IT’S Christmas 2018 and Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson is at home in Brisbane with his bandmate-husband Sam Netterfield and their two golden retriever cross poodles Evie and Missy.
Tim and Sam often walk their dogs in a nearby reserve and you can audibly hear birds chirping away in the background as we speak. Some of those sounds have made their way onto a song called ‘As Long As You’re Happy’ from Cub Sport’s self-titled third album.
“It’s got a field recording of the forest we walk our dogs in,” Tim explains. “I guess that’s a nod to the connectedness that I feel is between all living things, and I wanted to bring the calming energy that being in the forest with Sam and the dogs gives me [to the album].”
The album was written in the midst of a physically taxing US tour and against the painful backdrop of the same-sex marriage plebiscite. The final song was written in the same month the pair were married. The track is titled
“I think with every album that I’ve written I feel like I’ve kind of come to know myself a lot better, and there’s always a moment of – I guess coming to terms with making something that you’ve created in a very private space available to whoever wants to hear it.”
Here are the stories behind each of the album’s 15 songs.
It’s a bold move to open the album with an a cappella track. What’s the story behind it?
For ‘Unwinding Myself’ I just opened up a session in [recording program] Logic and pressed record and I just started singing … Afterwards I went to record some synth on it and realised I was singing in between notes, so unless I de-tuned the synth or something there was nothing I could put behind it. I didn’t want to re-record it because I felt like it was a really specific energy that had come through in that recording, so I just kept it as it was. I thought about trimming it down a couple of times and I was like, “Is this too much to start the album off with?” I think it’s nearly three minutes or something of a cappella, but I feel like everything in that song came to me for a reason.
At the time of recording it I think I definitely could understand where it was coming from when I was in the place of, I guess, un-learning a lot of my shame and stuff I had held onto, and struggling to accept myself in terms of being queer. But I’ve learned a lot more about the subconscious and the way our thoughts and emotions can have an impact on the way that our DNA expresses itself. There were all of these other layers to it that I’m starting to discover the longer that I sit with it, which is pretty cool as well.
I guess the line, “I’m not denying myself anymore”, really sets the tone for the record, lyrically speaking anyway.
Yeah, I think so too.
How long have you known Grace [Shaw aka Mallrat]? Is there a Brisbane connection there?
Yeah, the first time I met Grace was at a show that we played back in 2015, and she would’ve been in high school then. We played at a uni orientation day thing. It was in the middle of a time when we had recorded our first album [2016’s This Is Our Vice] and there were all these hold-ups that were happening. We were in such a strange place of figuring ourselves out and being stuck in limbo with our musical releases…
But Grace was at that show and she came up and spoke to us afterwards, and then she sent a message asking for a recommendation for a guitar teacher so we sent her to one … We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and to see her rise up as this incredible artist and person has just been so cool. When I was writing and recording Video I felt like it would suit her whole vibe really nicely, so I sent it to her and she was keen. It’s like a dream to have a song with Mallrat on it.
I think that’s the most Auto-Tune I’ve heard on a Cub Sport song before.
Yeah. I used a little on [2017 album] BATS, just in a couple of songs. But this one I think especially because a lot of the vocals are layered up and there’s Auto-Tune on a bunch of harmonies [so] it is probably the strongest use of it so far.
Is it an effect that you think you’ll continue using in the future?
Yeah, probably. I often try it on songs and sometimes I feel like it adds something, and that’s when I decide that I should run with it. But if I feel it isn’t really adding anything to the way it makes me feel, then I always go back to the raw vocal … I feel like the use of it on this album makes it feel more emotive to me.
‘Sometimes’ sounds like a really cathartic moment on the record to me.
Yeah, it definitely is. I wrote ‘Sometimes’ at the end of 2017, and it was around the time of the same sex marriage debate. I felt like every interview and everything that we were doing as a band was starting to only revolve around that, which was an amazing opportunity. But I was coming from a place where I’d only been out for a year and there were a bunch of questions I was answering and things I was saying that I had only said to myself for the majority of my life.
It was kind of an overwhelming time as well, and I think because I was still getting over the fears that came along with growing up in a pretty homophobic environment. There was something kind of holding me back a bit … So it was a weird mix of being stoked that our journey and story was connecting with people and at the same time being overwhelmed and still a bit scared.
Do you think there’s an unfair expectation maybe for queer artists to be spokespeople or activists?
Yeah, I feel like there is more of an expectation because I think queer artists have probably had experiences that cater to having something to say. I feel like throughout the last album campaign and through the writing of this album I’ve become so much more proud of that part of myself and more comfortable speaking about it. I feel like it’s a big part of the reason why I’ve found myself in this position, making music and everything … I am pretty cool with that [expectation] because I feel it’s an opportunity to change peoples’ lives for the better and hopefully make their journey a smoother one. I feel like it’s a really important thing for us personally, but I don’t think that every queer artist should have the pressure on them to be a spokesperson. It needs to be coming from a true desire from the artist to be sharing those sorts of things, I think.
