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Cub Sport: The Transcendent Freedom of ‘Like Nirvana’

With Cub Sport releasing one of their finest records to date, frontperson Tim Nelson talks releasing music during a year on hold, and finding their freedom.

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Originally set for release in May, Cub Sport today release their fourth studio album, the ethereal 'Like Nirvana'.

James Caswell*

In a perfect world, Cub Sport would already have been halfway through one of their biggest years in recent history. Of course, 2020 has told us that the best laid plans often go awry.

In early March, the Brisbane outfit revealed that their productive period was set to continue with a new album. Following on from their self-titled record in early 2019, and the release of their 333 EP in late December, Like Nirvana would serve as the group’s fourth album. Celebrating the news with the single “Confessions” and announcing a new tour, things were looking good ahead of the record’s release in May.

Then, 2020 happened, and – just weeks after the news broke – their Australian tour was cancelled, a trip to the US was postponed, and Like Nirvana was pushed back until July 24th.

The record itself was incredible, filled with organic sounds, uplifting lyrics, soaring vocals, and an overwhelming feeling of liberation which followed on from frontperson Tim Nelson’s decision to identify as ‘free’.

Unfortunately for fans, they would have to wait a couple of extra months before they got the chance to hear the album. Thankfully, the months between the postponement and now weren’t filled with the group sitting on their hands. Rather, new music arrived, online live performances took place, and Nelson even appeared as part of Rolling Stone’s ‘In My Room’ series.

At long last though, the group’s record has been unleashed, with Like Nirvana officially out today. In anticipation of the new album, Nelson spoke to Rolling Stone about the disappointment of a year on hold, writing new music, and how it feels to bare your soul against a musical backdrop.

Let’s begin with the standard question; how have you been dealing with everything going on in the world lately?
Actually, pretty good. I’m feeling incredibly grateful that this time hasn’t been as much of a challenge for us as it has been for a lot of people. We’re very fortunate with the way that things have worked out. But there have been lots of adjustments, and it’s obviously very disappointing to have to cancel tours and everything. But in the grand scheme, we’re all good.

Everything really kicked off just a couple of weeks before you began your Australian tour, too.
Yeah, we were going to be releasing the album at the start of May, and going straight to the US for a big tour, and we would’ve just got home now, and we had an Australian tour booked before that as well. So, none of it has gone as we planned, but I have full faith that it has all happened how it was meant to – in terms of the timeline and everything.

I know a lot of artists have been using the time to connect with fans more or work on new projects. Have you been able to do anything like that?
We’ve been really busy still with getting everything in line for releasing Like Nirvana, but I have had some time to work on a bunch of new Cub Sport songs, so I’m already so excited for album five now. I also have had some of the most exciting collaborations of my career some through – in the last couple of months – that I’ve been able to work on as well. It’s really, really exciting.

Are there any you can talk about, or do they have to stay under wraps at the moment?
[Laughs] No, I can’t say anything just yet.

You also performed for Rolling Stone’s ‘In My Room’ series as well. How has it been performing like that for fans these days?
I feel like it’s been nice in a way that it’s sort of forced artists to expand the way that they connect with fans, and I guess find ways to bring elements of live music into social media and that sort of thing to keep some of that energy going. It’s been cool, doing some of those things, but I love playing with the full band so much, and feeling the energy of an audience. I think that when you’re playing songs live on stage, they feel so different as well. So that’s parts of it that I’m missing, but it is cool getting to do things like that.

Have you all looked ahead to rescheduling dates yet, or are you waiting until things calm down a bit more?
It’s all up in the air for us. I think that with the shows that we’re envisioning putting on, it kind of feels like it’s just better to wait until we know that it can actually happen. As soon as there’s like a green light, we’ll be getting to work making that happen.

It would have been difficult for you and the band to postpone the album, but do you feel as though people may even enjoy it a bit more having waited a few extra months?
Potentially. I really do feel as though now is the right time [for the album]. The last couple of years has been such a whirlwind for us. I think because of the touring schedule we gave ourselves, and the relentless – I’m a pretty prolific writer, and as soon as I’ve written something, I just want people to hear it. Our initial idea was like, “Get it out there, keep going out on the road.” But I feel like, personally, I love this album, and feel like I’m even more connected to it now than I was back then.

We haven’t had months in a row in the one place for years now, so to have this time at home, and not travelling constantly, I kind of feel more grounded. And it sort of ties into… it’s a very introspective, reflective album. There’s a lot on there about moving through some of the darker emotions and traumas and that sort of thing. And coming through the other side feeling lighter. and I feel like through the last few months, I’ve been able to live that out in an even more real way than when I was writing it.

This new record also comes around a little quicker than previous albums. Were you feeling a little bit more inspired than usual to have so much work released across the last year?
I guess so. I’m so heavily influenced by what’s happening in my life and a lot of what I write is my way of connecting with what I’m feeling myself, and it kind of helps me make sense of what I’m feeling. The last year, or the last 18 months now, was such a huge year, and it was amazing. So many dreams came true, and there was so much love and celebration.

