Tragedy leads to a rebirth for Kelowna rock band ROSEBONE

Kelowna band ROSEBONE didn’t start on a dim, sorrowful morning last May as singer/bassist Josh Mulloy and singer/guitarist Reece Blake, their hearts run through a cheese grater, threw pots and pans, bedding and T-shirts, chairs, shoes and soaps into the trash bin, walking away with only their instruments.

It wasn’t the aftermath of fire, flood, ice or tornado that caused them to shed their material possessions like some dire, broken chrysalides struggling to break free. It was the suicide of singer/guitarist Owen Moore on May 26 at the home the three shared.

No, the band ROSEBONE didn’t start on that too still morning, but in some ways, in the shadow of Moore’s passing, it became re-born.

“For me and Reece — me and Owen and Reece had been living together and now me and Reece had no house — we threw away all our stuff,” Mulloy says from Kelowna, hours before completing the final mastering of the band’s first, self-titled album. “It was a pretty toxic place we were living in; looking back now we were not living very healthy. And it was kind of like ‘OK, we need to start fresh,’ so we threw everything away except for our guitars, basically.

“I spent the month of June last year living on friends’ couches, because we were not going to stay in that house. By July we were back on our feet, we had a house, were buying, like pots and pans and stuff like that, and I was still playing with (singer/guitarist) Cory (Janko) quite a bit. I knew that I wanted to keep playing in a band and keep my dream alive, and I wanted it to be ROSEBONE, but there was a lot of emotions going on: ‘What are other people going to think of that? Is it the wrong thing to do or the right thing to do?’ A lot of emotions; I had no idea.”

But Mulloy couldn’t turn his back on the dream and the music that he, Blake and Moore had shared since standing in the parking lot of Springbank High School, smoking and brainstorming names for the band — called Chunky, Vinyl Spectrum, and Paisley Haze at times — they formed that began to play parties. Mulloy had grown up influenced by his father, who performed in musical theatre productions of Phantom of the Opera in Canada and Hong Kong. He actually spent the first few years of his life living in Singapore for the same reason, although he doesn’t remember it. He clearly remembers Moore turning to him and handing him his bass and telling him to learn to play it so they could form a band.

Before that, Mulloy played French horn. “In high school, I was in the Alberta Junior Honour Band, but writing a song with Owen and Reece was like, ‘My whole life I’ve been looking at a conductor and reading music off a piece of paper, but now, we don’t need that!’ It was  huge.” They continued to play their then-brand of “folky-rock” after high school in spite of members moving away for school or other reasons until they ended up in Kelowna.

Moore stepped up to oversee the logo, website, and social media. “It was cool with Owen because, ‘Here we go now, we have a logo, the branding is starting to come together,’ which in the past is one of the hardest parts. So me and Owen played a bunch and then we were going to go to Calgary and then Owen passed away, which also put me in limbo for a while as far as ROSEBONE goes. But as soon as that happened it was really important that I didn’t let that stop me from playing music and doing what I wanted to do.”

Just before Moore died, they began jamming with Janko, who’d already released a five-song EP and added his punk-pop sensibilities to the mix. Thus, once Mulloy found another house, he resumed making music with Janko. “Then it was all just falling into place,” Mulloy says. “I was playing with Cory and then (drummer) Zach (Mulla) came to join us a few times; I was playing in bands with Zach after high school, I’ve been playing with Zach and Reece for six or seven years, and Owen was a big part of that.

“I felt like abandoned by him (Owen) because we were making our dreams come true and then he just left. I know that’s not what really happened. There were other things going on.”

It was against this backdrop that the band made a crucial decision. “We have all this infrastructure as ROSEBONE and it’s kind of a nice way to keep Owen’s memory alive. We were all sitting in the garage and we made the decision to continue as ROSEBONE.”

The songs from Janko’s EP also appear on the ROSEBONE album. “It’s such a conglomeration of different peoples’ songs. So Cory wrote some of them, I wrote some of them, Owen wrote some of them, Zack wrote some of them. They all go together but there are different sounds.

The music, indeed, manages to careen through heavy rock, bounce off some pleasantly melodic punk-pop, and dial it down to songs that could echo off an acoustic guitar around a campfire, all without sounding schizophrenic. It is harsh and beautiful at the same time. Against this backdrop, the band’s name somehow fits.

“It was Owen’s name. We really liked the phrasing of it, and we’ve always been huge Guns n’ Roses fans — that, I think, that kinda played a part in it for Owen. I don’t know if it had a specific meaning, but I always wondered if for Owen it meant something about his struggles. Because he was so compassionate and sensitive and kind to people, but obviously was dealing with some difficult and hard things. But to me it’s just a cool name.”

As if their first gig after Moore’s passing would not be awkward enough, they ended up playing a tea party in the atrium of the University of British Columbia Okanagan. “It was all university students around our age who had come to drink tea and soup and listen to open mic before we played. It was really funny because people were sitting around listening to spoken word and we’re like, ‘We’re ROSEBONE!’ and started playing punk rock music. It was really fun, but definitely an interesting dynamic.”

As the band approach their Calgary album release party, Mulloy has a clear vision of what he would like the future to hold, including releasing another album within the next year. But he has a broader, perhaps more important wish as well. “I would love to be able to use our music and our show to support Mental Health Canada and awareness. It’s all music that’s already been influenced by what happened and before that by what he was going through in his songs.

“In his notes Owen left us, he said, ‘Listen to my message, mental health is fucking real. Be stronger than me, be the strongest you can be. I know I’m not alone.’ But he couldn’t talk about it. It was really hard reading those notes at first, being his best friend, the one he should have been able to talk to.”

But with a new album, a band that’s gelled, and some more gigs on the horizon, Mulloy is ready to look forward while still seeing clearly behind him. “It’s easier a year later. It’s taken a lot of amazing friends I have in my life, and family. Owen was the kind of guy that everyone just loved. I lived in Kelowna for a year before him and made some really strong relationships and when he moved in it’s like, Owen’s best friends with everyone too, everyone loves Owen. I’ve known and played music with him for seven years, and to see these people who knew him for a year be just as distraught, that’s the kind of guy he was, so charismatic and up for adventure and really seemed like the kind of guy who loves life.”

ROSEBONE’s CD release is at The Blind Beggar Pub on Saturday, June 23. For tickets please click here.

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who hates writing but loves ROSEBONE.