Bones Gives a Rare Interview About Love, Identity, and Fatherhood
If Bones had not arrived on the scene more than a decade ago, modern hip-hop might look a lot different than it does today. Despite his seminal role in shaping the emo-rap culture that now dominates the genre, the Michigan-born artist remains nonplussed by mainstream industry accolades: “They say I mean a lot to rap,” he mutters in the music video for “WeatherMan” while smoking a Backwood in front of a 1990s Weather Channel forecast, “But that don’t mean a thing to me.”
What means the most to Bones is making music—lots of it. The rapper was just a 16-year-old growing up in small town Michigan when he released his first mixtape in 2010, an experience which prompted him to drop out and move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the industry. Since then, Bones has released 79 albums and 122 music videos, has completed four national tours—usually accompanied by his supergroup SESHOLLOWATERBOYZ—and maintains three long-term musical side projects, all without the support of a record label. Still, 11 years into his career, Bones manages to pull in upwards of three million monthly listeners on Spotify alone.
Recently, Bones released InLovingMemory, a new record that masterfully blends early 2000s alt-rock with contemporary trap. Despite his prolific talents and cult following, Bones remains modest about the creative vision and industry acumen that earned him his devoted fanbase. “I’m just flying by the seat of my pants,” he insists, “and life is fucking sweet.” Below, we sat down with the rapper, whose real name is Elmo O’Connor in his parents’ backyard to discuss everything from parenthood to the state of hip hop and everything in between.
ALLANOFF: Your new album, InLovingMemory, recently dropped. How does it feel?
O’CONNOR: Insane. I’ve never sat on music for this long. There are some songs on there that I made last year, and I’ve never done that. It’s why I feel manic lately—there are so many fucking files on my computer, and I never name them. When I’m trying to put a tape together, I have to sift through 80 files full of gibberish and keyboard slams.
ALLANOFF: How do you whittle 80 songs down to an album?
O’CONNOR: Well, sometimes I feel like nothing I can do could even change with how people view my music. They’ll never be like, “Oh, that’s not him,” because with my shit, I don’t ever let myself be out of character. I hold Bones, as a character, in such high regard because it takes care of me and my whole family.
ALLANOFF: Hearing you say “Bones as a character” is wild because it’s always felt like Bones is just you. How did you create the Bones character?
O’CONNOR: When I went by Th@ Kid, I was not trying to be dark, I was just kicking raps about smoking or whatever. And then I hit a point where I was like, “Okay, I’m 18 now. I can’t be Th@ Kid any more. What’s the name change? Is it going to be Th@ Guy? What’s it going to be?” And I’ve always looked at music like wrestling, and The Undertaker always looks like the funnest thing to be. So, I was with my brother Justin, from Michigan, and we were like, “We should go dark.” So we decided to channel the fact that I’m a skinny white guy with fucked up teeth and long hair, and make this backwoods character who you’d see in an alleyway, or behind a gas station at three in the morning—a seedy dude. So that was the core idea, just to scare you with this boogey man character mixed with that ’90s scumbag realism.
ALLANOFF: You mentioned The Undertaker, but why else did you decide to go dark?
O’CONNOR: I had kind of a disdain for what I was doing. I had been so obsessed with Wiz [Khalifa], and Curren$y, and Mac [Miller], and that kind of happy, smoking weed music, then I got sick of that. So, I fell back into old shit that we would listen to, like The Dayton Family, Three 6 [Mafia], and old Project [Pat]. I was like, “Dude, nobody does dark, dark now. “This was around the time A$AP [Rocky] put out that “I love bad bitches that’s my fucking problem” song. Everything was so light, and then [SpaceGhost] Purpp came out with music, and Eddy [Baker], Chris [Travis], and [Ethel (now Xavier)] Wulf. I was like, “Yes! It’s not just me that wants it to go in this direction.” And that’s how we all found each other. We all liked the same shit when the scene was so small. It’s cool to see how big it is now. I talk too much shit, because I only have a little bit of sleep in me. I just gotta try to stay awake for little man’s bath time. Little man takes his bath at 7:00.
ALLANOFF: How old is Howl now?
O’CONNOR: He’s going to be two in August, which is fucked. It just doesn’t even make sense.
ALLANOFF: What’s your routine been like?
O’CONNOR: I’ll wake up at 6:45 or 7:00 with Howl. Sam [Howl’s mother] makes him breakfast. I sit with him while he eats, and then I go straight downstairs where the mic and everything is. That’s why I love Sam so much, because I don’t know a lot of people who can put up with that shit.
ALLANOFF: What shit?
O’CONNOR: Just me, this weird situation. I’m not like, “Okay, honey. I’m going to the studio.” I’m just going downstairs. I don’t know, man. I don’t want anybody to be annoyed or hurt because I’m so addicted to this thing. It’s like all I can do, it keeps me level, even though sometimes I still fucking bug out.
ALLANOFF: So you need to be making music.
O’CONNOR: I need it, dude, and I think everybody needs it. I think the biggest fucking problem is that people don’t give creativity the credit it deserves. It’s not just about having a passion or something. Everybody that’s ever gotten murdered probably could have been spared. Before Eric and Dylan [the Columbine High School shooters] shot up that whole school, you think they were doing some yoga, or working out, getting their brain going? No, absolutely not. Could have saved everybody.
ALLANOFF: It’s cool that the thing that keeps you grounded has also kept your fans grounded for years.
O’CONNOR: That’s something that I don’t think will ever make sense to me. I don’t want it to, and I don’t think it should. Like, realistically, I’m doing this interview because my mom and dad said it was cool. I don’t do much press, I don’t give a fuck to hear myself talk. The people that you’re talking about, listeners who like my music, they like me way more than I like myself. I’m not even trying to sound like fucking, “Oh, I hate myself.” I just hate interviews.
