Death Valley Girls Still Believe in Rock ‘n’ Roll

As well as the devil, aliens, U.F.O.s, and the afterlife.

Death Valley Girls (Photo courtesy of the band)

Bonnie Bloomgarden believes in rock ’n’ roll.

This is worth noting, as now is not the easiest time to have faith in the genre. Kurt Cobain has been dead longer than most college seniors have been alive, and John Lennon’s assassination is rapidly approaching its 40th anniversary. The deceased icons of the 1960s and ’70s – be it Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, or even slightly less-obvious figures like Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan – have been mythologized to a pulp and relegated to the unfortunate status of dorm room décor.

On the festival circuit, headliners are far more likely to come in the form of gargantuan EDM and retro hip-hop acts than rock ones. Needless to say, the conditions that created Oasis’ two era-defining nights at Knebworth (where they played to 125,000 people each night, and supposedly one in 20 Britons applied for tickets) seem virtually incomprehensible in 2017.

And yet, Bonnie Bloomgarden still believes in rock ’n’ roll.

It’s not a surprise. After all, Bloomgarden is the frontwoman of Los Angeles rockers Death Valley Girls, who refer to their sound as “dystopian punk,” “occult glam,” and “doom boogie.” Formed in 2013, the quartet swirls the sounds of Black Sabbath, The Stooges, Bikini Kill, and T. Rex into bruising, dry desert punk-rock that, at times, isn’t afraid to jump into bed with a psychedelic chord or two. Bloomgarden howls, wails, and snarls with abandon while guitarist Larry Schemel loses his mind among heavy metal riffs cranked past 11. Onstage, the band – who jokingly describes themselves as Hell’s house band – are watched over by a massive devil effigy hovering above the drum kit. It’s a lot of rock ’n’ roll (and sheer volume) to take in at once.

That’s not to imply that Bloomgarden’s daily life is a nonstop heavy metal marathon of occult rituals and devil worship and, I don’t know, biting the heads off bats or something. When I reach her at home in Los Angeles, she has just come back from walking her dog. The dog in question, Tommy, is white and fluffy – “kind of like a Maltese and a poodle” – and knows how to purr thanks to prolonged exposure to a cat. Walking her dog around her neighborhood of Echo Park while wearing “pretty normal” clothes, Bloomgarden is a vision of normalcy.

This is a slightly new development. As far as personal wardrobe histories go, Bloomgarden’s is almost too insane to be true. It all began at age 13 when she decided to dress like a mod. Then came the future mod, anime, and future goth phases. Bondage goth, pioneer clothes, and cape phases followed.

“I liked to go to the zoo and freak people out,” she says. “It turns out that was similar to [drummer] The Kid and [guitarist] Larry. We all had this thing where we wanted people to not know what era we were from or what planet we were from. It seemed very important as a teenager.”

Equally important to the teenaged Bloomgarden and her bandmantes (as well as to the development of the band’s sound) were days spent bumping Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Slayer through the tape deck in her 1970 Chevelle Super Sport and nights spent at legendary Los Angeles DIY venue The Smell.

“I would go there no matter what on Fridays,” Bloomgarden says. “At the time I grew up, everyone listened to hip-hop. I didn’t want to do that. I liked rock ’n’ roll, which wasn’t what was going on. The closest thing to that was going to these punk DIY places.”

The band, however, bonded over far more than a shared Los Angeles background and love of rock ’n’ roll. They’re all avid paranormal enthusiasts, each with their own particular area of interest. (Bloomgarden’s own fascinations lie in UFOs, aliens, and the afterlife.) On tour, the band kill time by visiting haunted places, cemeteries, and creepy historical sites. Somewhat disappointingly, the band’s most recent European tour was lacking in paranormal explorations thanks to a rigorous travel schedule. But they did get to play across the street from the stomping grounds of Copenhagen’s local ghost pirate. (Bloomgarden did not spot the figure herself, but the venue staff are apparently well-acquainted with their spectral, swashbuckling neighbor.)

In Death Valley Girls’ world, the personal is paranormal. And so is the songwriting.

“I think that all songs exist in outer space or a different dimension and sometimes they come to you,” Bloomgarden says. “It just so happens that Larry and I, since we’ve been playing together, somehow we just pull these songs.”

Here’s how the rest happens: Once the melody has been pulled from the ether, the band records a demo. Bloomgarden sings gibberish over it. The morning the band is supposed to record the song for the album, Bloomgarden writes the lyrics, which she says “just fly off the piece of paper.” Laying down the track rarely requires more than two takes.

“The dude who records us is like, ‘You guys do it really weird,’ ” she says with a laugh. “On the record, it’s the first or second time we’ve ever played it. That can’t be possible if it’s us playing it. Do the math. It’s got to be from outer space.”

Bloomgarden is well aware that this sounds a bit bonkers, but she’s also knows that how the process comes across is wholly beside the point. As she sees it, Death Valley Girls are just conduits for the true-blue rock ’n’ roll sound she believes in, and their goal is to give people one hell of a good time.

“I guess that would be the ultimate dream: Just to make a record that seriously turns people on,” she says. “And if one person likes it as much as I like Black Sabbath, I would just die.”

Death Valley Girls plays at 9 p.m., Friday, March 31, at Thee Parkside. $10, theeparkside.com

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