DEATH VALLEY GIRLS: HOLD HANDS WITH AN ALIEN
photography by AMMO
(Before you read this interview, listen to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot—I’m not kidding! Do it!) I have known Death Valley Girls for about a few years now. When I was playing music, our bands played together a few times and I always loved that they were the resilient few who believed in rock ‘n’ roll in a way reminiscent of New York’s 70s punk scene and Patti Smith, Television, Dead Boys and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. (Who were all and still are my music heroes.) Their new full-length Glow In The Dark is available now from Burger and they’ll be doing a record release at the end of the month. We talked for hours about spirituality, rock ‘n’ roll—maybe the same thing—and what kind of fans you find on other planes or planets. Oh yeah, and course … Iggy! Death Valley Girls’ record release show is June 30 at the Echo. This interview by Jacquelinne Cingolani with Kristina Benson.
Some people say that rock ‘n roll started with the blues, but go back past that—what’s the oldest thing in history you can look at and think, ‘Yes, that’s where we came from’?
Bonnie Bloomgarden (vocals/guitar): Didn’t they just find out that King Tut’s knife was a meteorite? I think they just found that out, and I think that’s very in line with what we’re trying to do—definitely find weapons from space. That’s the oldest thing I can think of. I think I just read that. I can’t verify the facts on that, but I’m pretty sure it’s a fact because I read it, and I like to believe everything I read. [laughs] That’s definitely our oldest reference. Except for maybe Satan? [laughs]
Larry Schemel (guitar): Well, yeah. And cavemen. Definitely cavemen come into play, because as far as the music that I would assume—
BB: You love bones.
LS: Yeah, banging on stuff. A caveman is kind of about as primitive and old as you can get.
BB: As long as there’s been sticks and bones, there’s been what we’re into. You know? And meteorites.
LS: [laughs] Rock ‘n roll!
BB: Obviously we read once that the cavemen invented rock ‘n roll—obviously—so now we believe that wholeheartedly.
LS: I mean, we’re roughly putting cavemen under … I think we’re putting the Cro-Magnons and the Neanderthals under the whole umbrella. I mean, not to offend them, but…
BB: [laughs] Yeah, we don’t want them coming up and like, belittling us. [laughs]
We’ve talked before about the band’s psychic and telepathic communion and how this ability allows you to read the energetic field of strangers and know whether or not they were kindred spirits. You guys named your record Glow In The Dark, because of this phenomena—the ability to see certain people with this glow in the dark aura or energy field. Is ‘Pink Radiation’ a type of energy in this spectrum?
LS: It definitely ties into the whole theme of the record. I’m not sure what Laura meant exactly by those lyrics.
BB: Laura [‘The Kid’ Kelsey, drums] had an intense summer. She saw things we don’t even understand. She had a possession and she had these visions where she could see this energy field of people who glow in the dark. This is a concept I’ve had since I was a kid. I went to the loony bin for the same idea—that there was something in people you could see, like they wanted to spiritually evolve. We are all having some kind of a spiritual awakening. I think when I was a kid I wasn’t mentally prepared, but I am now and so is the rest of the band. And then of course there are dogs—I’m obsessed with dogs.
Did you record this at the Station House? Did you bond with their dog Darkness?
BB: That’s our favorite studio dog for sure. We were gonna name this record ‘Darkness Reigns,’ you know, like [engineer and Darkness’ dog-dad] Mark Raines. I think we’re going to put out a Halloween single or something called ‘Darkness Reigns’ now. That’s our dedication.
I could go down a dog obsession k-hole. Mark Twain once said, ‘The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.’ See where I’m going? Does this mean people aren’t ready to tap into the unconscious collective? There is such a stigma on words like astrology, spirituality, Tarot—
BB: When I was a kid I was obsessed with Freud and psychology and the reason why people are the way they are. And then more recently, psychic abilities and paranormal activities came into my awareness. It dawned on me that there are just as many people concerned about spirituality as there are concerned about the medical reasons why people are the way they are. It’s just a whole new way of thinking. We can focus on the people that don’t believe in the fun things and point our fingers at them, or we can try and learn from them and make better art. We are all just bouncing around trying to find things we are attracted to.
How did you find each other?
LS: Both of our sisters were friends and had babies that were friends and they knew we both liked music.
BB: Then we met and played everyday for like six months. It was psychic from the beginning. I mean—you never talked, Larry! I had to read your mind! I was worried he didn’t like me. Was he judging me? Was he judging my songs?
Bonnie, didn’t you go to school for jazz? What did you study?
BB: The history of jazz and vocal jazz. I went in high school to jazz school, and then I went to college for like a year and half or two years, and then I started a band and decided school was stupid, you know? I mean, I love the blues, and I thought that that would be something they would teach you a lot about in jazz school, and I learned a lot of theory and stuff like that. But mainly I was always like pushing the blues and I was too scared to perform, so I got kicked out because I wouldn’t do any of the things we were supposed to do. I was just way too scared. And then the last performance I had to do like, a final or something. That was a day where I just invited everyone that I knew because I couldn’t fuck it up, and then everyone came and … that day is what I bring with me every show. It’s a different space. It’s like dreaming, you know? You can’t be scared, you can’t be you, it’s just … it’s what it is or whatever.
Why aren’t you scared with Death Valley Girls? Or are you?
BB: [laughs] No. I think jazz school … like, being with insane musicians—they have a whole other language, you know? On their instruments. Studying that made me realize I want to be proficient in another language. I don’t want it to be jazz per se, but I’m not scared anymore. I just want to get better and try and do it every day.
What sci-fi novel or movie has had the greatest influence on Death Valley Girls?
