Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson on Brisbane, Fashion + Choosing Your Best Pronoun
As we adjust to whatever is the new normal, we actually consider ourselves fortunate that we have still been able to video connect with interesting people around the world. One of those was Tim Nelson, frontperson and songwriter for Brisbane-based queer indie group Cub Sport. Essentially, if you’re partial to The 1975 and Frank Ocean, their new album needs to be on your Spotify.
Pre-COVID, we would have been hopping a flight to catch Cub Sport playing alongside headliners like HAIM, Chemical Brothers and Charli XCX at the UK’s Latitude Festival. And before the lockdowns their popularity was exploding, touring sold out venues across four continents, and becoming the darlings of Aussie music press (we’re all catching up now). And their just-released fourth studio album Like Nirvana more than lives up to the hype, tackling topics of self-identity, personal growth, religious upbringing, even the very concept of masculinity.
It’s early morning in Australia, and as we video chat, we ask Tim, who is adorned in band merch, about the origins and iterations of Cub Sport, his hometown Brisbane, and collaborating with childhood friend Mallrat.
Describe the Queensland/Brisbane music scene.
The scene is strong! Lots of my fave artists come from here: Mallrat, Thelma Plum, The Veronicas, Hatchie, Eves Karydas, Wafia, and lots more. Brisbane’s also home to lots of world-class producers, filmmakers, photographers…so it’s an exciting time to be creating here.
Is it a source of inspiration for Cub Sport’s music?
I love Brisbane! The weather here is consistently pretty good, and it doesn’t get very cold in winter. Lots of the things I’ve written about have happened here, so it’s definitely a big inspiration, whether directly or indirectly.
What’s the origin of the name?
We started the band when we were pretty young, and we all looked like babies; so we called ourselves Cub Scouts, which felt very fitting at the time. After releasing music as Cub Scouts for a couple of years, the Scouts Australia sent us a letter asking us to stop from using the word “scout.” So we ran through a bunch of different options, then we landed on Cub Sport. It took a couple of years to grow into it, and now it feels very right. I really love the name now.
Let’s talk about Like Nirvana, your new album. You’ve already released a few songs, “I Feel Like I Am Changin’,” “Drive,” and “Confessions.” In the latter, you touch on insecurities, sexuality, love and self-doubt. You’re being vulnerable to the listener. What was going on when you wrote this song?
We’d been away on tour for most of the year. When we got home, I was feeling burnt out. I felt like I had a lot of these things weighing on me that I didn’t acknowledge. Staying so busy allowed me to just keep pushing forward. When we slowed down, all those things started to surface. So when I was writing this song, I was holding the mic saying or singing whatever came into my mind. It felt like a purge of all the things that I was scared to acknowledge, and it just came out all at once. It was cathartic.
Was it directed at anyone specific?
It’s mainly directed at myself, but there are instances around the lyrics that involve other people. But I feel like a lot of it is just how I was perceiving things around me.
It’s safe to say love is one of the main themes of your new album. What does it mean to you?
To me, love is like a peaceful feeling that is also exhilarating; it’s the opposite of fear. Total acceptance, and I guess in my experience with love, there’s no second guessing. It’s such a difficult thing to put into words, but I think I express my idea of love best when I’m creating music that is inspired by it. I feel like love is the most powerful part of who we are, and what ties us together.
Does it hurt?
I don’t believe love itself hurts, but I feel like there’s a lot of other things that can happen around love that are painful.
I love Mallrat, and am excited that she’s featured on the new song “Break Me Down.” How did that collab happen?
So we’ve been friends for awhile now, and she grew up in Brisbane as well. When she was in town toward the end of last year, she came over to work on some music together. At that point, I thought I had finished the album, but then we just went into writing this song with total freedom. The result is so far from what we were expecting to create together, but it was so powerful, beautiful and special that it had to be on the album. It came from a feeling of limitlessness of what we can do.
Your sound has evolved since your last album. Can you tell me a bit more of the direction you wanted to go in this time?
I was really drawn to more live instruments on this album. The last one was quite synth-heavy and there were a lot of electronic drums. I think I was really drawn to the textures and the way that when I would record guitar on some of the songs it felt raw and alive. I never want to recreate what I’ve done before, and it was really exciting.
Where do you record?
I do most of it at home here in Brisbane. I have a home studio directly downstairs from where I’m sitting right now, and that’s pretty much where I wrote the album. There’s a few songs that I wrote while we were on tour in the US—”Saint” and “Eighteen” were both written literally on the road, and I recorded the vocals in Airbnbs. “Be Your Man Sam” I wrote and recorded in a little studio in Los Angeles; but other than that, all were written here at home.
What’s the creative process behind the videos?
Usually if we make a video for a song, I’ve had a strong idea of what I would like it to be. When Brisbane was in COVID lockdown, that’s when we were supposed to be shooting for this album. That didn’t end up happening, so we were left with no choice but to make home videos. It was just about capturing what we can.
I especially loved the Japanese vibe of “Confessions.”
Somebody sent me that anime and said, “this looks just like you”—so I went with it.
Well it does look like you. (Ed. note: The video is inspired by a Guts and Griffith manga story.
Thank you. I was like, “well this character is beautiful, so thank you so much.” Then I searched for images of that character and I tried to find scenes and moments that felt like they expressed the same feeling as the song. Then I put it all together. I’m very happy about how it comes across. It looks like it was made specifically for the song.
How does the music influence your fashion, or is it independent from it?
I feel that it’s all about self-expression, that the music and fashion complement each other a lot. And what I’m wearing can really impact like how I feel and how I perform. It’s about finding what feels like the truest part of yourself and drawing from that for inspiration in every area. I feel like when you can make a genuine connection with yourself and what you’re feeling, then all the things you draw from end up fitting together.
Do you have a preferred pronoun?
I would like to use “he/him.” I’d been using both “he/him” and “they/them,” and I think when I first started to consider which to use, I felt oppressed by the idea of gender binary: the concept that people should identify as either a man or a woman, versus non-binary or gender fluid—and I felt like I had to use “they/them” too, because I didn’t feel like the idea of what a man was meant to be. Since then, I’ve allowed myself to feel free and I think that “he/him” feels like who I’ve always been.
What do you hope people take away from Like Nirvana?
I would really love for people to listen to it start to finish. I feel like there’s a lot of power and release in the flow of the songs; to me it feels like an ascension from the trauma and the pain. By the end of the album, on “Grand Canyon,” where there’s the heavenly choir, I feel like it’s really calming and uplifting. I really want people to listen like that, because I feel like it can be a very healing experience for anyone, especially for queer people, who have that difficult experience growing up and not feeling like they belong.