At one point in his life, Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson looked headed for a career in dentistry, the Brisbane-based singer not only enrolled in school but employed making retainers and models of teeth. Giving that path up for music might have caused some family friction if his dad, an orthodontist, hadn’t been extra sympathetic to the idea of following one’s own path.
“I used to study dentistry, so I had kind of a backup,” Nelson says, on the line from a Des Moines, Iowa, tour stop. “But for this album [Cub Sport’s new This Is Our Vice] I had to leave dentistry because they wouldn’t let me defer my courses anymore. So I had to un-enroll, which meant I was all in for music for the first time ever. And both my mom and dad were really supportive. Dad had always wanted to be a pilot, but he ended up getting a scholarship for dentistry and then went into orthodontics. He really loves what he does, but he always wanted to fly planes, so he’s been, ‘Follow your dreams and do the thing that you want to do.’ And that’s what I’ve done.”
The frontman had time to think about what direction he wanted to go in life. Writing and recording songs as a bedroom project, he formed Cub Scouts in 2011, eventually changing the band’s name after getting a legal letter from Scouts Australia. A series of EPs established Cub Sport as bright-eyed purveyors of light and breezy alt-pop, something that the band attempted to break away from on This Is Our Vice.
Nelson and his bandmates—bassist Zoe Davis, keyboardist Sam Netterfield, and drummer Dan Puusaari—won’t be confused with Pantera or Ministry, their songs heavy on atmosphere-dripping ’80s-vintage synths and Nelson’s vulnerable-but-lovely vocals. But song titles like “It Kills Me”, “Can’t Save You”, and “Only Friend” show that life is no longer endless sunny days on wave-kissed beaches.
“I was trying to give a more honest representation of where I was at the time—to kind of balance the happy with the sad and capture the whole mood of the period when I was writing the album. There are some darker moments now—lyrically, I hadn’t really been honest in the past with songwriting, so that was new to me. Then it was finding a way to blend that honesty and sadder moments with what people have always liked about our music, which is the fact that it’s hooky and catchy. We were starting to get a reputation for making happy and clappy music. There isn’t anything wrong with that. But we knew we’d been playing shows and touring more than we had before, and so we wanted to make sure the songs were meaningful.”
Support for those songs has been solid for the band in Australia, with the country’s tastemaking national radio station, Triple J, having been more than supportive. But Nelson proudly reports that the group’s biggest fans might be those who’ve known him for years. His dad loves Cub Sport to the point where he’s been inspired to deal with something that’s been nagging him for years.
“Since I left dentistry and have really put everything into music, he’s went and got his pilot’s licence,” Nelson reports. “I inspired him to push forward and realize his dream as well. So that’s pretty cool.”
Cub Sport plays the Media Club on Wednesday (June 29).