Death Valley Girls look like they moonlight as a biker gang and sound like a combination of riot grrrl attitude mixed with Link Wray fuzz appeal. If it weren’t for their contagious smiles and supernatural predilections, I probably would’ve been too scared to even talk to them. Just last year, the band – currently Bonnie Bloomgarden, Laura Kelsey, Jessie Jones and Larry Schemel – broke through my musical consciousness with Street Venom, their debut critics called “snarly,” “fist-pumping” rock ‘n’ roll. They classify themselves as “California doom boogie,” which makes total sense when you listen to their songs. Imagine beautiful Manson girls (and Larry) in leather jackets with Harley’s in the distance, grinding their axes and pounding the skins so hard you actually forget it’s 2015.
I met up with Bonnie and Laura, aka The Kid, at the Echo Park Lake one very hungover Sunday afternoon. We talked about their new album, alien sex, seeing a mummy and their show at the Natural History Museum for the opening of the new exhibit, Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs. Mummy coincidence? More like cosmic mummy serendipity. –Maya Eslami
What Youth: Tell me about your show on Thursday.
Bonnie: It’s the 29th, at the Natural History Museum for the mummy exhibit. It’s important, we’re bringing healers, past life people, my friend that’s a medium, just to make it chill. Everyone’s like, “Don’t fuck with the Egyptian dead.” We’re not. But I don’t think they’ve ever had a live rock ‘n’ roll concert before, at their faces. So if they wake up, then we want to be prepared and psyched, and we want them to know rock ‘n’ roll is how you say I love you. They don’t know they’re mummies, they died as these Egyptian cool dogs, and then they’re mummies now, so that might be scary? I feel like love might be more important. And if they do wake up, it’ll be cool because we’re there to love them and there’s people to guide them through it.
I heard you recently saw a mummy in Echo Park.
Laura: Bonnie and I saw a mummy, we have not seen her since.
How do you know it’s a girl?
Bonnie: She had tits.
Laura: Definitely female.
Bonnie: We were walking down the street and the mummy was trying to get into the gas station all like (makes mummy noises). The gas station dude wouldn’t let the mummy in, and then Kid’s like, do you think that person looks weird?
Wait. Start from the beginning. Where’d you see the mummy?
Bonnie: Down the street, at the gas station (on Morton and Echo Park Ave., if you’re curious). It was a Monday, of all days. It was just the body, like there wasn’t the wrapping. It was the remains of a human walking around. She didn’t have a jaw. Just bones wrapped in leather. Obviously it was a mummy, because who else walks around with remains? At some point Laura was like, aren’t you scared?
Laura: Bonnie wasn’t scared.
Bonnie: I just thought we could put our finger through the mummy if something bad happened. We could just put our hand through it and push it away if it was trying to hurt us.
Laura: The next day we did a radio show.
Bonnie: We had the platform. We were going on KXLU anyway-
Laura: To talk about the mummy, to try and get information, but no one ever – nothing ever came [of it]. But then Natural History Museum just approached us and asked us to play the mummy exhibit, without any prior knowledge.
Bonnie: The dude at the radio station was like, “You need to ask the Natural History Museum if they’re missing any mummies!” And then at some point Sean, our roommate’s girlfriend, said “Do you know there’s a mummy exhibit right now at the Natural History Museum?” And then I looked on Twitter to just see about it. The Natural History Museum lady, she’s really good at Twitter. I really like her. I didn’t want to tell her we saw a mummy because I didn’t want her to think we were crazy, so I was just like, “Hey do you have girl mummies?” And she wrote back, “Yeah we have tons of girl mummies.” And I wrote back, “Cool man! Can’t wait to see your exhibit.” And then somebody wrote us back, “Do you wanna see it? How about play it?” and we were all, “Oh my god, what the fuck.” And then it happened. It’s okay if you don’t believe in the Echo Park mummy but you should believe that we have a show at the fucking mummy exhibit and that’s not a coincidence. We just recorded a new record and I would say the mummy is strong, there’s lots of mummy influence for sure.
Laura: Recorded right down the street, too.
Bonnie: At Station House. We only record there.
Can you tell me about the new record?
Bonnie: It’s called Glow In The Dark. We have this thing, the Cosmic Underground. It’s sort of our collective. Everyone is trying to make rock ‘n’ roll into all these isms, taking away shit from rock ‘n’ roll, but we just want rock ‘n’ roll, you know? So the Cosmic Underground is the belief in believing. That’s what the record’s about. Like, “Glow in the Dark,” at night you can tell us apart, because you glow in the dark. And that’s how we see each other.
Laura: It’s about pink radiation.
Bonnie: She wrote that song and sang it. Lots of gang vocals, like Sly and the Family Stone singing. We do have some stuff about gangs. We’re a gang. Maybe there might be a song about us being girls. Perhaps.
How’d the recording process go?