Obviously you were going through a lot around that time, as well as shouldering the burden of managing the band, writing all the songs, and producing the music. Is this song – especially the line, “I’m running out of time to spend with my friends” – a reflection of all of the professional demands that you had as well?
Yeah, for sure. And I think because the band and Cub Sport has become so intertwined with our personal lives, I feel like that was kind of a new thing as well. That really put another level of pressure on it. And being freshly engaged … But I guess knowing the platform and situation we had, we felt like we were in a position where we could help people understand the struggle for queer people through that time. [Pauses] But, yeah, it was a point of feeling a bit burnt out.
Have you and Sam had to put boundaries around band talk at home?
We’ve tried. It doesn’t last very long though because it’s been a very busy year professionally and I guess in our personal lives. As I said, everything feels so intertwined now. We love everything that we’re doing, so although we are excited for the time when we do get a bit of a break, it just feels like for the moment we need to keep pushing and giving this everything that we’ve got. We feel incredibly lucky that we get to do it together and that we literally spend every day chasing the same dream together with two of our best friends, Zoe [Davis] and Dan [Puusaari]. It is what it is, and I think for the moment we’re kind of too busy to separate the two – but we’re good.
I think that’s true of any family business though.
Yeah, for sure.
I really love that opening line, “My emotions are tattooed there on the internet.”
I wrote those lyrics at the start of 2018. It’s kind of a continuation of the themes of ‘Sometimes’. It was a few months after I wrote ‘Sometimes’ and I feel like my perspective has continually been changing and expanding over the past 18 months or so. I feel like I’m on a journey of self discovery. I feel like I’ve really learned to love and respect myself a lot more than I ever have before. I think I came to a realisation that I’m really recording every step of it through all these interviews that I’m doing … I feel like I’m still figuring myself out. But, yeah, it’s all kind of out there, which is my own decision as well.
‘Lift Me Up’ was written on the road in the US. Is that something that you often do?
It was kind of my first time working on things on the road. We did a tour in April that was a really big one with lots of long drives, and I got the flu right at the start of the tour. I think I had an entire week where my voice was so on the edge of being completely gone that I couldn’t say a word. I just had to save every bit of my voice for our set, so when I’d normally probably be chatting away in the van I had to sit there in silence. I ended up reading a bunch that week and I also ended up working on ‘Lift Me Up’, and then two other songs on the album, ‘Trees’ and ‘Stars’, a lot in that time…
I’ve done little snippets of ideas while we’re on the road, but this was the first time my attention has been so focused on it. When we’d do our laundry I’d take my laptop into the laundromat and I was always working on them until they were feeling just right … Noise cancelling headphones help a lot and for this [type of writing] and it felt like I was in my own little world. I’d look out the window and America is so beautiful. All the drives were so interesting, so it was actually a really nice environment to work on things in.
Is that another track that was written on the road in the States?
Yeah, that was from that time. We were playing a show in Buffalo and I had already twisted my ankle. The first place we went to was Atlanta and I twisted my ankle and then I got the flu two days later, so I was really struggling already and I think I’d been feeling kind of sorry for myself.
Then we had this show in Buffalo and there was a door that I thought was the door to where we had to go for the green room and it was kind of stiff and I pushed through it. On the other side it was just these steps down onto concrete. I fell through the door and just went crashing down. It was only a few steps, but it was a pretty hard fall. I didn’t really hurt myself … but I think it was a little reminder to me that things could be much worse, and to appreciate how much I actually have. That inspired some of the lyrics in that song.
This is another really uplifting moment, I think. This song feels to me like it’s got the biggest hip-hop influence, especially in your phrasing. Have you ever dabbled with that before?
Not really. I do love a lot of hip-hop and we covered Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’ on [triple j’s] Like A Version back in 2016 and we’ve been playing it right up until part way through this year, so we’re very familiar with that song and the phrasing in that and everything. So I feel like maybe some of that came through a little bit. But, yeah, that’s another one that I did with Max [Byrne aka Golden Vessel] and we’d both been listening to a lot of BROCKHAMPTON as well. I really like how that one feels. I guess all of the songs feel different to each other, but that one I think has its own space to it.
It sounds like it’s opening up a little portal to potential directions.
Yeah, I think that is definitely. I feel like Max and I will probably work together a bunch in the future, so I feel like that’s probably pretty accurate.
Trees, butterflies. I guess you take a lot of lyrical inspiration from nature.
