning of their blossoming trajectory. Back then, Cub Sport’s future off the back of songs like this could’ve really gone anywhere; it was difficult to place how exactly the band would grow and mature in the future. However, listening back to Evie some eight years later, the DNA of today-era Cub Sport is still present. You can hear it in the excitement and the way Tim carries himself amongst the smatterings of guitar work, especially when compared to how he carries himself - albeit with a little more confidence and assurance behind him in his newer work.

Also, any song named after their dog Evie will always have a place in our heart (looking forward to hearing a song for Missy in the future, maybe Missy Elliott can feature on it?).

Pool!, Paradise EP (2013).

While Cub Sport’s Told You So EP often gets a mention due to it being their first major release, their Paradise EP is just as exciting, and crucially, it really shows the band starting to come out of their shell for the first time. However, while many would turn to the EP’s opening title track as its central core, we think Cub Sport’s evolution is most clearly represented - surprisingly - on Pool!, a track that really shifts the then-conventions of Cub Sport and looks forward into the future.

Pool! is a bright-eyed, wind-swept slice of indie that isn’t too dissimilar to what the group had put out before, but while contemporaries that were often placed alongside moved into different brands of sounds that were often a little more pop-centric, Pool! was a complete switch-up against the grain. Why is it worth pointing out, I hear you ask? Because it’s an early example of Cub Sport always striving to do something that sets them apart from the rest, something that obviously comes naturally to the group (and authentically, for that matter), and has seemingly been at the forefront of what they’ve done since the very beginning. 

Come On Mess Me Up, This Is Our Vice (2016).

You legally aren’t allowed to recap Cub Sport’s wide-ranging career without talking about Come On Mess Me Up. While there are other tracks - even on This Is Our Vice - that showcase Cub Sport’s gradual shift in more clear-cut ways, Come On Mess Me Up is the reason why many would get into Cub Sport in the first place, and without the angels that would help support and elevate Cub Sport and every turn, it’s hard to see them turn out the way they have, at least on such a public and inspirational level.

It’s interesting because in a lot of ways, Come One Mess Me Up feels like the beginning of Tim Nelson and Sam Netterfield’s eventual coming together - “We were walking on Sparks Street, growing up real fast,” the single opens, which would later be referenced in future work - and as Nelson sings about “wanting to do music even though it can mess you up along the way,” you get the inkling that lyrics such as “Cause I want this, you know I want this,” can be interpreted in a bit of a different way.

O Lord, BATS (2017). 

I never really considered myself a major Cub Sport fan until the release of O Lord, a song so stunning that it could bring you to tears with its opening cries, and would leave you a sobbing mess by its final chords. Written in the wake of Nelson’s coming out experience, it’s a transcendent moment that’d feel so incredibly relatable to queers finding themselves in the same position; a moment of reflection, empowerment and strength, all while feeling incomplete, and that freedom can come with the risk of losing it too.

It’s an incredibly powerful moment that in many ways, captures Cub Sport’s shift in every way. It’s a change in sound, built around beautiful gospel and hymn (a long step away from the quirky indie of before), and it places the queerness that has come to define the band in recent years at the forefront for the first time, bringing us into their world and inviting us into the highs and lows of Tim’s life.

It’s still a remarkably special moment - you can’t help but not feel like you’re listening to an angelic experience when Tim Nelson goes a capelle in its beginning.

Chasin’, BATS (2017).

While O Lord was a stark introduction into a new-era Cub Sport, Chasin’ - which arrived soon after - deepened it further, and brought one of Cub Sport’s most successful songs in the process. In a lyrical timeline, Chasin’ comes before O Lord, telling of a time when Tim was out on a writing trip, realised his incompleteness without Sam by his side, and soon realised that this feeling stemmed from love that’d soon all come together. It’s an invitation into Tim’s headspace at the time, and a reflection into the formative process of discovering yourself and your sexuality after periods of self-doubt and so on.

Also, it’s just a good song. Throughout Chasin’, Cub Sport’s ability to make powerful, intimate moments of darkness into something euphoric and empowering really comes out for the first time. Take the first verse lines “Is it delusional / To think that I can do this? / Does anybody want this?”, for example. It’s seemingly Tim Nelson dissecting his sense of aimless, and how it impacted his creativity at the time (it’s difficult to make music that you want to connect, if you feel like no-one cares). However, Tim’s able to deliver it with such a flair that it feels like something bigger, something that demands to be shouted out.

Jellybean’s Graduation Song, BATS (2017).

Jellybean’s Graduation Song is a strange addition to the Cub Sport discography. It’s often-missed, sitting on BATS as a mere bonus track, but it really encapsulates Cub Sport and the intimate emotion that define the music they make, as Tim sings about “when your heart is completely full of love but you know it’s not right so you have to let it go.”

