The road to Cub Sport’s self-titled record has been anything but smooth. The band went through a moniker change, split from their label, and weathered personal revelations as they penned and released two EPs and two full-lengths too. Now LP3 is upon us, and represents a fuller, more introspective group of individuals than fans have really seen before. Their last album, BATS, celebrated the public aspects of self-acceptance, specifically in coming to terms with a queer identity. The new album channels that love inward.

I had the enormous privilege to talk with the band’s leader, Tim Nelson, about everything Cub Sport ahead of their forthcoming European tour, supporting the release of their new self-titled record. We discussed the differences in the band between their first release and their latest magnum opus, as well as the emotional impact on the main songwriter, Nelson himself. Read our conversation and check out their tour dates below.

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February 12 – Omeara, London
February 14 – Whelans, Dublin
February 15 – Yes, Manchester
February 16 – Bodega, Nottingham
February 18 – The Hope, Brighton
February 20 – Headrow House, Leeds
February 21 – Alloa Library (Speirs Centre) Alloa, Scotland
February 22 – Kendal Library, Kendal, Cumbria

Thinking back to the first EP with ‘Evie’, how do you feel the band has grown since then?

I don’t really identify with a lot of the early music we put out anymore, but I can still appreciate it, and I feel like it’s a really important part of our journey. We knew [the band] was something that we wanted to do for the rest of our lives, but I don’t know if we felt like we had a purpose. It feels like now is the true arrival of Cub Sport and I guess that’s why we feel like now is the right time to be releasing our self-titled record.

Even though it was everyone’s dream, it seems that your story and songwriting have propelled the band. Not that it’s a bad thing—it’s beautiful to get to tell your story, unabridged.

I started writing songs when I was still in school and I wanted to start playing shows and so I got in touch with Zo [Zoe Davis] and Sam [Netterfield] and people around me that I knew could play instruments. That was all under the name “Tim Nelson.” And I guess that was how this band started. Then when we recorded ‘Evie’ and the rest of the songs on that EP, we felt like we had really stepped it up and it felt like a good time to give it a real go and send it to publicists and radio and that sort of thing. I feel like the whole journey wouldn’t have been possible without the constant support and belief from Dan, Zo, and Bolan.

It sounds like you guys have grown from just having live chemistry to really knowing and understanding each other and Cub Sport.

Yeah, for sure.

I know some of the band is vegan—how difficult is it to travel with dietary restrictions?

Sam and I are vegan and Zo and Dan are pescatarian and vegetarian. We actually only started eating vegan while we were on tour in the US in April this year. Sam’s also got celiac so it can be kind of tricky finding vegan and gluten-free options everywhere we go, but we’ve gotten pretty good at it. We come prepared.

Nice, so it doesn’t sound like this would ever stop you from travelling in the future.

Around a lot of the US, there are great vegan places and there are Whole Foods scattered all over the country which makes things a lot easier. We haven’t toured Europe since being vegan so I guess we’ll find out what that’s like in February. But we’ll be prepared for that too.

When you were rolling out BATS, and all the interviews started rehashing your coming out story, did the narrative in the media follow the message you wanted to get across? Were you hoping, for example, that the record be left more open to interpretation?

The openness around the whole record helped a lot of people on their own journeys. So I’m really happy with how that happened because when I was writing it, I never thought I’d share it with anyone. And then I surprised myself with how open I was able to be. It’s given a whole new level of importance and purpose outside of the songs themselves. It’s a huge privilege to have had [this experience], to have been able to present it in [a way that people can relate to] and for it to have been received like that. I learned so much about myself in the process—[the album] kept revealing layers to me, the more I spoke about it. I think it happened exactly how it was meant to, and that really inspired a bunch of the next record too, so it was all meant to be. [laughs]

Do you always write new songs for new records or do you have a lot of old songs that you continue to work on?

I am always writing and the albums and the timelines do overlap a little bit. So for BATS, I had written just over half of them before I came out and then I wrote a bunch of songs just after coming out. Those are the ones that felt like they completed the BATS narrative. Then it felt like the right time to pull another record together with songs that spanned before This Is Our Vice until early 2017 I think. I wrote ‘Video’ just before BATS came out and I think this week I wrote a song that is definitely gonna be on album four.

If you’re always writing songs, and reflecting on what you said earlier about the songs on BATS, would you say that you are constantly learning new things about yourself?

Yeah I think I do! I think I learn more when I’m looking back on the songs as well. Even once I was listening to album three in its concluded state, seeing all the songs together, it kind of took on a different meaning. I’d be surprised if a similar thing doesn’t happen on this next album too. Especially because it’s so fresh.

