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(Pic: Buster Parks)

Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson and Dan Puusaari to talk about the creation of their new album ‘Like Nirvana”

Brisbane’s indie popsters Cub Sport have just released their much anticipated new record ‘Like Nirvana’, an album full of carefully constructed, intelligent, atmospheric pop tunes, highlighting the angelic voice and deeply personal lyrics of enchanting frontman Tim Nelson. This is a milestone album for the band, not only revealing their true musical potential but also laying bare their truth. Many will find both solace and joy in these songs. We’re not alone in championing the album, Rolling Stone, NME, The Guardian, Daily Tele and others have also heaped praise on this fabulous album.

While in some way the album is an extension of ideas explored on their 2019 self-titled album, Like Nirvana takes those thoughts and notions to another level, tying up any loose ends and creating a complete sonic picture of what Cub Sport has become in 2020. I asked Tim Nelson if there were any lessons learned or mental notes taken from the last album that made their way onto Like Nirvana.

“There wasn’t anything technical that I learned in the process that I applied to this one but I think that the things in life that you learn along the way all contribute to who you are and what you make down the line,” he explains. “Our last album was electro-pop leaning and I had a lot of programmed drums and synths throughout it. I think for this album, I was drawn to more real sounding instruments. There’s a lot more guitar on there and live drums throughout the album that brought a warmth to it. I don’t really play guitar. I know enough to be able to record what I want to and have never really put effects on live drums, so it was something new for this album that felt really good and I am excited for how different it feels and sounds compare to what we have put out before.”

(pic: Buster Parks)

There’s a track titled Nirvana which sits half way through the album and clocks in at just one minute, forty seven seconds, seemingly not a crucial cog in the album’s wheel, which begged the question why call the album Like Nirvana?

“It got that name when we got some artwork back from Zac, one of our friends. We sent him the album and got him to do some paintings inspired by the album. It was originally going to be for some merch but when we saw the paintings, for me it really resonated and captured how the album feels for me more so than the image I thought was going to be the cover art. One of the paintings he did had the words Like Nirvana in it and the way it looked next to some of the other art, it just looked and felt right. I feel like the album start to finish, sonically feels like an ascension from where it starts. The second track, the first full song on the album Confessions, is probably the grittiest Cub Sport song and lyrically the least soft I’d say. The way that the album finishes with a choir vocal, it is quite heavenly and it feels like a journey to Nirvana, so it felt right.”

Is there a track closer to Tim’s heart than others?
“I absolutely love them all,” he says without hesitation. “I wouldn’t let a song on there if I didn’t absolutely love it. There’s a song called Be Your Man … when it comes down to the bones of the song, the chords, melody and lyrics, I feel like it is up there with maybe my best songwriting ever, so I am looking forward to people hearing that.”

Tim wrote and pieced together a lot of the songs in his home studio, which consists of an Audient ID4 interface with a Blue Baby Bottle microphone, along with a few synths, a midi keyboard, an upright piano and some guitars. The production software he used was Logic Pro, it’s a program he views as much as a creative tool as a practical recording device.

“On our second album, I started creating closer to completed songs in Logic,” Tim tells me. “I ended up using a bunch of the drum loops that came with Logic. There were a bunch of those that just felt right for the songs, so I feel like the bones of Logic ended up shaping the sound of some of the songs on the second album in particular. As I have kept writing and recording with a bunch more plug-ins, I am expanding what I can do in the program. I love playing around with a lot of vocal effects and using my voice to sound like other instruments and to create some percussive things as well. I guess in that regard, technology and what I can do with software has become integral to some songs in particular.”

Cub Sport’s drummer Dan Puusaari’s home recording set up is not dissimilar to Tims but his technological input for the band is more involved. “I also have an ID4 at home too,” he explains. “But once an album is finished, what I do is take that from a finished thing and reverse engineer it, so that people can play it live, setting up sounds and putting them on samplers and keyboards and into backing tracks. I have recently traded someone for a Universal Audio interface too, one of their Apollos.”

There is so much depth in the album both sonically and lyrically, I wondered if it was difficult to let go of the project and say it’s finally finished?

“Kind of,” says Tim as he ponders the question further. “I thought that I had a finished album a few points along the way but then I’d get this feeling that it didn’t feel quite right. When we really locked it away was when it was named. It was named quite late in the piece compared to normal as well. I knew then it was finished but it’s funny because it was written kind of quickly but at the same time felt like quite a journey to get to that point.”

Drummer Dan chips in with his thoughts. “I think it was January 21 when we did the last drums and then Tim did a whole intro track, piano and vocal. I wouldn’t say it was hard to let go but from my opinion, it was changing right up to the last second and what the album was about shifted pretty dramatically. It was basically an album around October before we went on a USA tour and then Tim wrote a couple of songs which were just in a different sonic world and felt really different. Then he wrote a whole bunch of other songs quickly and it was like, ok now this is the album. In a space of about 2 months, I’d say that 50% of the album changed.”

Not that anyone is doing any extensive touring in the near future but when the time comes, will it be a difficult album to reproduce live? Dan seems to think it will be easier.

“I think with the last album there were a lot of heavily processed synthesiser sounds, so if you’ve got that across ten different analogue synths that are all heavily processed, it’s a bit of a nightmare to recreate them. One of the best features of Mainstage live, which is the Logic underling (Logic was the DAW used in the recording of the album) and I guess this is another thing to highlight … Mainstage being within that Logic eco-system. So Tim can use a soft synth in Logic, put a whole bunch of effects on it and I can get the session at the end and export ‘channel strip’ or export ‘instrument’ and can open it up in Mainstage and run that exact same instrument. There’s another feature in Mainstage called Auto Sampler and basically it feeds MIDI at different velocities via MIDI out into your synthesiser and it will go through and sample as many keys as you tell it to or just sample a handful and mathematically figure out what the others will sound like across the full the width of the keyboard. I guess one thing with Cub Sport is that we always play the albums very live, it’s not like a backing track and Tim singing over the top of it, there’s people playing just about everything. I think this album will be a lot easier because with a lot of songs, there’s guitar, a synth pad, a bass line and a drum kit. Early Cub Sport stuff was like that.”

And what is Tim looking forward to most after covid restrictions are lifted?

“Playing shows,” he fires back quickly. “I have been listening to the album a lot over the last couple of weeks. Up until an album comes out I am always listening to it and imagining how it is going to sound live and for people to know the songs. I am very excited for when we can play the songs together. I feel like that’s when the songs really come to life.”

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