More love, less fear: The flourishing of Cub Sport, by Mallrat
Interviewed by close friend and collaborator Mallrat, Cub Sport's Tim Nelson talk their metamorphosis, collaboration and doves.
Interview by Mallrat, foreword by Hayden Davies. Header image and in-article photo by Jennifer Medinaar.
Cub Sport are an irreplaceable band. Initially rising as cult-favourite indie-pop darlings, the Brisbane four-piece have metamorphosed over the last twelve months; their sound has become richer with bright pop hooks and glistening melodies as their image became more visible and queer (something we'll cover more in a moment), moving from your festival-standard, triple j favourites to an act more complex, more multi-faceted and more critical. Driven by a "more love and less fear" manifesto-of-kinds, the band's transforming presence over the last year has been centred around self-acceptance, love and resilience in a time of personal hardships, with frontman Tim Nelson and keyboardist Sam 'Bolan' Netterfield putting themselves forward without ignoring the chemistry that comes with the band's other two members - Zoe Davis and drummer Dan Puusaari ("We're very much like a family," Tim says in a statement accompanying the album's release. "It feels like we’ve grown up together, the four of us have all changed so much since we started, but we’ve always shared this belief in what we’re doing and I think we’ve all always known that we’re going to make it and that we’re not going to stop until we’ve fulfilled our greatest ambitions.")
BATS, the band's 2017-released second album, was effectively the beginning of this evolution. It was more intimate and personal than anything the band had ever done, with Tim Nelson using the album to explore the highs and lows of his eventual relationship - then marriage, in August last year - with band member Sam, from the realisations that come with letting people into your life on O Lord ("when you get everything you’ve ever, wanted you suddenly have everything to lose") to Chasin', an "expression of the crisis of wanting to be my true self, but feeling scattered and confused about the path I should take." It was an album based centrally on queerness and the acceptance that comes with its early moments and its tiring press circuit came with questions to match, giving Tim and Sam particularly the chance to reflect, grow and evolve.
The band's self-titled third album, out Friday, welcomes Cub Sport following this period of reflection, growth and evolution. It's the first album written by Tim since coming out and perhaps because of that, it's marked with more triumph and comfortability, either through his ease to open up lyrically despite the accompanying vulnerability or the crashing pop of the album's lead single Sometimes - a track marked with a distinct victory and confidence that would be hard to picture from Cub Sport a few years prior. It's an album fuelled "by the power that comes with awakening to who you really are" says Sam, and you can find that in every soft melodic sway, every ooze of Tim's vocal, and even within the subtle pulse that Puusaari provides underneath. There are moments of difficulty and sorrow - Light II, for example, is a moment of reflection after a long stretch of bad luck - but they're outnumbered (and arguably, out-classed) by the highs - Video, a "revelation of confidence and self-belief"; Butterflies, "about letting go of fear and embracing and celebrating love" and Come Out, a single about the liberation of its namesake.
Cub Sport is an album that allows you get swept up within. You're able to lose yourself in Tim's signature vocal howls and the twinkling melodies that swirl around it, and you're able to come out the otherwise almost feeling like a better person. It's an album that inspires, an album that comforts you and allows you to thrive along with it, an album that allows you to embrace yourself, feel free and feel confident in doing so - it's almost an album that allows you to do the same - and feel similar things - as Tim in its birth. "It’s been amazing how as we’ve learned to be ourselves and embrace what we want to do – once we’ve really taken the reins and pushed other people’s expectations aside – that we’ve really been able to flourish. I think that’s something that can hopefully inspire everyone, that if they embrace themselves, then the rest will follow. I feel like that has been such a big part of our transformation."
Arriving independently ahead of their biggest Australian tour yet (more information and tickets HERE), it's an album that feels like a celebration of Cub Sport, so when tasked with interviewing them, why not offer someone that has celebrated alongside them - Mallrat. Both a close friend and collaborator of the group (she appears on Video), Mallrat's witnessed the evolution of Cub Sport first-hand and arguably knows the band better than anyone else that could interview them - so read her chat with Tim below, and be sure to stream her 2018 EP In The Sky while you do it too.
Mallrat: One of my other favourite memories from 2018 was seeing you play Sometimes at Splendour, about a month before your wedding. I remember you saying that Splendour felt like the beginning of a new era and I think you’re right. What shifted with Sometimes?
Cub Sport (Tim): Thank you!! That was one of my favourite moments of last year! I felt like performing Sometimes for the first time brought out a new energy in me as a performer - it felt like I stepped into a power that I always knew was in me and it was like it filled the whole space. I think that was the true start of the Cub Sport by Cub Sport era!
I love the new album sooooo much. I’m especially excited for everybody to hear Party Pill. Hearing it play at your wedding made me cry the happiest tears. I think I remember you saying that it feels like a sequel to Come On Mess Me Up (correct me if I mixed that up). How did Party Pill come about?
Thank you angel! I cried so much writing the lyrics, and then even more when I put them to music. It’s the part of Bolan’s and my story that I’ve never felt like I could tell before.
Party Pill is like an in-depth version of verse one of Come On Mess Me Up.
"We were walking on Sparkes St growing up real’ fast
Left it behind pretty quickly, still the farthest thing from pretty
I found comfort; I fell in love with avoiding problems."
