Around this time of year, it’s natural – or should I say supernatural? – to think about the mysteries of the unseen. Ghosts, spirits, forces – things we can feel but don’t know how to explain. While some of us like to dabble in the supernatural world for a few days out of the year, the members of LA-based band Death Valley Girls (Bonnie Bloomgarden, Larry Schemel, Nicole Smith, and Laurie Kelsey), live in a spiritual realm year-round. The band has made a lifestyle out of seeking answers to the world’s mysteries and translating their experiences into hard-hitting, ghoulish rock ‘n’ roll music.
The band’s latest album Darkness Rains is a lurid body of work that reflects the group’s exchanges with the spiritual world, accompanied by their qualms with the material world. While past records like Glow in The Dark ride the band’s recurring theme of celestial encounters, Darkness Rains is clouded with an overarching sense of gloom that’s not present in past works. While lead singer Bloomgarden says the ominous theme wasn’t intentional – the record was named after the studio dog – she blames the album’s solemnity on her surroundings. “I think we can safely state that it’s been a really dark, hard few years,” says Bloomgarden. “That’s just what’s happening. I didn’t want it to be somber, I wanted to make people happy.”
We talked to Bloomgarden about channeling spirits while writing Darkness Rains, performing at haunted hotels, and Iggy Pop’s undeniable reign as the coolest person ever.
AF: I love the new record. One of the songs that sticks out to me is “Street Justice.” I feel like that phrase brings a lot of things to mind. Where was your mindset when you wrote the song?
BB: We’re individually very political, but that’s our personal life. For the band, we’re entertainers. Our job is to make people happier and bring people together to see rock ‘n’ roll and enjoy something outside of their life that might be bothering them. I think it’s cool when bands are super political, but that’s just not something we wanted to be because we wanted to bring people together. But I feel like, with that song, we just couldn’t help it. We have ways that we feel and there are so many things going on that are unjust. None of the words were intentional – we write the words for all the songs the morning we record – it just popped out from outer space or wherever they come from. But then afterwards were like, “Woah, that actually has a lot of meaning. Cool. That’s way better than if it didn’t mean anything.” Things need to change for sure. Especially the way people treat other people sexually, and that’s kind of what it’s about.
AF: For sure. That’s crazy that you write all the songs the morning you record!
BB: Yeah, I’m a bad attention span person, so it’s really hard to just sit down and write, because doing almost everything else is just way more fun. So then right before we go in, I’m like “Oh shit, I didn’t write the words.” Everyone knows I’m lying when I’m like “I have the words, don’t worry.” Then I’m like, I really gotta do this and it’s just like channeling. All of them will just flop out from somewhere. They go through my head and then on paper. They all just come out exactly as they are, it’s really weird. I don’t know how or why that happens. We’ve been trying to look more into “automatic writing” – when your hand just writes stuff and you’re channeling.
AF: That’s intense. Some of the lyrics are pretty dark. What prompted that?
BB: We like dark stuff but a lot of it is interest in death and what happens after you die and not wanting to wait until we die to find out. And also, not wanting people to be sad when people die because in 2017 everyone was dying and we were just like, oh my god. Doesn’t everyone know that everyone’s going to die and all we can do is change the way we look at it? Why don’t we try and change that? And what if what it looks like is that we’re happy we got to even be together at all? It’s dark stuff but you can still smile. And it can make you be inspired to fix stuff. It doesn’t have to make you just hide.
AF: For sure. I read in another article that the band has had a lot of supernatural experiences… are those still happening?
BB: Oh yeah, every day I learn more and more and I’m like, woah, there’s so many mysteries in the universe. We want to know more and there’s so much more. I think everyone thinks about it in different ways, but we’re more excited about it so we talk about it more. Everyone has weird beliefs, our band is just kind of our life. It’s the way we live our whole life, most jobs you get to walk away from it at night, but this is our job all the time. Just thinking about stuff. The more we think about supernatural stuff, the more we think in general, the more we ask each other, the more we wanna figure stuff out and the more excited we get and want to write new songs.
AF: Has anything supernatural happened on this tour?
