SHORT AND SWEET: WMSE TALKS TO BONNIE BLOOMGARDEN OF DEATH VALLEY GIRLS
POSTED:: December 31, 2020
Interviews, Short And Sweet (Q&A's)
FILED UNDER:: Interviews, Short And Sweet (Q&A's)
One of the most-spun rock ‘n roll records at WMSE since its arrival this fall has been Death Valley Girls’ Under The Spell of Joy. The Los Angeles band has concocted some enticingly heady and skronky 70s-influenced groove-psych-pop-rock that wobbles between The Stooges and the Shangri-Las, effortlessly (according to Pitchfork). The new record comes emblazoned with a seal of approval from Iggy Pop, himself, who calls the band “a gift to the world” – a statement that holds much truth and weight in these times as Death Valley Girls blissfully whisk the listener away to a storied era of old-school rock shows, where guitars solo-ed without a trace of irony and sidled up arm-to-arm with lynchpin keys and organs and saxophone squeals. The euphoric vibe on Under The Spell of Joy envelops even more heavily with prominent unison vocals and some positive (and positively) mystical lyricisim. The leader of the pack, Bonnie Bloomgarden, took the time to chat with us about what inspired the joyful transcendence of this particular record. Catch a bit of the conversation, below, and catch the full interview on Tuesday, January 5th at 2 p.m. CST on WMSE.
I wanted to talk about your brand new record; was it the plan all along for it to come along in late October, or did the pandemic shift anything?
It’s weird. [As a band] we wanted to release a record every October…everything just happened exactly on time in every which way. We had no time to record until the month just before the Coronavirus happened and everything just fit perfectly into place, luckily. It was a good time for it to come out; by October, people needed something to listen to and to stop listening to the news, just for a little bit.
That whole joyous, jubilant spirit that the record’s got going on…I heard that you kinda kickstarted that with listening to a bunch of Ethiopian funk records on your last tour. What exactly were you listening to while you were in the car that inspired this upbeat kind of vibe?
So, mainly, on tour, we used to listen to true crime podcasts. You’d drive six or eight hours a day…you’re on the road all day and it’s noisy and the most exciting part of the day is gas stations. And for some reason, we were all just obsessed with true crime and it would be like 9-1-1 calls and we’d just be listening and at some point we realized…what are we doing? Why don’t we focus on almost anything else? And we started to listen to Duncan Trussell’s podcast, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour and that sort of started letting us know that you can really change your mind by the stuff you put in your head.Then, we started listening to music that had like tons of vocals. We found that a lot of Ethiopian psych compilations and rock ‘n roll compilations and a bunch of different compilations from all over that seemed to have tons and tons of vocals singing in unison and we started realizing that it was within our power to listen to stuff that was uplifting. For some reason, we were drawn to that era of music. I’ve always been a huge fan of field recordings, where it’s been just a bunch of people singing in unison; that’s one of my favorite sounds. I love spiritual music and gospel and all that kind of stuff and I’ve always been really interested in the idea of church – of how people go and sing to their best friend every Sunday. That’s so cool…we should kind of copy that idea. It’s good for your body and it’s good for your mind to sing to your best friend. I know that’s an oversimplification of what happens, but I didn’t have any of that stuff growing up, so it just seems super cool to go somewhere where everyone’s singing together. I love the sound of it. It’s the best sound.
There are some other elements you incorporate into your sound and instrumentation, like keyboards and saxophones – they’re almost just as prominent as the guitars, even though you’re a rock ‘n roll band. What are some of those influential bands that also utilized these instruments to create this droney-yet-rockin’ wall of sound?
I think it’s just the whole history of rock ‘n roll, coming from like the blues and gospel and all that stuff. Going from Chuck Berry to Bo Diddley and from there, music kinda siphoned off into all these different places. In the 60s, there’s like Black Sabbath and The Stones and The Stooges…it’s more of like a mood when you add instruments…a setting, a time and a place. We read this really cool thing that said, “art is how you decorate space and music is how you decorate time” and I’m just like, whoa that’s so cool. But the Stones and Stooges had saxophones and horns and stuff and the Stones had tons of backing vocals and all kids are perfect singers (to me) and it made sense to have that [on our record] and each of the songs is pretty much a specific place to go to celebrate where you are in your mind…
As a band, you hail from Los Angeles; did you grow up there?
Yeah – I’m from here. Everyone’s from different places…Larry’s from Seattle, Rikki’s from Colorado, Pickle’s from Arizona…the singers are from here and the sax player is from here. But everyone’s here, now…
As you got into music more deeply, were you mainly interested in west coast sounds? What other scenes influenced you? What era influences you most?
Oh, wow. So many. I think for me, personally, almost all music (until the 70s). [Though] all music influences me; I love everything I hear. I [even] love being put on hold (laughs). But what really influences me is early rock ‘n roll and blues and stuff, and also The Stooges, Black Sabbath, The Stones, Detroit, Velvet Underground, New York, Berlin with Bowie and Iggy, Texas…so many places. Ohio. Everywhere. Funeral music from Central America is so cool. I love video game music. I love Halloween music. Since quarantine, I’ve been just getting really into things outside of popular music and super into soundtracks. That’s been really fun. Just setting a weird mood…it also helps me to exercise. I didn’t really get why people exercised. I thought it was super boring, but if you listen to the Pee-wee’s Big Adventure soundtrack while you’re running, it’s just so much more fun (laughs). It’s amazing. It’s a secret no one tells you, but they should.
Your connection to Iggy Pop is pretty awesome [he’s starred in one of your videos and has even been quoted as saying that you’re “a gift to the world”]. Have you talked to Iggy about collaborating further down the line in any capacity?
He played us on his radio show [recently] and I definitely used a little moon magic for that, for sure just like, “do you remember us?” and he did, which was cool, and he said my name which was so scary! My heart fell out of my body. Hearing him say your name is completely, completely, so scary. Like, “is this real?” There’s no way in the world that Iggy Pop knows my name, you know? It’s so wild. He’s too good to know my name. It’s too much!
What are you all planning next?
We’re selling our first music video video compilation, “volume one”, that’s gonna have Under The Spell of Joy and a lot of extra, behind-the-scenes footage. And we’ve just been making cool stuff to connect with people. We’re still working on how to make this work without tour, because you know we would have been on tour for the next year and a half, and I don’t think we’re gonna tour for at least a year, so we’re going to think of one, really cool, super-exciting thing to put out and maybe record something new. We have some songs that we didn’t release on this record, new music videos coming…lots of stuff like that!
Find Death Valley Girls’ ‘Under The Spell Of Joy’ at your favorite local record shop, or on their Bandcamp page. Listen to the full interview with Bonnie this Tuesday, January 5th at 2 p.m. CST on WMSE.