Death Valley Girls are a reminder that rock and roll never died, it was just taking a snooze. The rock group made up of Bonnie Bloomgarden, Larry Schemel, and an ever-changing caravan of touring musicians sounds like mummies gettin’ down after being awakened from an eternal slumber, or something along those lines.
It all feels too fitting as lead singer, Bonnie Bloomgarden, minutes into our conversation opens up with a small anecdote about playing in a mummy exhibit and how it was probably the mummies’ first time listening to rock and roll. And what an introduction. Darkness Rains, the band’s third full length, beckons you to embrace the weird and insane. It’s a relentless record that gets you fired up in all the right ways and leaves your mouth watering for more of their scuzzy, 70s influenced dirty rock and roll. Somewhere in my conversation with Bonnie, she says, “the majority of people deserve rock and roll and we’re here to give it to them.” Couldn’t have summed up their deliciously filthy sound better myself.
Growing up, I always thought people in rock bands were the coolest, as most people do I presume. It also makes for the perfect recipe of intimidation. So, before speaking with Bonnie, I was nervous fearing I’d sound like, for lack of better phrasing, a total fucking nerd. As the conversation thickened, I quickly realized Bonnie has somehow cultivated this wise, coolness that I spoke of before, while also being easily relatable (and also not). Really, it felt like we were just born in different worlds. Bloomgarden brings up “parallel realities” and “messages from outer space” etc. and while sometimes it threw me, I had no choice but to believe every word she said because of the smooth conviction in her voice. This uniquely appealing gift is what makes the Death Valley Girls such an enigmatic band.
The Los Angeles rockers, who seem like they were absolutely born in the wrong decade, have made it somewhat of a mission to bring back the best bits of the glam and the oh-so-dirty 70s rock and roll. They take after bands like the Stooges, Lou Reed, and Black Sabbath with such ease, you might presume they’d come up with them at the same time. If anybody asks you, I never said the following statement. I’ve never been much of a 70s music fan; I just somehow missed it. I love the 50s, 60s, 80s and so on, but the 70s never grabbed my attention. If you’re still here after the last sentence, I’m here to reassure you that after speaking with Bonnie and hearing her talk about her all-time favorites, like Iggy Pop, it made me want to dive in head first into the era and not come up for air.
As ethereal as a person she is, she still has surreal fan moments with idols like the aforementioned Iggy Pop. For anyone passionate about the 70s, Iggy Pop, or the “Godfather of Punk,” is just that: The Godfather of Punk. The amount of musicians he’s inspired is innumerable and Bonnie happens to be among them. Well, when major inspiration and icon, Iggy Pop tweeted “Death Valley Girls are a gift to the world” (which Bonnie says sheepishly and slightly embarrassed), she was nearly transported to another world. The excitement in her voice is still there as she recalls the moment. This is one of the “parallel realities” Bonnie mentions and comments, “they must’ve somehow gotten on the cool one.” To make the reality even stranger, she mentions her friend having a dream about Iggy Pop remaking the famous video of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger. So what happens next? Iggy Pop agrees to this vision and recreates the famous video to Death Valley Girls’ single off the record, “Disaster (Is What We’re After).” While one might be worried that their idol might turn out to be a dick, Bonnie was just worried that she might “spontaneously combust” in more or less words. After the perfectly surreal moment, like the absolute sweetest badass she is, Bonnie promises to start “manifesting skills on making other people happy.” Through the power of rock and roll of course.
When it comes to the differences between their records, the Death Valley Girls have only proven to get better, and to put it bluntly, take it more seriously. Street Venom was simply just a part of their “dream to put out a tape on Burger Records,” Bloomgarden explains. It worked more as a vessel to play shows in fact. Bonnie almost shyly admits they really just “wrote the songs and recorded them… not to be mean to it.” Though it wasn’t exactly a record with a direct blueprint, they still managed to sound totally self-assured about who the hell they are.
Their next record, Glow in the Dark, took a more direct course and came about in a slightly unusual form. The title and energy of the second full length took form after playing a show in a museum of mummies. After reflecting on the idea of getting to know people after seeing “how much they glowed in the dark” the title just made a lot of sense. Darkness Reigns, the bands latest effort started to take shape before the extremely polarizing political election. Hesitantly, Bloomgarden says that “these songs came to the band when we thought we’d maybe have a different President… So when we thought about it before the election, we just didn’t want to lose the aggression and desire to change things. But then things went another way so we thought we have to change things.” As a result, the album is half politically-charged, while the other half focuses on how temporary life is on Earth. It’s not so much a morbid idea as the band’s interested in what happens after you die and the longevity of the afterlife. While one might fear death, the Death Valley Girls look at it with a pure sense of curiosity.
In 2018, most things that make us happy, like art, music, and literature, are so fired up politically, it’s hard to catch a breath from reality. The world needs people to speak up, to be the voice for those that don’t have one, but the world also needs a form of escapism. We need somewhere to put all of this pent-up rage. Death Valley Girls aim to have listeners embrace the angry, not the hate-y. (I can say that right?) Though a lot of their songs touch on politics, Bloomgarden insists they’re there to “entertain and they don’t want people who hate other people to be there, but it’s not our job to tell someone which political party to be a part of.” Everything Bloomgarden says about meeting all kinds of people and hearing different points of view is met with a tone of warm understanding. It’s absurdly heartwarming to talk to someone in music who earnestly wants to “preach the good word of rock and roll.” And just like that, my fear of rock stars vanished.
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