What are your first impressions on Cub Sport by Cub Sport?

I feel like this new record has a lighter energy around it. I didn’t write it during a particularly light time—there was a lot of pressure and I had a bunch of health issues and was going through so many enormous changes and with a larger audience it felt like the stakes were higher. I don’t know quite how to describe it but I feel like through being so open about my sexuality and my identity it opened me up throughout my whole life, like outside of my sexuality. Through all of that growing, I gained a lot of perspective and I feel like I’ve kind of learned a lot about recurring cycles in my life, like acting out of fear and shame and that sort of thing.

I can definitely hear that. I’d love to go through some of the songs specifically too, starting with the opener, ‘Unwinding Myself’. An a cappella song on a pop record is bold and making it the first track is downright brave.

That song literally just came out of me. I pressed record and started singing. Later I thought I’d put synths behind that but I realized that I had been singing in between keys—like the notes that I’m singing in certain parts of it aren’t actually notes. [laughs] So I was like, ‘OK, I guess this was meant to be a cappella.’ I also thought of trimming it down, but then thought that I might be doing that out of fear and so I decided against it. I’ve come to believe that all creativity comes from a higher place or somewhere else and so I’ve learned to respect my own work and believe in it.

Also recently, I’ve done a bunch of reading and learned a lot about the power of our subconscious. I grew up in like a very homophobic environment so although I was shown a lot of love, I had an internal battle going on. Before I started writing BATS especially, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-loathing and so much shame about who I was. I feel like there’s a lot of that in my subconscious that I’m still working through. And I feel like I’m really starting to get somewhere with it. So the song is about unwinding this inner tension that’s been there, and kind of relaxing my being so that I can express myself to my fullest potential and be the best version of myself. I wrote that before I really understood a lot about it and now it’s tying itself together for me now.

What a story. It’s beautiful to see how all the elements truly come together from your perspective, even when it comes to details like cutting the length of a song. Moving to ‘Sometimes’, when was that one written?

I wrote this when the same-sex marriage debate was happening here in Australia. I was doing a bunch of interviews and writing open letters and writing pieces for publications and it was like I was being forced to acknowledge the way I felt head-on. I wanted to do it because I knew that it was having a positive impact but in the midst of new pressures and things it was really hard. At the time, I was learning how much gender norms and people talk about like toxic masculinity and I always had thought, ‘that’s not me,’ but once I actually started to acknowledge the reasons I feel the way that I do, I was learning where a lot of these fears were stemming from. Those were like the kind of revelations I thought I was having at the time. And it kind of feels like it hasn’t stopped.

I see, I think I had conflated the same-sex vote press you were doing with the BATS album cycle; I definitely understand how that could have been tough to work through. On a lighter note, I think of ‘Limousine’ as Cub Sport’s ‘Partition’. When you sing, “My emotions are tattooed there on the internet,” did you mean in terms of social media exposure or explicitly through the music?

I think just how the whole thing is tied together. The songs are there if people want to listen and read. And then it’s really slowed into our social media and interviews and even like the visual aspects.

Do you think of it as a good thing?

Yeah I do. I feel like I wouldn’t be quite so driven to delve into my own emotions and writing songs draws something out of me that I then have to acknowledge and learn about. It’s helping me grow. Our last records helped people on their journey, and I feel like this one can continue to do that as well.

Do you think this will ever become so exhausting that you’ll want to stop?

Not that I can see happening. I feel like I’ve been working toward this thing that I’ve wanted to do since I can remember. I’ve had moments where I’ve definitely felt burnt out along the way but I feel like my love for it trumps all of the challenges.

That’s good to hear. ‘Lift Me Up’, another track from the new album, surprises me because it is mostly instrumental. Can you talk about how that came about?

When we were in the tour van in the US, I was so sick and my voice was just holding on, so I was on complete vocal rest for a week. But the time when I’d normally just go running my mouth in the van, I just had to sit there in silence and so I ended up reading a lot that week and also working on songs a bunch on my laptop. I went through my whole hard drive and went through pretty much every old idea, including ‘Lift Me Up’. I had written the Juno synth line—the din-din-din throughout the whole song—on Boxing Day last year [author’s note: 2017.] I put a beat to it and then just started to add French horns and stuff, then when my voice was back I recorded vocals over the whole thing, but I didn’t like it as much. So I took everything out except the title line. I feel like it’s a really uplifting, nourishing thing to listen to and I felt like with the vocals on there it was almost distracting from the way that this song made me feel.

Does this mean that you’ll be putting out more instrumental, vibey songs?