It’s become a cult favourite of Cub Sport fans (and even Cub Sport alike), but the fact that it’s been reduced to a bonus track just shows the strength of the album its hosted on, and the tracks that came before it. It’s a wonderful song that’s become somewhat of a mystery to the group’s fans (who is Jellybean? Is it a dog? Something else? Why are they graduating?), but its message doesn’t matter - it’s a brilliant, brooding song that captures Cub Sport at a peak, and one that deserves a little more recognition than what it gets.

Party Pill, Cub Sport (2019).

If a song like Chasin’ introduced Cub Sport’s eventual love story, then Party Pill is Tim Nelson wide-eyed and in-love, detailing the infatuation for his partner in a way that’s distinctly different to other conventional love songs in the way that it’s queer as hell, and that’s something so special. It’s a sappy ode to love and Sam - a.k.a. Bolan - that is lush with Tim’s underlying passion and romance, and when you listen along, you can’t help but feel in love too.

It’s got a real soft spot for a lot of people - me, included - who see Party Pill and all its indulgent romance as something that’s actually relatable. This isn’t a boy-meets-girl-and-they-become-engaged-two-years-later ordeal, but what relationship actually is? Cub Sport know that - their relationship has had its trials and tribulations - but unlike others, they’re not afraid to leave it out bare, and share one of Australia’s most perfect love songs in the process of doing so.

I Never Cried So Much In My Whole Life, Single (2019). 

For a stand-alone single, I Never Cried So Much In My Whole Life carries a lot of power. It’s a message of queer resilience, breaking apart the bullying and trolling that comes with being queer, let alone in the public eye. I Never Cried So Much In My Whole Life shows things do get better, and that if you’re able to withstand it, there’s happiness soon to come in your life, and the moments you can sit there and feel so liberated and free are so remarkably special. You can make it to the other side, no matter what.

I Never Cried So Much In My Whole Life is special in another way too. It features Savage Garden frontman Darren Hayes, someone who is very much a trailblazer for publicly queer Australian musicians, having been a prevalent, cultural figure in a time far before queer marriage was legalised, for example. It’s a passing of the torch moment, a moment for Hayes to reflect on his journey and how it’s inspired people like Tim, and how someone like Tim is sure to influence a whole other generation too. It’s so, so special in every way.

Confessions, LIKE NIRVANA (2020).

LIKE NIRVANA, Cub Sport’s new album, is a darker and more intimate gaze into Tim Nelson’s life, and at the core of it, is Confessions. It’s a moment that sets Tim Nelson free in a whole new way, breaking down the expectations and boundaries of gender as they got through a reflective period that feels like another example of the band’s drive to create authentic art true to themselves and their experiences. “The truth is I don't want to be one of the boys / The truth is living by a gender makes me feel annoyed,” he sings.

It arrives with a statement from the band’s lead singer that the gender binary has made life hard for him, and that he’s been trialling incorporating they/them pronouns into their lives, as well as he/him (in a new, more recent statement, Tim said “I can reject the structures of the gender binary by defining what he/him and being a man means to me,” and affirmed that he/him pronouns work best).

It’s an exploration of a tricky self-realisation that’s different - and often difficult - for everybody, as found by Tim over the years as he toys with gender boundaries and, despite not needing to, keeping open and public along the way (which, in turn, helps inspire a lot of people who mightn’t have a figure like Tim in their personal lives).

Break Me Down, LIKE NIRVANA (2020).

Cub Sport and Mallrat have always had a special relationship, both as close friends and collaborators on the cusp of Australia’s pop future. However, while their collaborations in the past have certainly been good, their latest one on LIKE NIRVANA - Break Me Down - is otherworldly, and so fantastic to listen to.

In many ways, it’s the centrepiece of LIKE NIRVANA, and the period of self-reflection that drive its every melody. It feels like a personal breakthrough for Tim, who utilises Kanye West-esque vocal distortion to create dystopian cries that encourage deeper reflection to find your true self, which seemingly, was a path Tim had to travel down to further explore the boundaries placed upon him, and come out the other end more knowledgeable on the multi-faceted complexities that make him who he is. “Sometimes you’re so perfect that it’s hurting me / Wish my lungs were freer wish that I could breathe / Come on baby break me down / ’Til I tell you I’ve been found.”

It’s really a song that encapsulates the core of everything Cub Sport do. They’re a band that constantly dive within themselves and further themselves with every release, and as they do that, they encourage people to do that in their lives too. Cub Sport’s presence as a central, key figure in Australia’s music world has inspired so many, both musically and personally, as they dissect the conventions of sexuality and gender and make high-tier, Australian-best art in the process of doing so.

Over the last decade, Cub Sport have come so, so far - and it’s only going to continue, too.

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