Bands We Like: Dead Man’s Bones

By Zachary Swickey

It’s hard to take some actors seriously when they dabble in music. (Remember when Lindsay Lohan made the attempt?) Sure, there have been a few well-received efforts (like Zooey Deschanel’s indie project, She & Him), but for the most part, being an actor is a stigma to anyone hoping to find credibility in the music world. This is the exact reason I refrain from mentioning the name of the lead singer of Dead Man’s Bones until the person I’m sharing it with admits their ears are digging it. You might have seen him in a few flicks recently too: “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Drive” and “Ides of March.” Yeah, it’s still rather shocking to me how few people know that Hollywood man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling fronts a rock band, and quite a good one at that.

Dead Man’s Bones first came to be in 2005, when Gosling met Zach Shields, the boyfriend of Rachel McAdam’s (Gosling’s then-girlfriend) sister, Kayleen. The four were once living under the same roof and the two gentlemen found themselves bonding over their mutual fascination with typical fright fare: zombies, ghosts, monsters, etc. It’s clear from the group’s do-it-yourself ethic that Dead Man’s Bones is no vanity project, rather a meticulous musical experiment that had Gosling taking up cello and piano for the first time. The duo didn’t want an overproduced, slick album, so they adhered to some basic principles in the studio: they would play all the instruments (even if they didn’t know how to use them yet), there would be no more than three takes per song, and they would keep even keep some of the recorded imperfections.

Inspired by the free-spirit and imagination of children, DMB recruited a children’s choir from the Silverlake Conservatory of Music – a music education facility in Los Angeles that was co-founded by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Flea – to help with the recording process. With members ranging from 5-17 years old, the choir would meet with Gosling and Shields every Sunday afternoon for a few months to record. Their playful music video for “In the Room Where You Sleep” was filmed during a wrap party on the final day of recording, and was our first venture into the world of Dead Man’s Bones.

Listen to “In The Room Where You Sleep” after the jump.

Dead Man’s Bones – “In the Room Where You Sleep” from villi starkasa on Vimeo.

Dead Man’s Bones released their self-titled album around two years ago in October 2009 through Anti- Records. The album is purposefully simplistic and lo-fi in nature, which goes well with the children’s vocals. “Buried in Water” comes off like a spooky nursery rhyme that a monster might sing to his little creature. “My Body’s a Zombie for You” has some happy-go-lucky ivory tickling with a powerful chorus that has the children shouting back the song’s intriguing title.

Gosling’s deep and unique singing voice is perfect for the haunted vibe on the album – sounding like a modern day Vincent Price of some sort (there’s even a cheerleader-esque chant at the end – “my body is a Z-O-M-B-I-E”). “Lose Your Soul” has a catchy, simple beat through constant hand claps, and an eerie breeze accompanying Gosling’s dark crooning. The lyricism is unique in that it’s inspired by ghouls, monsters and ghosts, yet it’s juxtaposed with children singing along – “When I think about you / Oh-oh-oh, flowers grow out of my grave.”

Similar to his Hollywood persona, Gosling is rather modest and soft-spoken, and you won’t find him bragging about his music to anyone. The musical duo granted few interviews and only have a single proper tour (which appropriately led up to Halloween) under their belt. It’s refreshing to listen to music that is a true labor of love with creative passion fully on display, and while it’s impossible to be 100 percent original these days, Dead Man’s Bones do a damn good job of trying. Gosling has clearly been busy with his main acting gig, but here’s to hoping he brings us a follow-up album sooner rather than later.