Sometimes your reading of a record completely changes once you know the back story, that holding true for everything from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to the extended suicide note that is Nirvana’s In Utero.
That’s definitely the case for BATS, the second full-length from Australian synth-pop quartet Cub Sport. To listen to “O Lord” is to, at first, conclude that singer and main songwriter Tim Nelson set out simply to find a sweet spot between blue-eyed soul and anthemic electro-gospel, wringing every bit of emotion out of lines like “O Lord don’t turn your back on me/O Lord I need you here with me.”
More than a song, “O Lord” is actually a plea from the dark and uncertain place Nelson was in when he wrote it. Raised in a religious family Down Under, where he was active in the church, he found his life turned upside down after he came out; the tipping point was acknowledging that he was deeply in love with Cub Sport keyboardist Sam Netterfield. When you know that, the song takes on a whole new meaning, with the singer looking to a higher power for guidance and afraid that he’s not going to get it because of his sexual orientation.
When Nelson and Netterfield are reached in Los Angeles on a conference call, they come across as indescribably happy. That might have something to do with their still being in the honeymoon phase of their marriage earlier this year.
Still, the buildup to the moment when they acknowledged their feelings for each other was indeed a stressful one, made more so by the fact they’d known each other since childhood. Nelson reveals his upbringing left him with all sorts of fears, anxieties, and baggage, for which songwriting became an invaluable coping mechanism. As BATS was coming together, Netterfield was able to read between the lines to figure out what was going on in the mind of the man who’d go from long-time friend to eventual husband.
“Tim would show me the songs mix by mix,” the keyboardist says. “So I definitely had a bit of insight into where his head was at in the year or so leading up to the conversation. That was a great source of solace when I was deciding how I would go about saying what I needed to say to him.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Nelson’s lyrics seem to send a loud and clear, boldly autobiographical message. Consider the downtempo first track, “Chasin’ ”, which starts off with the lyrics “I don’t even know/What I want out of life, what I’m chasin’/Is it hard to see me go?/’Cause I miss you when I’m gone.”
On the post-coming-together side of things, there’s the incandescent synth-pop celebration “Give It to Me (Like You Mean It)”, with lines such as “Come away with me/Nowhere else I’d rather be” positively dripping with affection.
“That was written on the other side of coming out, and it’s one of the songs that kind of ushered in a new phase of where I was as a person,” Nelson relates. “It was me getting used to people understanding who I was a bit more, and my understanding who I was myself.”
What ultimately shines through on BATS is a sense of joy that overrides the darker moments. Nelson sees that as part of a theme running through Cub Sport’s winningly vulnerable first album, This Is Our Vice, as well as a BATS follow-up that the group has already recorded.
“People ask me what the ‘vice’ in This Is Our Vice refers to,” he says. “I think that fear was our vice. Even looking at the song titles, the record was a bit of a downer. It feels a bit negative, which is an honest representation of where I was at and my perception of the world at the time. BATS is a transition into a lighter stage. And I feel like this next record will complete the journey. It still has depth, but the outlook is more hopeful.”
Netterfield suggests fans are seeing a Cub Sport that’s grown more self-confident in every phase of its career, a reflection of the bonds between not only him and Nelson, but also their bandmates Zoe Davis (keyboards) and Dan Puusaari (drums).
“Our marriage hasn’t changed the dynamic of the band—I feel like it’s more amplified what was already there,” he says. “We’re stronger than ever—not just our marriage, but also the four of us. In the last year or so we’ve become completely independent and self-managed, so it feels like every aspect of our personal and professional lives as Cub Sport has been strengthened. It’s been a transition from living in fear to conquering that fear with love.”
Cub Sport plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Monday (October 15).