Fighting an illness which eviscerated his ability to create, vocalist-guitarist Dave Hosking put one foot in front of the other to lead Sydney act Boy & Bear towards their most profound and exciting album to date.
Human gut flora is such a complex little beast that sometimes doctors don’t know how to recreate healthy microbiota in a sick patient. But they’ve come up with a pretty ingenious workaround: get a healthy sample (read: a well person’s stool), and implant it in the sick person (read: physically insert it into the gastrointestinal tract). Viola: the sick person’s gut starts to learn the healthy dance of its tribe, and the patient gets some relief… for a time.
So it was for Dave Hosking, frontman of adored indie five-piece Boy & Bear, whose last half-decade of “neurological hell” has challenged him beyond anything he’d ever experienced. His triumphs and reflections have imbued new album Suck On Light with the most exceptional material the band have ever created in their 10-year career.
“I think on every record you are hopefully applying everything you’ve learned; in this case there were some added complications, which were simply my output and my brain function and a whole bunch of things,” Hosking explains. “I’m really proud of the way we were able to use the resources we had: ‘Alright, we’re going to have to go about this a bit differently.’ The only thing I could sing about was being sick because that’s my life, so how do we do that in a way which doesn’t leave the listener going, ‘Oh, another song about being sick?’” he laughs.
Suck On Light isn’t a maudlin rumination on hospitals but instead an intriguing, intrepid journey into human existence, but the writing began when Hosking was still adjusting to his daily transplant procedures. At that time, he was finding it impossible to put any lyrics together. “I was literally just mumbling into a microphone,” he says, “but that was therapeutic and great. I didn’t really worry too much about what the song was about, or the bigger picture. But then what seemed to happen was, little segments of story and lyrics started to fall out.”
If that sounds like an incredibly relaxed mindset for a man in great physical pain – the ensuing fatigue and psychological strain of which meant there was no guarantee this album would reliably proceed let alone reach completion – it’s because Hosking has developed a very prosaic and measured understanding of how to deal with the unknown. “Something I’ve managed to stumble across over the last few years is the idea of stopping my brain diving into rabbit holes,” he says, “because I’m convinced that 99 percent of the time, there’s no useful answers in these strange worries that we have. I figured if I was to worry about what was going to happen – with my health, or my output, or the quality – I’m going to get bogged down. All I can do is go, ‘What have I got? What’s in front of me? How do we work with that, and have the confidence in being able to pull it together?’”
The fabulous Dry Eyes is the one song in which Hosking said he “went there” (truth of his condition-wise), and it’s full of strange beauty. There’s humour in the arrangement of Off My Head, which contains an amusing little organ line elbowed in by “really, really talented” Nashville producer-engineer Collin Dupuis. Rocking Horse pulses with the vitality of Gang Of Youths’ best work, and contains some of the most considered lyrics of the album: “It’s the kindness, you see, the kind that you give to yourself… but no one tells you that.” Hosking says the lines’ simple melody meant he got to play with rhythmic delivery, but its those incisive lyrics which close the sale. “I’m a firm believer that – if I can dare to step on this pedestal and be philosophical – I think the world would be a better place if people actually learned how to be kind to themselves,” he attests.
“I think that’s an overlooked piece of the puzzle. We always talk about how people are selfish and greedy, but I think that’s all driven by a lack of self-worth. I just like that idea, and that no one really tells you that, and it’s something I really try and practice and believe in.”
Suck On Light by Boy & Bear is out September 27 via Island/Universal.
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