Bathed in blue light and enveloped in customised silk by Harris Reed, frontman Tim Nelson introduces Cub Sport’s newest single, released only hours earlier. "This one is about crying happy tears", he smiles to a sold-out crowd at the renowned Scala venue in King’s Cross. Every eye in the room is drawn to his ethereal energy as fans from all walks of life turn out for the final show of the Brisbane alt-pop group’s European tour, which saw them open for indie rock veterans Local Natives followed by a series of their own headline dates. A sense of sheer love and admiration emanates from the crowd, bouncing off the married couple Tim and Sam (keys/vocals), Dan (drums) and Zoe (keys/guitar/vocals), before getting radiated right back at us.
We met with Tim and Sam one week prior to the headline Scala show to talk about the journey that got them here. Most fans are acquainted with the incredibly honest and heart-warming story of Cub Sport after the couple fell in love and eventually came out to each other in 2016. For those who are not, the language of their music and bodies paint it beautifully.
Photographer Jade Danielle Smith captures these private moments of compassion, only otherwise articulated in song. Like a dance of light, they exist as one. In the suite of an east London hotel room, fur caresses the skin as stylist Nathan Henry dresses the boys in the splendour and richness of the moment. Finally, they have arrived at a place where love can exist in full bloom. Together, we delve into what exactly that means, why it never happened before, and how best to hold onto the present.
First things first: how is the tour going?
Both: it’s been great.
What has been your favourite city?
Tim: It was pretty amazing to visit Paris. It was our first time playing there and we’ve wanted to play there forever.
Sam: It was our first time hitting a few spots actually. We’d never been to Denmark or Sweden. The crowds have been really lovely.
We often ask people to describe themselves in a sentence. But you are a band closer than most: who is the person sitting next to you?
Tim: That’s such a huge question. He’s everything to me. I literally can’t try and find words without crying. He’s just full of love and compassion and he’s incredibly intelligent and really funny and handsome.
Sam: Tim is my soulmate. And I think my guardian angel and the piece that completes me.
We have just released our new AW19 print issue Glede which is Norwegian for ‘happiness’. Are you happy?
Sam: Yes. Though, it was a journey to get to this point of being truly happy with myself and reaching a place where I loved every part of me.
I know that three of you went to school together and religion featured quite significantly in your upbringings. What is your relationship with faith now and what do you believe in?
Tim: I feel like coming out of that; I very much ran in the opposite direction. I was like, "I don’t believe in God: all religion is based on nothing". Since then I feel much more connected to everything around me. I believe there is a higher power that exists in all of us and in everything in the world. I don’t believe in God in the traditional sense that I grew up with but I do believe that there is more to us and to our lives than this one lifetime living in our body.
Sam: I’m very much on the same page. I think there is so much more than what we see and I don’t think everything happens by chance: everything is for a reason. If you can truly get to a place of living in compassion and love you truly start to see that ‘God’ spark in everything and everyone.
Tim, you said of writing the recent album, Cub Sport, that you promised yourself you "weren’t going to make any decisions based on fear". That is not an easy choice to make. What was the internal conversation you had that allowed you to push past the fear?
Tim: It was about allowing myself to live in love and experience love in a way that I never really had before. I grew up letting fears dictate most of my decisions because the person that I identified as was basically defined by my fears. For me, coming out was overcoming one big fear and that allowed me to start knocking down other walls: doing the things that I really wanted to do instead of holding back.
What does your writing process look like?
Tim: It’s very personal. I do a lot of it alone. And I feel like it’s very inspired - I try not to overthink anything. Most of the things that we release are things that have come to me quite spontaneously. Most of my creativity comes from my higher self.
As you say, your writing is incredibly honest. How is it to perform such personal music night after night? I know it can sometimes be quite taxing for an artist, especially if the songs were written during times of darkness - as half the tracks from BATS were.
