This is a guest post written by Kristen Lambert.
I first heard Dead Man’s Bones – a musical project/band featuring actor Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields – several months back when Facebook friends circulated the band’s video for “Name in Stone.” I thought the video was interesting and I admire Gosling’s work (especially The Believer and Lars and the Real Girl – but not The Notebook). Yet little else stuck with me at the time.
Then a month ago NPR’s All Songs Considered did a 2009 Fall Preview of upcoming albums. One NPR staffer highlighted “My Body’s A Zombie For You,” a new song off the latest Dead Man’s Bones album. It is a ghoulish yet fun song, in which Gosling croons about decaying love and bodies – while a children’s choir provides background vocals and sings (almost shouts) the chorus “my body’s a zombie for you!” The song struck me as awkwardly charming and I was delighted to discover that the entire album is Halloween-themed. As someone who appreciates Halloween the way people go nutty over Christmas, I am always thrilled to find music that suits the mood and tone of Fall and/or Halloween.
After listening to the song on repeat for the rest of the day, I decided to do a little research on the band. According to Anti-Records, Dead Man’s Bones and their album happened by accident, when Gosling and Shields dated women who are sisters and were forced to spend time together. By way of this chance meeting the two discovered their mutual fascination with ghosts, graveyards, monsters, and zombies. For both Gosling and Shields their interest in all things gruesome began at an early age. As stated on their site, Shields was interested in ghosts to the point where he was put into therapy as a child. Meanwhile, growing up Gosling’s parents decided to move from his childhood home out of fear it was haunted.
The two musicians attempted to channel their appreciation for the macabre into a “monster ghost love story for the stage” that would be accompanied by songs written and performed by the duo. Though financing fell through for the play, the two decided to carry out the musical aspect of their original plan and released an album. Gosling and Shields cite doo-wap and The Shangri-La’s (as well as The Cure, Misfits, and Daniel Johnston among others) as influences for their sound. Also heavily influenced by musical programs and albums that incorporate children’s choirs, Dead Man’s Bones solicited the help of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing affordable music education through discounted rates and/or scholarships. One Halloween-aspect of the album involves the cover, which features the Children’s Choir dressed in Halloween outfits (props to Lola dressed as Edward Scissorhands on the left).
The connection between Dead Man’s Bones and cinema goes beyond the band’s fascination with characters and themes from the horror genre and Gosling’s involvement in the project. The band adhered to strict rules and principles for creating and recording their album – principles akin to those of Dogma 95 – an avant-garde filmmaking movement associated with such directors as Lars von Trier (Antichrist) and Lone Scherfig (An Education). Gosling and Shields avoided using a click track or doing more than three takes, allowing their mistakes to become part of the music making process. This is reflected in the moments when the singers or the choir stray off-key and the ways in which rehearsals were included on the album. For instance towards the end of “My Body’s A Zombie For You” the song devolves into a chant as the children’s choir spells out the word “z-o-m-b-b-i-e” while keeping rhythm with hand-claps.
Gosling and Shields also played every instrument regardless of whether they were familiar with it or not. Moreover, Dead Man’s Bones incorporated various objects in their music such as tin foil to create the sound of rain, ripping up paper to mimic the sound of thunder, creaky doors, waves, and “werewolf” howling – all to infuse their album with a rich background of haunting and unusual sounds.
All these elements – from the inclusion of a children’s choir to the purposeful DIY style of music making – result in an album that offers a unique listening experience, one that involves dance-friendly songs, spoken word poetry, and brooding ruminations on eternal love and longing beyond the grave. Some of my favorite tracks include:
“Dead Hearts” (see the video link below) – a softer song that builds into a crescendo of breaking glass
“In The Room Where You Sleep” – the most dance-able track on the album
“My Body’s A Zombie For You” – like the Eurythmics‘ “Love is a Stranger,” I appreciate any song that compares love to the undead
“Pa Pa Power” – in the chorus the Children’s Choir sings, “We will not destroy you, no we will not destroy you,” lines that are both soothing and utterly terrifying at the same time (think Children of the Corn type of children – or the little girls chanting in Nightmare in Elm Street recycled in the remake)
“Dead Man’s Bones” – in the title track Gosling obsesses over the fact that dead man’s bones are buried six feet deep and apparently they are everywhere (in the pavement, in the schoolhouse, even in the water . . . yikes!)
Dead Man’s Bones promises to incorporate the album’s enthusiastic spirit into their live shows. The band uses short Youtube videos to introduce themselves and list tour dates (here is video one and two), and they also put out a call for anyone with a special talent, from magicians to sword swallowers, to participate in a Dead Man’s Bones Talent Show as the opening act.
Overall, I recommend incorporating Dead Man’s Bones’ latest album into the music mix for your Halloween party or simply enjoying the album on a gloomy day. If you have any Halloween-themed albums (including awesome soundtracks) that you want to recommend, please leave a comment. Happy Halloween everyone!
1. Dead Man’s Bones featuring Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields – image courtesy of last.fm
2. The photo used for the cover of Dead Man’s Bones latest album – image courtesy of LA Weekly