Dead Man’s Bones: Your Newest Spooky Obsession

What do Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, Barbie, and Godzilla all have in common? The dark folk-rock duo you likely didn’t know existed: Dead Man’s Bones. Maybe you recognise some of their songs from their appearances in The Conjuring or Age of Panic; maybe you have an intrinsically textbook-like knowledge of any and everything Ryan Gosling; or maybe you’re on a weird side of the Spotify algorithm (same). Or maybe this is the first time you’ve heard the name. If so, welcome. Prepare to have your mind blown, because mine certainly was.

I found Dead Man’s Bones through Spotify recommended about a year ago now, and immediately fell in love with their track ‘Flowers Grow Out of My Grave.’ It’s the perfect mix of Echo and the Bunnymen, the Blasting Company, and the Dan Zanes—how was I not going to be obsessed? The album’s original premise was a sort of musical about a monster-ghost love story, with eerie lyrics about being dead, running and hiding from something, and a goosebump-inducing posthumous romance. For me, who wrote the song of the summer? Dead Man’s freaking Bones.

Of course, then I stumbled across a (now-deleted) Reel on Instagram that gives obscure-ish indie music recs, and who do I hear but my favorite little undercover gem. (Even now, DMB has well under 600K listeners on Spotify, which isn’t necessarily an apt measure of their popularity as a whole, but still says something.) The Reel starts off with promising a spooky song recommendation … and then says that it’s by Ryan Gosling?

Reader. The way I nearly pooped my pants.

So, here’s the background of Dead Man’s Bones, because I am absolutely terrible at knowing band lore when I find new music: the year is 2005. (So, a while ago.)

Ryan Gosling—The Notebook, La La Land, the freaking Barbie movie—is dating Rachel McAdams. And Zach Shields—producer of movies like Krampus and Godzilla: King of Monsters—is dating McAdams’s sister, Kayleen. They’re both big into ghosts and spooky stuff; Shields was apparently put in therapy due to his childhood obsession, and Gosling’s family moved out of their house because it was haunted. Ghosts were their Roman Empires, y’all. After a while, the two of them get together and decide to write this screenplay/musical/thing about the love story of a monster and a ghost. Eventually, the whole screenplay component gets chucked out the window (exorcised, one might say), and Shields and Gosling (who dubbed the nickname “Baby Goose”) decide to focus entirely on the music portion.

One of the first things they did? Enlisted the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir to sing an eerie, yet simultaneously playful, set of backing vocals in each song. They range from sweet and innocent in tracks such as ‘My Body’s a Zombie For You’ and the aforementioned summer fav ‘Flowers Grow Out of My Grave,’ but they also lean into darker, less wholesome sensibilities, like the intro of ‘Buried in Water.’ Seriously, hearing a choir of children slowly sing “Like a lamb to the slaughter/Buried in water,” and “They don’t bury bodies from the ground/They drown our little town” is going to put the hallow in your All Hallow’s Eve.

These guys are devoted, let me tell you. I remember I’d read somewhere that Ryan Gosling had to undergo hella piano training for his role in La La Land, because he wanted it to be as authentic as possible. For whatever reason, I took this as: Ryan Gosling had never ever touched a piano before. When I went to YouTube to try to find live performances of the spooktacular duo, however, there he was. Ryan Gosling, just jammin’ away on the keys. The album is only 43 minutes long, and the devoted pair literally picked up instruments they’d never touched before, just so they could say that they played every instrument. Also, for the entire 43 minutes, they gave themselves three takes per part. That was it. Honestly, any mistakes are hard to pick up on—they’re few and far between to begin with, and the music itself is completely and wholly enrapturing. You don’t even think to try and find anything, and when you do, nothing really leaps out at you. The production is perhaps a little simplistic due to the breathing, present nature of the recording process, but I think that that’s a trade-off I’m more than happy to hear—and it’s one we don’t hear very much now, as we’re in a very post-twee era of indie production stylings. DBM was, and is, a breath of fresh air.

I won’t lie to you: I am a Halloween girlie. I’m always on the lookout for suitably spooky music each fall. But my playlists of Marika Hackman, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Midnight Sister needed some new company, y’know? Gosling (sorry, Baby Goose) and Shields have provided precisely what they mean. And there’s just such a story behind it. I’m terrible at learning music lore. It’s rare that I know more than the artist and album names when listening to songs. So, the fact that there is just such a rich, fascinating history with Dead Man’s Bones, coupled with the fact that it is precisely the vibes that I’m constantly on the lookout for, is simply too good not to share.

Song of the summer, album of the autumn.