BANDSPEAK

BANDSPEAK: Death Valley Girls on Touring and Bringing Rock n’ Roll to the Undead

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Death Valley Girls are hitting the roads of North America this fall to tour their second full-length album, Glow in the Dark. Olivia Gehrke spoke to Bonnie Bloomgarden, frontwoman and guitarist of the band, before their tour. Death Valley Girls will be playing in Boston on September 27 at O’Brien’s Pub.

Olivia Gehrke: You guys just released your latest album, Glow in the Dark, on June 10. What have been the reactions to the album and the new material live so far?

Bonnie Bloomgarden: It’s been better than we could have ever hoped or dreamed. I don’t know if you’re supposed to say nice things about yourself and your friends, but it’s been really crazy. The record is all sold out. I mean we’ll have some on tour with us because we’re reprinting them, but they sold out in the first month. Everyone seems to really like it, and that’s really exciting. We didn’t make it hoping that everyone would like it. We just made it because we had to from our hearts and our minds and our souls and whatever, but I think the people might like it!

O: So this is your second full-length album. How did this writing and recording process differ from your debut, Street Venom, back in 2014?

B: Street Venom was more of just a rock ‘n’ roll record. It was all these songs we liked playing together and getting them down. Most of them got written in the studio, as well, but this record has more of a tale behind it. We played at the Natural History Museum for a mummy exhibit, and the mummies had been in Chicago since 1890 in this museum. When we realized they probably had never heard rock ‘n’ roll, we wanted to make a live show that would introduce the dead to rock ‘n’ roll and music. We also thought that maybe we can even wake them up if we did a good enough job. After that show, we realized how important these songs were and how important writing for the dead could be, so we wanted to put them onto an album and see if we could wake the dead that way. Or introduce rock ‘n’ roll to not just mummies, but to everyone, hopefully. Not exclusive to mummies! Like I want to make that very clear right now—we are not exclusive to mummies!

O: And on that note, I’ve read that you guys are big into spirituality and paranormal happenings. Is there a musician you feel you may have been in a past life?

B: Woah that’s so cool! Oh my god, I mean ever since I was five, I was obsessed with Billie Holiday and I thought everything about her was cool, but I definitely don’t think that I’ve ever been a human before because it’s way too confusing. I really don’t think that I’ve ever been, but maybe Larry (Larry Schemel, guitarist) or Kid (Laura Kelsey, drums) or Pickle (Nikki Pickle, bass) have. I’m so excited to ask them that question. First mostly, I think everyone finds themselves walking along life and they have beliefs and religions and stuff, and ours is just rock ‘n’ roll. We idolize Iggy. We idolize Alice Cooper. That’s our religion. I don’t know if we’ve been them in past lives—I mean obviously not them because they’re alive—but I just think that we have religious devotion to rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve been to past life regression stuff and I don’t think I’ve ever been alive because I’m not very good at it, at least as a human. I kind of think maybe I was a dog or a spider. But Pickle and Kid have more clear ideas of what they’ve been. They have had better past life regression success than I have.

O: As you mentioned, you are firm believers in rock ‘n’ roll, but there are definitely people out there who think rock is dead, maybe because it’s not as prominent as it was in the ‘70’s, for example. What do you think it will take to convert these skeptics to believe that the genre is in fact alive and well?

B: I think music—I would hate to be negative—but it’s so over-saturated because so many people play. I think that before, there was such little of it that there weren’t as many genres. There was just jazz, and then rock ‘n’ roll, classical, and hip-hop and things like that, and it just branched out. I think rock ‘n’ roll is coming back to its roots. What people call punk and what people call all these different shoot-offs of rock ‘n’ roll, actually people are just going to realize is just rock ‘n’ roll. They’ll realize they already are into it, and it’ll be there, and it has always been there for them. It comes and goes as pure rock ‘n’ roll. We’re in 2016 which is like 1976 if you think about it. Punk broke in ’77. We’re in the middle of a decade. It’s so hard to say what is even happening or what the style of the decade is or what this decade is about. I think rock ‘n’ roll is just about to come back. I can’t see why it wouldn’t. People are dying for some regular rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll has never gone away, and I think people like to say things are dead because it’s scary in the middle of the decade. But it’s not and never will be. It’s right there.

O: Speaking of that, especially in L.A., where you guys are based, there’s a pretty strong rock scene going on recently. Has that environment influenced that music you’ve been putting out as a band?