Tim: I feel like I put a lot of energy out when I am performing, but it is something that I enjoy doing. There’s a connection with people in the audience that I really love and the songs that we perform are the ones that I still feel connected to in a very genuine way. It can be nice to take a song that I wrote at a time when I was so unsure and then transform it into a new space where I feel so much more powerful than I did when I wrote it. It feels like a completely different thing performing it live - it does take a lot out of me but it feels good doing it.
Track Lift Me Up is about embracing the light that had entered your life in recent years. Looking back, did you know you were in darkness at the time?
Tim: It was getting through it and then looking back at it that I really recognised the amount that I was carrying. Especially in the last six months or so, I’ve become much more aware of the duality - the dark and the light - that exists. Coming out, and then having all of these amazing things happen, for a period of time I felt like, "wow, I’m in the clear. I’m in the light now". Then I’ve started to realise that it isn’t that simple: there is always going to be the shadow side. It’s about learning how to embrace that and the reasons and lessons behind those experiences, thoughts and feelings.
So, I feel like my perspective on it all has changed a lot… It’s gone from denial to a period of my life where I felt quite blissful - which was just amazing that I got to experience. It felt like I was achieving so much so quickly. Now, I feel like I’ve got a broader perspective again. I guess that’s something that is going to keep happening throughout my whole life.
Sam, what is your relationship with your ‘shadow side’?
Sam: Talking about the albums and creative process, I feel like I’ve had a less forced experience of working through it compared to Tim. It’s probably something that bubbles under the surface - that I am less aware of. But I feel like it has been really quite an incredible journey to this point: a butterfly emerging from its cocoon is what it feels like. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the journey that brought us together. I am very grateful for those times of darkness and how those have shaped me.
How do you get yourself out of a dark place?
Sam: What we’ve learnt is to just be gentle with yourself. That is something that I am starting to make a default, which is certainly not what I used to do. Reminding myself that everything happens for a reason; that you are always enough no matter how you feel. It’s a learning experience - actually believing that and putting it into practice.
Both of your Triple J's Like A Version covers (Kanye West/Billie Eilish) have been stunning. What do you look for when choosing music to cover?
Tim: It’s always songs that we feel connected to as well as sonically fit into the Cub Sport world. If we see or feel something and it feels genuine to perform even though it isn’t something that we’ve created ourselves.
Who are your musical inspirations?
Tim: Frank Ocean is my number one. I love Perfume Genius. Solange.
Sam: Lana Del Rey. Caroline Polachek. We pretty much exclusively listen to the same music.
If the journey from This Is Our Vice to Cub Sport represents the journey of ‘secret’ or repressed love to one that is in full bloom, how do you visualise the moment that love is set free?
Tim: I feel like it’s very similar to what Sam just said about a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
Sam: Not so much in a visual sense, but I feel like it’s the moment you accept that you deserve the fullness of love.
You came out in 2016 and are now able to use your platform to empower young queer fans. How do you navigate this pressure - or is it pressure for you both?
Sam: I feel like we are both just trying to always remain true to ourselves. We’re using our journey and basically putting it on the table for everyone so they can see the whole thing for what it is, and not just highlighting the good bits. Basically, all we can do is be genuine about who we are and what we believe in - the fact that people do connect with it and find it helpful is just incredible. It’s this whole other part of what we do as musicians commercially that is so rewarding.
Because you live your lives so honestly fans now expect that from you, but how do you find balance?
Tim: It’s something we are learning to navigate as we go. It’s a really interesting situation. For me, knowing that it’s benefiting people who are in a similar situation to what we were in when we were younger, it’s a big motivation and inspiring force that picks me up when I feel low. But sometimes you have to give yourself a break from social media. Sometimes we’ll get sent messages like, 'Cub Sport don't have an Instagram story right now. Are you okay?’ Haha.
Haha well at least they are checking in! Do you think this age of social media has enabled visibility for the queer community?
