The Boy & Bear story dates back to early 2009 when frontman Dave Hosking was performing as a solo artist. After Hosking linked up with the other four members, many of who were also experienced singer-songwriters, they issued Boy & Bear’s debut single ‘Mexican Mavis’.
Then, with significant support from triple j, Boy & Bear went on a fairly rapid ascent, becoming festival headliners, reaching the Hottest 100 top five two years running, playing multiple shows at the Sydney Opera House, establishing themselves overseas and performing live on Conan.
The band’s fourth record, Suck On Light, is out on September 27, four years since its predecessor, the ARIA number one album Limit Of Love. The Sydney band just wrapped up a celebratory run of Australian headline shows and will be midway through a US tour when Suck On Light comes out.
“It’s nice having a body of work back out there in the wild,” says Hosking. “The touring side of things I am equal amounts excited and terrified about, which is normal.”
Suck On Light is heralded by information about Hosking’s battle with chronic fatigue, which stretches back to the band’s debut album, Moonfire, in 2011. His illness was later identified as arising from a gut bacterial issue, which requires him to undergo ongoing Faecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) treatment. Side effects included depression, anxiety and overwhelming lethargy.
Without underselling the severity of the illness, it’s not exactly sexy rock’n’roll stuff. However, Hosking knew he’d have to be upfront about what’s been happening in his life and how it influenced the songwriting on Suck On Light.
“It was going to be tricky for me to write about anything else – there wasn’t much else – so if the record was going to be about this, it felt like the only way to do it is to tell the whole story,” he says
“I also just think it’s more interesting. If you can wrap your head around the taboo of FMTs and gut problems, it’s not a pretty topic, but I think it was an interesting situation where I was writing and being creative being in a state where my brain was really struggling with basic tasks.”
Boy & Bear has always been a collaborative venture, which has shone through in the way the band’s arrangements leave room for each member to take on a distinct role. The songs on Suck On Light came together over the course of an 18-month demoing process and in circumstances where Hosking was struggling to muster much energy or cohesion. As a result, the roles shifted in terms of who was taking charge of generating new ideas.
“Going right back to the first record, almost everything was written on guitar from my end and then arranged as a collective, then over time that’s shifted into me bringing half ideas or a chorus,” Hosking says. “What’s been interesting is being open to starting [songs] off a particular groove or starting off Jon [Hart] dicking around on the piano. When you’re writing for 18 months you’ve got to mix it up. You’ve got to find different approaches and that’s an important part of keeping ideas coming through.”
Because of the long gestation period and how these songs emerged at different stages in his convalescence, Hosking’s relationship with the new songs differs from those on the band’s previous records.
“Piecing together these songs and trying to do them justice and getting them to the point where they feel really good, there’s definitely a sense of pride in that,” he says. “I think that we’ve managed to work under some pretty challenging circumstances really well and I think we’ve managed to create some really good songs.”
Considering all Hosking endured, a four year gap between Boy & Bear’s third and fourth records isn’t that enormous. At one stage, however, promoting their fourth record seemed like a distant prospect.
“It wasn’t really part of the picture for a while. It had sort of got smothered out as other issues [took over]. Life has a way of doing that – when bigger things come along they bump everything off and you’ve got to one by one claw them back.
“I get a lot of pleasure in writing and making music and I also want to make something of good quality. As soon as it became a possibility, it was just going to be a matter of being smart about it and I was confident that we were going to get it done.”
Suck On Light arrives courtesy of Island Records on Friday September 27.