FROM THE VAULT: Interview with Death Valley Girls

Bonnie Bloomgarden of Death Valley Girls Believes in Everything.

Capturing the essence of the ongoing Halloween season, it only feels right that we peer back into our magic crystal ball and revisit a conversation with perhaps one of the most whimsical humans we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. Teleporting back to February 2021, we’re offering you a freshly transcribed account of our chat with the lovely Bonnie Bloomgarden of LA rock-and-rollers, Death Valley Girls. 

Across their four-album spanning career, Death Valley Girls have captured the sonic atmosphere of a campy horror B movie. The band’s notable tracks, like “Disaster (Is What We’re After)” and “The Universe”, are likely to be the soundtrack buzzing in your parents’ garage where you and your ragtag group of friends have taken shelter to engage in UFO-sighting discourse. Bloomgarden, Larry Schemel (brother of founding member Patty Schemel of Hole), and Rachel Orosco are joined by a rotating group of musical guests across their discography to cast “early ZZ Top’s desert-blasted riffage, and Sabbath’s occult menace.” From 2014’s “Street Venom” to 2020’s “Under the Spell of Joy”, Death Valley Girls have culminated a delicious taste of witch’s brew with a dash of impending desert doom. 

Speaking to us during a time period where much uncertainty still loomed over our shoulders, Bonnie Bloomgarden reminisced with us the Americana of gas station stops, tequila shots and likely dehydration, and (on a serious note) how the inability to tour was the cause for some new creative decisions. Bloomgarden exudes a kind and animated cosmic energy few people genuinely possess. Perhaps it is her belief in magic, the paranormal, and spirit guides that has opened her mind and her heart to a frequency of joy many of us have been unable to attune to. Her cosmic energy is notable, even contagious, as she excitedly paints the mantras and chants documented in her highly-improvisational 2020 record. As a self-proclaimed former shy person, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear about her transformation into an individual pursuing human connection, and accepting the digital ways we often have to communicate nowadays. 

Bloomgarden left us with a blessing, a manifestation of positivity, before we parted–a spell we pass unto you dear reader. 

What is your go-to gas station order when you’re on tour?

Bonnie: I miss gas stations so much. I love Fritos. Contrary to popular belief, Fritos are actually pretty good for you, in the sense that they only have three ingredients. Based on your regular gas station fare, Fritos are pretty good. It’s just corn, salt, and something else. I love Fritos, and Doritos FLAMAS, that’s my favorite flavor Dorito. It’s spicy but lime too, so good. Seasonally, Takis has this Zombie flavor, around Halloween. I urge you to get it, it’s like habanero, cucumber, and something else, they’re called Zombie Takis. That’s super bomb. I’m such a huge spicy chip person, and I don’t really eat that at home, so when we’re on tour, that’s so exciting. 

I’d be a fool not to mention something that is truly a United States phenomenon, which is, every year, the options for drinks have just gotten better and better. Like when we first started touring, there was sodas, juice, and Starbucks stuff and Snapple. And now there’s like, flavored water, sometimes you’ll find apple flavored sparkling water. I love that one. Watermelon. That one’s so good, too. There’s also kombucha in almost every gas station. It’s like, she’s popping off in every country. You can’t get like vegetarian food in every city, but you can get kombucha at every gas station, which is pretty nice.

I don’t really drink it that much. Because I just try not to drink at all on tour because I don’t like peeing so much. I try and drink as minimally as possible, just one coffee in the morning. And then two shots of tequila at night. And that’s it. But if we have a full drive day, and it’s so boring, you know, I’ll get a flavored sparkling water. I don’t get sodas, though. Because I don’t like to perpetuate that. It’s not good for people. 

The title track off your latest record “Under the Spell of Joy” opens with the lyrics “Under the spell of joy/ Under the spell of love”. What does this affirmation mean to you?

There’s this band called Joy from San Diego. And we went to see them play. I don’t know, like, five or six years ago, or it’s hard to tell now, what time is. And they had a shirt for sale that said Under the Spell of Joy. And they gave us these shirts. And it just like, it changed my whole life. Like I wore it every day, honestly, for about five years. And I was just going through my phone, like making an album of all of the times I wear that shirt. And it’s like, there’s hundreds of times that I’m photographed wearing that shirt. It’s just something about it. Maybe it’s because I’m shy.

But something about if you present it a joyousness, that allows the other person to come and be joyous. I used to be so shy that I kind of seemed like a bitch or something. Or I thought I was cool. But people can’t tell if you’re shy, it doesn’t appear that way. You just seem like you’re rude.

And I guess I compensated for that when I realized joy gives you space from someone and gives you the option to meet you there. Instead of meeting you at fear, which is what I was when I was shy. That kind of became me, like “Hi, are you happy?”. I needed people to know they could be filled with joy. And we were just obsessed with that concept. And being under the spell of it kind of makes it like your religion. Nothing is more creepy than a band of people traveling the world filled with joy. We decided that’s our true self, scaring people with joy. And we knew that was our true purpose. And we tried to name the record something else, but it was just supposed to be called that.  

You recently announced a podcast project, can you tell us a bit about what listeners can expect to hear?

