Under the Spell of Joy is the newest album from Los Angeles psych-pop and garage-rock band Death Valley Girls. The album is also theatrical, blurring the line between rock and spirituality with choral singing.
Singer and multi-instrumentalist Bonnie Bloomgarden discusses the latest Death Valley Girls record, meditation, and wielding magic like the mystics.
How’re you holding up this year? 2020 has been crazy for everyone, but you released an EP and have a new album.
There’s no way I could have ever possibly imagined the world to look like this, and I think that we feel super, super lucky that we, just a couple days before the lockdown, finished recording. I think that no matter how hard things get, I keep on focusing, laser focused, on that fact. We got to record, and I don’t know how I would be dealing with this personally if we didn’t have a record, if we didn’t get it out of our bodies and just had to sit here this whole time thinking about our record, that would be completely devastating. Yeah, I feel like just remembering something that gives you something to look forward to and it keeps you healthy I think.
What was it like making Under the Spell of Joy?
This record was really different in a lot of ways. We knew how we wanted it to feel to make it and how we wanted it to feel to listen to, and we knew that it was gonna be a spiritual record and a choral record, and it’s meant to be sang to. It’s kind of almost like a sport or something, like a cross between music and sports in a weird way, but we knew all that before we knew what the songs were. I spent a really long time trying to learn how to channel and reach the Akashic Records, which is a very strange thing, but it’s all the information of the past, present, and future on this plane, or dimension. I didn’t exactly tap into that, but all the songs were channeled. They came out so strangely. Now, I’m still trying to figure out what they even mean. It’s a bizarre, more physical, but less mentally exhausting process, opening up your body and mind to information. To be honest that’s what happened.
I read about you trying to wield magic like the mystics. What does that look like?
Yeah! Well, there was just like this very clear moment… we’ve just been listening to a lot of podcasts and different things that are about meditation, chanting, spirit guides, and the astral planes and all this stuff. We were like, ‘What is this? Why are we drawn to it? Why are so many people drawn to this? Is it a lack of religion that we have? Or, is rock and roll our religion and all this stuff?’ It kind of became clear that we’re so connected, all of us, and it seems like it’s because of a spiritual plane or spirit guides, or this supernatural thing that surrounds us that the more you think about the more you see. I’ve been learning meditation in ways to get closer to this realm and learning to sit and channel, which is kind of open yourself up to be available for these songs to come through. In the past, we always kind of knew these songs weren’t really ours. They would just come to us from… we didn’t know where. We would joke and be like, ‘They came from space.’ This time we were like, ‘No, I think it has something to do with us, it’s not just magic, it’s not just like they fly into our heads.’ I think that either they exist in the future or a different dimension, or whatever it is. We just sat with it with a lot of time and space, and instead of jamming it out or doing the music part of it, it was considered and gave space to the ideas of the song for three months and then only worked on the actual music for a couple weeks and then recorded, which is super stressful and seems like a huge mistake at the time when we got in the studio, ‘Oh my god, I have no words for it.’ I think that’s our process, thinking, at least for this one, thinking and absorbing and considering, and then the music just kind of came instantly, and pretty much most of the stuff is first takes, or first or second time we played those song, which is also weird.
The title Under the Spell of Joy came from a t-shirt. Can you elaborate on that? We’re living in strange times and need all the joy we can get.
Yeah! Thanks for reminding me. There’s this band JOY from San Diego that we love. Such a good band, and they gave us these shirts. I think it was Larry [Schemel]’s birthday five years ago or something, went down to them in San Diego, and they gave us these shirts that said Under the Spell of Joy.I wore it almost every day. If you look through our Instagram or anything, almost every picture of me not on stage, I’m wearing that shirt, andit became me. It was just the most important phrase in the world. Everything about it made sense to me, this idea that joy is different than happiness or anything else. It’s a state. It’s like a place. It allows space, and being with joy makes it so that you’re not reactive. You go about yourself, go about the world, and walk around. Joy kind of gives you a distance between yourself and with what’s happening so you’re not reactive. You’re just going with the flow in a way. It meant so much to all of us. We were just like, ‘That makes so much sense! We’re under the spell of the potential for joy and the possibility for joy.’ And in that is so many things. Stuff is so hard right now, and it seems like, man, this is not a good time to be spouting off about joy and happiness, but maybe it is. Maybe it is the time to do that, because our individual selves aren’t what matters, it’s how we all move forward, how society moves forward. The more people that are joyous and move about with joy, the better. I think that that word is just super powerful, and being under the spell of it kind of gives us a little bit of freedom to be happy even if it is strange. We did name it before all of this stuff happened, so, still trying to figure out how that works in a seriously pre-apocalyptic situation, but it seems like joy is still the most important thing, I think.