Sam: Obviously there are so many pros and cons for social media. I think the visibility side is an incredible part of it; it's a way to connect and show people they are not alone and there is light on the other side of the darkness. People are in it together.
What is your advice on how to gain a greater sense of self-awareness?
Tim: Give yourself the time to recognise how you really feel: listen to your inner self and recognise your feelings. Meditation is obviously very powerful - I find when I really need it, it’s the hardest to do. Listening to what’s in your heart - it’s different from listening to your thoughts. Trust yourself. Trusting your gut is a great way to navigate life in general.
What are you inspired by outside of music?
Sam: Nature for sure. We try to spend a lot of time in nature, especially when we’re at home. We have a forest near us, and we like to walk our dogs through there which is a form of meditation in itself. Whenever we get to a new city, I love to have a walk around and take it all in. People: seeing people live genuinely.
Tim: Yeah, interaction with all the people around me is a constant source of inspiration. I feel like certain things happen just to draw a creative spark out of me - sometimes I’ll be like, why is this happening? But then I’ll have lyrics come crashing out of me into my phone like 'woah'. I love feeling present in my feelings, and when that comes from a place of love, it’s a very beautiful thing to capture. Though for me, it’s really important that it doesn’t always have to be an uplifting inspiration in order to create something. It could be about moving through something or healing if that makes sense? A lot of what comes out of me is a surprise - that’s probably when I like it the most.
Sam, you designed the new merch. Have you always been into illustration?
Sam: Yeah, so I hand drew all of the new designs. It’s something that developed over the years. My friend taught me how to tattoo a couple of years ago so Tim and our housemate at the time got me a tattoo machine. I really enjoyed that and happened to fumble my way through the software and make it work on a computer. It’s collaborative and we are all involved in the physical design process, but this is the first one that I have done entirely from scratch myself. It includes the symbol of our record label, which is also a tattoo that I did on Tim last year.
What would be your lip-sync anthem?
Tim: Céline Dion's It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.
Sam: We Belong Together by Mariah Carey. They’re more our karaoke songs but we can definitely make lip-sync work.
We’ve touched on already that your entire three albums are like a continuous journey, with Cub Sport the ‘arrival’ of the band in its truest form. What is the next chapter for you as individuals and musically?
Tim: The next collection of songs were written throughout our first year of marriage. We’ve been on the road for most of that time and promoting the self-titled record, so it’s kind of been my internal whirl during that entire experience. Sonically, I think it’s been quite different again. I feel like there’s a lot of love on this next album in a very light and pure form, as well as diving years back and reliving moments that I was too scared to express at the time. I have new-found confidence and perspective, and I can celebrate and mourn things that I was just disconnecting myself from at the time. It’s been pretty powerful for me personally… This next chapter is going to be a powerful one.
More so than the chapter you are now closing?
Sam: It feels freer. Is that the right word?
Tim: Yeah. I think I just feel a bit wiser.
What’s next for you, Sam?
Sam: I feel like all we ever try to do is listen to our guts and embrace things as they happen. We have a bunch of global touring so that will keep us very occupied. There is more music on the way, very soon actually. Letting ourselves enjoy where we are, what we’ve built and the people that we’ve allowed ourselves to become is what I have planned.
What is one personal goal or challenge for the next year you’d like to overcome?
Sam: Let me check my new moon intentions. See if there’s one that sums it up…
Tim: My overarching one is to be kinder to myself. Always. I feel like I judge myself in ways that I would never judge anybody else… I think that is something that you can never get too good at.
Sam: I would say being more present and finding balance in all aspects of life. Touring constantly and putting out bodies of work which we do all ourselves, you can easily teeter on burn out. So, just finding balance - which ties into being kinder to yourself and enjoying every part of it as you go, so you don’t look back and realise you’ve toured the world for two years and forgotten to enjoy it. We are definitely doing that at the moment: we are having a lot of fun. Local Natives have been so lovely and incredibly chilled. This is the most fun we’ve had on tour.