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Downbeat Bangers, 'Bats' and the Queer Life: Chatting to Cub Sport

22 September 2017 | 8:14 am | Lloyd Crackett

Cub Sport are back with their follow up album to last years This Is Our Vice and lead man, Tim Nelson took some time to talk to Purple Sneakers about it all

Australia has a queer problem. Right now in this country, Dune Rats' ‘Scott Green’ is probably the most popular song in which a man sings about another man, well – sings about something only marginally less publicly decent than being gay. Our country, the fair Australia, can chorus ‘Who’s Scott Green’ without any irony in that a non-subtle drug reference is more acceptable and accessible in Australian music. Australia has a queer problem, not because it has a shortage of queer culture but because it does not provide it a platform.

Cue CUB SPORT, a band who have been staple voices of Brisbane youths for years now; with multiple EPs, tours, their debut album, and now their sophomore – they’ve taken quite a hold and forged their own platform. Over the past year they began to open up about their lived queer experiences. Through Facebook statuses, interviews, an appearance on Triple J’s Hack and all forms of social media – bandmates Tim Nelson and Sam Netterfield have made their private lives public. In reality, two people loving one another and getting engaged shouldn’t be as important as it is, but it is and it has to be. Australia is currently waging war on itself for the right to say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Both sides are spouting whatever they can to convince the rest, queer lives are criticised daily and the validity of their relationships is constantly under scrutiny. To be an out, publicly gay couple at this point in time, is to stand for something. To create an album centred on the journey to this point, to be honest about it and most of all, to not code it within the album is to stand for something. The queer voice is often silenced but Cub Sport are pretty gay and they will not be quiet about it.

Bats is Cub Sport’s album of release in many ways, and it's not controlled by suits or number crunchers. It’s a culmination of a journey, an emotional toll translated through a band. It’s an intimate, earnest and downright pretty album from the ukulele of ‘Give It To Me’ to the autotune of ‘Crush’. Bats is an exploration of new sounds and style and Cub Sport take none of their newfound liberation for granted. Bats is an album through and through, not a series of singles plagued with filler tracks but one large cohesive narrative. It’s liberated, it’s gay and it’s vulnerable. It’s what Australia might really need right now in popular music, in a social landscape in which rage is coming from all sides; it might be important to hear all the feelings of an individual.

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In the lead up to Cub Sport’s release of Bats, Purple Sneakers was given the chance to catch up with lead man Tim Nelson to explore all of this, to be a queer with a platform, a man with a history and a musician who only ever wants to improve not only in skill but in honesty.

The response to your music video ‘O Lord’ has been huge, especially during this tense political climate surrounding the plebiscite. You’ve talked about your relationship with Hack and countless interviews – how has it been for you to publicise a private section of your life, especially one that is facing great criticism around the country?

TIM : Well, it was a bit of an adjustment, I guess. It was like a long time battling with acknowledging my sexuality before I even came out and then quite quickly, Sam’s and I’s relationship, like I guess because we were sharing it on social media and that sort of thing, it became quite public... and the ‘O Lord’ video. It’s been an adjustment but a really good opportunity to speak about something that’s important and to represent a group of people who have been oppressed systematically for quite a long time.

How was the reaction from the fans?

So encouraging, it’s been super lovely. I think that the love that everyone is showing kind of just encourages us to keep going with it, and keep trying to do whatever we can for the queer community.

The ‘O Lord’ video was so beautiful, it was wonderful to start off with the image of you two, together, and that image of you two hugging made its way on to some Cub Sport merch. It’s a beautiful shirt.

Thank you, yeah – we are feeling good about it, we’ve made a rule that we'd only release merch we would want to wear ourselves.

And you wear it a lot-

It’s the cheapest clothes we can get our hands on, so we wear it!

The album traverses many different genres in subtle ways, ‘Give It To Me’ is a few plucks, whistling and your voice, while the title track ‘Bats’ is a low key dance track – was there an overall aim for shape and style of the album?

No, there wasn’t really an aim at all, the writing process was really just me processing my feelings over the course of the last couple years and I feel like there have been so many significant things that have happened within that time. And a lot of personal growth, which has been quite an inspiring time and I think with the writing and recording, it was more about trying to take away that feeling and put it into the music that reflected that. That is kind of thing that thing that ties it all together for me.

Vocally, the entire album explores the range of your voice, a lot of harmonising and varying vocal styles but it also covers a lot of ground – it seems intensely personal but also detailing a history – and I know you have a quite intense home-based style of recording, how was that all worked together to create Bats?

