A few hours from now, Carmen Vandenberg and Rosie Bones, the two principal members of Bones UK, will invade the stage at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theater. They’ll be dressed in matching jumpsuits and synchronized guitar straps like twin femme Trent Reznors, and they’ll rip through a short set of violent, wanton cuts — each plucked from one of the monochromatic videos that appear, like clockwork, on the band’s ersatz YouTube page every couple of months. The music itself is salty and sexy; blasts of whiskey-cured hellfire blues and frigid industrial grooves, paired in a symbiosis so airtight it could be spelled-out in scientific notation.
For now, though, the motif is dropped. On this crisp November day, we’re a few blocks down the street from the theater in a roomy, homespun English pub. The table is layered with carbs; nachos, burgers and a plate of fish and chips that the band is particularly excited about. (Apparently, it’s difficult to find a good fish and chips in Los Angeles, the city the girls relocated to from London a year and a half ago.)
There are no costumes or pretenses at dinner — Rosie is dressed in denim overalls, Carmen wears a Soviet-style fur hat — and each of them speak freely about how, to them, Bones UK is as much of a concept, or a piece of performance art, as it is a band. The goal of all the mystery, and imagery, and the pomp and circumstance, explains Rosie, is to construct a universe. Eventually Bones will have their cult, built by one ruthless show at a time.
“When we started Bones, one of the things the producer asked us was to come up with five words that I wanted to define [our world,]” says Rosie. “So it was like, black leather jackets, snakes, motorbikes, sex. From a very early stage we just built on that.”
Carmen and Rosie have been playing with each other since 2015, back when they were still scenesters on the streets of London. It was there where they first nailed down their sound; bloodthirsty coldwave electronica, with a dash of good old-fashioned rock’n’roll howling. They produced exactly one major single during that first incarnation – the careening, apocalyptic “Pretty Waste,” which earned the game some inaugural buzz.
In 2016, though, Jeff Beck, (yes, that one,) recruited them for a collaborative album called Loud Hailer, and immediately, Bones put their personal artistic aspirations on hold to spend a year flying first class and selling out arenas with one of the golden generation’s premiere one-percenters. Once the girls got their bearings on other end of that spectacle, they decided to put down roots in Los Angeles and restart Bones – this time with a healthy perspective of what the other half lives like.
“I think we have a different mindset now, after the year doing the Jeff Beck thing,” says Rosie. “When we came back to Bones we were like, ‘Let’s just enjoy this.’ Musicians put themselves under so much pressure to be like, ‘Fuck, we’ve gotta be huge! We’ve gotta be number one!’ And of course we want all those things. But it’s not so much for us now being desperate for that. Like if that happens, brilliant, but we’re having so much fun, and we’re so lucky, to be in a band and making money.”
It’s ironic that after finding a sense of inner-peace about the realities of the music business, Bones are on the best run of their career. Their 2018 resume speaks for itself: Over the summer they toured back and forth across America and hit Lollapalooza along the way, in March they capped their first SXSW, and in the beginning of the year Howard Stern welcomed them onto his curated David Bowie tribute show, in which the band delivered a fantastically savage goth-funk reinterpretation of “I’m Afraid of Americans.” (Occasionally, the cover gets booed at live shows, which has prompted Rosie to remind audiences that they didn’t write this lyrics. Bones are only afraid of some Americans.)
Frankly, it’s easy to see why they’re getting booked. Bones are remarkably, stringently dedicated to their dramatic vision, especially considering how they’ve only been doing this for a short amount of time. For instance, every time Rosie and Carmen are photographed, they are enveloped in a stark, caustic black and white. (Seriously, scroll through their Instagram and try to find a glint of color.) This is especially represented in their music videos, which are uniformly murderous and glamorous at the same time.
In “Beautiful is Boring” Rosie ashes a cigarette and fucks a waifish groupie before taking the stage to a legion of screaming, manic young men like a gender-flipped Beatlemania, (Bonesemania?) In “Creature,” a song in part about the ways people happily dehumanize each other when we make love, Bones cruise the streets of L.A. in a blacked-out hearse picking up all sorts of burnout miscreants, like an Uber through the depths of hell. Bones’ favorite lyrical topic is vanity, and the way it can be a noxious force that poisons every culture it infects, which makes it strange that they’ve decided to take up residence in Hollywood. But Rosie sums it up nicely: “It’s the most brilliant inspiration for what we do,” she says. “It’s like being in the lion’s den as an undercover cop.”
“The reason why the black and white thing works, and why we picked that, is that I thought it would make things look uniform,” she continues. “I believe quite a lot about creating a world, be it in the music or the visuals, and I like being able to step into that world, and it being very clear what that world is. So we could be anywhere, and we take a photo of it in that high-contrast black-and-white, and all of a sudden, you’re in the world.”
Another piece of the puzzle was Blackstar, the British amplification outfitter who has sponsored Bones since 2017. The company specializes in big, beefy tones that are perfect for Carmen’s guitar, which is often given the unenviable task of slicing through the deafening electronic drums and centrifugal synths on stage. It works brilliantly. No matter what else is going on in a track, her monolithic crunch always finds its way to the top of the mix. It also helps that Blackstar rigs are humongous, sinister beasts when you look at them on stage, which dovetails neatly into Bones’ pageantry. “It’s mostly about the way they sound, but we love the aesthetic of them,” says Carmen.
There is still no official word of when Bones’ debut album will arrive, though Rosie promises it will definitely be next year. For now, the band will continue to issue new music videos, each detailing the finer corners of their bombed-out, dirty-sweet L.A., and the demons and evildoers that live within it. Hopefully, by the time the record comes out, they’ll have a global denomination of followers in their wake, each uniquely obsessed with the snakes, the black leather jackets, and the way they make vice sound so good. For now though, we close the tab, smoke a cigarette, and walk back to the theater. It’s two hours til showtime, and Carmen and Rosie have to get to work and transform back into Bones.