ALLANOFF: Well, you’ve inspired so many people, and even though tons of musicians mimic you, nobody’s done what you continue to do.
O’CONNOR: Dude, when you say that, I feel like I’m picking up my dog’s shit, and you’re like, “Dude, nobody’s doing that right now.” I think it’s almost embarrassing because of how funny this is to me.
ALLANOFF: Funny how?
O’CONNOR: This whole thing is hilarious. You’re sitting here talking to me because I make fucking music? It all doesn’t really connect. But it’s all good, I’m flying by the seat of my pants, and life is fucking sweet.
ALLANOFF: How did surrenderdorothy [one of Bones’ long-term side projects] start?
O’CONNOR: We just started with the name. We were watching an old episode of Cribs and Dave Navarro was on it. I think he was in Jane’s Addiction or something—I don’t know, but he looks insane. He looks like Criss Angel, like with a dyed little soul patch, leather, and bracelets. He looks fucking nuts. He was showing off his tattoos, and he had “Surrender Dorothy” on his fucking leg. We were like, “That’s the worst tattoo ever. We’ll do a band based off that.”
ALLANOFF: That’s insane.
O’CONNOR: Obviously the tattoo was about the Wizard of Oz, but it’s a funny name for us because it’s not about The Wizard of Oz. It’s about that dickhead having a bad tattoo.
ALLANOFF: How do you feel when other people take something you developed, market it as their own idea, and take it mainstream?
O’CONNOR: Obviously, there’s that inevitable, very selfish reaction that’s like, “Oh, you blew up the spot.” You know what I mean? Like, “This is where we were coming to smoke, and you just told the teachers” type shit.
ALLANOFF: Do you see yourself in Howl?
O’CONNOR: Hell yeah, man. That’s why it’s so hard for me to even think about how other people view their children, because how I see him, I’m literally just fucking looking at somebody who me and Sam made, my favorite person ever. Me and her made a person, and it’s just fucked. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t even want to talk about it. I feel like I’ll get really emotional.
ALLANOFF: We don’t have to talk about it then.
O’CONNOR: I just love him so much. Because with him, it’s all good things. It’s just pure.
ALLANOFF: Have you always wanted to be a dad?
O’CONNOR: I don’t think I’ve ever not wanted to. I think taking a stance and saying, “I’m having kids or I’m not having them,” is weird. I don’t think life is like that. I truly don’t think you can plan anything, even if you try. It’s like trying to iron the fucking water. You can’t do it. Even if you think you’re setting up your day, like at 8:00 I do this, at 9:00 I do that, you can get smoked by a car. You stub your toe and go to the bathroom for eight minutes to do a thing, and then your whole schedule’s fucked up. You don’t actually have control over anything.
ALLANOFF: What kind of music are you raising Howl on?
O’CONNOR: All sorts. Obviously, I’m not a big fan of showing him a bunch of cuss words and shit, but I’m showing him all the music I like, all the rap stuff, and he’s digging it. He loves all the old jazz stuff we put on at breakfast time and bath time. He dances and he loves it. He was just dancing to a Britney Spears song and a Hanson song in the car, so I don’t really think there’s too much music he doesn’t like right now.
ALLANOFF: I know you’re from Howell, Michigan, but how did you decide on the name?
O’CONNOR: It felt right. We love the movie, Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’m from a place called Howell. I don’t know, it just felt right.
ALLANOFF: How have you felt about your name over the course of your life?
O’CONNOR: I think Elmo fits, man. I don’t think I could have been a Zack or Tyler. I’m glad that I got a weird name. I didn’t like it when I was in school. I remember hiding in the bathroom for five days straight during lunch because I didn’t want to face these people. It’s funny when you get older, and you think about things that bothered you. Like, I should have just walked into the lunchroom. It was fucking popcorn day. Instead, I was fuckin’ shook in my boots.
ALLANOFF: That story reminds me of a line you have in ConnectionLost, where you say, “Put my parents through some shit, now I gotta make it up.”
O’CONNOR: Dude, I wish I knew my lyrics like that. Obviously I do if I hear them, but I guess it would be way worse if I was like, ” Verse three on ConnectionLost from fucking track…” Wait, what were you saying?
ALLANOFF: What’s the worst thing you’ve put your parents through?
O’CONNOR: It’s not like I killed anybody or anything. I just remember doing all those stupid, rich, bratty things, because that’s really how it is. I remember my mom pulling up at my buddy’s house, and we were all fucked up, and we’d managed to get some AK-47. We were so excited. “It’s orange. Oh, my god! It’s got hairs on it, just like in the rap videos!” We smoked it on the side of the house out of a little one-hitter. I remember my mom calling me two seconds after I smoked, and I was like, “Oh, fuck you, mom. Let me hang out.” My parents, they put a roof over my head. I was always fed. We never had a Christmas that was shitty. We always had the craziest stockings. We lived in the best house out of all my friends. I had friends in fucking trailers and all that bullshit. My dad and my mom worked their asses off.
ALLANOFF: Do you think it’s better to have a carefree and sheltered childhood but end up unequipped for life, or have a fucked-up childhood but be prepared for how difficult and ugly life is?
O’CONNOR: I think if anybody thinks that they know what’s best for a child, they’re wrong. We haven’t figured it out. I mean, we’re pretty fucking high on the infant mortality rate list. It’s like, we don’t give a shit about our babies. We don’t know how to raise kids. We don’t know what’s good for kids because all we care about is having them grow up, spend their money, give them cancer through our unhealthy food, make them pay fucking hospital bills. They’re farming us. So, you can’t really do too much for a kid but love them. That’s what my dad says, “Patience and love.” Nothing more and nothing less.