Long Before ‘La La Land,’ Ryan Gosling Released an Album of Spooky Love Songs
In Damien Chazelle’s romantic, musical ode to classic Hollywood, Ryan Gosling takes a combination of words that would usually inspire a heavy sigh — aspiring jazz musician — and transforms it into an incredibly charming performance, as only Gosling can. As Sebastian, Gosling croons and plays piano to such swoon-worthy effect that you might (understandably) assume that his musical skills are nothing more than deceitful movie magic; you’d be wrong. Long before La La Land, Gosling fronted a real-life band that released just one very lovely album in 2009 and subsequently vanished.
Yes, Ryan Gosling, your imaginary boyfriend and star of one of our most valuable internet memes, once had his very own band. That shouldn’t be surprising, and yet every time I casually mention it to friends and colleagues, they are shocked. It’s as if Gosling serenading Michelle Williams with a ukulele in Blue Valentine never happened, or like everyone just forgot that he began his career as a cast member on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club. (Or maybe I am just the nation’s leading authority on Ryan Gosling trivia.)
The band was called Dead Man’s Bones, a two-man outfit fronted by Gosling with his friend, Zach Shields. In 2009, the duo released their self-titled LP, a collaborative effort with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir from Los Angeles (founded by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea). Gosling and Shields first met in 2005, when they bonded over their mutual love of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland (which is also how Gosling bonded with Guillermo del Toro a couple of years back, when the actor met with the director about starring in his long-developing movie based on the classic theme park attraction). They decided to collaborate on a series of monster and ghost-themed love stories with the intention of developing them into a play. Together, they recorded a soundtrack for the play under the title Dead Man’s Bones; that soundtrack became their one and only album.
Gosling and Shields played all of the instruments on the record, even those they had no prior experience playing. The resulting sound is slightly discordant in a whimsically haunting way, accentuated by the vocals from the children’s choir. Performing under the ridiculously charming stage name “Baby Goose,” Gosling sings songs about zombies and graves and haunted houses and ships with titles like “Lose Your Soul,” “In the Room Where You Sleep,” and “Buried in Water.”
The album features 12 songs, including an intro, and all of them sound like spooky love songs for beautiful heartbroken ghosts — which is why this CD is constantly playing in my car every October. The lyrics are occasionally twee, and while the album admittedly has the aesthetic of novelty, the songs are really good. One of the best is “Lose Your Soul,” a catchy and weirdly motivational track that begins with clapping and stomping and evolves into a dizzyingly haunting piece sounds sort of like if Arcade Fire did a song about YA ghost novels from the ’70s:
“In the Room Where You Sleep” is another standout, which is probably why Gosling and Shields made an official music video for it. Watch Baby Goose in action on the piano, handsomely dressed in a vest and charmingly interacting with the choir kids, who are all wearing Halloween costumes:
The duo also made videos for “Dead Hearts” and “Pa Pa Power,” the latter of which combines a performance at a retirement home with a creepy-cute narrative about kids:
If you didn’t know about Ryan Gosling’s band before now, you’re probably super baffled about somehow missing out on this brief pop culture moment, which was captured in an 18-minute Pitchfork documentary special about Dead Man’s Bones:
There you have it: Yes, Ryan Gosling is a gifted musician with the crooning voice of a vintage angel. And yes, that’s really him singing and playing piano in La La Land — so if your longstanding crush on Baby Goose was endangered based on the assumption that his musical skills were a lie, you can rest easy knowing that Ryan Gosling really is that damn good. Swoon away.