Yeah, I mean if that’s what comes to me. When I’m writing and recording, I’ve never felt like I need to take it in a certain direction for it to fit into Cub Sport. I like to think that Cub Sport is something that can expand and go anywhere, so if that’s what comes to me when I’m writing and recording then sure.

What was your intention with ‘Come Out’?

I felt like when I first came out and was open about being queer, I felt really free, like ‘wow I can be myself, I don’t have to hide anymore.’ Then, after a few months, I started to realize that I was still hiding, and there are still moments when I feel scared of what people would think of me if I was like open about it. [The song is] just about being honest and embracing who you are and not worrying too much what other people think.

I initially thought of the track, why wasn’t this on BATS? But I can see how you mean it in a deeper way—to be comfortable with yourself knowing that this one detail isn’t going to solve all your problems.

I feel like there are pressures put on everyone by society to be a certain way. Whether you’re queer or not. It’s getting better but there’s still a stigma around mental health. Everyone has something that they can ‘come out’ with, so I want it to be an anthem for not just coming out as gay but for being your whole self, even if it doesn’t necessarily fall within society’s comfort zone.

I also wanted to bring up ‘Summer Lover’, which, like many of the other tracks we’ve been discussing, has a lot of subtle self-reflection.

That was one that I recorded and then I was like, ‘I need to like do something to it to make it ready for the album.’ I tried a bunch of different things and it just, it didn’t feel right. I thought we’d make it a bonus track, and then at the last minute I was listening to it and I was like, ‘no this needs to be an official track. I want this to be the album closer.’ And again, I think I was scared about having like a 15-song album that ends on a sort of downbeat vibe, but then I said to myself, ‘no, this is the type of music that I love and that makes me feel emotional.’

Could not agree more. And there’s also the track featuring your pal, Mallrat! This was your first time collaborating, right?

Well we started writing a song together back in like 2016 I think, we worked on it for like 15 minutes and then Bolan gave Grace a tattoo and we just never went back to it. [laughs] But yeah this is our collab that has been finished and that is being heard by people. This song for me was about embracing, well first recognizing, my power and creativity. One of the first inspirations I had for the song was about a video I’d made, and just feeling like I’d made something good. It feels like a breakaway from the previous mindset—it’s still gentle but out of any song on the album, it feels the most aggressive to me. And I think that it’s about moving past a place where I take on negativity from external things that don’t serve me and kinda just focusing on the good things.

I also wanted to talk about your fandom. Since working with the Dolan brothers, your reach has expanded considerably, and we already talked about how the BATS narrative touched many people, but I was curious if there was another moment that made you realize that this was going to make an impact on people’s lives?

The first time that I really realized that was when we put the ‘O Lord’ video out. It was the first video we’d made about being openly queer. And I feel like, visually, we had never captured the Cub Sport vision like we had wanted to up until that point. It felt like a rebirth. The response to that was probably one of the first points that I realized the impact that we could have by sharing our journey. But yeah, the video with the Dolan twins was really amazing. They came to our show in LA in April and before we played ‘Crush,’ I told the story of how Bolan and I had kind of struggled to work past our shame and fear of what people would say if we came out and how we finally got together, and that really resonated with them. So they hit me up after the show and said that they had this music video idea. We FaceTime’d again a few months later and it all worked out. I knew that it was gonna go viral I guess, cuz every single video that they make goes viral, but I don’t think I quite understood the enormous impact it would have on young, queer people who had never felt proud of who they are or felt like they could talk about it before. That was definitely a highlight of this year.

Is there a song on the record that we haven’t talked about that you are particularly proud to put out?

‘Party Pill’, which tells the part of the story of Sam and I that I’ve like never felt like I could tell before, which is about us falling in love when we were 17 and then ending it because I was just so full of shame and fear. So I feel like that song is going to, it has the potential to touch a lot of people. And I’m excited to put it out.

Before I let you go, you started a record label—Cub Sport Records. Do you plan on signing more artists?

We actually released BATS on that label too. We’d been signed to a label previously but with BATS being such a personal and important record for us, it was really important that we had full freedom to follow our intuition at any point in the campaign without having people telling us, ‘this won’t work.’ And we managed to pull together an entire global team for PR and radio and it’s the most amazing group of people who believe in what we’re doing and understand us. If we get to a point where we want to have a break from touring and releasing music, then we would love to sign other artists. I feel like we’ve learned a lot about the industry from being on both the artist side and management side, and label side now and it’s nice to be able to empower artists who don’t necessarily feel like the classic model or the music industry standards really work for them.