Yeah. I think that’s another thing that has happened over the last year or so. I’ve always loved nature, but I think I’ve really started to develop and appreciate the connectedness of all living things. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I think it’s really beautiful and inspiring, so I think that that has come through a bit throughout this album.
“Couldn’t see it ’til we let it all go.” Is ‘Trees’ about letting go of fear?
Yeah, working through fears and things holding you back.
Obviously this is another really important song on the record from a personal perspective.
I wrote this about my experience with coming out and being on the other side of coming out thinking, “Wow, I get to be myself now.” And then realising shortly after that there are so many more expectations on people from society other than just their sexuality. And I think there are so many things that people keep inside – not just who you love, but there are a lot of things that people don’t like to talk about, like mental health and that sort of thing. It’s something that’s getting better, which is incredible, but it’s still something that is hard to talk about. I think [this song] was about embracing my whole self and I feel like the experience of having to come out as gay sort of kickstarted a desire to understand every part of myself.
It’s a really personal record, but do you hope that other people are taking a lot of inspiration for your journey too?
I feel like it’s such a privilege to be able to share what we’ve been through in a safe, supportive environment. To hopefully offer some sort of support or help to people who are going through the same things who don’t yet feel supported or safe. Even the journey of Cub Sport – and if you look back at where we started to where we are now – I think you can see there is a huge amount of power in embracing the truth, and being who you are, and letting go of the fears of what other people think of what you’re doing. I really hope that it can inspire people.
‘Party Pill’ documents the start of your relationship with Sam. How important was it for you to enshrine that in song?
I feel like ‘Party Pill’ is a song that I had maybe been putting off writing for a really long time. In the opening verse of
What is the word you bleep out in that song?
The word is “shame” … I feel like there’s maybe symbolism for how we try to hide our shame and how there’s shame around having shame. I don’t know. I didn’t quite feel comfortable with it or something and I put it in there in the demo. Stylistically I really like how it sounds and everything. To me it’s a bit of a nod to BROCKHAMPTON and they’re one of my biggest inspirations in this last year. That was the decision behind that and I guess why I decided to keep it.
Is this another Sam song?
Yeah. I think the song is kind of a reference to the time between when we first fell in love when we were teenagers through to arriving to the point where I was like, “I’m ready to be whoever you need me to be for us to be together.”
I recorded it all at home and played everything on it. I ended up getting really creative with it. I feel like it was one of those moments where your own mind couldn’t be coming up with this stuff. It’s like a true inspiration coming from somewhere or something else. I played the ukulele and put effects on it to make it sound like a heart and all the strings were done on a synth. It still feels really grand and orchestral to me … and also almost makes my heart ache as well when I listen to it.
How did you know Al from
We are super fans of Cloud control and when they did an acoustic tour back in 2015, we went to every show on the Queensland leg … We ended up hanging out with Al after the Sunshine Coast show and we stayed in touch after that. We’ve hung out a couple times this year, and you know when you meet someone who’s on your level and there’s no small talk, you just jump straight into it? I don’t really know how to describe it, but I feel super connected to Al and I felt like it would be really amazing for him to be on the album. His section at the end of ‘Acid Rain’ is one of my favourite parts of the album, too.
It’s not a very guitar-y record at all, so what’s the story behind that opening riff?
One day I was recording and pulled out my guitar, which I do every now and then, and just started playing it. It kind of gave me a bit of a bit of a
This was the song I did with [American producer] Calvin Valentine … We spent two days in his studio [in Los Angeles] and we wrote three songs. This was the last one. I was just playing around on his vocoder, which I’d never done before and I loved it. Then the rest of it just sort of flowed out and he put that amazing beat behind it. It just felt so good. Then Zoe recorded the chords on guitar and doubled my vocals in my falsetto parts. I feel like the combination of our voices, it reminds me of almost like the
The line, “Take you to the water, take you to the beach”, will conjure some pretty nostalgic memories especially for Australian listeners.
Yeah, it feels super nostalgic to me. That’s one that floated around for a long time and I tried different arrangements. I tried putting drums behind it, and it just didn’t feel right in any of those other forms … It was going to be a bonus track on the album right up until we were sending off the artwork to have the vinyl manufactured. I listened to it again and I was like, “No, this needs to be an official track.” … It feels so right there [at the end] to me.
Is it related to a specific childhood memory of yours?
Again, it was something that was just coming out of me. Then I realised that it lines up really well with – I guess when Sam and I fell in love. We were together for a winter and then we went to Europe together, so what would’ve been our first summer together was another winter … [It’s about] never having a loved one to share those summer memories with in a romantic way – even though we had a lot of summers as best friends and hanging out.