Cub Sport is probably one of Australia’s best-kept secrets when it comes to alternative music. Ever since their eponymous debut album in 2016, the alt-pop band has been consistently evolving and churning out quality records. Their fourth album, LIKE NIRVANA, is no different. It is yet another wonderful collection of beautifully crafted vulnerable songs that hinge upon fearless honesty.
One of the main concepts that the album seems to reflect on, is that figuring out our own truths is an ever-changing process. Our identities continue to evolve even when it feels like we’ve only just figured out who we were before. It’s very fitting, given that the band members themselves have intimate experiences with self-discovery and life’s unexpected journeys. In fact, when Cub Sport started out in 2010, they weren’t even named “Cub Sport” yet. Rather, the band used to perform under a different moniker altogether – “Tim Nelson and the Cub Scouts.” However, after they received a letter from Scouts Australia, asking them to please change their name, the band switched from “Cub Scouts” to “Cub Sport.” It wasn’t until 2016 that they finally felt “like our name belonged to us.”
Taking ownership of who you were, who you are, and who you will be is a continuous struggle – and one that this album grapples with on multiple tracks. As you may expect, this requires a new level of heavy emotional confessions. It’s what made Tim decide to start the record with a short intro, rather than launching straight into lead single “Confessions.”
“I wanted the first thing that listeners hear when they press play on LIKE NIRVANA to be warm and reassuring ‘cause I feel like that’s the energy of the album as a whole. Confessions is like the heavy starting point of the ascension journey that is LIKE NIRVANA, but I didn’t want the first sounds/emotions that the album brings up to be heavy y’know? So it was about creating something that captures the tenderness, love, and intensity of the album.”
It’s that tenderness, the fluid atmospheric pop that makes the album overall feel like a safe space – even in all its questioning and wondering on self-discovery. It makes it easier to explore such themes when the music is capable of creating a soft cocoon in which the melodies and lyrics can really be experienced.
“Confessions” is a song that veers away ever so slightly from that approach with its heavy use of distortion. Nevertheless, this effect only serves to emphasize how difficult it is to uncover your own truth – to make confessions not just to others, but also to yourself. The truth is distorted by living experiences, by fact, our identities aren’t set. They change all the time, due to our environment, what we know, and what we don’t know. The track was written seven months ago, and have left Nelson time to reflect. “I’m really proud of how much I’ve grown and risen from the feelings of entrapment I was experiencing at the time. I look back from a much freer place, and I’m proud of myself for being honest, and writing and creating with my heart.”
Nelson’s own life forms the main source of inspiration for the band’s lyrics. Many of their experiences are rooted in the exploration and acceptance of their sexuality and gender identity throughout the years. Nelson publicly came out as gay in 2017 and recently announced they identify as “gender-free.” Three out of the band’s four members identify as gay, one of which is Nelson’s spouse and frequent muse – Sam Netterfield. In the dreamy “Drive,” Nelson admits that while “watching on in wonder I confess / that I still can’t believe you give a damn about me,” clearly inspired by a profound sense of happiness that they lucked out with their partner loving them.
As such, it should come as no surprise that the band has gotten quite the LGBTQ+ following. Nelson argues that the positivity and warmth, the embrace of the band members’ identities by their audience has definitely emboldened them. It allows them to dive even deeper, and to be more raw and honest in their music. “We get lots of messages from fans saying that we encourage and empower them to live their truth and be proud of who they are, but really, that’s exactly what they do for us too.”
Merely existing openly and visibly as a queer person is a radical act in and of itself. Having music as a format and medium to then showcase your full self is incredibly powerful, and – as Nelson puts it themselves – liberating. “It’s liberating to be so open after spending most of my life, hiding everything about who I am and what I’m feeling.” Songs like “My Dear” don’t eschew the fact that self-acceptance is a non-linear, continuous process – one with darker sides to it as well.
