With their debut album out today on Wax Poetics, I had a chance to sit down recently with the two men behind the intriguing, genre-bending, insanely catchy new project Bones and Beeker. A portion of my conversation with the group’s Brendan Kelly (a.k.a. BK-One) and Anthony Newes aired on last week’s edition of The Local Show, and you can find the full transcript of our chat — along with several of their songs — below.
Andrea Swensson: When I started researching your group, I thought it was interesting that you both have so many different titles and do many different things. To begin, can you introduce yourselves and list all of the things you do?
Anthony Newes: All of the things! I am the singer in Bones and Beeker. I wrote all the melodies and all the harmony parts. I have been around in Minneapolis for a while, I was in a band called Villa, and I did a lot with vocal arrangements and harmonies with that, as a singer. I’m an adult education teacher, so I work a lot with students who have dropped out of high school and they’re coming back, and I work with immigrants that have moved here and are learning the language and trying to get their space in the United States figured out. And I’m a family man. I’m a father of two, and a husband of one.
Brendan Kelly: Folks in the music scene mostly know me as BK-One. I’m a longtime DJ. I’ve worked with Rhymesayers an awful lot, and was Brother Ali’s DJ for 10 years of touring. I stopped that to be a dad. I’m also a dad of two. What do I do? In the band, I chop samples, I program drums, and we both play odd instruments. I play some kalimba and keyboard and glockenspiel, and Tony plays guitar and keyboards and more glockenspiel.
That’s a lot of glockenspiel.
Kelly: It’s not heavy on the glock. I want to make that clear. [laughs] But the glock duties are divided evenly. And then outside of music I mostly identify as a stay-at-home dad, but I have like four different job titles. I write all the menus and recipes for a group home up in Uptown, and I am the project manager of launching a new radio station in South Minneapolis, 98.9 FM. Those, and Bones and Beeker, and hanging out with my kids are how I spend my days.
How long ago did you start working on this project?
Kelly: There’s not really a formal start date. Tony and I met by working at the group home that I write menus for, and there was a lot of downtime — this was when I was still traveling with Ali a lot. And there was a lot of time to talk about ourselves and talk about what we were working on and share music, and talk shop. So we were friends first, and then just sort of accidentally stumbled into being a band. The song on the album that was probably written first is maybe three years old, so we’ll say we’re a three-year-old band.
That sounds like a really no-pressure way to create, with no real expectations.
Newes: It was so great. Because when I was with Villa, we were doing a lot of vocal harmonies, but at the same time the guys I was working with, they were an instrumental band. So singing was literally brand new to them. And so there was a learning process. But with Bones and Beeker, I’d sit in my room or my garage or basement and just pound out a bunch of interesting harmonies, and then we’d get together. I got to work on my own, he would work on his own, and we would come together. There literally was no pressure, because there was no plan. Which is kind of a beautiful way to make a record.
Brendan, a question for you. I kind of think of this music as genre-less, because there’s so many different sounds, but before this you were so entrenched in the hip-hop world. What was it like to start working with someone who wasn’t part of the hip-hop world, and who had more of an indie-rock background?
Kelly: Well, in some ways it was a huge relief. Not many people know this, but I toured as a jazz musician before I toured as a hip-hop musician, and before that I was in [clears throat] a ska band. Listeners can’t see it, but I’m hanging my head. I guess my point is that I really found traction with hip-hop and found a home for that side of me in Minneapolis when I moved here, and so it’s what people know me from, but my record collection is a lot wider than just hip-hop. It’s just a new direction. And I would hope that anybody who has followed me closely enough — the three or four of them out there — have recognized that I’ve sprinkled little weird things in throughout my career. I just worked on a children’s record with Adam Levy from the Honeydogs.
The Bunny Clogs?
Kelly: Yeah. I produced maybe six or seven songs on their newest record. And I worked on a record by a French singer that is very, very much not hip-hop, even more so than this. And then even on my solo record there’s a collaboration with Aby Wolf that’s very low-key and lo-fi and barely has a beat to it, and there’s a collaboration with a nine-piece brass band. So in some ways, even though this feels like such an abrupt turn, it feels more to me like a culmination of everything that’s come before it.
And in some ways that’s what hip-hop is about, too, is making this pastiche of all these different influences. I’m really interested in my inability to describe Bones and Beeker.
Kelly: Us too.
What do you say when people ask you what you’re working on and what this is?
Kelly: We usually ramble for a while and realize they’re not really listening to it. [laughs] Yeah, we don’t have a good elevator speech down, in part because we never had a conversation at the beginning. We never had a, ‘Let’s make a band, here’s our influences and here’s what we’re going for’ kind of conversation. It was the other way around. We made music, and when we realized that we liked it, we realized that we were a band. We thought we were just two friends hanging out and experimenting late at night or whatever, but the music turned us into a band. So I usually say there’s a lot of syncopated percussion up front in the mix, really melodic basslines courtesy of Chris Bierden of Poliça, and then thick, lush, pop-driven harmonies floating over the top of all that. All the stuff in the middle, from song to song, is really all over the place, but somehow it manages to be a really cohesive listen, that makes sense and works together.
Newes: We’ve kind of always said anything goes. And when I look back at my history — I was in a punk rock band, I was in a folk duo, I was in a prog-rock band, and then melodic folk indie stuff, and country; and so when I think about Bones and Beeker, nothing is off limits for us.
You caught the attention of Wax Poetics to help put this out. How did that come about, and what did they have to say about your sound?
Newes: Wax Poetics has been extremely supportive of our group. When we decided, ‘Alright, this is an album, we want to present this to people,’ we thought about the different labels we liked, and we thought about labels that were home to bizarre groups, like tUnE-yArDs. Like what kind of music is that? I don’t exactly know. And Brendan, at the last minute, you were like, hey, let’s reach out to Wax Poetics, too. And they got back to us literally the next day. It was a little bit shocking. I think they just really enjoyed the genre-less thing; this new attempt at working with samples and melodies. And I guess Wax Poetics has a lot of hip-hop focused, crate digger stuff, and I don’t exactly come from a hip-hop world, but that’s not exactly them, either. They’re a collage of different influences as well. Ultimately, I think that’s why they like us; we kind of are tapping into different things.
One other thing that I think is fascinating about Bones and Beeker is that you’ve barely played live, and I think of Minneapolis as such a live town. You’ve made such a splash with your recorded music. Was that intentional, setting out, that you wanted to be a band that focuses on the recording first and maybe the live presence later?
Newes: Literally 100% yes. We initially had no plans of playing shows. And in part that’s why I sang 12-part harmonies on one song. It’s like, no one’s going to hear me play this live. But then we started to send it out to different friends and started to get some pretty good feedback, and started to realize, you know, we should think about a live show. Because it’s fun, for one, and Minneapolis, like you say is great for that. But we want to promote what we’re doing. We spent all this time in it, and if it’s going to have any legs at all, people need to be able to access it.
Catch Bones and Beeker live on November 21 at the Bedlam Theater; December 10 for a Greenroom Magazine showcase at Icehouse; and December 11 at the Southern Theater opening for the Honeydogs. BK-One will also perform as part of the big Rhymesayers 20th anniversary show at the Target Center on December 4.