It was also just so busy, and the physical and emotional and mental toll of working so hards and not really having a lot of downtime meant that… I had a lot of emotions and feelings that I just couldn’t push down or ignore. I feel like, for me, writing and recording music is kind of like my release, which is funny, because it’s technically like “work”. But I almost felt like I had to write this album to get through that time and to kind of like, rise above those things that had been sitting there under the surface that I had been ignoring.

There’s a major of feeling of liberation present within the album, which coincides with your decision to identify as ‘free’.
Absolutely. I think that sometimes, the “scariest” songs to release, or when you really reveal yourself, they’re the most liberating and exciting process as well.

Have you found it easier to become more vulnerable and open as Cub Sport has gone on, or is there still some apprehension at play?
I feel like it is becoming easier. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that I basically hid everything about who I was for about the first 25 years of my life. As I started to realise that I was queer, I also started to realise that was something that society was telling me I should be ashamed of. So it’s kind of like I always felt that I was alway trying to find ways to filter who I am through a lens that is less embarrassing, or more digestible for people.

When I finally admitted I was in love with Sam [Netterfield, Cub Sport keyboardist and vocalist], came out as queer, and we got together and everything, that was a huge moment of opening up to everyone in my life. Like, I hadn’t really been fully honest with anyone. And when I realised that people were’t being hateful or judgemental, and people were understanding, and when I saw that through sharing my experiences and being open about it, it was helping other people find the courage, or feel the freedom within themselves to be themselves and live their truth.

It’s always scary to be completely vulnerable, but I think I’ve learnt that there’s a lot of power in it, and when you’re really open with what you’re going through and what you’re feeling, most people are kind once they have the context. It’s definitely something I find easier as I go on, and I feel like I’m building my courage all the time. I think after feeling like I had to hide myself for so long, now being able to be fully myself and to keep exploring that and learning more about who I am and everything, it’s just like a freedom I hadn’t experienced before. So now I’m all in, basically.

Does it sort of feel daunting having that role where you’re seen as something of a role model for accepting yourself, and someone who has been able to instigate that kind of dialogue?
Yeah, I think that across the first three albums, I went from self-doubt to starting to learn self-acceptance. And then on the third album – which was the first album I created completely on the other side of coming out – I felt like I was more accepting of myself than ever. I think in my mind, I saw it as this linear journey and it was just getting better and brighter, and I felt like that was my trajectory, and I felt really good about showing other people who might be in that self-doubt and that sort of stage to be like, “Look, if I can do it, you can do it.”

I think I started to feel a certain amount of pressure to emphasise the positive side of my experience once I got to this point of like, I felt like I was promoting self-love by saying “Look at how far I’ve come, look at how much happier I am for accepting myself.”

But then, the back half of last year – when I was starting to feel kind of run down and a bit burnt out – I wasn’t entirely feeling the self-love, and starting to struggle again with some self-doubt. I was so disappointed that I haven’t continued on this trajectory of being happier, and doing better and better within myself. I felt like I didn’t want to let people down who had felt inspired by my journey.

So that was kind of a bit part of the inspiration behind Like Nirvana, because I ended up writing a bunch of it in the back half of last year, and I think that for me, it was a really good reminder that it isn’t this simple, linear journey and there are always going to be harder times through life, and that it isn’t as simple as ‘accept yourself, live your truth, and then everything will fall into place.’ I think I was kind of under the impression that that might be how it is.

It’s kind of a long-winded answer to that, but I kind of feel that writing this record was like releasing myself from feeling an expectation to have a certain reality and a certain message for the sake of continuing this inspiring story. But then, through the releasing of myself from that pressure I was putting onto myself, I think I was able to create a very honest, holistic, and more realistic view of the whole story, not just the good and uplifting parts.

Were there any particular musical inspirations that went into the album? Alongside the release of “Drive” you name-checked songs from artists such as Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star. Are they artists whose music has meant a lot to you?
So Cocteau Twins’ “Cherry-Coloured Funk” is the song that our sound engineer tunes the PA with at the start of every show. I hadn’t really listened to Cocteau Twins that much, and then with our relentless touring schedule over the last year, I was hearing that song most days of the week, and it has such a beautiful warmth to the instrumentation and the vibe. I really love playing shows, and it reminds me of happy memories of patching in our stuff before a show.

But I was just kind of more drawn to the sounds of guitars and some more live elements. I think that the last album was pretty synthy and there were a lot of electronic beats and that sort of thing, and when I’m creating music I get bored if I create the same sounds. So it was really about playing around in the studio until I was playing or creating something that gave me that excited buzz in my chest. I guess the sounds and textures that were really resonating with me and felt like I was telling the story and portraying the energy that was coming to me were a lot of more organic guitars and live bass guitar.

There are obviously still a lot of tracks on the album that are still synth-focused, and there are lots of electronic beats and that sort of thing as well, but I think that incorporating more of those – I guess people the use world “band-y” or guitar elements – into it just felt like it where it needed to go to feel right.

Cub Sport’s Like Nirvana is out today. The group will also be launching the new record with a socially-distanced event in their hometown of Brisbane tomorrow afternoon. Head along to their social media for more details.

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