Death Valley Girls Frontwomen Bonnie Bloomgarden Shares Bold Approach to ‘Under the Spell of Joy’

Bonnie Bloomgarden, who fronts the Los Angeles-based rock ‘n’ roll band, Death Valley Girls, doesn’t waste precious time. If she’s in a tour van driving from one city to the next, she won’t put something frivolous on the radio. Instead, it’s a potentially world-changing, mind-exploding podcast. Or it’s funk music from a region in Africa recorded in the 1970s that gives her a stronger connection, in some mystical way, to community. Or, when in the studio with her stirring band, Bloomgarden is the type of bandleader who errs on the side of a burst of energy, not painstaking precision, in a given take. That’s why there is such a thick, full boldness to Death Valley Girls’ forthcoming LP, Under the Spell of Joy, out October 2nd.

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“I don’t like the moment to sound practiced,” Bloomgarden says. “I want it to sound like excited energy. To me, that’s the best sound in the world.”

There is much more in the world to enjoy, bask in and investigate than making sure one or two notes are in a tighter place on a second, third or fourth take of a song in the studio. That’s Bloomgarden’s opinion, anyway. And to say that her work benefits from this freeing mentality would be an understatement. Death Valley Girls, which formed in 2013 when former Hole drummer, Patricia Schemel, and her brother, Larry Schemel, joined Bloomgarden to jam every Friday night, has since morphed and included various members along the way. But, today, no matter who’s there to back Bloomgarden, the group’s sound is efficient and evocative. Even, spiritual.

“I thought,” Bloomgarden says, “that these songs could be mantras and chants. I want people to sing to it, I want you to think they can be your songs. I thought we could make them a physical practice that people could do, like they would be for us if we’re on tour and singing them 30 nights in a row.”

For Bloomgarden, her art is as much musical as it is mental. There are few jobs in the world, she says, that are marked by self-improvement. Growth for the band is dependent, in many ways, on the personal growth of the members, both individually and as a unit. So, to create the new LP, Bloomgarden turned inward to work on herself while simultaneously ensuring her songs could be used as tools to help others feel better or, perhaps, more comfortable with themselves.

“The more I look at this whole thing,” Bloomgarden says, “the more I realize it’s just personal growth, as weird as that is. And we’re really interested in bringing and spreading joy and just the message of rock ‘n’ roll.”  

When Bloomgarden says it was the band’s mission to provide a space for audience members to feel good, she means it. She’s walked the walk. And to underscore this philosophy, Bloomgarden wore the same band t-shirt for five years. On the shirt was the phrase, “Under the Spell of Joy,” which later became the title of the band’s new record. But that’s just how deeply Bloomgarden believes in the mission. If she could truly cast a spell of joy, who’s to know what necessary and abundant creative fruits might come to bear?

“I got the shirt as a gift from a band called, Joy,” Bloomgarden says. “We knew that idea was the goal and there was other title for the record. That message was what it had to be.”

The forthcoming 11-track album incorporates many delectable sonic elements. In one moment a screeching saxophone might swell and burst. In another a distant, howling organ might crawl through your eardrums. Drums crash, guitars bolt and Bloomgarden’s vocals appear in shadowy collections, disappear and reemerge throughout the pleasantly stupefying work.

“I walk every day and that opens my mind,” Bloomgarden says. “I like the channel melodies while walking the dog. Almost all of the songs came from those walks. Everyone else had a few ideas and we built them from there. Sometimes I don’t even know what the other guys are doing – it’s like, ‘We’ve played that four times, now let’s record it!’”

Bloomgarden likes improvisation, likes flying creatively by the seat of her pants. She first became interested in music while in school after finding out about legendary singer, Billie Holiday. How Holiday needed music, needed to create – that’s what Bloomgarden wanted in her life, too. For her, everything else is scaffolding to the beacon of that endeavor. But her aim is not a selfish one. The goal is to create the thing that can then be used to bring people together, experience happiness, learn from one another and get a chance to dance off some of that seemingly ubiquitous life-given stress and tension.

“People need to connect,” Bloomgarden says. “And there’s something so special about music. For me, in high school, there was nothing more important to me than people – even the adults – knowing the bands I loved.”

PHOTO BY @shitshowdave

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