BB: Well, we did play at this super haunted hotel that one of us got possessed at three years ago. The tale behind that is very long and complicated, but we played there and it’s definitely haunted. There’s a feeling you can get in your lymph nodes when you walk into a super haunted place. It feels icky and the ceiling seems to feel like it’s way closer. These are just things we’ve learned and noted throughout the years. We stayed there and it was just interesting to be able to have those feelings in our lymph nodes, sort of like a nauseous feeling. Every place you go isn’t completely haunted with negative energy and not everywhere you go is even haunted. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts but I know they’re there when I feel them. We did find out the person that got possessed used an Ouija board last time we were there and you’re not supposed to use that. Ever. I feel really bad, I’ve been blaming this hotel for years when really it was our fault.
AF: Because of the Ouija board?
BB: Yeah, I don’t think you should use them anywhere. You can make your own, but they’re just like portals… I mean, of course it’s all conjecture, but I believe because it’s a thing you purchase and it’s so impersonal, you shouldn’t buy those because it’s an easy way for different ghosts that you aren’t asking to talk to come through and that’s when dangerous things happen. If you make your own, you have more control. I cannot recommend lowly enough the Ouija board. It ruins people’s lives.
AF: What made you want to go back to that hotel even though you had a creepy experience there?
BB: This is gonna sound crazy, but we feel like we’re paranormal investigators. We want to know more. And we put ourselves in situations that we know aren’t necessarily gonna feel that good, but who wouldn’t want to know more? We were between two places in Arizona – Tucson and Bisbee – and we chose the place that had a higher potential of haunted-ness. That’s just something that’s important to us. I don’t know why, it just seems like, why wouldn’t you want to experience more? But I got really scared. I was the last one to go to bed and the beds were like a foot above the ground and I was like ‘no ghosts allowed on the bed, no ghosts allowed on the bed, no ghosts allowed in the mirror.’ I don’t know, I guess we like to be scared. We just wanna find out the mysteries that surround us. I think that seems normal.
AF: I think it is, I think a lot of people are afraid of what they don’t know.
BB: But they love some things that they don’t know. Like, they love God or their special friend in the sky. Why is that any less weird than some of the cool things that are on earth and in the sky. I’m not poo-pooing anyone. I believe that if they believe it and enough people believe it, then it’s real. There is god and all the things that everyone believes. The power of person to create what person believes is really just as powerful as an actual spirit. We can manifest things that don’t exist by the power of our mind. It’s really weird. If you believe something’s going to happen then it has a much better chance of happening than if you don’t believe it at all.
AF: Speaking of that, I was dying when I saw your music video with Iggy Pop just chilling eating a cheeseburger. How?
BB: I can’t believe it. When I hear people talking about it, I’m like, that can’t possibly be real. He’s exactly who I wanted him to be. Just the coolest person in the world. Obviously. It’s not like I was surprised but it’s always nice to find out that the coolest person in the world IS actually the coolest person in the world.
AF: How did that all come together?
BB: He played us on his radio station like two years ago on my birthday and I woke up and saw my phone and it said “Iggy Pop says our band is a gift to the world.” And I was like – is this a birthday prank? Did somebody Photoshop this and put it on Twitter? Then I just jumped around for 20 minutes and was screaming. That he knew of our band and he said the name of our band – all of this alone would’ve been enough for me to be happy for the rest of my life. But then we found out he played us, and our friend Kansas Bowling who directs most of our videos was like “Tonight I had this dream that Iggy was doing the Andy Warhol video of Andy Warhol eating a burger. We should just do this for your music video.” And she just made it happen. We never let our minds believe that it could possibly be real, but then we started seeing emails that were like, saying it was going to happen. Then we decided we had to go. And we went and we met him. It lasted so long, the feeling of how cool he is. It’s like a drug or something. It made us better people, just to be in his presence. If you were to ask us who’s one person in the world you’d like to meet, we would’ve said him but we’d be like “but we never will.” Even still, if someone was like “What if you could meet one person in the world?” We’d be like, “Iggy Again.”
Catch Death Valley Girls on tour now through the end of Scorpio season:
10.30.18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie
11.01.18 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
11.02.18 – Cleveland, OH @ The Winchester
11.03.18 – Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Fluxx
11.04.18 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
11.05.18 – Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club
11.07.18 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
11.08.18 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
11.09.18 – Boise, ID @ The Olympic
11.11.18 – Chico, CA @ Duffy’s
11.13.18 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
11.14.18 – Vancouver, BC @ Fox Cabaret
11.15.18 – Bellingham, WA @ The Shakedown
11.16.18 – Seattle, WA @ Freakout
11.17.18 – Eugene, OR @ Old Nicks
11.20.18 – San Francisco, CA Rickshaw Stop