Bolan and I first fell in love when we were 17, but because I was so scared of what would happen if I came out, I decided it’d be better for us to just be friends. I learned a lot in those years of fighting against my heart; my main takeaway was that love is stronger than fear and that when you live in love, there’s a lightness that follows.
This part of our story had been weighing on my heart for a long time - I’ve carried a lot of shame and embarrassment with me, both about the relationship itself and about hiding it from everyone in my life. But I realised last year that I’d suffered enough and that I needed to let go of that guilt and shame, so I finally turned the pain of those years into something beautiful and it feels like I’m setting myself free.
What was your favourite thing about making this new album?
My favourite thing has been the boundlessness of the process! I feel like I’ve reached new heights musically and personally through creating it. I collaborated more on this album than I have before - 8 of the 15 tracks are either co-writes or co-productions which were really fun - there’s something super magical that happens when you find collaborators that feel right! I produced and played everything on those eight tracks on the album and I feel like I’ve really stepped up my level of production and how I express myself through that, which I’m really proud of. I believe creativity comes from a higher place and that that’s flowed through me stronger than ever on this album.
I met you guys about four years ago when I was still in high school. I really wanted to make music but didn’t know how to start. One day after school some friends and I caught a train into the city to see a free show you played at QUT. It ended up being such an important afternoon, but we couldn’t have known it at the time! How do you remember that day?
That show is probably the most challenging one we’ve ever played! It was a kind of weird in-between time for us personally and as a band. That show was my first time playing guitar on stage and I didn’t put my strap on properly so my guitar fell off during a song and I knocked over my drink lol. After the set, we hung around and ended up meeting you though! I remember you messaged us later to ask for a recommendation for a guitar teacher which ended up happening. Now, three years later, you’re my #1 most-played song of 2018, one of my most treasured friends and a collaborator on our self-titled album! It’s cool how even during discouraging times in life, the universe is planting seeds that grow into big, beautiful trees down the line!
It’s been so special watching Cub Sport flourish over the last few years, both as a band and as individuals. How do you think you’ve changed?
We’ve started letting love in and sending love out as often as possible. I think learning to love and accept yourself for who you are is really powerful and that has been a catalyst for our transformation, leading the way to learning to live with more gratitude and compassion.
How has your writing process changed since BATS?
I believe in myself more than I used to, so I feel like there’s an underlying optimism or lightness that’s been developing throughout the creation of our three albums. I’m becoming freer and more confident with my creativity and that flows into everything from lyrics, to music, production, visuals and the live show.
One of my favourite things about this new album is how tightly knit the collaborations are. Can you talk us through who you worked with on this album?
The collaborations on this album are like a dream come true for me. One of which is Video feat you! I’m your biggest stan - your lyrics and music hit me right in the heart, so working on Video together was such an honour and your verse literally made me cry.
Our Video collab also led to you introducing me to Max Byrne aka Golden Vessel who became such an important part of this album! We worked on five of these songs together and we’ve already started working on a couple of album four songs that I’m kind of addicted to. Max is such a genius and a beautiful, gentle soul. Our first collab was Acid Rain - I sent him a version with just the vocals, chords and the chopped up vocal parts and he added drums, bass and additional synths which took it to an other-worldly place. Months later, I ended up hanging with Al from Cloud Control a couple of times and we got talking about doing a song together. Acid Rain had a section at the end that was kind of free, so I sent it to Al and he recorded his amazing outro over it. I got sooo many goosebumps listening back to it.
Light II was a collab with Bolan! I was going through my hard-drive, opening sessions and listening to song ideas and I came across this instrumental that Bolan had recorded and was instantly so in love with it. I kind of free-styled over the chords while I was reading from a journal entry I’d written on our US tour in April - it was a day that I had the flu and I’d pushed too hard against a stiff door at a venue in Buffalo, NY - when it opened I kind of flew straight through it and down some stairs but somehow hardly hurt myself.
The last collab for the album was with LA-based producer Calvin Valentine on the song I’m Not Scared - I had a session lined up with Ryan Beatty, but plans changed last minute and I ended up working with Calvin, who produced Ryan’s album last year. The day I’m Not Scared came to be, we’d already finished one song, then I walked over to Calvin’s vocoder and started playing the intro. We recorded it in and the rest of the song just continued to flow. One of my fav parts is the section with Zo and I singing in unison ‘I feel you there, I feel you there, I feel you there, I’m not scared’ - it reminds me of the Spice Girls on Viva Forever or Monica and Brandy. I remember walking through Silver Lake on our way to get vegan ice-cream in the evening after we’d recorded this song. We were listening to it out of my phone and feeling really happy and at-peace and kept getting goosebumps - it feels super warm to me.
Tim, your new dove tattoo is so beautiful and seems really important to this album. What is the significance of the dove?
Thank you! Bolan and I drew it together, then he tattooed it on me in July last year. The dove is a symbol of love and peace and the out-stretched wings symbolise a lightness and rising up - I feel like that ties into the vibe of this album and my purpose in this life. I wanna spread love and peace to as many people as I can.
What are Cub Sport manifesting for 2019?
ENORMOUS GROWTH individually and for society globally. More love and less fear. Spreading light to people who need it.
Cub Sport, the third album from Cub Sport, is out Friday January 18th via Cub Sport Records. Catch them on tour in April 2019, tickets and more info HERE.
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