LS: Oh, man. That’s a tough one. Wow. That’s a good question. I mean, there’s so many…
Nikki Pickle (bass): I always loved The Tommyknockers, which is a book about aliens that mind control everyone.
LS: I’d say The Omega Man. The book was The Last Man On Earth, and then they made the movie The Omega Man, and it was pretty much the dystopian post-apocalypse where pretty much no one’s left alive. There’s underground mutants, but there’s few people alive. In the film, Charlton Heston pretty much has a high-rise condo to himself. [laughs]
BB: Just like we do!
Do you? Really?
BB: Yes! [laughs] In our minds!
LS: In Death Valley.
BB: That’s what we’re trying to get in Death Valley. We’re trying to build a high-rise for just us. But also other people, too.
NP: An arcology. You know arcology? An arcology. An architect named Paolo Soleri came up with arcologies, which are self-contained space cities in their own building that have their own, like, architecture and ecology.
BB: Like Poltergeist III! We don’t like Vegas, but we’re into the idea of a casino where you have all your entertainment or restaurant options, living quarters, everything in just one building, and you never have to leave it. I don’t like leaving buildings much.
I think people assume that you’re Death Valley Girls as in like, girls from the Death Valley, but are you really, like, Valley Girls, but DEATH Valley Girls?
BB: Yeah, we’re DEATH Valley Girls! Or—yeah, we’re a gang! We’re a gang! Wherever gangs come from, that’s where we’re from! Death Valley or the Valley, it doesn’t matter, you know?
We sometimes ask if people have seen UFOs or supernatural creatures, but I feel like it’s better to ask: has a UFO or supernatural creature ever seen YOU?
BB: Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for asking that! That’s really exciting. We can study as much as we want, but it’s not been verified whether or not we’ve … that’s what this record is for: to make a difference in the supernatural realm. We’ve not yet confirmed that the supernatural realm has indeed heard of us, you know? But I feel like that’s kind of our mission. We know ghosts have and things like that, but as far as other planetary creatures … no one’s emailed us yet about that.
LS: We haven’t had the close encounter of the third kind yet.
BB: It’s gonna come for sure.
Are there any psychic prophecies you received earlier in life that you are still waiting to see if they come true?
NP: I had a palm reader once tell me that I was going to save someone’s life. I feel like it may have already happened.
BB: Really? Recently I went to a convention for all paranormal things, and I went to a psychic who’s actually one of the foremost pet psychics in all of America! She’s also a regular psychic, and she said that we have lots of traveling to do. And I’d like to see that come to fruition this year.
What kind of traveling?
BB: Well, I didn’t want to nitpick. I just imagined like, you know…
LS: Astral projection AND touring?
BB: Yeah, yeah. Astral projection’s kind of scary, though. I don’t really like flying and finding myself outside of my body. That’s something I haven’t delved into yet. I mean, I’m kind of excited for the end times just because we really want to have a compound where we can be with our friends. So maybe that’s a proxy of just the end times. I imagine we’ll all be together, kind of doing the exact same thing, except there’ll be less humans on Earth to mess up stuff for us. [laughs] To ruin our fun!
It’s interesting you say that because the whole album seems like it’s about—or at least against—loneliness; it’s about people and aliens finding each other, and about overcoming isolation.
BB: Yeah, it is. The idea of Glow In The Dark—the song and the record—is this concept that each of us has had in our own way since we were kids. That there’s something you can see in people, whether it’s psychic or whether you can actually visually see it, like an aura or something that connects and also defines a person. You can see it instantly, and that’s who we are—like, we glow in the dark, and we connect with each other instantly, or on a stream together of awareness or whatever. You know, just … we’re friends. [laughs] We’re friends!
What’s the story on ‘Summertime’? So much of this record seems like it’s happening at night or in the dark. Why does the sun come out at the end of the record?
BB: That’s interesting that you would say that. I think ‘Summertime’ is the scariest song on the record. Because it’s about like a Stockholm syndrome kind of thing. You know you have a love and you know you’re going to see it, but you don’t know when and you’re scared and you don’t want to confront it. It’s just kind of like … you can’t avoid anyone that’s on Earth. Unless they DIE, but then it’s still in your mind—and who really knows what happens after people die? You like, confront them even more. That song is a scary song, about like, ‘I’ll see you … or not,’ you know? I don’t know when I will, but I know I will and I’m really scared. I’m petrified.
Do you think somewhere deep in rock ‘n’ roll there is a fear of death? Or is it more like a motto of ‘life is short, fuck it.’ Do you guys fear death?
LS: I don’t fear it at all. I welcome the next phase.
BB: I wish people could see what happens after people die as a cool thing. I wish people could feel differently about death—that it’s not the end, it’s cool afterwards. There is nothing worse than seeing other people so sad about the death of a loved one. That’s another thing I’d want people to leave our shows with—not to worry about their loved ones dying. I have a hard time believing I survived the time I lived in New York—before I moved to L.A. and the circumstances that brought me to Larry.
I have known people who have had near-death experiences and one thing that fascinates me is their electromagnetic field changes: they can’t wear watches, they blow out street bulbs, they blow out car batteries, they are changed forever on a cellular level. They all report these visions where death is welcoming and they accept that this occurrence could be the final straw, and they all say it is wildly peaceful.
LS: I’ve had a couple moments where I thought I was dying. I remember feeling quite peaceful with the idea that I was going to die—it was almost like, ‘Oh shit—well, this is it.’ I never passed a threshold where I went into complete darkness, but I’ve experienced moments of thinking it was going to happen.
If you guys had one chance to inspire a tremendous act of love, an act of sex, or an act of selfless sacrifice, which one would you pick?