What would make a promising new band put its career on hold for years after just several shows together? In the case of Los Angeles-by-way-of-London duo BONES UK, it was the persuasion of legendary guitarist Jeff Beck.
After seeing one of the act’s early shows, Beck was so taken by singer Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg that he asked them to work with him on his 2016 album Loud Hailer, then tour with him behind the album. Years later, BONES UK have finally released their debut self-titled album on Sumerian Records.
It turns out the time working with Beck paid off for the duo, as BONES UK seem to have arrived fully formed. Produced by Filippo Cimatti, the album is a hybrid of swaggering bluesy rock and slinky distorted electronic music. Witnessing the duo live, who are rounded out by a drummer, is as memorable as the album. A recent show in Las Vegas saw what they call their “security” — a handful of women holding flags — leading a procession around the room, before lining up along the stage as bouncers. Vandenberg played guitar as if possessed, coming out into the crowd during a song, and she and Bones share a natural camaraderie that could only have come from playing multiple shows in rooms of all sizes.
Bones and Vandenberg give off a fun-loving attitude onstage and during interviews, so it might not be surprising that the two met at a bar. “We were in [the London neighborhood of] Camden, and I was nursing a breakup with whiskey,” recalls Bones. “Carmen was playing blues onstage, and she got done and I was like, ‘We have to do something together.’ We went back to my place, had a few more whiskeys and started playing music together. I was drawn to her like a magnet, and we spoke about music for ages, what we loved, what we didn’t love and that was it. We fell in musical love.”
A year following the band’s formation, and after about two shows, recalls Bones, came their brush with Beck, whom Vandenberg had met at a party for Queen drummer Roger Taylor and told to come see them play, fully expecting him not to show up. “There were like 10 people there, and Jeff walked in with his wife and watched the whole show,” she says. “After that, he took us out for an Indian meal and asked us to write his album with him. He basically said that he had a tour with Buddy Guy supporting and it was playing Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl, and he needed to write a record for the tour. He said, ‘I liked what you guys did up there so much, would you write the album with me?’ So we wrote the album with him and toured Japan and America. It was completely mental.”
The resulting album, Loud Hailer, sounded “a lot” like BONES UK, they say. “We brought in our producer Filipo, so basically it was a BONES record with Jeff Beck playing lead,” says Bones. “To work with someone like him is insane. His guitar playing, his sensitivity, is wild. He’s all over it, but you can hear us in every track.” No BONES tracks were sacrificed for Loud Hailer, although one of the songs that the pair had written earlier and gave Beck didn’t make the album. Vandenberg says there were pieces of songs the two had written that wouldn’t fit BONES but fit in well on Loud Hailer.
BONES UK’s debut bridges the gap between guitar-rock and ’90s electronica. First single “Pretty Waste” (which is being promoted at active rock and alternative radio) has its “What a waste of a pretty face” chorus backed by distorted drums and a rhythm that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album. The genre-blurring is by design. “We don’t want to be regurgitating rock’n’roll,” explains Bones. “We want to push it to somewhere new. We call our sound ‘future rock’ because we want to be doing something different. We want this to appeal to old people, young people, everyone.”
Their run with Beck brought them fans that they wouldn’t have had before, given that they essentially had just started the band. “It was quite funny making it to Japan and Tokyo and people coming to a Jeff Beck show wearing a BONES T-shirt,” says Vandenberg.
It also led them to decide to move to Los Angeles. “We played Hollywood Bowl with Jeff, and after the show, we were like, ‘Oh my god, we have to move to L.A.,’ ” says Bones. “So we finished up the tour in Japan, and we just moved. We just wanted to try something different. Life is short, and we had been doing music in England for a while, so we decided to move to America to see what we could do here. It was easier for us to get visas because of the Jeff thing, so were like, ‘Fuck it, let’s go.’ ”
In addition to picking up a label and wrapping up their debut album (which was released July 12), they also gained some supporters, including Howard Stern. The King of All Media was turned on to them by SiriusXM Octane PD Vincent Usuriello and featured them on 2018’s 25-track compilation The Howard Stern Tribute to David Bowie. The band’s take on Bowie’s abrasive 1997 Earthling track “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which also appears on BONES UK, sums up the duo’s guitar-driven-yet-electronic sound. “We didn’t know the song when we were given it, and we listened to it and it was perfect,” says Bones.
While some of the album’s songs address being female, like the middle-finger-to-a-critic “Girls Can’t Play Guitar” and the overall message of “Beautiful Is Boring,” it’s not the band’s primary platform. “Rosie and I always say, ‘We’re not a girl band. We’re a band that happens to be girls,’ ” says Vandenberg. “We just do what we do as a duo, and it reinforces everything that we believe in.”
Although they are currently on the road with The Struts, BONES UK doesn’t want to limit themselves to touring with any one particular genre, naming twenty one pilots, Queens of the Stone Age, Marilyn Manson and Kanye West as acts they would like to play with. “We want to cross genres a bit. We don’t want to just go out and play another rock show,” says Bones.
And as they grow as a band, they hope to gain more fans that are waving the flag for them — literally. “As soon as we’re headlining at any of our own shows, we’re going to make it as much of a spectacle as possible,” says Bones of their “security.” “They’re just people that are fans and want to support us and protect us. It’s very organic, and it’s brilliant. The bigger we get, the more security we’re going to add.”