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Tim Nelson of Cub Sport on their new album 'Jesus at the Gay Bar'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Where might you find Jesus on a Saturday night? At the gay bar, according to the pop band Cub Sport. "Jesus At The Gay Bar" is the title of the Australian group's fifth album. Their synth pop sound offers a dreamy look into a young gay man's pilgrimage to love and acceptance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REPLAY")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) Look at me now - I'm all the things that you could never see in me.

RASCOE: One reviewer wrote, it feels like unapologetically swapping past feelings of shame towards celebration and pure euphoria. On that note, lead singer Tim Nelson joins us now from Brisbane, Australia. Welcome.

TIM NELSON: Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: So let's start with that title, "Jesus At The Gay Bar." This comes from a poem, right?

NELSON: Yeah. It was inspired by a poem by a guy called Jay Hulme, and it basically depicts Jesus at a gay bar. A boy comes up to him asking to be healed of his gayness, and Jesus tells him, my child, there's nothing in this heart of yours that ever needs to be healed. For me, growing up in a pretty religious world, being told that who I was and my sexuality was something that I should be ashamed of and that I did need to be healed from, reading this poem, like, really impacted me.

RASCOE: Is it that idea of accepting who you are and feeling like that is divine?

NELSON: Yeah, that's absolutely it. And it's been quite a journey to get to this point of going from a place of feeling ashamed of who I was to, like, accepting my queerness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KEEP ME SAFE")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) So gone, I'm not coming back. They'd hate that I dyed my hair black. Went and got a girlfriend just to throw them off track.

RASCOE: On your song "Keep Me Safe" - you sing about having to hide yourself in that song. Who were you hiding from?

NELSON: I think it was just kind of the homophobia that I grew up in was very much internalized. And when we started the band, I wasn't out yet. Sam's one of my band mates. We had dated in secret for a year when we were 17 and then spent the eight years after that kind of trying to deny the fact that we were in love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KEEP ME SAFE")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) I just want to die in our heaven. I could lose it all - whatever. I just want to die in our heaven if it'll keep me safe.

NELSON: Finally, after all of those years, we had the conversation and came out. And then the year after that we got engaged. And the year after that we got married. I'm, like, really glad that I'm gay now, which I never thought I would be.

RASCOE: Did you feel like, you know, your now-husband Sam, that he kept you safe?

NELSON: Oh, definitely. He was the first person that I felt like I could show my whole self to. We were still best friends through all of those years and spent basically every day together. He kind of allowed me to take my time and figure myself out.

RASCOE: You know, this album is such a blend of different sounds and different genres. I think we have a clip of "Songs About It."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONGS ABOUT IT")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) So I write songs about it. I write songs about...

RASCOE: Synth pop, techno, even disco influences.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONGS ABOUT IT")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) I write songs about...

RASCOE: How did you approach crafting the sound of the album? Because this is, like, music you can dance to, you know, you can hit the club to - like, it is a very vibrant sound.

NELSON: I knew that I wanted this album to feel fun and energetic and uplifting, to have that same heart and depth that I feel has been in everything that I'd written up until that point. And so it was about finding that special place between the two where it was like heart-centered, but at the same time it was something that you can, like, dance to, like play at the club. And a lot of it is just instinctual. And it's, like, the sounds that I connect with, coming together with the lyrical content that is kind of, like, my truth that I need to get out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEG U")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) Can I lay you down? Can I have some time with no one else around?

RASCOE: Toward the end of the album, you sound so vulnerable in a song called "Beg U." What are you conveying with this song?

NELSON: I wrote this one during the pandemic and during lockdowns, and I think I was feeling a little disconnected from myself. We hadn't been able to play shows, and I hadn't been able to have that feeling of connection with fans. And to suddenly have those things taken away - I felt pretty lost. I think I felt, like, kind of needy, and like I really just needed some love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEG U")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) I'll beg you for it, all the love that I need. I'll beg you for it - I'll beg you for it. I'm going through something new. I'll beg you for it.

RASCOE: I mean, because it is that thing about being an artist and, like, connecting with people on the stage, which is, like, a different connection than a one-on-one connection, but it's also something deep that it seems like artists really need and crave, like, to have that connection with this larger audience, with the people that listen to your music.

NELSON: Yeah, big time. And I feel like there are also these moments of, like, one-on-one connection in the show as well.

(CHEERING)

NELSON: In 2018, I saw Solange play at the Opera House in Sydney. She got down onto the edge of the stage, and I was in the front row. She sang, like, a whole verse, just, like, looking into my eyes. And it, like, changed my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRANES IN THE SKY")

SOLANGE: (Singing) I tried to dance it away...

NELSON: Literally, like, the whole room felt like it turned into this vortex. And it was just, like, me and Solange in this moment. And I think that was, like, one of the most impactful live music moments that I've ever experienced. I was like, well, I'm not going to be afraid to, like, make eye contact with someone in the audience and kind of like, sing to them. Like, I'm going to do it.

And I kind of started doing that at shows when I felt like the right person in the audience that maybe needed, like, a certain part of a song sung to them or something. These moments with, like, a greater audience, but also, like, a one-on-one moment like that are so special. That's, like, another part of the live show experience that I have missed a lot and that I'm so excited to get back into.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGIC IN U")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) I know that you've been down. Feels like they don't believe in you. On the shower floor now. But I can see the magic in you. But I can see the magic in you.

RASCOE: I want to talk to you about the last song on the album, "Magic In U." Why end the album with this song?

NELSON: I think I wanted the end of the album to feel almost like a warm hug or something. There were points during the creation of the album where I did kind of lose belief in myself. And I think for this song, it was like a message that I needed for myself, and I wanted to share that with other people and for the end of this album to be, like, this uplifting send off of, like, even if you don't feel good right now, like, there is magic in you. It was the perfect way to end the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGIC IN U")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) I can see the magic in you...

RASCOE: You know, they often say - like that cliche. It's like, if you preach a message to somebody, first you got to preach it to yourself. So it's like you had to get that message to yourself first before you could get it to the world. You're always the first audience.

NELSON: Love that.

RASCOE: That's Tim Nelson, the lead singer of the band Cub Sport. Their new album is called "Jesus At The Gay Bar." Thanks so much for talking with us.

NELSON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGIC IN U")

CUB SPORT: (Singing) And I'm always on your side. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.