Photo: Ambar Navarro
"When you're ready to accept love and to feel good about yourself, the rest sort of follows." That simple statement was the profound message that Cub Sport's Tim and Sam left us with, following an honest conversation on the band's shifts in sound, current North American tour, and personal enlightenment as an out & proud couple.
Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, Cub Sport is an indie-pop quartet comprising Tim Nelson (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar), Zoe Davis (lead guitar, bass, vocals), Sam “Bolan” Netterfield (keyboards, vocals) and Dan Puusaari (drums). They gained local stardom after their debut album, This Is Our Vice, landed on revered Aussie radio station, Triple J. The standout single, "Come on Mess Me Up," caught the ear of The 1975′s Matty Healy and led to a coveted opening slot on The 1975′s 2016 Australian arena tour.
Fast forward to September 2017, and the band has not only released their highly-acclaimed sophomore album BATS, but they've also gained a revitalized sense of confidence – both sonically and personally. Before the album's release, Tim and Sam came out as queer and in a relationship, which has recently evolved into an engagement. As they shared, coming out allowed the couple to "let [their] hair down," translating into a sound that "feels more certain and much more chill, which is more true to who we are as people." This air of self-certainty is evident throughout BATS, including "Chasin'" which made its debut on Ones To Watch and several steamy music videos. Naturally, Tim and Sam have since become a voice for the gay community worldwide, offering personal advice to fans both young and old.
Today marks the first day of Cub Sport's U.S. and Canada tour, hitting major cities through May 2. Find your city below, pick up tickets here, then get to know Cub Sport in our exclusive Q&A.
OTW: How did the band meet, and how long have you guys all been together?
Tim: Well Sam, Zoey and I all met at school, and we started playing in the band not long after we finished school. So I'd been writing songs, and then wanted to start playing them with a band – I'd just been writing on piano and I wanted more instruments, that sort of thing. So I got in touch with Zoey and Sam, and we knew Dan through other school friends.
OTW: And did your sound start out like this, or has it evolved?
Tim: Oh no, it's changed so much since the time we started. It started with just piano and vocals; it was a bit of a drag back then. Like I could not listen to any of those songs now.
OTW: Are they out?
Tim: Oh no. [Laughs] But we kind of played together for a couple of years, and worked on songs, and just got used to being a band. Then we recorded some proper songs with a producer in Melbourne, John Castle. Our first single got added to rotation on a national radio station in Australia, Triple J, and that kind of gave us a bunch of opportunities with touring, that sort of thing. Even back then it feels like we were a completely different band. We were called Cub Scouts back in the day.
OTW: Why did it switch?
Tim: We received a legal letter from Scouts Australia saying we had to change. [Laughs] We didn't really have the finances to fight it, but it was for the best. I don't think we could have broken out with the name Cub Scouts.
OTW: So if you were to describe the first and second albums in one sentence, what would you say?
Tim: For the first album, at the time I used to describe it as "happy/sad," because a lot of the songs were upbeat and jingly, but the lyrics were mainly pretty sad. It kind of felt like I was trying to dress up these emotions to make them more digestible, by making them upbeat and happy-sounding. I feel like that's the second album, more of just a pure representation of exactly what the emotions behind it all were. It feels more certain and much more chill, which is more true to who we are as people.
OTW: So where do you think you gained that confidence to be more true to yourself in the second album?
Tim: Well I came out as gay partway through writing the second album, and I think that led to just feeling much more comfortable with who I am, and less having to hide what I'm feeling, and everything. So it just kind of opened me up, and that led to a lot of blocks being lifted.
OTW: That'll do it.
Sam: [Laughs] Yep. You can hear uncertainty in who we were as people. Well, maybe not uncertainty, but not the same certainty that we feel now. You can hear that in the previous releases.
OTW: Were you already out?
Sam: No, we came out within days of each other. So the last time we toured the States and Canada in May of 2016 was when it happened.
OTW: Did you already know each other were gay?
Tim & Sam: Yeah. [Laughs]
OTW: Did you talk about it?
Sam: No, not really. It was like a simmering eight year buildup to having the conversation. And then we both came out to our families, and got together, like straight away.
OTW: That's a great, great love story. So how was the transition from coming out to getting together?
Tim: Well, it was kind of like we came out because we got together. We had the last show of our big tour in Vancouver, and then the next day was Canada day. So it was like the first time we could party, and let our hair down, and we really did. [Laughs] And that night, we ended up finally talking about it, then we flew back to Australia the next day and both came out to our families that week, and started telling everyone.
OTW: And everyone took it well?
Tim: Yeah, really well.
OTW: And now you're engaged! Let's talk about the wedding planning, how's that going?
Sam: It's sort of taken a backseat, because we put out BATS completely independently, just the four of us. So sort of coordinating a global release has taken our focus for a while. So literally just in the last fortnight we booked the venue, talking to the caterer – it's slowly coming together.
