How the Image of Jesus at a Gay Bar Helped Australian Band Cub Sport Tell Their Story
The group’s fifth LP captures the ups and downs of queer romance and relationships
Earlier this year, Cub Sport members Tim Nelson and Sam Netterfield — who have been married since 2018 — shared a kiss on the Grammy Awards’ red carpet. They were celebrating Nelson’s nomination as an engineer on electronic artist Baynk’s recent album and didn’t think much of the public display of affection. But later, they were surprised to see tabloids like the Daily Mail describe their smooch as a red carpet “wild moment.”
“Honestly, we do kissing photos everywhere. I did not expect it to be presented as this… Normalize queer kissing!” Nelson tells Rolling Stone with a giggle. “I can’t believe we’re saying that in 2023.”
Embracing their queer love story so openly took years, but now, it’s become a key part of the Australian band’s art and life story. On Friday, the group members — who include Nelson, Netterfield, drummer Dan Puusaari, and vocalist/gutarist Zoe Davis — are releasing their fifth album Jesus at the Gay Bar, an electronic- and house-driven LP that captures the ups and downs of romance and relationships.
The album is named after a powerful poem by Jay Hulme that imagines Jesus Christ as a clubgoer with his “robes hitched up to His knees to make it easy to spin,” who reassures a gay man at the bar that “nothing in this heart of yours ever needs to be healed.”
The poem’s message was a great comfort to Nelson and Netterfield, who both grew up as members of a Pentecostal church with “super conservative, very homophobic teachings.” Their religious upbringing in the same small town forced both of them to hide their sexuality, and kept them from admitting to themselves that their close friendship was actually love.
After graduating high school and realizing their feelings were more than friendly, they tried to get girlfriends and avoid the conversation altogether. It wasn’t until they formed Cub Sport and put out their debut album This Is Our Vice — featuring their breakthrough “Come on Mess Me Up” — that they finally accepted that their relationship could no longer remain platonic.
“I don’t want this to ruin our friendship, but I want us to be together and I’m in love with you,” Netterfield told Nelson in 2016. The feeling was mutual. So they decided to try things out. Once they were open about their love, and got their parents’ surprising blessing, they moved quickly. They got engaged in 2017, married the year after that, and have now been together for seven years. “I feel like it’s been forever, but it also feels like it just happened,” Nelson laughs.
The new album is a celebration of how far they’ve come, capturing, in part, the first rush of falling in love. “I wasn’t really trying to write about that at the time, but then when we were in the studio, it just came together,” Nelson says.
“I feel like this album is little parts of our story. I’ve always been into the heart-wrenching, traumatic things, but I wanted this album to revisit things in a lighter kind of lens,” he adds. “I wanted for it to be a celebration of the moments that feel good along the way — the magical parts that have been interwoven with the trauma.”
Speaking from his at-home studio in Australia, Nelson broke down five key songs off Jesus at the Gay Bar and explained how the album celebrates showing your truest self to the world.
“‘Hold’ was one of the first songs that I wrote that ended up being a part of the album. I wrote it with my friend, Nat Dunn, who’s written with Blackpink and Charli XCX. She writes the most incredible melodies. This was the first thing that we ever wrote together. It was late 2020, and there was some weird stuff happening in some relationships around me that was very, very new for me to navigate. We turned this pretty rough emotion into a song that’s really fun.
I’ve played it at parties and it’s a vibe. I think that that song represents what I wanted this album to be: It’s real things, but it’s presented in a more uplifting, energizing way. Styalz Fuego and I ended up speeding it up — it used to have a pretty straight dance feeling. And we ended up putting this bass, referencing Daniel Bedingfield and that song ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ by Shanks and Bigfoot. When we heard it, it finally clicked.”
“Yaya” feat. Mallrat
“[Producer and writer] Simon Lam and Grace [Mallrat] are both just exceptionally talented. I was so excited to do something all together. We were just playing with sounds that felt really beautiful. And Grace recorded just an ad-lib vocal, and then went through and chopped it up and then built that chorus vocal chop riff thing. It sounds like a little alien angel or something. I went through and recorded live harmonies to this sampled vocal, and there are just so many unique textures. I’ve never heard that type of production worked into something that’s so beautiful and gentle.
With the writing, [these are] some of my favorite lyrics on the whole album: ‘You told me secrets that I didn’t want. It’s a scary letter in a pretty font.’ It’s talking about a moment when somebody confides something in you and it’s presented as this lovely thing, like somebody’s trusting in you or something, but it isn’t always something that you want to take on. It’s something that can be scary and heavy.”
“Keep Me Safe”
“This is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s about the very early days of me and Sam getting together. When we were 17 and we both lived with our parents, a lot of the time that we spent together was in our cars. It’s a bit of a symbol of independence. One of the main lyrics is, “I just want to drive forever. I don’t want to come back ever.” When we were together in those moments, there was no where else I wanted to be. The verses basically detail the complicated nature of the time: It was a complete secret and I went and got a girlfriend to try and throw off everyone around me when I was really in love with Sam. When all of that was happening, I didn’t even have a friend other than Sam that I could tell. It was really just the two of us. I didn’t realize that I was meeting my soulmate and that was the start of this lifelong journey. Now, I finally get to share that and celebrate the magic of what was happening.
I feel like the drums really come in and it feels really transcendent and euphoric. I think that the way that production and the melodies and everything feel is so representative of the rush of first love. It was just super nostalgic and took me back there. It was all I could think about.”
“High for the Summer” feat. Shamir
“I wrote ‘High for the Summer’ with a Brisbane producer Max Byrne. There’s just something so yearning about the chords, lyrics, and melodies together. It’s that same balance that I was setting out to find with the whole album where it feels like it hits you right in the heart, but it’s uplifting and fun at the same time. I feel like the overall message of the song is a celebration of friendship and how even when things are hard, if you’ve got those moments with friends where things feel good, sometimes that’s the thing to pull you through.
I had a little manifestation list [that said] ‘collab with Shamir,”l’ and I was like, ‘Maybe this would be the right song to see if Shamir wanted to jump on.’ I sent it over with the second verse empty, and Shamir loved the song and sent vocals back. I feel like it was within a couple of hours, so I was like, ‘Whoa.’ This is top two or three, I think, for the album.”
“‘Beg U’ is probably the weirdest song on the album. I produced and wrote this one entirely by myself where I’m sitting right now. I recorded a demo with just this synth and some vocals, and then I was just looking at a bunch of different drum loops to find something that felt like it had the right energy.
I found this drum loop that almost sounds like just banging things on a table or something. I hadn’t really heard drums like that before. It was way faster than any song that I’ve recorded. I sped it up so that it would fit with this drum loop just to see what it sounded like. It sounded so weird, but so emotive and beautiful. I chopped up the drum loop into little sections that worked more cohesively and then just built out the production from there. ‘Beg U’ is about feeling insecure and needy and just the feeling of wanting to be loved for who you really are and I think just really wanting to be able to share your truest self with the world. Sometimes it’s not that simple.”
From Rolling Stone US.