Boy & Bear are part of the 2021 Brisbane Festival programme.
As you're no doubt aware, the Australian government has made the performing arts industry a nearly impossible one to work within through the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While football players are given free rein, musicians and music industry workers alike have all felt the brunt of restrictions and state borders closures.
By no efforts of their own accord, Sydney folk-rock quintet Boy & Bear became a patient zero of sorts for this perplexing state when they were denied entry into Queensland for a show this past October – at the same time technicians working the festival from interstate were approved.
"The people with on-site jobs at the festival stage were deemed essential work, but not the bands that would actually be playing on it," recalls Dave Symes, Boy & Bear's long-serving bassist, who joined shortly before the band recorded their second album 'Harlequin Dream'.
"The crew were all hired from Victoria and got given the go-ahead, but anyone on the line-up that wasn't from Queensland was not allowed in.
"It's so strange with all this red-tape stuff – they're looking at this like column A and column B as separate entities, without considering that column A might need column B to begin with. It's all just filed, submitted and then it's just like 'computer says no'."
Symes is acutely aware he and his bandmates are far from the only ones to have their plans thwarted in the wake of the pandemic. "We're all singing a pretty similar song right now," he muses.
However, Dave is also thankful the band were able to do some shows in support of their most recent album, 2019's 'Suck On Light'. They were meant to tour throughout most of 2020, but only got in a European run before the global shutdown – and even that was by the skin of their teeth.
"We flew back on the last day of February," Symes recalls. "Even at that stage, masks weren't happening and people were just thinking this was confined to Italy.
"A week later, the lockdown followed in Europe – and we followed suit here a week or so after that. We just couldn't believe that this whole thing was like a tsunami following us around while we were playing all these shows.
"It was really tricky – you get so excited when you have a new record out, because it's your livelihood and it's your love. It's what you do. For us to have that taken away from us was just heartbreaking, and it's even more heartbreaking seeing everything on pause again right now."
Nevertheless, the bassist and producer is persevering as best as he can under the circumstances. In fact, Boy & Bear have even taken this opportunity to start piecing together a follow-up to 'Suck On Light', which will hopefully take shape as their fifth studio album.
"I think, once we figured out what this whole situation meant, we were able to flip into a positive musical headspace," Symes says.
"We started to move towards another record, writing a whole lot of new music. I don't think that would've happened if we were just doing a full year of touring – we wouldn't have gone into that mode at all.
"For us, it was basically like 'What else can we do? We can't be playing live anywhere, or doing any touring.' I think we were lucky that we did find that positivity quite quickly – it only took us about a month or so before we started chipping away.
"We've kept that going up to right now, actually – we've been building up a library of new songs, working on demos and different things. We'd love to have a new record in the bag by the end of the year."
This work has been cemented by the band now having a permanent studio space in the inner-west of Sydney, not far from where they recorded their acoustic EP 'Live At Golden Retriever'.
Syme finds the area – which is shared with other artist's spaces, studios and offices – particularly inspiring, especially at a time when encouragement of the creative process is needed more than ever. "It's been a real community," he says of the inner-west strip the band have found themselves in.
"It really feels like you're bumping into other musos pretty regularly, talking about what everyone's doing. You get that culture sometimes at festivals, where you get multiple bands together at one time, but not a lot otherwise.
"It's easy to feel like you're out on your own – you don't necessarily get that camaraderie as much. That's been a really cool, little thing for us, to be back into the roots of the musical community here in Sydney."
After their failed entry to Queensland last year, Boy & Bear are hopeful to be given clearance this September to perform as part of the 2021 Brisbane Festival. Taking place at various venues across the city throughout the entire month, events range from cabaret performances to plays to queer dance parties and even a ferry cruise.
Boy & Bear will set up across two nights at The Tivoli, a venue Symes regards as one of the band's favourites, and the excitement within the band's camp is palpable after barely seeing audiences for most of the last calendar year.
"The festival really is a feat," Symes says. "Isn't it so lucky for us to be able to have that? To be looking forward to and working towards something.
"You're seeing all kinds of different music in all sorts of different venues, and it's bringing community back together. This is what's been taken away from everyone – that sense of a thriving community, where we're sharing and creating altogether.
"Brisbane has a great chance to do up this festival as close to 'the real thing' as they can get. If things all go okay in spring this September, then we're really looking forward to it."
Boy & Bear play Brisbane Festival at The Tivoli 16-17 September. They also play the SummerSalt festival series at Roche Estate (Hunter Valley) 29 January and Stuart Park (Wollongong) 30 January, 2022.