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“Everybody’s gotta be in a gang,” is the slogan for Death Valley Girls. It’s lifted from the classic 1975 film “The Switchblade Sisters”—a story about the roughest and toughest gang of high school girls. A perfect motto, since Death Valley Girls is a rock and roll gang made up of the sweetest cats, with the sharpest claws.
Tatted, buckled, and booted, the psych-rock group is comprised of Bonnie Bloomgarden (lead vocals/guitar/keys), Nicole “Pickle” Smith (bass/vocals), Laura “the Kid” Kelsey (drum/vocals), and Larry Schemel (lead guitar). They lurk in the shadows of sunny L.A in search of anyone in need of some killer tunes.
Bloomgarden and Schemel met years ago and immediately clicked, they formed Death Valley Girls in 2013 and everything fell into place; it’s like the cosmos aligned perfectly for them to get together and add their touch to the rock and roll world.
The name Death Valley Girls came from Schemel who had thought of it on the way to their first show. At that time they were going by the name Ex Ghost, but on the drive over they decided it wasn’t good enough. Bloomgarden says Schemel offered up the name Death Valley Girls and everyone thought it was perfect.
“I think it really explains this clumsy desert cult–esque, don’t-trust-us-with-your-wallets thing,” Bloomgarden tells BTRtoday.
As a band heavily influenced by the ‘60s and ‘70s sexual revolution and strong minded/fierce women, their look and style obviously reflect that. Their live stage attire usually includes a groovy and colorful ‘60s patterned mini-dresses, black deep-v laced up shirts, or kick-ass over-the-knee leather boots.
Bloomgarden confesses that Poison Ivy from The Cramps is one of her biggest influences and favorite femme-fatales.
Death Valley Girls take the colors of the ‘60s Whiskey-A-Go-Go dancers and blend it in with the punk rocker’s all black, ripped up, look from the ‘70s. So pretty much if you combine the style of Twiggy with that of the Ramones or Patti Smith, that’s the style of Death Valley Girls—their sound reflects a similar style.
Death Valley Girls don’t just write their thoughts down, they channel their anger, love, and confusion to create a sound that hits you like a bolt of lightning. Bloomgarden’s catchy vocals mirror an early Debbie Harry, backed with guttural screeches, hip-possessing melodies, and beats that’ll make your blood pressure rise.
Just a few weeks ago they released the album “Glow In The Dark.” Bloomgarden explains that the album title came from a show they played at the Natural History Museum in Chicago. They were playing amongst 1,000 year-old mummies, and the band had the idea that if they could play good enough and create some real rock and roll, that they could wake the dead.
“We’re into that concept that if we get together we can make magic and power,” Bloomgarden describes. “They way you do that is, first, you have to find out if you glow in the dark, and that was the main thing—this visual aura you can sense get from someone.” However, she also states that in the beginning stages of Death Valley Girls they didn’t really have a clear goal or agenda. “We just started as human beings that needed to get some rock and roll out of our bodies.”
Bloomgarden feels like the band has a clear purpose now. Their music has a more refined sound and they’ve tailored their lyrics and melodies to be more about what the band represents—which is to spread some real rock and roll around to everybody.
Album artwork courtesy of the band.
One of the tracks off of “Glow In The Dark,” entitled, “I’m A Man Too,” does exactly that. It has every bit a rock and roll song should have—fast hits on the high hat, vocals that sound like they’re truly coming from the heart, and guitar riffs that pull you into the night. The lyrics sound angry, but also educate.
Bloomgarden explains that currently the world is going through its third sexual revolution, and this track blossomed straight from the idea that no one has the right to say who isn’t and who is a man.
The chorus, “if you’re a man, then I’m a man too; if you’re a man, I’m twice the man as you,” conveys its strong feminist agenda, but without losing the sexuality aspect of it.
“We are as much for sexuality as we are for gender–so this is a song about that,” she explains, putting an emphasis on equality. She adds that people sometimes mistake feminism with removing sexuality, but that’s not what it’s about. “We’re into equality is probably the best way to put it,” she concludes.
Though Death Valley Girls have songs with strong feminist undertones, Bloomgarden says in no way are they trying to be known for their feminism. “We really respective what feminism has brought, but this is rock and roll,” she says, explaining that they want to assure people that feminism means gender equality and they want to convey that, but the rock and roll comes first.
“Feminist or not, this is the third great sexual revolution–gender is out.”
Really, if Quentin Tarantino needed a rock band to film or ever decided to go back to his roots of horror-art, with blood soaked strong female characters, he should start by getting the babes (and hunk) of Death Valley Girls to be his leading roles.
This past Thursday they played their record release party at The Echo in L.A., with Peach Kelli Pop and Frankie & The Witch Fingers. They’ll be playing with The Coathangers, another past Discovery Corner artist, in San Francisco on August 19th, and Desert Daze festival in Joshua Tree, CA, in October.
To hear the full interview, tune into this week’s episode of The Discovery Corner!