Last Friday, Boy and Bear released their first studio album after a four-year hiatus. In 2015, no-one thought Suck on Light would be released. However, from these turbulent times comes the band’s strongest album to date. It is able to balance emotion with energy, experimentation with refinement and melancholy with hope. Backyard Opera was able to sit down and chat with guitarist Killian Gavin about finding the light in dark times and how that lead to the new album.
In 2015, following a gruelling tour for the Sydney quintet’s third album Limit of Love, frontman Dave Hosking was suffering from a gut bacterial issue that poisoned his nervous system and gave him bouts of chronic fatigue, anxiety and ultimately depression. Receiving daily treatments of Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT), it would be some years before Dave could come back. In this time, the band were in a limbo, but also determined to keep working on their music.
The other members, guitarist Killian Gavin, drummer Tim Hart, bassist Dave Symes and keyboardist Jon Hart, began holding small writing sessions in early 2017. A few months into the sessions, they had recorded a few rough demos. Still undergoing treatment, Dave listened to the new music and pushed himself to attend these sessions, in whatever capacity he could.
“It was sort of a no pressure kind of thing for him,” said Killian. “He could just turn up and just hang out and have a glass of coffee, or hop on the mic and start working with us. It birthed him going ‘I can contribute in however big or small capacity I want to. I can still hang out with the guys during the day and make music.’ It was bit of a catalyst for getting him out of the house. It’s a tough situation, to be dealt a hard hand the way he has been. It’s easy to fall into a pretty bad headspace.”
These writing sessions went well, making the impossible dream of releasing a new album was becoming a reality. At the same time, Dave bounced back from his health troubles and was healthy again. Suck On Light isn’t just the album they produced after escaping darkness and troubled times, but also the light that guided them out in the first place.
Recording out of Nashville's Southern Ground studios earlier this year, everything went smoothly. Things went so smoothly that they finished a few days early, leaving the studio booked with nothing to produce. This extra time was used to put together one final track, which would come together and become the album’s lead single “Hold Your Nerve”.
“It almost didn’t get recorded,” notes Killian. ”It was one of the last demos that we wrote. Once we started piecing it together it just naturally found its rhythm and that anthemic feel. It’s not an anthemic song, but just hints at it with some of that floor to the floor groove and that main hook that me and John play the whole way through. It came together really easily and really quickly and it all just made sense.”
For Killian, another song with a similar compositional simplicity is the bright “Off My Head”. However, not all songs have the hopeful, upbeat, happy energy of these tracks. There are some more melancholic that serve as an emotional release for the band. Dark keys, distant reverb and soft beats give tracks like “Long Long Way”, “Bad People” and “BCS” a sadder edge.
“I’d say a lot of our music is historically dark and we write more melancholic music. It’s definitely a pocket we naturally gravitated towards and we ended up with a lot of demos that made the album too heavy. There’s a lot of space in those songs, which creates quite a lot of anticipation. On others, we have quite a lot of layers. This sounds like a cliché, but, when you add more, you really do take something away from them.”
Killian goes on to add “BTS in particular is a relatively dark song. It was actually the first song Dave wrote lyrics for and he had a lot of issues writing with his health conditions. Lyrically, it was definitely about his illness and his inability to cognitively function like he’d like to. It definitely birthed a theme and dealt with some pretty heavy concepts.”
Balancing these emotions has been a growing strength from album to album, but now Boy and Bear have taken it to a new level. The album also contains some musical experimentation, with the band moving out of their comfort zones. Songs like “Work of Art” and “Birds of Paradise” contain irregular rhythms and earthy percussions, which stemmed from electronic drum loops they made during their writing sessions.
“Basically, on the drum loops we could put different flavours and rhythms into it,” said Killian. “It allowed us to take things in a different direction than what we naturally would. In a handful of songs it became a really big feature. In “Work of Art”, it becomes a driving force. They’re all things we play. They’re not programed. We just recorded ourselves playing cymbals and marimbas and toms and stuff, and then distorted them with equipment to create unique sounds. Those rhythms became a song writing tool for us to create songs that fit in a slightly different world.”
The rest of the album is a complex journey that is inextricably linked to the band’s hiatus, ending with “Vesuvius”. The song, which is one of Killian’s favourites, was described as a cinematic, reflective and happy/sad track that washes over the audience, giving them the same catharsis that Suck on Light’s unlikely release gave the band. It was a tumultuous four years, but the troubles have strengthened the band and defined their art.
Listen to their new album here: https://boyandbear.lnk.to/SuckOnLightID