The dreaded actor-turned-musician vanity project is often met with a thunderous wave of seething backlash. (And, in the cases of Joaquin Phoenix and Jared Leto, deservedly so; Zooey Deschanel, not so much.) Perhaps that's the reasoning behind actor Ryan Gosling and bandmate Zach Shields's decision to take their sweet time in terms of cultivating attention for new band Dead Man's Bones—as well as the idea to do so through some surprising outlets: teaming with the young singers at Flea's (yes, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) Silverlake Conservatory Of Music, performing alongside puppets at the historic Bob Baker Marionette Theater in L.A., and releasing several music videos. This month's self-titled release is teeming with Halloween imagery, haunted house creaks, warbly organs, and Gosling's capable vibrato, as on songs like "My Body's A Zombie For You." Prior to their performance tonight at Schubas, Gosling and Shields talked to The A.V. Club about a beloved wishbone sculpture, performing with a poodle circus, and not being "real musicians."
The A.V. Club: The same day the album came out, you released a new music video for the song "Dead Hearts." It features an intricate sculpture with a mechanical wishbone. Where did that come from?
Ryan Gosling: It was made by a man named Arthur Ganson who we'd seen give a talk about his work on TED.com and we both kind of fanned out on him pretty hard. We started watching all of his videos online while listening to our record as we were mixing it and we gravitated towards this one piece in particular, which was The Machine With Wishbone. We just wanted to create a world for it to live in. So, we started trying to figure out how we might go about doing that. We saw on his website there was a number and we thought, "Well, it's a pipe dream and there's no way, first of all, that we'd get to speak with him or, secondly, have access to the piece because it must be in some museum in Berlin somewhere." We called the number and it was his cell phone. He was on his way into yoga and he asked us if he could call us back after yoga. We talked to him about our idea and said, "Is there any way? Do we have to fly somewhere to get to the wishbone?" and he said it was at his mother's house and that he would just go over to his mom's house and send it to us. And, sure enough, the wishbone arrived.
AVC: The videos that have been released so far give the impression that the visual aspect is a really vital part of the band. In your minds, does it go hand in hand creatively?
Zach Shields: Well, for us, the whole project started as a different idea. [Dead Man's Bones] first started as a kind of theater play but it turned into what it is now. We just finished this puppet show at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater which was basically us scoring a puppet show that we directed. With these videos, it's the same idea. For us, the music is really just a part of trying to create that visual world. It's less of a band and more of a partnership in that we're not just making music but also videos and plays and puppet shows and hopefully different kinds of work as we keep going.
AVC: You're bringing in local children's choirs on the tour?
RG: And local gospel choirs where we couldn't get children's choirs because, I don't know if you know this, but kids are very busy these days and they don't have time to just sing with bands. They have capoeira practice and pottery, things like that. So, half of the tour will be supplemented with gospel choirs, which we're pretty excited about because we got to work with them for the "Name In Stone" video in a graveyard and it was just so much fun. But yes, it'll be local choirs in each city and also opening for us will be local talent—not bands, but people with unique, unconventional talents.
AVC: What kinds of talent?
ZS: We just saw some [audition videos] last night and we're kind of pumped. There's a guy in New York that plays the violin and has bells on his feet. He has this ethereal, beautiful voice and dances and sings and plays the violin. There's also a poodle circus.
RG: One guy was pretending to be a lizard and walking around in his underwear. There wasn't much he wasn't doing. He was everything all the time.
AVC: Is it fair to say you both have a strong appreciation for the theatrical element of the live shows?
ZS: We hope so. We both come from that kind of background: me, from theater, and Ryan from film. So, we're used to thinking of things in that visual way and finding what the theatrical value is. At this point in our lives we're too old to just be real musicians and separate our minds from what we've been doing already. So that's the way that we connect to it. Making all the videos and working with live shows in a theatrical way is just a logical thing for us to do.
AVC: Is there a mutual love of all things spooky and macabre between you two?
RG: Well, it's kind of the only music that we know how to make. We're not real musicians and we started writing songs just to pass the time. They just ended up being that way. They ended up being kind of—someone called them Halloween hymns, which I thought was a nice way to put it. It's like spooky doo-wop: doo-wop influenced songs that are about monsters and ghosts.
ZS: It just went down that way and we haven't gotten bored of it.
AVC: This must be your favorite time of year then?
RG: We'd be liars if you said to us, "Hey, Dead Man's Bones, would you like to own Halloween?" and we said "No." We'd be huge liars.