We first began receiving emails about Dead Man’s Bones less than a week into the beginning of last year. The first contact included a video and an mp3 link for a song called, “In the Room Where You Sleep“. There was also some information surrounding the project, but it was very minimal and extremely general. We were simply informed that the included content revolved around a “collaboration between a new band called Dead Man’s Bones and the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s choir” and that they would be releasing an upcoming record which was “conceptual in nature“. What wasn’t mentioned and wouldn’t be addressed directly until an email several months later , was that one of the key players in the group is actually quite recognizable in another area of the entertainment industry. Moments into the video, however, it was clear that the man sitting behind the piano and singing was none other then ex-Mousekateer, Ryan Gosling. What’s even worse was that, no matter how much I didn’t want it to be true, I knew that I actually liked it.
Gosling‘s identity wasn’t necessarily kept a “secret” but it wasn’t shoved out into the forefront for the marketing campaign either (a-la Juliette and the Licks or when the sub-mediocre actor Keanu Reeves became the unimpressive bass player for the incredibly shitty Dogstar.) It didn’t matter either way; this time the music was good. The real test is that whenever I’ve played Dead Man’s Bones around people, without first informing them of who’s behind it , they seem to take an immediate interest. The reverse is definitely not the case. I’ve, somewhat recently, gone back to taking on work as a barista and have thrown it on a few times in the cafe. I’d almost completely forgotten about the album, until a customer mentioned seeing their show in Seattle last year. I understand the stigma surrounding a Ryan Gosling-fueled musical effort and I have to admit that, although I had a positive view of the album, I believe that some level of superficiality may have played a part with me not throwing it into more of a rotation since it’s release last October. Just as I was starting to rediscover the work for myself again and wondering about the current state of the project, two new updates/announcements were released. The first was a slot performing as part of a solid lineup at this weekend’s FYF FEST in Los Angeles. The second was a nearly 13 minute video for one of the album’s standout tracks, “Pa Pa Power“.
The way that I see it, Dead Man’s Bones made quite a few power moves on their way to earning my support. With each update that I received, I became more convinced about the legitimacy of the project and of the earnestness of the intention behind it. The story goes that the project actually began back in 2005, when Gosling first met his partner Zach Shields and they decided to create “a play about a monster-ghost-love-story“. After the stage show was abandoned due to budget restriction, the duo still had the collection of songs that they had created for the soundtrack. This is the point in which they recruited the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir to help them fill out their sound. That original video for “In the Room Where You Sleep” also features the children all dressed up as Halloween style ghouls, such as mummies and werewolves. The following video that we were sent was in black & white and was shot in a cemetery. Dead Man’s Bones included the children again but, this time, they also enlisted the voices of L.A. Inner City Mass Choir on the doo wop track, “Name in Stone“; a song never featured on the official album release. Another interesting note is that both of the videos were filmed live, providing a stripped down and “honest” feel to them. This aesthetic meshed well with the album, which had the duo performing all of the instruments themselves (even those they had no previous experience with) and restricting themselves to a limit of three takes on each recording. When they finally ventured out in support of the release, they not only traveled with 3 additional musicians, but also performed with a different children’s choir local to each corresponding city that they stopped in. To further add to their productions and to their element of community inclusion, the group also put out a call for submissions of local talent (ie. “sword swallowers”, “tap dancers”, “magicians” etc) to fill 5-8 spots for a talent show before each night. By this point, I was already fairly intrigued by their efforts but the clincher was when they announced a month long residency of performances at L.A.‘s legendary Bob Baker marrionette theater. As with their videos, the unique puppet integrated performances featured both the Silverlake choir and were directed by Dead Man’s Bones themselves.
Maybe the fact that I worked at a day care when I was in high school and drove around with a “Spooky Halloween Sounds” tape in my car played a role in me noticing a feeling of connection to the project early on. I’m sure that the fact that I took a puppetry class and crafted the little animated creatures in college for a while didn’t hurt either. The ironic thing is that, while the idea of Gosling as a “Disney kid” was the most off-putting aspect of Dead Man’s Bones, I believe that it may have been that very factor which ultimately worked in its favor. While there’s been somewhat of a bullshit resurgence of vampires and zombies, those subjects have been heavily poisoned by various levels of geek culture irony and/or Twilight tween Hot Topic cool. Dead Man’s Bones taps into a simpler time of spider rings, blood capsules, and fake plastic fangs. They embody the feeling of the Disney Haunted Mansion and films like Watcher in the Woods, when there was a lighthearted spookiness instead of asymmetrical haircuts and Crow makeup. The fact that Gosling was a child performer can only work in his favor and the children come across as enthusiastic contributors, as opposed to patronized work ponies. This project could have been a real disaster if it had taken itself too seriously, in the wrong ways. In some ways, Dead Man’s Bones is really easy to hate on paper, but they are very difficult to dislike in reality.
The last time we saw a video from the group it was for the incredibly haunting lead off track “Dead Hearts“. Overshadowed by being released the same day as the album, the strikingly beautiful imagery didn’t feature any live performers. Instead it centered around “Machine with Wishbone“, a kinetic sculpture by Arthur Ganson, as it traveled through a miniature city, enduring fire and even an encounter with a horse ghost. The new video for “Pa Pa Power” samples a little bit from everything that the group has showcased with their work up until now. Shields and Gosling have continued to direct their own visions and have chosen to bring back the children; this time visiting a nursing home and merging age with youth. The 12 minute and 46 second video appears to be another live recording, but it takes a sharp and drastic turn, at one point, turning it into much more of a “mini-movie” than anything else. Borrowing from their approach with “Dead Hearts“, DMB has again opted to incorporate the work of another awesome visual artist. For those of us familiar with the plastic bag sculptures of street artist Joshua Allen Harris, they are instantly recognizable. Harris gained recognition for affixing his work to the vents on sidewalks of NYC and, as wind gusts would blow through them, what once appeared to be discarded trash would instantly inflate into majestically swaying polar bears and towering minotaurs. You’ll know it when you see them; they’re inclusion is obvious.
Enjoy the video below.
Keep in mind that some of the more sensitive types have been known to shed a little tear.
Still, the song has a great message…
“Burn the street
Burn the cars…”
And here is the original album version of “Pa Pa Power” for comparison
Dead Man’s Bones will perform at FYF Fest in L.A. this Saturday Sept. 4th. They go on at 7pm on the Redwood Stage, which means that, if you want to see them, you have about 10 minutes to get there from the Ariel Pink set over at the Oak Stage. It also means that you will already be at the Redwood Stage for the following set by fellow Anti- Records label mates/werewolf enthusiasts MAN MAN.
Full schedule and lineup at the official FYF FEST website.
Joshua Allen Harris
Check out more of Harris’ work on his youtube page “HARRIS DANGER“.
Since I have already described all of these fucking videos, I figured that I should provide some links to check out these previous works.
[Remember: by simply placing the cursor over the video links, you can watch them in the pop-up box without ever leaving the site]