Who: Dead Man’s Bones finds Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling and his friend Zach Shields spinning fireside ghost stories into mesmerizing “Monster Mash” sing-alongs with the help of L.A.’s Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir.
Sounds like: The Arcade Fire, Tom Waits and the cast of Sesame Street performing a Kurt Weill musical. Gosling and Shields wanted to collaborate with kids from the start and cite the Langley Schools Music Project’s Innocence and Despair and Nancy Dupree’s Ghetto Reality — two affecting and endearing recordings of untrained grade schoolers singing — as inspiration. “When we first wrote the songs, all the vocals were for the children’s choir to sing,” Shields tells Rolling Stone. “We were never going to sing on the record. But when we were working out the parts for them, we started singing and decided to make it into a duo between us and the kids.”
• The guys met in 2005 — Gosling was dating his Notebook costar Rachel McAdams and Shields was dating her sister Kayleen — and hatched their plan to form a band on a road trip to Vegas for Gosling’s sister’s 30th birthday. “We started putting on these performances for our friends in the [hotel] bathroom,” says Gosling. “We’d go in the shower and we’d use the shower curtain as the stage curtain.” The unorthodox performance space and the fact their first song was “a love story about a guy and his butterfly knife” had a lot of their friends thinking it was all a joke. “They were would laugh afterwards and be like, ‘That was so funny!’ And we’d be like, ‘We weren’t kidding,'” says Shields.
• Gosling, Shields and the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir just wrapped up a residency at L.A.’s Bob Baker Marionette Theater, where they performed alongside dancing neon skeletons and glowing ghosts. “People kept coming up to us after the show, like, ‘You’re taking the puppets with you on tour, right? You have to. It doesn’t work without the puppets,'” says Shields with a laugh. But the duo has something else planned for this month’s North American tour: They’ll perform with a different choir in each city and host a talent show for local entertainers rather than have opening bands. “We’re trying to find acts that are unconventional,” says Gosling. “I want to find somebody who knits food — knits steak, knits carrots, peas.”
• Though the guys claim they’re musical newbies (Gosling’s stint singing alongside Britney Spears on The New Mickey Mouse Club notwithstanding), they played almost all of the instruments on their self-titled debut. Gosling even taught himself the cello for the eerie waltz “Buried in Water” after the two cello players they had enlisted turned out to be frauds. “They came in and we pressed record and they had never touched a cello before in their life,” says Gosling. Was it easy for him to pick up? “It wasn’t as hard as they were making it out to be!”
Get It Now: Click above to watch the oddly poignant video for the ethereal “Dead Hearts” — probably the only seven-minute clip of a walking wishbone you’ll ever see. Their debut album, Dead Man’s Bones, is out now.