Ebony Bones is a star. It’s as simple as that, or it can be more complex if you’d prefer. If you want to look closer, you’ll see that this south Londoner is very much a artist of our times; a self-taught bedroom musician who was among the first to share her songs over the internet, and who’s polymorphous sound reflects the pick n’ mix approach to genres the kids growing up in iTunes World have.
But really, whether you label her as the New DIY Superstar, a Kate Bush for the iPod Generation, or simply the Next Big Thing, it all amounts to the same thing: she’s a ruddy star.
Always has been in fact. Mark Rylance, artistic director of the Shakespeare Globe Theatre knew it when he spotted the then Ebony Thomas just after she’d left primary school and gave her a part in MacBeth. And the producers of TV drama Family Affairs knew it when they cast her as glamorous young Yasmin. Ebony’s problem at this stage, was that though she knew she wanted to perform, acting just wasn’t right for her.
“I was always getting into trouble on it, annoying the producers and almost getting sacked,” she recalls, “I was only 15 when I started, and I couldn’t do what I was told, which isn’t good for an actor. I’d customize all the costumes, amend all the scripts, annoy the other actors. I think that was due to realising I wanted to be an artist in my own right. I ended up bringing in a laptop to my dressing room, and made tunes on a crap version of Pro Tools.”
One of the first songs Ebony made was ’Don’t Fart On My Heart’ which she says was “basic and silly and written as a piss take for my friends.” It was also totally brilliant, like X Ray Spex doing Nelly Furtado’s ‘Maneater’, and caused a sensation when Ebony put it up on what she says, “was then an unknown site called myspace.”
Around this time she was reeling from the “phenomenal” response to the track, Ebony found herself in a pub arguing with The Damned’s Rat Scabies about the Holy Grail, and ended up doing some recordings with the drummer. Shortly after, she played her first live gig, supporting Basement Jaxx, which instantly showed her punk approach to pop: “I pulled some musician mates together, rehearsed them for half an hour and went on stage. It was amazing, just rolling around paralytic on the floor having a laugh.”
The gigs suddenly came thick and fast and Ebony Thomas the actor was left behind as Ebony Bones (‘Boney’ was her childhood nickname) the musician took over. She knew exactly what she wanted to do, or rather what she didn’t want to do: “I was sick to death of what I was hearing on the radio, it was all cheesy R n B, and boys in skinny jeans singing about suicidal girlfriends.”
She wrote ‘We Know All About U’, which worked like a 4 minute Mardi Gras, and as befitting a girl who grew up in the melting pot of London, it showed hers was a culture clash vision of glamour, streetwise attitude, and riotous fun.
The song ended up being a favourite of Zane Lowe’s Radio One show, and tours with The Slits and Julliette and the Licks followed, as Ebony began hitting Europe and the US.
“I’m totally punk and DIY, yet I really like the whole glam rock thing,” she says of her live shows, “I design all the costumes for the band, and I like glamour, not in the Girls Aloud way, but in a George Clinton or David Bowie way, where you take it to an extreme, and express yourself in clothes.”
Picking up amateur musicians to add to her band in a way that made her feel like “Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, meeting the Tin Man, and Scarecrow,” she ended up with an act which fit her aesthetic perfectly. “I wanted the live shows to be a representation of the music, which is random and slightly chaotic and manic. My guitarist’s from Japan, my drummer’s from Mexico, we’re from all over the place like a band of gypsies. It’s like a carnival going on stage.”
Word had continued to spread online, and Ebony found she was selling out shows in the US without having released anything over there. Such was her burgeoning reputation over there that last year she was asked to perform at the ‘Obama for America’ concert in New York. “We had an amazing reception, we didn’t think anyone knew about us. It shows just how powerful word of mouth can be.”
Work began on her album. Yet here Ebony encountered her first real set of problems. “Last year when it really kicked off, there was a lot of attention from major labels, and I got pushed and pulled in different directions that I wasn’t pleased with. It wasn’t me and I thought, ‘Only a fool goes into the music industry to make money.’ I realised it really had to come from the heart.”
Showing typical strength of mind she got rid of all the producers she’d been working with, and, starting again from scratch, just did it herself.
Recorded mainly in London, Ebony played most of the instruments alongside her production duties, but did allow herself to collaborate with mates such as Andrew Wyatt, one of Mark Ronson’s New York cohorts, who co wrote forthcoming single ‘The Muzik’ with her. She says, “I also created tracks on line with mates in Brazil and Canada. So it’s been a real interesting experience. With no one interfering, I’ve approached it with the innocence of a child – ‘Ooh what happens when I press that!’”
If the making of the album was childlike, the results are anything but. The first fruit of her labours, ‘Warrior’, is a sensationally confident call to arms which is someway between Adam Ant ‘Stand and Deliver’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Babooshka’ with a hefty dose of Klaxons’ occult electro. She explains, “‘Warrior’ is about anyone who’s moved away from home to make things happen for themselves, or persevered through any sort of adversity.”
It’s a hell of a trailer for an album which also has songs inspired by international politics and George Orwell’s ‘1984’. It’s hardly the Sugababes then, and indeed Ebony’s clear about what type of star she wants to be. “When I grew up there were all these artists like Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, Kate Bush, Grace Jones, Bjork. Every so often these women come around with music to redefine femininity, and say, ‘Hey you don’t have to be a certain way to be heard.’ I think that’s been forgotten lately.”
If that all sounds quite serious, in Ebony’s hands it’s a joy, showing the thrill of freedom of expression. The album is never less than immense fun, and is a perfect antidote to these depressing times, as she notes, “With the recession, I think people need to be entertained and have some hope and inspiration.” It’s titled ‘Bone of My Bones’ due to “the stripped down, raw feel,” though Biblical types might recognise the words from the moment when Adam creates Eve. It is sure to be the snake in the fake Eden of the current pop scene.
Ebony Bones, then is an artist of the moment, and for the future. A vibrant, wild and very human riposte to every bland, over-marketed, plastic pop princess on the planet.
Or as Ebony puts it: “I am Cleopatra reincarnated, in search of KFC.”