Boy & Bear

After the most tumultuous period of their lives both personally and professionally, Boy & Bear are back with a triumphant new single, ‘Hold Your Nerve’, their first new music since 2015’s Gold-selling Limit of Love. Produced by Boy & Bear and Collin Dupuis (The Black Keys; Lana Del Rey) and mixed by Tom Elmhirst (Amy Winehouse, Beck, Adele), ‘Hold Your Nerve’ is an upbeat, optimistic song in which the Sydney band channels their trademark penchant for organic, seventies sounds into one of their most direct, modern and addictive songs to date.

On this first taste of their fourth album, Suck on Light, Hosking sings “See baby, all that sweet connection/Sometimes takes its time”. On the surface, it charts the story of how Hosking’s relationship with his now partner had failed on their first attempt. But lines such as “I was not right/I was bent out” show that ‘Hold Your Nerve’ is more than just a love song and reveal the backdrop of a debilitating illness he has been dealing with since 2011. Early symptoms of exhaustion – Hosking was experiencing “a lag effect on the world around me, almost as if things were glitching” – were initially misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, which only brought more questions than answers. But the symptoms soon intensified to include cognitive issues which robbed Hosking of the ability to piece together lyrics and write songs.

As Hosking struggled with his illness, the band, writing collectively for the first time in their career, wrote and recorded Limit of Love. However, the frontman’s health continued to decline and he noticed a deterioration in his eyesight and a constant ringing in his ears. Soon everyday tasks such as shopping, cleaning and even communicating became difficult. After working with a myriad of specialists to find a cause, hope came in late-2015 when doctors detected signs of, what they now believe to be, a gut bacterial issue that has been poisoning his nervous system. Medication and a radical alteration of his diet – “I lived on vegetables and protein for a year” – offered minor improvements, to the point where he could commit to touring Limit of Love.

By the end of the cycle, however, Hosking had deteriorated further. “By the back end I’d really checked out. I was losing my short-term memory; I was having to write lyrics on my arm. I didn’t have the confidence in any of my functionality. Standing onstage at a festival, it just felt like freefall. I was confused, stressed, isolated and becoming trapped in a neurological hell where every day felt like a week.”

The band made the decision to spend 2017 and 2018 off the road to give Hosking time to focus on his health. For an act at the peak of their career – Limit of Love debuted at Number One in Australia (a feat also achieved by 2013’s platinum – certified Harlequin Dream) and the ensuing tour saw the Aria Award-winning band selling out venues such as Sydney’s 5,500-seat Hordern Pavilion and Brisbane’s 4,500-capacity Riverstage – it was a decision fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. But there was no question that Hosking’s wellbeing was the priority. The band stuck together and spent months of 2017-18 trying out new writing ideas as Hosking rode an emotional and physical rollercoaster.

Hosking made significant progress during this period when he was introduced to a new treatment, called Faecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT). Also known as a stool transplant, FMT is the process of transplanting faecal bacteria from a healthy person into a recipient. His donor, Harry was brought to Nashville for the writing and recording of Suck on Light and became affectionately referred to by the band as the ‘Poo Roadie’.

Prior to the FMT treatment, Hosking had been unable to conjure lyrics or remember melodies long enough to put them to use. For the first time since recording Limit of Love, he experienced enough relief to allow him to contribute to the songwriting sessions for Suck on Light. With an album worth of songs Boy & Bear headed for Southern Ground Studios in Nashville, where they bunkered down in February and March, co-producing the new album, Suck on Light, with Dupuis, who also engineered the album.

Accompanying the release of ‘Hold your Nerve’ is a digital B-side called ‘Work Of Art’ (also mixed by Elmhirst), which offers a window into another, more introspective side to Suck On Light. “Whenever I got a bit better, the first thing I’d notice is that my senses would come to life a bit,” says Hosking. “So I’d notice smells and my sense of touch would come back, and it would always be something simple like the wind or hearing birds. So ‘Work Of Art’ is an homage to Mother Nature.”

Boy & Bear will reintroduce themselves to Australian fans via a series of intimate shows in August, before heading to North America in September and the UK and Europe in early 2020. While Hosking’s health remains a work in progress, both he and the band can finally look to the future with optimism.

‘Hold Your Nerve’ is their first step back into the light.