Failed utopia

The cult of Death Valley Girls

Bonnie Bloomgarden is still front-and-center with L.A.’s Death Valley Girls.

Bonnie Bloomgarden is still front-and-center with L.A.’s Death Valley Girls.

Photo by Michael Haight

Death Valley Girls perform Sunday, Nov. 11, 8:30 p.m.. Gymshorts open.
Tickets: $10 (at the door and
Duffy’s Tavern337 Main St.

The cries of “rock is dead” seem to be coming more frequently in recent years, from music writers as well as from the dinosaurs who got rich off of it decades ago. That sentiment is as lazy as it is untrue. However, there is a simple element of rock that seems to have been lost through the ages.

The art of entertaining and putting on a show—once a pillar of rock ’n’ roll—has gone the way of the drum solo (OK, drum solos can go). Well, Death Valley Girls’ Bonnie Bloomgarden isn’t having it. Her Los Angeles band takes a very egalitarian approach to rock ’n’ roll, while also trying to keep a certain mystique—even in a time when you can see once unapproachable rock stars posting dinner selfies on Instagram.

“Our policy was to be mysterious,” Bloomgarden said. “We just wanted to create a special night for people. Rock ’n’ roll should bring people together. We believe that we’re entertainers, so we don’t get political … unless it’s people treating people poorly.”

Death Valley Girls’ live performances recall the “satanic panic” of the 1980s, with members clad in black capes, with “666” and pentagrams scrawled on their foreheads, like runaways who found refuge in a satanic cult (you could say it’s all been done before, but it’s not done nearly enough). The band’s just-released third record, Darkness Rains, its first on Suicide Squeeze, continues the lipstick-and- eyeliner glam, punk sneer and B-movie sleaze of the previous records, and adds a few more layers of unsettling noise. It’s the soundtrack for what Bloomgarden calls the essence of Death Valley Girls: “The idea of a failed utopia.”

Actually, the members mostly get their kicks from the paranormal, as well as ’60s and ’70s horror flicks, themes that go back to the band’s 2014 debut for Burger Records, Street Venom. Bloomgarden doesn’t shy away from telling stories of the band’s run-in with a mummy, or even the origins of their own songs. She says she often “writes” lyrics in the studio, right before they record. Or rather …

“These ideas don’t come from any of us,” said Bloomgarden, without a trace of irony. “They come from outer space. The studio is a super psychic experience.”

Whether they’re beamed from space, or conjured from the subconscious, songs like “TV in Jail on Mars” and “Born Again and Again” sound otherworldly, with Bloomgarden’s wail piercing through droning desert riffs. The band is exactly what its name implies.

Although Bloomgarden studied jazz and owns quite a jazz collection, it was the debut from Black Sabbath that set her on her path. She formed Death Valley Girls with current guitarist Larry Schemel and former drummer Patty Schemel (yes, that Patty Schemel, previously of Hole), and has since brought in new disciples for this gang, including bassist Pickle, drummer The Kid and a rotation of other guest players.

Death Valley Girls continue to invade cities, spreading the powers of rock ’n’ roll, and forever in search of the paranormal. The band recently opened for L7 and the video for the new single “Disaster (Is What We’re After)” features Iggy Pop eating a hamburger in a loving nod to an Andy Warhol film short. It seems the cult is only growing. Get on board, or, as Bloomgarden jokingly puts it, get lost.

“It’s our religion,” she said. “It’s just as hokey as any other religion. We believe in rock ’n’ roll and cool stuff. If people think we’re dumb then they’re stupid.”