It’s been said that rock ’n’ roll is dead. But for the members of Los Angeles outfit Death Valley Girls, that statement is grossly inaccurate.
For them, rock ’n’ roll is a way of life. They’ll be returning to the desert on Saturday, July 16, for a show at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.
Fronted by Bonnie Bloomgarden, Death Valley Girls also includes guitarist Larry Schemel (brother of former Hole drummer Patty Schemel), bassist Nikki Pickle and the drummer, known simply as “The Kid.” They have taken psychedelic rock and have made it their own, creating what they call an “acid-tripping science experiment.” Their music is a haze of prog rock, psychedelic rock and good old fashioned balls-to-the-wall rock ’n’ roll.
“I think rock ’n’ roll means everything,” Bloomgarden said during a recent phone interview. “It’s sort of like a religion. We live like nomads, with (few) belongings, in the name of rock ’n’ roll. It’s the legend we grew up with, the people we believe in, and it’s what makes us feel whole. I think that’s what religion does for other people. Recently, I’ve been thinking it’s our religion. The more I think about it, the more I think that’s what Christianity or other religion does for some people: It fills them with love, hope and gives you your answers, and it gives you a platform to ask your questions.”
Death Valley Girls did not get off to a smooth start.
“It’s a weird time in music. It took us about six months to book our first show,” Bloomgarden said. “We’re old school, so we were like, ‘We have to record some songs, and that’s how people will book us for shows.’ We didn’t go through the friend channel; we went through more of the idea that the music should speak for itself—which it unfortunately doesn’t.”
The band’s name is a reference to a true-crime story.
“Larry came up with the name,” Bloomgarden said. “It’s sort of a nod to a Mansonesque dream of a utopia in Death Valley, and it’s a play on words with a kind of attitude.”
Of course, the name is not a literal interpretation, so having a male member is just fine with them.
“People love flak and giving it for some reason, but to us, if anyone is focused on the words ‘Death,’ ‘Valley,’ or ‘Girls,’ it’s ridiculous. It’s three words together,” Bloomgarden said. “It’s a band name, and we don’t worry too much about what people want to think or find out. I’m not a huge fan of the word ‘girls’ being in band names, but I like our name just fine.”
Death Valley Girls has released two albums to date: Street Venom in 2014, and the brand-new Glow in the Dark.
“The first record, we had rock ’n’ roll in our souls that we needed to get out and get out of our minds, and the only way to get songs out of your mind is to record them,” she said of Street Venom. “This record serves a purpose for the greater good, we hope. It’s a culmination of everything we learned as a band coming together, and (we made) this record with intention and purpose in two days. Looking back on it, we realized this is meaningful to us.”
Glow in the Dark was inspired by an unusual gig.
“This record came from this idea to play this show at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles for a mummy exhibit,” Bloomgarden said. “We realized that these mummies had been in a museum since 1890 in Chicago, and they just moved them to Los Angeles for this exhibit, and they had probably never heard rock ’n’ roll before. We wanted to make a set for them, to introduce them to rock ’n’ roll and wake them up. … We realized we should record it on a record, and that should be our baseline for where we record from moving forward: waking the dead, or introducing them to rock ’n’ roll.”
That show, Bloomgarden swore, was not her first experience with a mummy.
“We saw a mummy walking around two months before the mummy show, and that’s how this thing sort of came to be. I guess that mummy had to be reawakened. After that, I do believe people can be awoken from the dead,” she said. “I’m more confused about this than I ever have been, but me and The Kid were walking down my street, and at the gas station, there was the mummified remains of a human being. She was trying to get into the gas station, and she had bosoms. She was making the mummy sound, and it wasn’t a human about to die: It was a human who had been mummified and dead for thousands of years. This is just a fact. I’ve never seen anything like it, and that’s why we contacted the museum, to see if they had any mummies missing. … It changed our life, so it’s all for the better we saw the mummy.”
Both of Death Valley Girls’ albums have been released by Burger Records. The indie label and its subsidiaries have released numerous indie albums, including a cassette by local band CIVX. Many bands have gained exposure thanks to Burger Records, during an era when promoting rock ’n’ roll records is harder than ever.
“Burger Records are the best people; they’re music historians, music enthusiasts and rock ’n’ roll lifers,” Bloomgarden said. “They give people a chance and teach kids about old rock ’n’ roll that many wouldn’t think would see the light of day again. For that, we are forever grateful.
“I think of what they did with cassettes a few years ago. … It’s cheaper; it’s more compact; and you can share them with other bands on tour, because every other band has a tape-player in their van. … Cassette culture brought more people back to music. They definitely started that for sure.”
The band is opening for Jesika Von Rabbit, queen of the high desert music scene.
“I can’t wait to see Jesika Von Rabbit play. We’ve always wanted to play with her, and we love Pappy and Harriet’s,” Bloomgarden said. “We’re excited to get to get loose in the desert and look up in the sky and get to see stuff. We don’t have many stars out here, so any chance we get to go to the desert is awesome.
“They have a horse at Pappy and Harriet’s that you can pet, and that’s exciting too.”
When I told Bloomgarden that the nachos on the menu at Pappy and Harriet’s are named after Jesika Von Rabbit, she was thrilled.
“What an honor! Maybe we can eat her nachos with her—that’d be so cool!” she said.
Death Valley Girls will perform with Jesika Von Rabbit and The Shadow Mountain Band at 8:30 p.m., Saturday, July 16, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $10. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.