When I am recording at home, most of the vocals and melodies and a lot of the lyrics are free style, you could say – I kind of make it up as I go and I often end up keeping those first takes. There’s something quite intimate [about it] and it sounds personal to me, especially when I can kind of re-live when exactly the moment I'm recording it, knowing that I didn’t know where I was going with it. I was just following whatever I was feeling.

I was just going to describe it as intimate in the next question. Bats has a pretty and intimate style that carries throughout, lyrically and sonically, even the ‘O Lord’ video and all of the teaser images for the new video for ‘Chasin’ focus on this attention to detail, prettiness and overall style – how has this all come together? You’ve always been a well-dressed band with good videos but this seems like a level up.

Thank you, I guess my vision to this release, it feels so much clearer to me and now that we are completely independent, we have a lot of control over everything, like creatively, single choices, what the videos are going to look like - we don’t have to run that by anyone and we get to do what we love.

It’s definitely showing through.

It’s been really liberating. These are the first things we have done since coming out and it feels like the first time we can really express ourselves creatively on a new level.

It’s definitely showing because the album doesn’t necessarily go through different genres but style of the songs changes up, 'Crush' has a little bit of autotune?

Yeah that’s autotune, and the backing vocals in the chorus have been pitch shifted and have autotune, but only subtly pitched shifted.

I was surprised by that and it is a very sweet and pretty song. One of my favourites is ‘Give It To Me’, that was a left of centre, it’s just a plucking guitar and who is whistling on that track? 

That’s me whistling.

That’s beautiful, I didn’t see a lot of songs coming – ‘Temporarily’ is also pretty, you can obviously feel the love on the album

That’s all the things I want to hear!

You have talked in an interview with Redbull about Solange and Frank Ocean’s albums being two of your favourites of last year, and after listening to Bats, it’s wonderful to see how you have interpreted it – what is it about those artists, both musically and as people that inspires you?

I think its just how I think you can tell that it's really genuine and I feel like there are no other artists that's is doing what Solange is doing, her style and in every way, her videos, songs, her fashion and everything. I think that’s what's been really inspiring for us to take, although we are a band and we make music, and to stretch that vision out further than just the songs and let it spread into every part of the project. I think for Frank, for me listening to Blond, just hit me so hard. A lot of people were saying that the production sounds unfinished and wasn’t as polished as Channel Orange, it was those parts of it that really made [it for] me. It just feels so raw and laid bare and it gave me hope as a producer, and I realised that my demos that were rough in some parts or a little bit glitchy or something and you can release music like that - it doesn’t need to lose that.

 It’s more enjoyable that way-

It feels more real that way.

Because it has the actual feeling it was intended with. ‘Give It To Me’ was a very Frank Ocean track to me, the entire vibe and the levels and what you were singing about. It’s a pretty song but lightly sexy, but not in a brash way.

Thank you, that one was a co-write with Sarah Blasko and she was playing that part on the ukulele. I remember when I first heard it and the plan for me was to write melody and lyrics over the top of it and I freaked out for a second. It was so different to any sort of chord progression that I’d normally write, how am I going to make a melody that fits in with what I do? Sarah and I figured out a form for the song, then she went into the recording room to record the ukulele and I was just in the control room with the producer and I had a mic to record a guide vocal and try out some ideas. I had some lyrical ideas in dot points in my notes on my phone and I sung that start to finish as the guide vocal as Sarah was playing. I went into the vocal booth to record my vocals properly and I could not remember for the life of me what I had sung. So we came back in to listen to it and we were like, "Let’s just use that one." I feel like of all of the songs on the album, that’s the most in-the-moment one because literally, it was the first and only time I sang it through.

It definitely does sound quite raw, it just sounds like a few people got together and recorded something.

That's exactly what it was.

The album itself has a lot of interesting production (you are hitting the Frank Ocean problem), how has translating, or more so, preparing to – translate the album as a live performance been, notably songs like 'Crush' and 'Give It To Me'?

‘Give It To Me’ we did at an in-store in Brisbane at Jet Black Cat Records for Record Store Day and it was one of the first times that we got to share music from Bats with people, and it was the perfect place to do it. Zoe (Davis) plays it on guitar and I just sing it and that one is probably one of the easier ones, we need to incorporate the organ and the whistling for the full live show. We haven’t tackled 'Crush' yet, but we will need to get an autotune pedal. And for the rest of the songs, Dan is a wizard with technology and musical instruments, and he has like gone through and digitally imported all of the analog synths that I recorded the album on. We have all of the exact sounds from the synths we used and they are just saved into Bolan’s (Sam Netterfield) laptop. And it’s incredible, it’s like being played live and it sounds the exact same.

