Boy & Bear: Letting The Light Back In
Following the toughest challenges Boy & Bear have ever had to face, there’s finally a “good mood in the can” once again.
When Boy & Bear announced their 2019 record Suck On Light, it came with a heavy toll. The record was to tell the tale of lead singer Dave Hosking’s seven-year struggle with a debilitating physical illness, one the band had insofar kept hidden from their fans.
Yet there was humour, hope, and flickers of light to this story. Hosking spoke about the experimental treatment he received (fecal matter transplant or FMT, I’ll leave you to look that one up) with a tongue firmly in cheek, and even though he doesn’t have a friend named Harry donating him poo anymore, that easygoing attitude hasn’t taken a hit.
We sat down with Dave and Jonathan Hart before the album landed, speaking at length about band democracies, wacky remedies, and the Leonard Cohen lyric which inspired Suck On Light.
HAPPY: A few months ago you, Dave, let the whole world in on some pretty grizzly details about your life and your gut flora. How has your world changed since then?
DAVE: Well it has changed, I was having to do the FMT treatment daily, and I actually had a GP get in touch with me and introduce me to some really amazing laser technology. The full term is what’s called photobiomodulation, and I won’t bore you with the epic details but I’ve essentially been using lasers on my gut for a while. And it’s meant I haven’t had to do the FMT thing… which I’m not missing.
HAPPY: That’s fair. What stood out to me about the whole ordeal is that you really don’t know what somebody is ever going through. I’d seen you guys perform during this period where things were apparently going really awfully – but there you were just holding it together.
HAPPY: At what point did the rest of the band know something was up?
DAVE: Pretty quickly, I mean I had some issues that were arising really as early as 2012-13.
JON: I remember.
DAVE: We used to run a lot on tour, and mid-run all the strength would just disappear from my legs. It was really odd, but it was quite acute then and it would pass. But it was like a pressure cooker; it kept getting worse and worse until the end of 2014, then at the end of 2015 it was like, something significant is going on.
JON: Because it wasn’t as obvious at the start, was it? Like it could have been something that just went away, but it didn’t get away, it just got worse.
HAPPY: Did you ever Google of your symptoms? Like ‘nausea’, ‘weakness’… oh, I’ve got something not so good.
DAVE: (laughs) Yeah.
HAPPY: Why come out with the whole story only recently?
DAVE: I think the three reasons… I’m answering all these at the moment.
JON: Makes sense, though!
DAVE: Well I guess I didn’t know what was going on, as recently as the back of the previous record. I knew that something was going on, but I didn’t know enough. And then this time around I don’t know, they like to document while you’re recording and make some interesting footage that’s about what the record’s about, and it just kind of felt like well, the entire record is about what impact this has had on my life. Therefore it feels appropriate to just talk about it. And I think it’s far more interesting than bullshitting for the next three years of press.
HAPPY: Agreed – the record is a really interesting listen when you know the story. Were there any other wild treatments that you tried along the way?
DAVE: (Laughs) Well, yeah. I think you need to remember that I’d been to every specialist you can imagine, all with different theories but nothing stuck. And really, the FMT thing is really hard to beat. I went a little bit rogue for a while, treating myself with this liquid metal… which sort of backfired and I learned my lesson.
JON: You were doing some crazy courses of antibiotics, you were doing that initial-based diet… what was it, FODMAP? You did a few things before getting to the good stuff.
DAVE: I was pretty much meat and veggies for like, a good two years. I didn’t drink alcohol for two years, I didn’t drink coffee. It was slim pickings for a while.
JON: All the pleasures…
HAPPY: But you’re back?
DAVE: I’ve come a long way. I’ve got a decent way to go, but I’m up and functioning so that’s good.
HAPPY: So is your ‘poo roadie’ Harry out of the picture, or just on standby?
DAVE: It looks like, from the medical side, we won’t need him for the tour. Having a laser is a far easier process than taking your poo roadie away. Which is good. Because I hadn’t really quite figured out how I was going to do that… it becomes a tricky process on the road. I love Harry, he’s a nice dude, but having a laser is a nice convenience.
HAPPY: Is the treatment as frequent?
DAVE: Well it’s still daily, but it’s literally this handheld device and the whole thing’s done within two minutes.
HAPPY: You can do it yourself?
HAPPY: That’s interesting, when you said laser I was picturing like a massive dentist machine. Or a Bond villain chamber.
JON: Yeah! No chamber…
HAPPY: Harry had to be one of the strangest roadies ever. I mean there’s a few urban legends around drug roadies, you guys don’t have one of those too?
