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By Lauren Wise
It takes some bands months of playing shows to find an identity, but Tempe dance-punk act Doctor Bones skipped those awkward on-stage moments "feeling it out." Though the band has honed its skills with each passing performance, Doctor Bones' sound — New Wave sensibilities, pop arrangements, dance-ready beats, and manic, punk-inspired verve — was in place from the very start.
In just over a year and a half, Doctor Bones (singer Anthony Fama, guitarist Chad Stark, vocalist/keyboardist/violinist Hannah Bones, bassist Jess Pruitt, and drummer Mike Vigil) has toured extensively across the Southwest, including a stop at the famed South by Southwest annual music festival in Austin. They've worked hard developing a local fanbase, too, staging a residency at The Rogue Bar in Scottsdale and playing opening slots around town and sweaty house parties that often leave band members bruised, battered, and bleeding.
After spending four years with groove rockers Seven Car Pileup, Pruitt and Vigil had a very specific goal in mind when they started hanging around haunts like Long Wong's and the Rogue to recruit talent for a new project.
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"Mike and I definitely wanted this band to skip the first two years of cutting your teeth," Pruitt says from behind his burly beard. "So we were practicing five days a week for, like, six weeks before our first show to skip that time and be that serious."
The longtime friends eventually completed their circle with musicians who matched their dedication and complemented their predisposition to dance rock. Stark fit the bill with his fitful strumming, while Hannah Bones, armed with violin chops and a bright soprano that contrasts with Farma's deep, melancholy groans, was so into the band that she legally changed her last name to Bones from Kilen.
Their sound takes shape around influences such as The Cars, Talking Heads, and Dead Kennedys, and it bears stating that Fama's baritone vocals somewhat resemble those of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. Much as Joy Division did in the late '70s, Doctor Bones finds itself directly impacted by punk's electricity, even if the band's own sound owes as much to its poppier impulses.
"We're pretty aggressive on stage, even though you wouldn't think it," Pruitt says.
"One of the most common ways people describe us is New Wave," Vigil says. "That seems to be the place they go to, but . . ."
"The way people react to the live show and how much passion we put into everything — it's more like punk rock," Fama says.
"At the end of our show, we want to be completely exhausted and worn out because we gave it every single thing we had on stage," Vigil says. "For some reason, people only equate that with punk rock."
That band's passion for live performance is apparent to the audience — often because the members of Doctor Bones will actively court audience participation — another nod to punk's goal of breaking down the barriers between audience and performer.
"Really, we want people to get involved instead of just being an observer," Fama says. "To be an active participant in a show — the whole 'we are Doctor Bones thing.' It's not just us on stage."
"It's the people that come out; they're Doctor Bones," Pruitt says. "Without that, we'd just be a group of five people wanking away."
It's that ideology that makes their house parties so explosive. The band's attitude is often amplified in small settings, where Fama can walk into a crowd and bounce off other sweaty bodies. One time, he had such a hard time matching the crowd's intensity that he accidentally launched himself into a glass beer bottle, gashing open his left shoulder. He now proudly sports a gnarly scar that was patched together at the show with Super Glue.
Now with plenty of shows under their belts and five-track EP Numbers well behind them, Doctor Bones has their sights set on bigger things, including a new record that promises to be darker, more aggressive, and more polished.
"We write collectively," Vigil says. "When we get to a room, hopefully someone has an idea that they want to start with, then we all take ownership of the writing process together. That way, all five of us are just as invested as the rest. That's kind of the philosophy that we apply. Part of the reason Jess and I wanted to do it like that in the first place is because it creates devotion."
"I enjoy contrast," Hannah Bones says about her lyrics. "Like in the movie American Psycho, where [Christian Bale's character] is killing people but listening to Huey Lewis at the same time — that's a pretty good comparison [to] how I feel."
They're also eyeing an important date at the Crescent Ballroom opening for Detroit-based alt-rockers Electric Six on February 27. The group hopes to take advantage of the platform to propel itself to another level.
"We want to make a statement with people who have solid booking agents and solid management," Fama says. "We want people to know that we're a business-oriented band, and we want to show that we can do good business and good art."