BoneHawk: where AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and the lecture theatre collide

Michigan rock band BoneHawk
BoneHawk: \u201cWe\u2019re just old guys who play classic rock\u201d
(Image: © Thom Seling)

Chugging out of Michigan, BoneHawk are the stoner-rock band whose members don’t actually smoke weed. The four guys from Kalamazoo have found themselves labelled ‘stoner rock’ thanks to their blend of down-tempo riffs and bluesy melodies.

“We find it quite funny,” says 39-year-old guitarist Chad Houts. “We’re just old guys who play classic rock.”

When he’s not peeling off fuzzy, Deep Purple-esque licks with BoneHawk, he assists the University of Western Michigan’s professors in putting together course materials. Talk about moonlighting; the jovial Chad tell us his previous jobs include factory worker and guitar teacher, and he still doesn’t consider himself a full-time musician.

Houts and vocalist/guitarist Matt Helt first met when they were eight, and moved through a succession of local bands before forming BoneHawk in 2011. “This is our fourth band together,” says Chad. “We’ve been best friends since third grade. We had a common love of pizza and rock’n’roll. There’s a lot of pizza and rock’n’roll in our videos. We had an AC/DC tribute band for a while – Matt was Bon Scott, and I did the Cliff Williams thing in a blond wig. I’m a big guy, I couldn’t dress up as Angus!”

Houts discovered NWOBHM and heavy metal stalwarts such as Sabbath through his love of Bay Area thrash, and was turned on to hard rock of the Thin Lizzy (his favourite band) and Iron Maiden variety when he read that his hero, early Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, was influenced by them. “I loved the way Cliff went about everything,” Houts says. “He really got me into harmony in guitar playing.”

Houts’s penchant for classic metal is obvious throughout BoneHawk’s debut album, Albino Rhino. They self-released it on vinyl in 2014, but it’s enjoying a second wave of publicity thanks to being re-released worldwide by independent sludge-rock purveyors Ripple Music. Every drawled word and lo-fi, dirty riff evokes a dusty saloon bar filled with cowboy boots, whiskey and beaten-up guitars, and Houts isn’t afraid to put his own spin on tried-and-tested formulas.

“I love a lot of sixties and seventies soul and funk, and some of the guitar harmonies I’ve come up with are inspired by the Memphis Horns,” he says. “We’re still going to play fuzzed-out guitars, because I like the sound of a Les Paul through a Marshall, but having that diverse vocabulary of music keeps it fresh.”

In June, BoneHawk and Swedish doom rockers Kingnomad release a split LP through Ripple, and the Hawk plan to start recording a follow up to Albino Rhino towards the end of the year. “We’ve had new music recorded since last May, so we’ve been ready for it to come out for a long time,” says Houts. “Hopefully it’ll be as well-received as Albino Rhino.”

FOR FANS OF: Thin Lizzy

“Thin Lizzy are my favourite band,” says BoneHawk guitarist Chad Houts. “Jailbreak, Live And Dangerous, Black Rose, I love all those records. Killers by Iron Maiden and Killer by Alice Cooper are also favourites. The first two Exodus albums have been a big influence on me too. I don’t play thrash metal now, but I still love it.”