‘It could be read as provocative/controversial and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that’

Cub Sport's Zoe Davis, Dan Puusaari, Tim Nelson, and Sam Netterfield. (Photo: Diego Campomar)

Cub Sport’s Zoe Davis and Sam Netterfield are Dan Puusaari, Tim Nelson, Tim Nelson, Sam Netterfield. (Photo: Diego Campomar)

Cub Sport, Brisbane’s dreampoppers were planning the release of their fifth album. It was no coincidence that they chose Good Friday (7 April). The record Jesus at the Gay Bar, is named after a work by transgender performance poet Jay Hulme, and Cub Sport singer-songwriter Tim Nelson — who has processed much of his childhood religious trauma through his music — tells Yahoo Entertainment that reading Hulme’s poem was a lightning-bolt moment for him.

“Basically, it tells a story of Jesus partying at a gay bar, and there’s a boy that comes up to Jesus and wants to touch his robe to be healed. And Jesus tells him, ‘My child, there was nothing in your heart that ever needed to be healed’ — something along those lines. That was the moment that really struck me. That poem recast the world for me,” Nelson explains. “I felt so much hurt growing up, and I think if I had heard that message when I was younger, it could have made my upbringing less conflicted.”

Unsurprisingly, the album’s title and release date have raised the ire of the religious right, and that band has received hate online. But Nelson, now 32 and in a blissful relationship with his childhood friend/bandmate/husband Sam “Bolan” Netterfield for the past seven years, is finally in a place in life where he can handle it. In a recent Instagram post featuring Hulme’s poetic words juxtaposed with some detractors’ cruel comments (albeit not the comments that Nelson deemed particularly “seriously scary and violent”), Nelson declared: “I’m fully aware that the name and release date of our new album Jesus at the Gay Bar could be read as provocative/controversial and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that. But to me, the name of this album and the statement of releasing on Good Friday isn’t flippant. This name and imagery is really significant for me in coming to a place of peace with myself, my sexuality and also peace with feeling acceptance of who I believe Jesus to be (now) after the torment of growing up in the church.”

“As if I ain’t Christian. As if it weren’t so. a whole theological essay on why I wrote the poem,” Hulme himself wrote in Cub Sport’s Instagram comments.

“I don’t expect [the album] to be for everyone,” Nelson concluded in his Instagram post, “but I think it’s going to be really powerful and healing for other people who have walked a similar path to me.”

Here’s a quick overview of the path that brought us to our exultant destination. Jesus at the Gay Bar: Nelson and Netterfield, soulmates and bandmates, met 20 years ago at their very religious Pentecostal Christian School. They split up in secret during their senior years and created Cub Sport. It was in 2016, however, that it happened. they officially came out to each other, to their family, to their fans, and to the world — when they finally processed both the external and internalized homophobia they’d grappled with most of their lives, realized that they were in love, and decided to be together. They were married shortly after homosexual marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017.

Each album in the Cub Sport discography — from This is our vice, whose lead single “Come On Mess Me Up” was in hindsight the still-closeted Nelson’s desperate message to Netterfield, through 2020’s Like Nirvana, which was led by the cathartic, stream-of-conscious epic “Confessions” — has chronicled the band’s journey of self-discovery. (Another member, multi-instrumentalist Zoe Davis, is also gay, from a religious background, and came out relatively recently.) And Jesus at the Gay Bar is Cub Sport’s most celebratory and revelatory release yet. It truly is the sound of Jesus partying at a gay bar — in the best possible way.

Nelson clearly is living the best life possible: Cub Sport will soon be playing Los Angeles’s Outloud Pride concert Grace Jones is the example. And while in L.A. recently to attend the Grammys as a nominee for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (where he and his bandmates gleefully, and actually semi-deliberately, landed on many Worst-Dressed list for their irreverent, Britney/Justin-inspired denim-on-denim outfits), he sat down with Yahoo Entertainment to discuss how he has come to define spirituality on his own terms and healed from his past — even as the proud Scorpio admits with a chuckle that “there’s definitely a vengeful side to” Cub Sport’s new music.

Yahoo Entertainment: Let’s talk about the religious education you received growing up. It was clearly a transformative experience. But not always in a positive manner.

Tim Nelson From preschool to high school, the school I attended was affiliated with the church. There was also youth group on Saturdays as well as at least one to two Sunday services. Growing up, I attended every day. The message about being queer was very important to me. Very clear — that it was wrong and a sin. I always felt like wanted to be “good” or whatever, and my mom was my best friend and she was a pastor, so it was a very conflicted upbringing. I was a lot in denial. I felt like it was a part of me. Wrong. This is something many people have experienced. And I believe that I owe a lot of it to God and Jesus.