Rather, the album shines in its rawest form when it shows that self-acceptance truly goes hand in hand with self-doubt too. It means being open about the victories, as well as the fears – acknowledging mistakes, and changes within yourself. “I Feel Like I Am Changing” does exactly that, supported by an uplifting, atmospheric melody. The latest single “Be Your Man” carries the same confessional, vulnerable exploration of love, as well as the grappling with self-acceptance and self-worth. The accompanying video clearly references Nelson’s own feelings on gender here as well, donning a flawlessly executed Florence + The Machine inspired look.
Disarming authenticity is a recurring theme in other tracks “Best Friend” and “18” too. Nelson says that these personal stories feel both liberating and emotionally heavy all at once. “It’s kind of interesting how different it feels at different stages. Usually writing and acknowledging what I’m feeling brings me out of the heaviness, then there’s an initial period of sitting with it, and sharing it with people close to me. That part can be kind of scary and revealing. And then by the time I’m putting it out into the world, it feels really liberating and empowering.”
One of the stand-out tracks on the record is “Break Me Down”, a Frank Ocean-esque collaboration with Mallrat, who also hails from Brisbane. “We were both home for Christmas, and decided to work on something together,” Nelson adds. “It was one of those divine creative experiences where ideas flowed gently and swiftly. At the end of the relaxed, warm day, we listened back to this 7-minute journey into a higher dimension in wonder of what had come through us. It’s one of my proudest musical moments.”
The track seamlessly segues into “Nirvana,” which is only 1:47 minutes long. It’s a ballsy move to follow up a 7-minute song with one that hardly makes the two-minute mark, and yet it works. The lyrics indirectly inspired the album’s name, Nelson explains – as it wasn’t their original intention to have their fourth album be titled LIKE NIRVANA. “I sent the album to my friend Zach to do some paintings inspired by the music, with the intention of using them as merch designs. At that point, the album had a different name, and I had a photo picked out for the cover. But when Zach sent his art through, it was so powerful, beautiful, and connected– we knew the album name and cover art had to change. One of the paintings he sent back had the words ‘Like Nirvana’ painted in red on a black background. It just felt so right, and we knew that was the album title.”
With “Saint,” Nelson further explores another recurring theme across the album – religion and the role that has played in their self-discovery. It features harrowing lyrics like “So many nights spent crying trying / Holding my hands together finish with an amen / Like dear god sorry that I’m me / Someone I don’t wanna be.” Such brutally honest lyrics are par for the course for Nelson, but still, they felt some hesitation showing people the song.
And while it might feel uncomfortably exposing of traumatic experiences, “Saint” – like the album at large – bends towards enlightenment and amelioration. In fact, similar religious referencing is used in the final tracks “Be Your Angel” and “Grand Canyon.” While the former feels slightly more metaphorical, it still makes use of both angel and devil references– though there’s no judgment attached to it. In what feels like a very deliberate progression, the latter track sees Nelson ascribe power to the angel. Aided by a choir-like background in “Grand Canyon”, the album ends in this epiphany of self-affirmation.
Funnily enough, Nelson says this song was written “before the rest of the album.” It was only after all the other songs were recorded, that they decided to put this track last. “I was playing around with different track-listing orders, and it really stood out as this powerful ascension – as you said it feels like an epiphany of self-affirmation, and to me, it feels like you’re gliding up to heaven through the choir outro.”
It provides a beautiful contrast with starter track “Confessions.” “I love that it [“Confessions”] has this kind of agitated energy about it, and the need to get things off my chest, and by the end of the album that’s all stripped away and you’re left with this peaceful, powerful energy.”
The result? An album that takes you on an incredibly important and authentic journey that is as revealing and clear as it is complex; as the process of finding one’s identity so often is as well. Knowing who you are isn’t linear, nor is it finite. But Nelson’s message is clear; getting to approximate your truest self is the most liberating and rewarding journey of all. Let this album be your soundtrack, your soundboard, your source of inspiration and support throughout that process. Because LIKE NIRVANA truly does feel like a dreamy soundscape that is meant to be experienced – not just listened to.