I feel like obviously a lot has changed. And one of the things that has changed is that we’ve really seen how messed up the music industry is. And I guess everything is. But I think regarding the industry, all the money funnels in one direction, for everything, and it’s just in music, you can’t make… 95% of our income was from shows. And this year we couldn’t do that. So we work every day at this job and only get paid for half the time we work. And that sucks, no one else would accept that fate.  No one else does that, no one else goes to work and doesn’t get paid. And so we kind of realized we needed to think of a new way to earn money. And also, we realized that the main thing we missed about tours was that our job, essentially, is to go from city to city to make people excited for the night. And give them something, like a community building thing, where everyone goes for the same purpose, to the same place, to be excited. And then afterwards, we got to talk to them about what’s going on in their lives, what they’re excited about.

We also discuss a lot of paranormal stuff with people. We just really missed that. Like, that’s kind of the worst part of this, is that energy of excitement and lifting people up and talking about paranormal stuff is just like our favorite part. So, we realized that we wanted to make a podcast. So, I’ve always been collecting interviews, like on tour about people’s paranormal and supernatural experiences. But also, just in general, if you talk to anyone about what they’re excited about, it’s heroic, and that’s kind of what it’s about. It’s just, everyone’s kind of a hero, if you find out what they’re excited about, and then what they believe in are their most paranormal events. So that’s pretty much the podcast.

It’s cool that you’re taking, like, experiences with people that you meet and kind of sharing them with a new audience of people.

This is so much fun. You know, I was so excited to do this. And at the beginning of quarantine, I couldn’t do this. I hated it. Because interviews are super fun. But seeing yourself isn’t. At the beginning was like, “I’m never doing that again, never again.” Then I was like, “Oh no, this is how we connect now. And I should stop being like a maniac and just figure out how to be comfortable.” And I’ve actually grown a lot out of my shyness and being so self-conscious— where I’m like, “Oh my god, I look like that when I talk.” It’s just like, “Oh, no, I’m just talking to people.” You know, just something you never think about, is you never see yourself. Like, you only see the people you’re with, you don’t see yourself unless you look in a mirror. But most of your life is spent looking at other people. So, you know, it is kind of bizarre to be like, “I’m talking and my eyes are crazy.” But you know, but this is how we connect. So I don’t care.

It’s such a hard lesson to not, you know, be focused on what other people think for like, the first half of my life. So much so that I had stage fright and couldn’t perform at all. Even though I went to school for music, I still would like, ditch every time we had to perform, which is hilarious, you know. And it’s just like, I wasted so much time caring about what other people think, until I realized, “Oh, you can’t control it.”

Iggy Pop has previously called you guys “a gift to the world”, but what/who do you consider to be a gift to the world?

Iggy Pop! [Laughter] Ronnie Spector. So many people. Those are my favorites. I could blabber on forever. 

“Under the Spell of Joy” seems to push your sound past some of the garage-punk vibes of some of your other songs. Was experimentation something you actively pursued for this record and beyond?

This record was really, we do everything spontaneously, and most of the record was improvised. Because I don’t do anything in advance really, like I worry, and I think, and this record was really weird, because it’s like, one year ago, we our last tour ended in like December, and then we knew we were going to be home for the longest we’re ever going to be home, which was supposed to be four months. So it was gonna be I was gonna rest for all of December. Think for all of January, and then write for February, and then record the first five days of March. And during that time, I didn’t listen to any music or watch anything or do anything. It was just thinking and walking. I knew the record was called “Under the Spell of Joy.” And I was like, “How the fuck am I going to figure out how to make a magic spell for each song?”. Basically, it’s like, we sing these songs 150 times at minimum a year. And I was like, “What if the songs were like spells, where there was intention, just spells, where there’s intention behind it. And if there was meaning, and if more people sing together, the more meaning it can have, and the more powerful it is.” And yeah, I do believe in magic. And I do believe in manifestation. So it was like, “What if we like actively manifested stuff every time we sing the song?”. So I was like, “What does that mean?”. And I just had to spend so much time walking and thinking. 

Then I was learning about the Akashic records, and kind of trying to channel a spirit guide and not do any of the work, like I was obsessed with not doing any work, just having all channeled through me. And basically, that did happen. And that was weird,I’m just like, so grateful that that happened. 

That’s mainly the difference. And that’s what we were going for. It’s just the idea of having it be many, many voices saying something that perpetuated Joy. Every song, is kind of to perpetuate something different. And I didn’t know what until the words just popped out. It was just like channeling and having so many extra musicians come in and them not know the songs either. It’s all pretty improvised. Terrifying, but I think that’s a really cool sound. First take, best take, you know? Not knowing songs at all, just going in and learning it and psychically making it. Me and the drummer were completely connected, it was so crazy. I got mad at the other guys for not being psychically connected, which is hilarious. 

I think that was the intention, to make something. To make a bunch of chants and stuff so people can go to a song to perpetuate whatever it is that they want. I don’t know, it’s really something else. I’m really thankful that anything actually happened, because we were this close to not having anything at all, you know? 

You describe yourselves as having “Manson family theatrics” and “occult themes.” What are some of your favorite horror movies? 