What do you mean by “blame”?

It felt like God had decided that homosexuality was wrong. I didn’t realize that it was a group’s interpretation of a text that has been mistranslated so many times.

Did you learn any other dangerous stuff? What did you have to relearn?

Homophobia was rampant. It was also quite misogynistic, which was always scary. There were so many layers. It was awful, for example, to teach sex. They didn’t teach protection or any other thing. It was just abstinence. Our school had many girls who got pregnant extremely young. One girl in my school’s grade had a baby when they were 14 years old. The school kicked her out. There was no support, no guidance — just basically lying to a bunch of kids about what the world is and how to exist in a world outside of this school. A lot of people kind of stayed in the bubble, but there were a lot of people who had to reckon with so much shame — not just gay people, but women being told that if they had sex before marriage, no one’s going to want them and they’re like an unwrapped present. There was another analogy that they’d be like a used toothbrush, and nobody wants a used toothbrush. They are too heavy and terrible for young people to be able to carry them around.

Did you get teased a lot?

I was certainly considered effeminate. I was a very late bloomer. I was essentially still a child at the time I finished high school. Up until the age of 16, I was a boy-soprano. I didn’t have any underarm hair after I graduated high school. I felt like a newborn, out in the world. That’s something I was taught to feel shame about. There was one time at school when I put a dress on in the drama room — there were a bunch of costumes, and I put on a dress. A guy from a few grades higher than me grabbed my waist and pulled me up to the canteen, where there were several people. This was so that everyone could see my dress. It was not easy for a man to be feminine, and there were times when it became embarrassing. It’s something I’ve learned to accept and I now feel completely at ease with my ability to present myself however I want and wear whatever I choose. It makes me really happy to look back to my younger self who went through all of that and be like, “Now I can do whatever I want, and no one’s stopping me.”

This is the school you met Sam, your bandmate. Your indoctrination at the school probably led to you spending so many years suppressing your true feelings and denials of each other.

Well, there was a teacher at the school who told some clearly gay students: “Don’t do it. Don’t fall for it. Push it down. Life is much better if you just ignore it.” I think that was quite a strong message. It was like, “OK, these feelings might come up for people, but if you’re a man being attracted to a man, that’s the devil, and if you give into it, then you are a sinner and you’re going to hell. If you have a good heart, it is possible to overcome your attraction. don’t give into it, then you’re OK.”

One of the songs Jesus at the Gay Bar, “Zoom,” seems to touch on that, when you sing, “ I kind of wanna ruin my life…”

Yes, that was how it felt — like, “If I give into this, I’m going to ruin everything.” But there was this feeling when Sam and I were first getting together where I was like, “I’ve never felt like this alive. I think I kind of want to ruin my life and just go with this.”

“Keep Me Safe” is also about those teen days when you were secretly dating, right?

Yes, it was giving more details on the time period when we first got together. I was instantly reminded of night drives just by the nostalgic synth sound. For many queer people, or those in secret relationships, the first time you have freedom and privacy is when you are young. That was a very important theme in my and Sam’s relationship. It should feel more like a celebration for the beginning of something so big. It was my first relationship, and I was just like, “Wow, so This This is what it feels like to be with a boyfriend. This is what it feels like to be like with your soulmate.” I never really got to talk about that with anyone or celebrate how special that was. It was truly a magical time.

Your love story It still baffles me. Sam was your first crush, and your first relationship. Only You broke up because of religious reasons. You are now together, many years later.

Yes, this is a realization that I am gaining more and more. But, I still cannot believe how it all turned out. This isn’t normal. It was a crush that I had in high school, and I continued to follow it. Even though we weren’t together for many years, neither one of us ever wanted to be apart. We still got along every day. It worked out, I think.

You mentioned that your mom is a minister. What was the reaction of your parents to Sam and you coming out as a married couple?

It went more smoothly than I could ever have imagined. They’ve actually been really supportive — right from that moment.

So, did you experience any kind of self-flagellation then, when you were like, “Damn it, why didn’t we come out this years ago? What was I so scared of?” Like, a feeling that you’d wasted so much time when you could have been together all along?

