A buzzing favorite of the Los Angeles psych-rock scene and purveyors of the occult, Death Valley Girls push themselves into an even darker, more psychedelic experimentation with their new album, Darkness Rains.
Ahead of a tour across some of Europe’s most haunted cities, including Reims, France; Aarhus, Denmark; and Groningen, Netherlands, Death Valley Girls bring their darkness south to San Diego this weekend for a show at Soda Bar. Fans familiar with their lively performances will be pleased to recognize the band’s telltale thrash & bash style in Darkness Rains, though there’s a greater influence at work in this energetic album.
The glitter and glam take a backseat to eerie evocations in the band’s latest release, proving darkness truly reigns in Darkness Rains.
Music For Holidays On Mars
Formed in 2013 by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Bonnie Bloomgarden and guitarist Larry Schemel in L.A.’s Echo Park, Death Valley Girls cull their aesthetic from a range of enigmatic influences, including power chord-laden classic rock, the otherworldliness of outer space, and a lifetime of counter-culture captivation. Naturally, these led a teenaged Bloomgarden into punk DIY spaces like The Smell in L.A. to seek out the surreal, from which the roots of Death Valley Girls strengthened and darkened.
“Our childhood influences still play a huge part in what we do,” said Bloomgarden about the band’s five-year journey. “Not a lot has changed really. We still have the same vision of our outer space rock ‘n’ roll band, it’s just gotten more refined and the songwriting has become a bit more widescreen.”
In at least one way, Death Valley Girls’ songwriting has expanded to the widescreen quite literally, as the spunky punk band was featured in mainstream media such as Grey’s Anatomy, selected by celebrated music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas.
“It’s great and so surreal to hear our music in TV shows!” said Bloomgarden. “The one big plus about it is that family members who won’t be going out to rock shows anytime soon can hear us in their favorite network TV dramas.”
From “widescreen” to “outer space rock ‘n’ roll” and more, Death Valley Girls evoke many eccentric descriptions as they dance across the blurred line between life and death with ethereal, elegiac and energetic music. Suitable for both primetime television and underground rock shows, Death Valley Girls have dubbed the evolved sound of Darkness Rains with appropriate abnormality.
“Music for holidays on Mars,” said Bloomgarden when asked to describe their new sound with a tour underway and a new album released. “Since that’s gonna be a real thing very soon!”
Depression, Then Extreme Happiness
Influenced equally by the ghosts of rock ‘n’ roll past as well as dystopian prospects in the cosmos, Darkness Rains recalls the “dark mystics from the ‘70s,” as their website explains, as if summoned into the studio through a Ouija board. In fact, Bloomgarden and Schemel wrote and recorded the album with a rotating cast of compatriots, the unique energy of each further elevating their supercharged, spiritual sound.
“The record was written in between tours over a few months when we could fit in time to write together,” said Bloomgarden. “Some songs we wrote very quick and they slowly evolved live on the road, which meant song structure would change or lyrics would too.”
“We love the minimalism and simplicity of a lot of ‘60s garage rock, but we also love the more dynamic sounds of ‘70s groups like Alice Cooper, The Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath, as well as the more fun upbeat vibes of the B52’s and X-Ray Spex. We made an effort in our songwriting to stretch out a bit and not be afraid to try some more strange ideas like the bands we love. Some of the songs had certain parts that just came together in the studio and we’d get inspired to put a synth or sax in the mix! ‘Unzip Your Forehead’ stands out as a fun and challenging tune for us to work on in the studio.”
Rolling tom drums beat behind “Unzip Your Forehead” to a ritualistic tempo, over which Schemel weaves a mesmerizing guitar melody that memorializes the ghosts of grunge that had laid the groundwork for the genre. Bloomgarden’s voice slows to a haunting chant in the chorus over wheezing horns and tinkling tambourines, an auditory amalgam that is as impressively dark as it is undeniably fun.
“It’s never too much of a conscience decision to write the songs with that vibe in mind, it just comes out with that sort of sound. I think it’s just all our personalities coming out in the music … depression, then extreme happiness! [Laughs]”
Rock ‘N’ Roll Ghosts
Since the band’s inception, Death Valley Girls have created music for dancing in the darkness, but they delve deeper with Darkness Rains. As they explain on their website, while sophomore album Glow In The Dark was based on the pursuit of enlightenment, Darkness Rains “goes a step further, attempting to shift the consciousness of those that have not yet considered how we are all connected and how that relates to the way we view life beyond death.”
“Darkness Rains does have a bit more of a darker side to it than Glow In The Dark,” explains Bloomgarden, “which was in part due to the influence of what’s going on in the world today (without getting too political). That dark cloud has definitely made its way into our music.”
Feeling like an afterparty at a crematorium, Darkness Rains pairs the most boisterous parts of life with a ceremonial salute to death and the afterlife. Guitar riffs pulsate with energy in every song, but Bloomgarden’s haunting vocals and ominous lyrics linger on like literal ghosts long after listening to the ominous lines of the last song, “T.V. in Jail on Mars.”
“Los Angeles and San Francisco have a rich history of modern occultism. We find it a fascinating subject, and strange that’s it’s still terrifying to some,” said Bloomgarden. “We spend more time researching paranormal activities in Los Angeles — there’s a lot of spirits in the Hollywood hills.”
“I bet the site of the old Casbah club is haunted by some old rock ‘n’ roll ghosts!”
Death Valley Girls will perform at Soda Bar in San Diego on December 14, 2018. Buy your ticket here.