B: No, but it’s definitely cool. I’ve always been in rock ‘n’ roll bands, and you always magnetically find the other rock ‘n’ roll bands. I think what Burger (Burger Records, Death Valley Girls’ label) has done is created a space and lots of outlets for people in these bands to play and be recognized and get attention and be able to put out music. That’s all Burger’s doing, but I don’t know about it being more or less at any time. The kids are just ruling the scene again and I think that’s because of Burger.

O: You have all had pasts in music. Do you think your individual pasts in music influences what each member brings to the table during the songwriting process?

B: Totally, for sure. All of us are the way we are now because of everything. Like I know every melody I’ve ever heard. Sometimes we’ll be writing and something will be from like a Burger King commercial from four years ago. We’ll be like “Oh man, that rhythm is exactly like that! Cool!” Every single thing we ever heard makes us who we are now, but I think we all feel like this is our band that we’ve been working all these years and learning all these years to do this music with these people right now.

O: The song “I’m a Man Too” has gotten a bit of coverage because it breaks down the barriers of gender and sexuality. Is challenging the norm something you intended to do when writing Glow in the Dark, or is there something you want listeners to take away from the album?

B: Yea, totally. All the songs are a little bit different about that. “I’m a Man Too” is just how we’re over gender. We’re pro-equality. We’re not feminists, per say. We’re just pro-equality and we’re anti-gender and people telling us what we are and what we aren’t and what other people are and what they aren’t. Instead of people getting excited about what kind of gender people call people, just be like “Fuck it, I’m a man. Why not? I don’t care. Yea, I’m a man, too. Who cares?” Rather than label and box and reclassify and declassify, just call me a man; that’s cool. If that’s what you think is the best thing, then just call me that. I’m not going to change. The rest of the record is really this kind of concept. There are people who believe in the things we believe in out there. At night, you can see them because they glow in the dark. That’s like our tribe or gathering or whatever. Not everyone can be in a band, but everyone can be in our collective. We use the term Cosmic Underground for our collective, but those are just the people that glow in the dark. Anyone can be a Death Valley Girl, and if they don’t feel comfortable calling themselves that, then they can say they are part of the Cosmic Underground. If they don’t feel comfortable saying that, they can just say they glow in the dark. It’s just trying to unite like-minded people and everything they do artistically or otherwise—they can be part of the gang. It’s a shame that we can only have so many people on stage. We bring Cherry, our best friend, on tour. She’s an artist. She makes cool stuff for Burger and cool stuff on her own. As many people as possible that want to be part of something that they believe in, they should. The record is like a call to arms for that—keeping it a classification that makes it easier for everybody to relate to this concept, if they want to join. We’ll have a bunch of pamphlets and stuff about that—The Cosmic Underground—on tour. It’s just like whatever you believe in, be proud of it. And if you believe in similar things as us, be part of us. It’s definitely not something scary. I don’t want anyone to get the impression we’re trying to mind-control anyone. It’s free. It’s fun. It’s not a cult…yet. If you call it that, that’s fine, but we don’t call it that.

O: You’re doing a pretty extensive North American tour this fall, and you’re covering pretty much everywhere east to west. Is there a city you’re particularly excited about playing that maybe you haven’t played before, or just excited to go to?

B: We love tour. We love playing everyday, and the only days I’d say we aren’t excited for are days off. We love everywhere. My favorite place is Detroit just because that’s where most of my heroes are from, but I’m exited for everywhere. There’s no one place we’re not excited to play. That’s a lie, but I’m not going to tell you the place we’ll not like to play because that wouldn’t be very nice. We’re going to try and love it this time. We try our hardest every time, and we’re going to try even harder this time.

O: On a final note, if you could collab on a single with a ghost or an alien, which would it be and why?

B: I’m going to have to say the alien because we’ve picked up in recordings because of magnetics used in tape. I can’t think of the word, but you can pick up ghosts and you can pick up things. But it would be really way harder to find if there’s an alien on something. So if I could choose right now, I would definitely choose alien. And there’s this race of aliens that communicate only through psychic people on earth. I can’t remember what they’re called, but I just found out about them. I think that even though they only communicate psychically, if we tried to get them to record with us and use both their psychic abilities and maybe their musical abilities, that would be my favorite and that would be my answer, for sure.

O: Do you think that would change the sound of the songs at all? Or would they just work with your existing sound?

B: I think our songs already come from space, so I think they would work with it. I don’t know. You can only guess. I think it would work perfectly, honestly, with our primitive beats and our space-age sound, but who knows what they would sound like. Maybe they would be into thrash metal, and we would be like “Oh, alright…” They could take it in a totally different direction. Who knows what they would do, but I’d definitely want to try it. If you know any aliens, send them our way!

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