OTW: Okay, cool! So has the dynamic with the band changed at all?
Tim: I feel like it's a little better, now. It's very similar, but we have a better understanding of where we all stand, and who we are all. We're all best friends. Zoey is gay as well, so it's like the majority of us in the band. She'd been out for a couple of years before us, so she was amazing throughout the whole thing. She said she already knew we were soulmates when we told her; she was just waiting for it to happen.
OTW: Now that you're obviously out and talk about it openly, do you feel a responsibility to advocate certain messages for other closeted people?
Tim: It hasn't been like an obligation to do it, but it kind of feels like it would be a wasted opportunity for us not to use the platform we have to help people who would be going through similar things to what we went through. We've definitely become quite vocal about what we believe in, especially with the same-sex marriage debate that's been playing out for a while in Australia, like it's finally just now being legalized. But through that time it was pretty hard for the queer community because there were "yes" and "no" campaigns, and it's hard, I think, especially for closeted young gay people to be seeing these ads telling them why they shouldn't be allowed the same rights as a heterosexual person. So we felt like it was an important time to speak up, so that those people who might have been a little lost know that there are people who care about them.
OTW: Do you get a lot of fan messages asking for advice?
Tim: It's actually crazy, the span of it. It ranges from children to guys in their 50s and 60s who have come up to me, and I'm the first person they've told that they're gay. It feels like a lot of responsibility, just trying to give them guidance, but I feel like with the experience that we've had, we can help in some way. Just steering them in the right direction, it's cool.
OTW: That's great. Are you guys working on new music? If BATS was the official coming out of who you are, what's the next chapter going to be called?
Tim: I thought I had a name, but now I'm not sure what the next album is going to be. I feel like the songs so far are more confident, I guess.
OTW: So uncertain, to confident, to even more confident?
Sam: Yeah. We're collaborating now more than ever on the demos for this next album
Tim: There's a guy from Brisbane called Golden Vessel, he's incredible. I've done a song with Mallrat, she's super cool. I've been working with a guy from Atlanta, Jonathan Eley, he worked on The Neighborhood album.
Sam: We heard about him when Frank Ocean, on his radio show, played a song back-to-back for a whole hour, I think it was "Slide?"
Tim: It was "Chanel." For like a whole hour. Then there was this other introduction that he was slotting in every now and again, and it was an introduction from Jonathan's last album. And then I Shazam'ed it and followed him on Instagram, and he DM'ed me saying we should work together.
OTW: So let's talk about the tour, what can we expect?
Tim: I think coming out was a big change for the live show, because for the first time ever I started to feel comfortable with who I am. Previously, there was always this guard while I was on stage, and it makes sense, the fact that I was always trying to hide part of who I was. I feel like the live show has really gotten a new energy since we've been able to be completely ourselves; it's much more genuine. I'm not thinking about what I should be looking like or what I should be doing, it's just whatever feels natural. Which is quite new. I think I'm mainly just excited to come over and show the new energy that we've got, and singing these new songs feels really natural as well.
OTW: So what are you preparing for tour? Any essential items?
Sam: We hit some vintage shopping in London pretty hard. Maybe some better clothes? [Laughs] Putting together perfect looks. For the Australian leg of the tour, unfortunately we can't afford to bring it over to the States, but we've got a full lighting rig that we're trucking around, and we're touring with a crew for the first time. The production level in Australia is going to be really fun, we just need to get it over here.
OTW: You guys toured with The 1975 too. Any fun stories?
Tim: Just that Matty touched me? [Laughs]
Sam: It was crazy though, we were watching when they opened the doors, and literally there were 7,000 people running in. One was an arena, and one was like an Olympic stadium. And just watching like a colony of ants literally camping out for days, and then they opened the gates, and they just sprinted in. It was crazy.
OTW: So your music videos are very vulnerable, a little sensual. Where does that come from?
Tim: I think it's kind of more of the same, just finally feeling like we can do that. And gorging on it, making up for lost time. Visually, it's kind of just the things that we're into, and it feels like it suits the music. We just want to give an enhanced experience of the song.
Sam: We've always worked with friends on the videos in Brisbane, but we're actually filming another song off the album, "Crash," out in Joshua Tree this week, that should be fun.
OTW: So who are some of your Ones to Watch artists?
Tim: Hatchie, she just launched her project in like the last six months or so, she describes it as shoegaze, but with harp melodies and that sort of thing. It's a really beautiful, washy experience. And Golden Vessel as well.
OTW: Cool! Then to end it off, do you have one word of advice for people who are currently afraid to come out, or tell someone they love them, whether straight or gay?
Tim: You have to love yourself, really, that changes everything. That's the first thing you need to do, to genuinely learn to love yourself. When you're ready to accept love and to feel good about yourself, the rest sort of follows.