It’s not true. It was a surprise to me that I wasn’t ready until it happened. I believe it was also a journey Sam, me and Sam were on together. Those years were difficult for us as we used to be fighting each other. We had grown so much by the time we had the conversation, it felt like the right timing. I mean, sure, there was a feeling of like, “Oh, we could’ve been enjoying life together,” but I truly believe that the connection we have feels like a true twin-flame kind of thing, so it probably would’ve worked out at any point. It happened in the right moment. I feel almost like this is our destiny. I believe we are in this life together to accomplish something important and wonderful together.

And what’s that important thing you want to achieve?

Music has the power to change people’s lives.

I imagine you get messages from your fans, the Cubbies, telling you you’ve done just that.

We’ve had countless messages from people, from something as simple as “You’ve made me feel more comfortable with who I am because of seeing you two” or “I had the confidence to tell my parents that I’m gay because of you,” to people saying, “Your music has literally saved my life.” That’s something that I don’t think I can fully even comprehend, but I’m so grateful for that.

Is it possible to get support from your former alma matter? It’s possible to feel vindicating about your success. or even vengeful at times?

Oh, absolutely! I’m a Scorpio and there’s definitely a vengeful side to it! [laughs] It makes me happy to be a Grammy nominee, and a very successful musician. Although the school where I was educated would not acknowledge it, I believe they are still so homophobic that they prefer to ignore it. I do get messages from queer people that go to that school saying, “Thank you so much for what you’re doing, because it is truly helping those of us who are still here facing these things. We can look at you and know there is a way out and it will be OK.” … I do want to say that I did have an incredible music teacher, though. He was one the best, and he invested a lot time, energy, and love into Sam and me. He was also very encouraging. I liked the school but I did not love my music teacher. I think he was responsible for me understanding how much I love music, and encouraging me to pursue it. Northside Christian College, however, gets no good word from me.

Daily lessons were given about homosexuality as a sin. At what point did you really start to question everything you’d been taught?

Most likely towards the end high school. Because so much of highschool was about music, praise, and worship, it was an opportunity for me to sing on stage into a mic. So, I was even a worship leader and on the worship team, and hearing my voice reverb, going through a church, I was like, “OK, this is Amazing.” I think it can be confusing, because the power of music is spiritual and it can move you to tears, and when I’m performing, I feel super-connected to everyone in the room and to something greater. It’s such a powerful energetic transfer. So it could be confusing, like, “Am I feeling this Christian god, or am I just loving the music?” But I think towards the end of high school was when I started to realize that I wasn’t straight and that a lot of what the pastors and teachers were saying felt wrong.

It is a bit surprising to me to learn that you once led worship. but at the same time I’m Not that surprised, because a lot of Cub Sport’s music has a euphoric sound and often uses religious imagery. Angels are frequently mentioned.

Yes, there is something pure and beautiful about being in a spiritual environment. I believe in angels. I often feel that I can sense them. I find religious imagery very appealing. It all ties together.

Cub Sport's Tim Nelson, Dan Puusaari, Zoe Davis, and Sam Netterfield. (Photo: Mia Rankin)

Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson and Dan Puusaari of Cub Sport, Zoe Davis, Sam Netterfield. (Photo by Mia Rankin

Do you consider yourself to be religious right now?

While I wouldn’t say that I consider myself religious, it is clear that my spirituality is something I hold dear. I felt bitter towards my family for a long time. [my upbringing]But I feel that I have made some progress in my understanding of it. In some ways, I believe I now understand more the point of view of Christians. After I came out, I swung hard in the other direction and was like, “No, God’s not real. None of it’s real!” But then in the years that followed, as I became more comfortable with myself, I started to feel more connected to myself and just to the whole world and the universe, and I started to feel maybe there actually is something greater. It seems that many religions have different interpretations of this higher thing. So I can empathize with many religions, and the way they try to connect with something greater.

Each Cub Sport album seems like a piece of your personal story, along with your journey together as a couple. Is there any sense of closure? Jesus at the Gay Bar? It is so much more fun than Like NirvanaIt was introspective, moody and beautiful.

I think with Like NirvanaI was able to let go of a lot the heavy emotions I had been carrying my whole life. That album was full of difficult words that I couldn’t say and that I’d been avoiding for so many years. I remember after our third album, I had this idea that the fourth album would be another step into light and joy, because I felt that was my trajectory — but then when I was trying to write those songs, I was like, “This doesn’t feel genuine.” I couldn’t create anything that felt like it had actual heart in it. That was it. Like Nirvana it was. Writing that album made me feel lighter. Jesus at the Gay Bar, I was finally ready to write the euphoric album that I’d been wanting to — but just wasn’t ready to write yet.

This interview was edited to be concise and clear.

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