It’s a big folder of the ingredients of Bats! The album also has a few dance-y tracks, a lot of them seem to pick up a tempo, it reminds me of Gauci, like Italo disco. Almost like tropical house. This is chill but Sunday session dancing.

Bolan calls them ‘downbeat bangers’.

It’s kind of a banger, you could dance to it but you don’t have to. That’s what I think of the title track.

I wanted that to be chilled out but I like that it has an energy when the beat kicks in.

It definitely does. It’s a little, "Oh wow," because you are still waxing lyrical and really utilising your voice, and also have to do the question – there is a great fascination with Bats with this album, is it the true Queensland Briscore towards bats - what’s the affinity?

Well, I wrote and recorded the album in a house that we used to live in at Herston in Brisbane and there is a creek that goes through there, and there are thousands of bats that live along the banks of the creek. Most evenings, we’d take Missy and Evie, our dogs, for a walk and take them down across the bridge and go to the park and all the bats at sunset wake up and fill the sky. It’s a really magical thing to see. I used to snapchat it all the time and someone from Texas replied and said it looked like Texas, "We have heaps of bats here." That made me think that, in those moments, when we are just there on the bridge normally listening to 'White Ferrari' by Frank Ocean and watching all the bats flying over, and we could really be anywhere and it really changes anything. That was the inspiration for the song 'Bats' and it felt like the true marker of the feel of the album. I thought it was a nice opportunity to use that beautiful visual for the art and everything as well.

You’ve really thought this all through, that’s really beautiful. 'White Ferrari' is my favourite song off of Blonde, it’s also a very pretty song that is also quite vulnerable which is what you’ve gone for here and that leads to - what’s it like writing intensely personal songs, assumedly so about your partner, then bringing them to him to play for the band?

Well, for a lot of writing of Bats, sort of partly before we got together, I could still hardly admit to myself what the songs were about and I'd be really vague and like, "I don’t know." Speaking about it now, looking back on it, Sam’s like, "I could tell what they were about." I guess we know each other so well and now that we are engaged, it’s just all very open and enjoyable. Especially now I am writing songs that are contenders for album three. It’s a very exciting time now and super inspiring as well, so it's exciting getting to share these moments together. As far as it is to put these personal songs out into the world, I think because a lot of the harder ones to put out there, because they weren’t written right now, I can kind of look back on them and feel more comfortable about it. I don’t think I would have felt comfortable at the time of writing them, putting them all out. It’s like the journey that has been the last couple of years and the way that all the pieces fit together, it feels good to be putting it out.

That’s lovely to hear, it sounds like an album of release – levelling up and releasing and moving onto bigger things. Even the tour poster, styled by Rovel.

 Yeah, he styled the video for 'Chasin' as well, he’s amazing.

I have seen a lot of the teaser images, is it being shot at the creek in Herston? Is it the same place?

No, that’s actually out the back of where I grew up at my parent’s place. We shot some stuff there, we also shot some stuff on the bridge in Herston, there are few significant special locations in the 'Chasin' video.

I read that that song was about you being away from Sam?

That’s the first song on the album, it feels like the start of the Bats story, That was at a time when I went overseas for a writing trip and while I was away, I realised I was in love with Sam, and then at the same time, we were trying to get our first album out and stuff just wasn’t falling into place and there was a lot going on. ‘Chasin’ kind of ties together a couple of emotional situations that were going on at the same time, it feels like the starting point of the album.

You guys just break my gay heart, it’s just wonderful. It’s just real sweet, it’s a full proper journey of a story, it’s lovely to see that this album will be coming out at a very integral time in Australia.

We really felt like we needed to get it out quite quickly, for some reason September was the time, we didn’t leave ourselves much time to pull the campaign together and a lot of people would be like, "Push it back," but we felt it needed to be this time. It is so interesting, in the way that the Australian politics are playing out and it feels like the right time. And for people who are feeling vulnerable with the debate going on, I hope it can be an encouragement or a reminder that there are people who get it.

Cub Sport's Bats is out now. Catch them on tour:

Friday, February 23: Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth WA (18+)

Saturday, February 24: Fat Controller, Adelaide SA (18+)

Saturday, March 3: The Corner, Melbourne VIC (18+)

Sunday, March 4: The Corner, Melbourne VIC (Under 18s Matinee)

Saturday, March 10: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD (AA)

Saturday, March 17: The Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW (AA)

Image by Joseph Crackett/ONLY ODD for Purple Sneakers