Bonnie: We had it in our minds like, oh we’re gonna record. But then it crept up on us, and two days before [we recorded] I was like, this is bad. Jessie came and slept over, and the day before Laura came over with “Pink Radiation.” Just being in the next room, I woke up and wrote all the words really fast, met her for coffee, like, alright we’re doing this. And then after, everyone went to work, did all these normal things. And for me, I just blew up my mind to try and write fucking words! Which is crazy to have to do.
Laura: She hates writing words.
Bonnie: We had to write, even though we could’ve gone and done anything else and just wrote it that fucking day like we knew we were gonna. We tried to practice everyday, and then it was for nothing. We didn’t do anything until that day. There’s no point in planning, that’s another thing. Don’t do things for the future, just only that day you’re in because everything changes.
Tell me about your alien obsession?
Bonnie: Last night, we played a show with Part Time. There was this dude dressed up as an alien and I couldn’t — I don’t know what it was but we were just like, “Hey alien!” We couldn’t stop wanting to be near him. We knew he was a human, but he couldn’t talk or really see us exactly or hear us because of his mask, so he really seemed like an alien.
Laura: We had no idea what this guy really looked like. He actually was just an alien.
Did you ever find out who he was?
Bonnie: Yeah, totally.
Laura: He got scared.
Bonnie: I had to apologize.
Laura: We tried to abduct him.
Bonnie: He was in the van, and I was like, “Just in all fairness, what if we needed to rent you for two days? What if we took you, because we think you’re an alien. Would that be so wrong?” And then he started to get a little scared, he was like, “I have to go to work.” But it really got me thinking, we really wanted to just show him things. We just want to show [aliens] stuff. I think that we would be the best people to introduce aliens to the world.
Laura: We’ll be the ambassadors to the world.
Bonnie: I just think when we prove how good we do with the mummies coming back, maybe they’ll let us take care of the aliens. And The Kid wants me to say that I never understood role play in sex before or whatever.
Laura: She wants to have sex with an alien.
Bonnie: Now I understand it. Like, “Oh poor alien, you don’t know, but you want to know. I could show you.”
Laura: I want to show you.
Bonnie: Only if he wants to.
Where does “The Kid” come from?
Laura: The second time I ever practiced with them, I didn’t even know if I was officially a member of the band yet.
Bonnie: We asked her out.
Laura: Bonnie was like, “I’m trying to think of a name, I’m thinking ‘The Kid,’ but I don’t really like it that much, but it’ll do for now.”
Bonnie: You liked it. We used to have another drummer, and Patty (Schemel)’s like fucking ruling.
Laura: I play drums like a kid.
Bonnie: When you’re used to looking over at one person, and every time you go over, it’s this little guy. She just seemed so young to me. You know when someone gets their braces off, every day I’d be like, “Did you get your braces off? She’s The Kid!” Just this little kid was there. We were like, where’s The Kid? And then you liked it.
Anymore nicknames in the band?
Bonnie: There’s Larry, he plays guitar and he’s really nice. He’s just Lar. Vinyl Larry. He’s Larry. Lare bear. Like in the hashtag of our mind, it’s just Larry. And Jessie’s Space Egg. We knew we were borrowing this magical space egg when we first went on tour with her, we knew this was Burger’s little baby and we had to be so gentle with the egg and not lose her or break her. Take care of the space egg. It’s the space egg in the van. We got the twins, the other guy, and then Space Egg. And then we have a new bass player who just moved to New York but that’s totally okay cuz she’s our Mama.
Laura: We’re waiting for her return.
Bonnie: I don’t really have any good nicknames.
What about your Facebook name, Bonnie Wandgarden?
Bonnie: Wand is the best band. Sometimes there’s a band for you, and sometimes there’s not. And there wasn’t a band for us until we saw Wand. They go where bands we love from the past couldn’t have gone, and that’s just insane to me.
Laura: She changed her name [on Facebook] as a joke but then realized she could only change it every 90 days.
Bonnie: And I wrote them, like, “My friend did it as a joke, please!” Facebook never got back to me. And then people that were writing about us, they started writing Bonnie Wandgarden. Like, alright. My name, I think it’s so ridiculous, it’s just begging to be changed to Wandgarden.
Where’d you come up with Death Valley Girls?
Bonnie: I think Larry had a dream about it. We were gonna be called Ex Ghost. When we started the band, we had to think of a name, and for some reason I was obsessed with Lost [at the time]. I’d never seen it before, and I just stayed home and watched the whole thing. The whole time, I just wrote names. And now I have a list of 175 names, and the only one we could agree on was Ex Ghost. There was one called Birdless. There were so many names that were so funny to me. The Sweet Jezettes. Just out of nowhere, in this daze. And then Larry was like, what about Death Valley Girls? And it worked.
It makes me think of the Manson girls.
Bonnie: That’s what it’s about! It’s the idea of Death Valley as this post-apocalyptic town. Like, who are the Death Valley Girls? Fucking Manson bitches doing harm, but no, we’re not. We’re not gonna do that.
They’re gonna make rock ‘n’ roll.