Back in March, Cub Sport shared the first two singles off their forthcoming album Like Nirvana. The first—“Confessions”—is a haunting electro-pop number built around a list of singer-songwriter Tim Nelson’s most intimate utterances, while the second—“Drive”—is an emotive ode to his husband and bandmate Sam Netterfield. Both showcase Nelson’s radically vulnerable songwriting and the Brisbane band’s commitment to continued experimentation.
Today the indie pop outfit—rounded out by Zoe Davis and Dan Puusaari—releases another single, “I Feel Like I Am Changin.’” “For that song it was just a feeling of peace and gratitude and joy in living some normal days at home,” Nelson told American Songwriter of the track. “And I think—given where so much inspiration for my songs has come from, working through difficult parts of my life and dealing with things that I’ve held down for most of my life—it felt really amazing to create something that felt truly inspired by a feeling of peace.”
Not all of the fare on Like Nirvana—Cub Sport’s fourth album, following 2019’s self-titled full-length—was created from such a place. “There are parts in there about feeling inadequate at times,” says Nelson. “I feel like for me a lot of that stems from growing up feeling like I wasn’t really the person I was meant to be—I never felt like I was masculine enough or into the things that I was meant to be into. Even though I’m well past perceiving the world like that, there are still these pathways in our minds and I feel like that’s something that I’m still working through. I guess writing a lot of these songs felt like a way of acknowledging those experiences and creating something that I really love from it. I often feel a bit lighter on the other side of getting these things out.”
We recently caught up with Nelson, by video chat, from his home in Brisbane about Cub Sport’s latest singles, forthcoming album, and what he calls the “new era of Cub Sport.” He also spoke about some of his biggest inspirations from Kanye West and Grimes to Frank Ocean and Solange. Check out the full interview below.
American Songwriter: I wanted to start by asking about your previous single “Drive,” which is so tender and beautiful, and has apparently brought a lot of Cub Sport fans to tears based on their YouTube comments. Were you surprised by that response, or did you know this song would bring up a lot of deep feelings?
Tim Nelson: It’s a pretty emotive song for me, and as you said it’s quite tender. So I’ve kind of come to expect that response from certain fans, ‘cause I feel like so many of our listeners hear and feel the songs the same way that I do when I’m writing then. It’s been really beautiful. The response to “Drive” has been really cool.
Why did you want “Drive” to be one of the first glimpses of your new record?
It just felt right, I guess. It’s pretty different than anything we’ve released before. Our last record is pretty synth-heavy and there were a lot of electronic drums. I just really love the guitar and the live drum kit and everything on this. It felt like a good marker of this new era of Cub Sport.
The lyric video is this blissful, romantic portrait. Did you edit it yourself?
Yeah, I did. We had a pretty big video planned for it, and I was so excited to shoot it, then the whole lockdown thing happened like five days before we were gonna shoot that video so we just had to can it. Maybe we’ll still get to make it one day. That was just kind of a last-minute, “Let’s just make a video at home or in the park near our house.”
Was some of that footage from touring?
I actually haven’t really watched the video since we put it out, now I’m trying to remember. I think I did get some moments from the tour video archives. The feel of the song makes me think of some of those memories of driving along in the tour van and just being all over the place together.
In the past you’ve said, “When I’m writing and recording songs, I usually just sort of follow a feeling.” What are some of the feelings that drive the rest of the songs on Like Nirvana?
I feel like it’s pretty diverse. The next thing that we’re putting out is a song called “I Feel Like I Am Changin.’” For that song it was just a feeling of peace and gratitude and joy in living some normal days at home. And I think—given where so much inspiration for my songs has come from, working through difficult parts of my life and dealing with things that I’ve held down for most of my life—it felt really amazing to create something that felt truly inspired by a feeling of peace.
I feel like there’s a bit of that on the album [and] the flipside of what the last year has felt like for me as well, with lows to accompany those highs. I feel like with my songwriting, so often, I don’t know exactly what I’m writing about but I’m just getting out whatever the feeling is and I’ll have words come through and then afterwards I’ll reflect on it and I can kind of piece it together. It helps me make sense of my own experiences and my own emotions.
There are parts in there about feeling inadequate at times. I feel like for me a lot of that stems from growing up feeling like I wasn’t really the person I was meant to be—I never felt like I was masculine enough or into the things that I was meant to be into. Even though I’m well past perceiving the world like that, there are still these pathways in our minds and I feel like that’s something that I’m still working through. I guess writing a lot of these songs felt like a way of acknowledging those experiences and creating something that I really love from it. I often feel a bit lighter on the other side of getting these things out.
How’d the name Like Nirvana come up?
We decided on that name pretty late in the process. It came up because we asked one of my childhood friends [Zach Britt AKA xaklovegang] who’s an artist to do some paintings inspired by the album and it was originally going to be used for merch—just to put on t-shirts. When we saw the paintings it just felt so connected to the music. It felt like it tied everything together in a way that I didn’t even know it could be tied together. One of the paintings had the words “like nirvana” and it just looked so good.
This album feels somewhat like an ascension to me. Listening from start to finish it feels like it kind of navigates this whole journey of emotions and then by the end of it, it kind of just floats up in a way. So the words “Like Nirvana” really felt fitting.
Last year you said that Cub Sport make “queer trans-dimensional pop.” Who are some of the artists that you see as Cub Sport’s contemporaries?
I feel like Kanye West is a big inspiration for me. There’s something about what he creates that feels beyond this dimension. You can hear and feel that he is drawing inspiration from something like his higher self or a greater source. FKA Twigs is another one who I feel is just creating beyond this realm. Grimes is another one that comes to mind.
Mallrat is one of my friends and another artist. Certain artists’ music makes me feel the same way that I sometimes feel when I’m creating my own music. It feels like it’s bringing something from somewhere else into this plane. When I listen to the music that I create—and especially this album—I think, ‘I couldn’t think this up myself.’ It really feels like it just flowed through me.
What’s your dream bill for a Cub Sport tour when it’s safe to tour again?
My number-one favorite artist of all time is Frank Ocean. So a tour with us and Frank is probably my number-one. Solange as well. Actually Frank and Solange are two other artists I would say it feels multi-dimensional to listen to that music.
Is there anything you’d like to share about the new record or what Cub Sport have been up to recently?
This isolation time has kind of given us the chance to start working on some songs for the next album, which I always the period of time between locking away an album and releasing it ‘cause it feels like in those months there’s zero pressure on what you create. I feel like I’ve written some of my best songs yet. Funnily enough, some of these new songs have been some of the most collaborative ones from within the band, which is really interesting for that to happen while we actually can’t be together.
As for anything else I can say about Like Nirvana, I’m really just so excited. It feels like a completely new part of our career. And I think that it will show the listeners that there’s probably more to Cub Sport than you may assume just by what we’ve put out before. I’m really excited to show a wider range of what we can do. And there’s one song on the album called “Be Your Man” that I feel is maybe my best songwriting so far, as far as the bones of the song. The production is pretty simple—I feel like there’s a real purity. It’s simple but really strong. That’s one song in particular that I can’t wait to share with people.
Like Nirvana is out July 24. You can pre-order it here.