I love Rosemary’s Baby. Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All that stuff. It’s funny, we used to exclusively listen to True Crime podcasts and be in it all day, eight hours a day, in the van. And then once we got to a motel, we would watch Forensic Files. And that was our whole life. Until this record, where I was like, “We can’t do that anymore. We have to fill our heads with joy, or something else. Anything else.” Like, what we put into our eyes becomes us. And as fun as horror and true crime is, it was like, we overdid it, so I think I had to detox from that. And now I kinda can’t even watch anything, which is a shame. Because it’s just so emotional. Before it was entertaining and fun and exciting. Now I’m like, “He’s hurting him.”

How do you personally connect to themes of the occult generally and sonically through your music? 

I think it’s hard because the occult’s pretty broad but I mean, I believe in everything. Like and I am pretty deep in different communities that believe in everything, and like, I’m part of like an experiencer and abductee support group, like alien abduction. I’m friends with lots of psychics, mediums. Shit happens every day, for real. For me, I think the occult is telepathy and energy and magic, all of that stuff, it’s happening every day. It’s a huge part of my life. I’m not a studied practitioner of anything, but I’m super sensitive to everything, and it’s odd. That level of it is just happening all around me every day and affects me a lot. It’s funny, because if you look at it some ways, I’m just adding extra layers that don’t need to be there, maybe. Like, if you say that room is haunted, maybe that means you don’t like that room. But the language I use to explain it is that it’s haunted. But for me, that’s something that’s all day, every day, just there. Maybe I’m just mentally ill, or I know I am. But that’s what’s happening. 

So, continuing with the Manson Family theme. If you could time travel to 1969, would you? 

Yeah. I would just go to concerts every night. Just everything. Sit around looking at the cars all day. Looking at the people, you know, and go to concerts all night. I mean, everything about that time to me is… I just want to smell what it’s like, to have those cars driving around. And the coolest clothes, I’d wear all those clothes. And these crazy shows where it’s Otis Redding playing with The Stones playing with this and that, and like ten different amazing artists every night. And you know, in the 60s, there were so many places that were cooler, like New York, San Francisco, LA, LA and Berlin. You know, just so many. You can’t lose. You can’t lose in the 60s. That’s what I would want, for sure.

Have you picked up any new hobbies during the pandemic? 

Kind of I have, and kind of I haven’t. Doing the podcast, I started two weeks ago, and I have like, 15. So I’m pretty consumed with that. That’s my main hobby. But that’s a good question. I feel like, I’ve just spent most of my time…because I’ve never been home this long at all, for like six years. When you go on tour, it’s like, “Peace!” to whatever’s happening in life. And like, by the time you get back, whatever problems were there aren’t, because everyone else has moved on. 

So I didn’t really be in real life for like the last five years. So I realized that this is like a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually be like, “What do you want?”. Because I never thought about the future. You can’t, you know, if you’re on tour… I think people don’t really realize that the main thing is trying to stay healthy. And you’re kind of like a monk. You don’t have bodily needs, you don’t have desires, you don’t have the food that you want, you don’t have anything. You just have to accept fully and know the van is gonna break down, and you can’t worry about that. And when it happens, all you can do is giggle. You’re fully present without even meaning to. You become a master meditator and fully present. No thoughts, no future, no past. And so, being here, the hobby I’ve picked up is continuing to be fully present. Like, “What do I want?”.  I didn’t have anything, you know what I mean? I didn’t care about where I was, because it was just a place where I live, it was just where I recuperate for a month after tour. 

I didn’t even have olive oil before. I didn’t have anything. But now it’s like, “Do you want to live in LA?”. But I got a plant. I got one of those salt lamps. And I think mainly just considering, “What don’t I like about myself? Like, what have I always wanted to change?”. Just kind of doing that for… I guess it’s been a year. Just like, looking inside and being like, “What’s up with you? Who are you? What do you want?”. I got a carrot and potato peeler. All this shit I never thought about before. At the beginning of quarantine, I bought so much Halloween knickknacks. Like, it was crazy. I went crazy on eBay. But then it turned back into a, “You don’t need physical stuff. You don’t need the most Halloween stuff of anyone you know. That’s not going to help you figure your life out.” But yeah. And I bought candles. I never had like candles before. And incense thing, like home goods. That’s my hobby, is being here. 

Upcoming plans? 

We are making a bunch of stuff. We have a Patreon. And that’s really exciting. This band is a full time job, so I work on that. We’re thinking of things and ways to connect with people. And it’s a full time job. That’s all I think about is, is ways to make people happy and like us. And like, that’s just what our job is, is to make people excited about this band. And so we’re making tons of videos. We never had the time to really do that. And we’re making tons of art stuff, and we’re gonna have a new object every month. Like you had a sweatshirt last month. You know that hat. We have a candle. We have really cool stuff coming up that we just never had time to do before. I think we want to make socks. Just fun stuff, and then we’re gonna record soon again, but we can’t all see each other. We’ve only seen each other four times this last year, which is crazy. But yeah, we have new music stuff coming up, which is exciting. And, and we have we’re re-releasing things that we put out. Don’t tell anybody! 

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