Spellbound By Death Valley Girls

The California band taps into “the power in intention” with the band’s fourth album, Under the Spell of Joy

Death Valley Girls (Art: Ron Hart)

Calling from her Los Angeles home, Death Valley Girls vocalist / guitarist Bonnie Bloomgarden explains how she sought to tap into “the power in intention” with the band’s fourth album, Under the Spell of Joy (released October 2 on Suicide Squeeze Records).

“We made it to be a choral, spiritual record,” she says. “They’re all songs to sing along to about different topics, and guide you and us through different situations. Because we sing these songs hundreds of times, they have to mean more than just a love song. We have to make it better than that. We have the opportunity to do something so powerful – so that’s what we try to do.”

To accomplish this goal, Bloomgarden says, the band took a very deliberate approach when they began formulating these songs at the start of this year. “We spent three months just considering what’s important: How to grow, what is growing, how does that relate to what we do every day? What are we saying? What are we saying it for? How can it improve our lives? How can it prove everyone’s lives?”

Death Valley Girls Under The Spell Of Joy, Suicide Squeeze 2020

Bloomgarden took these questions very seriously: “I just thought. All day long, in a bunch of different ways. Just considering stuff. And then in February, we just jammed stuff out. In March, the first five days, we went in [the studio] and improvised, and prayed that we could channel the music in that time. It was just a really fortunate, spontaneous recording.

“Me, I don’t like that to really sound rehearsed or practiced,” Bloomgarden continues. “That’s not really how we work – but it is scary, because we have gone in the studio and nothing comes out. We just sit there. I don’t write the words until we’re there. It’s a totally terrifying experience, the way we do it. And I dread it so much. But then when it does happen, it feels so good to be in there and communicate non-verbally, psychically, with people playing a song that you barely know. It’s really cool. You’re recording not just a song, but a moment in time.”

Death Valley Girls 2020 (Art: Ron Hart / Photo: @shitshowdave)

In truth, though, the overall concept for Under the Spell of Joy began a few years ago, when a San Diego-based metal band Joy gave Bloomgarden a band T-shirt that read “under the spell of Joy.” Bloomgarden became obsessed with the shirt, to the point where, as she admits, for the next five years “I wore it every day. For real. You go through our Instagram, every picture of me not on stage is in that shirt, and it just became the most important thing in the world to me.”

When asked why she became so attached to that shirt and its message, Bloomgarden says, “Something about being ‘under the spell of joy’ just allows you to give space between you and the next person, and if you meet someone with joy, the ability for them to meet you back with joy is so much greater than if you meet someone with fear or uncertainty or negativity or anxiety. When you vibrate at joy, it brings up everyone’s possibility to, in turn, vibrate at the level of joy.”

The resulting album is indeed joyful sounding, full of the kind of retro-yet-futuristic psychedelic garage rock that Death Valley Girls have been playing since their 2014 debut album, Street Venom. Bloomgarden believes that Under the Spell of Joy has captured their distinctive essence well: “I really like this record. I think we’re just becoming the most ourselves we’ve ever been, as people and as a band. And I think that’s the most important thing.”


VIDEO: Death Valley Girls Virtual Amoeba In-Store Performance 

To promote the album, Death Valley Girls have been doing livestreams – but these tend to be a little different than the way other artists are doing them: the latest one, for example, involved teaching fans about levitation and, as Bloomgarden explains it, “a lesson on astral projection, and then we all meet up in the astral plane.” 

Bloomgarden began learning how to be this type of uninhibited, free-spirited performer from a young age. “Ever since I was five [years old] and I found out about Billie Holiday I just was like, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she says. She went on to study jazz at Hunter College in New York City, then returned to her native L.A. and formed Death Valley Girls with musicians she met on the scene and via family friends.

Now, four albums in with Under the Spell of Joy, Bloomgarden feels she and her band have a clear vision for what they want their music to do.

“Our goal is perpetuating the splendor of escapism and rock and roll and being yourself, living your dream and manifesting. It’s all-inclusive, our message,” she says. “I just hope everybody finds a place and some times to be happy. Just some times. It doesn’t have to be all the time. But sometimes. Sometimes you have to be happy!”



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Katherine Yeske Taylor

Katherine Yeske Taylor began her rock critic career in Atlanta in the late '80s, when she interviewed Georgia musical royalty such as the Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and the Black Crowes while she was still a teenager. Since then, she has done hundreds of interviews with a wide range of artists. She has written for dozens of magazines, including The Big Takeover, Aquarian Weekly, Stomp & Stammer, Creative Loafing, Jam Magazine, Color Red, Boston Rock, and many others. She contributed to two books (several entries for The Trouser Press Guide to the '90s, and a chapter for Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama). Additionally, she has written liner notes and artist bios for several major acts. She currently lives in New York City.  

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