DAVE: We had to fire ours, the coke he got was terrible. That’s a bad joke, by the way.
HAPPY: Can you tell me about the album title?
DAVE: (To John) Why don’t you have a go at this one?
JON: We have a – you can’t call it dysfunctional because it works – but we have a democracy of sorts in the band, so we try to all agree on things. Particularly fundamental things. You almost want five people agreeing rather than three people saying “this is how it’s going to be” and two saying “well I don’t agree.”
HAPPY: They’ll hold it against you.
JON: Exactly, we’ve all got long memories. So one of the song titles was Suck On Light and Dave was pitching it as an album title and I didn’t really like it, it sounded quite aggressive to me, and there was the idea of having to explain to someone what it meant… I just didn’t get it. It was sort of tripping me up a bit, so we went for something else, but it the meantime I said “what did you mean by Suck On Light?”, and you had this reference to a Leonard Cohen lyric.
DAVE: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
JON: And it suddenly sounded quite positive to me, and there was a sense of desperation, like there’s a little bit of light and you’re really trying to attach onto that thing. So suddenly, once I got the concept, it really seemed to represent not just Dave’s thing but where we were with the record as well.
DAVE: That was it, that’s what it’s about.
HAPPY: The band democracy seems to be an idea I hear about less and less.
HAPPY: Versus solo projects or solo band projects, absolutely. Has working that way ever landed you in hot water?
DAVE: As in the democracy? (Dave looks at Jon)
JON: You go.
DAVE: (Democratically) No, I would like you to say something.
JON: I guess you’re constantly in a bit of trouble, if you could think about it that way. You’re always having a divergence of opinions on an issue. When we started out it often felt like we all agreed on stuff, it feels like we don’t always agree on everything now, but often after fleshing out the issue and talking about it we end up in a position that’s slightly different to where anybody was. There’s something unique about that; it’s kind of hard to evaluate the results of your own decisions sometimes, and so what you can say is that if one person was making the decisions, it would be different to the choice the five of us made.
We’ve influenced each other now, we’ve been doing this longer than we care to say, and so you get a vibe on it. It does help. When someone’s lacking energy as well, the others can take the initiative. That’d be hard, I’ve always looked at solo artists and bands of solo artists like ‘that one person has to decide all these different things that they’re sometimes going to care about, and sometimes not care about.’ I feel like we benefit, oftentimes people’s interests won’t be overlapping, like if someone feels really strongly about something then you let them go with it, then on another issue they don’t care and somebody else is into it. I don’t know. It works.
HAPPY: And you’re all still friends?
JON: I feel like I rambled there…
HAPPY: Rambling is good! It’s the one-word answers that aren’t any fun. Like, “has that landed you in hot water?”… “No.”
DAVE: “No! Next question.”
HAPPY: When you’re writing an album about something that’s all-consuming, how to go about bringing some variation to the record?
DAVE: That was an interesting challenge on this record, because obviously the whole thing was about… there’s a strong theme. From my perspective, the story just had to be told in different ways. I think, just in terms of variables, Colin our co-engineer just wanted to change mics on everything all the time, as a rule. He was like, ‘we’ve used this mic a lot and it sounds great, but let’s use this other one which sounds great.’ Having that variation of tones across the record, and to his credit he brought a lot of that, which helps define the songs more and more.
JON: He was pretty good with tempos as well, like trying to find a pocket sonically for the songs. Not that it meant a song doubled in speed or anything, but if it had energy he’d give it a chance to have energy… we kind of tend to drift into mid-tempo.
JON: So he helped us keep away from that.
DAVE: You bring the variation musically, but lyrically too. On this record I think there are songs that are purely about hope and are really positive, but also there are songs that are more of a dark fantasy vibe, or like a bad nightmare. I don’t know, there’s different ways to say ‘I learned this from this’ or ‘this sucked’.
JON: There’s light and shade, definitely, even in individual songs.
HAPPY: And how are you now? How’s the band?
DAVE: I was just having this conversation, I think there’s a really nice sense of gratitude for the fact that we’re working again, but there’s also the sense that this can get taken away so easily by things out of our hands. So everyone’s working really hard and taking the opportunity to grab this with both hands. There’s a good mood in the can, I reckon.
JON: That’s what I reckon.
Boy & Bear’s new album Suck On Light is out September 27. Listen or grab your copy here.
Interview by Tom Cameron
Photos by Charlie Hardy