There’s a lot of cool chanting and instrumentation on the record. Can you get into that specifically?
We were on tour every other month for like three years, and we, for some reason, exclusively listened to true crime podcasts and stories and watched Forensic Files exclusively. It was really, really scintillating. Something about it fed some sort of need of entertainment. Then, at some point, we heard about Duncan Tressel podcast and started listening to that. Some of the folks on it were so amazing that it made us realize we could stuff our minds with everything, it doesn’t have to be crime and entertainment. He has people on that are meditation teachers and stuff, and we started realizing the power of your mind, like, you literally didn’t know you could use your mind for anything, which is strange. We just thought your brain was just like, you just go about your day. Tour is so hard, it’s either working or entertaining your mind. Then we were like, ‘No! You could grow every day.’ Part of the ways we were learning to grow is meditate and that we were singing, and the power of singing and doing something physically with your body seems so powerful. If you do something every day, you become so powerful, and we were like, ‘Well, what if we made a record where people are singing stuff that makes them stronger, and then when we go on tour, we’ll sing it every day and we’ll be stronger?!’ That’s where it came from. Like, church and all these different places are all about power of words. That’s our actually our actual job. Why don’t we find words that are good for us and other people, you know?
It does have a poppy sound but you mention the church and spiritual component.
Yeah. Once you kind of get into that world or peel off the first layer, you just realize so many people are mediating and taking care of themselves without knowing it. They just don’t call it that. It’s just like if you say before you put on your shoes, ‘I’m putting on my feet power container so I that go about my day with ultimate magic,’ how much good that could do for you. To turn any situation, everything you do into a more powerful thing is awesome, but hard to remember. So it’s like, ‘Oh, well we’re going to be singing songs every day, so let’s make them making spells.’
There is that ritualistic aspect too.
We went to our friend’s place and learned that chant, non myoho renge kyo. I don’t know what it is, but we tried that for a while. Breathing is so good for you, but sometimes you forget that you’re breathing, just a way to remember to connect to your body and say words that you believe. I think that maybe is the most powerful thing in the world.
Non myoho renge kyo?
Yeah. That’s like a chant a lot of our friends do. I think it’s the lotus chant, it’s something about perpetuating karma. I think you’d have to look it up, because I shouldn’t be… I think it’s a super powerful, important to many people and I don’t wanna mess up what it actually means, but it’s super cool. That was just one of the many things we were like, ‘Whoa!’ Tina Turner did it, and you can look on YouTube, and there’s videos of her doing it, and you can do it with her. That’s kind of where a lot of this came from too, ‘Wait, where is there somewhere on YouTube to sing with people?’ That’s another idea of what the record’s about, is to be somewhere for people to sing with us. Some of the songs have thirteen singers on it.
Can you talk about the musical inspirations or influences behind the song the songs?
We had a 7-inch come out, I don’t remember, it’s so hard to think of things in terms of time that it happened. I believe it’s a post March release, I think. You know what I mean? I have no idea, I can’t believe its August. Sometime in the last six months or something we had a release. We were obsessed with this Nigerian, psych compilation. We were feeling out the idea of wanting a 70s, African rock and roll kind of feeling, where it’s happy, cool music that makes you want to sing. That was sort of the beginning of figuring out the record. We were listening to that a lot and trying to find what is the origin of rock and roll, which is the blues here, but trying to see other countries and what the origin was. Seems like African music.
Do you have any collaborations in the works?
We have some videos coming out that are super cool. Trying to connect with people, do projects, people with other countries, which is one cool thing about this all is it doesn’t matter where someone lives. We’re all connected and we’re all separated. We’re working on a cartoon right now. That’s exciting! That I think is the most exciting thing of all. Death Valley Girls on tour and meets Scooby Doo. We have all these weird situations occur, so I’m pretty excited about that.
What kind of a cartoon?
Like, a TV show! A cartoon. We’re thinking of possibly doing interviews with UFO experts or some of the witches we know and people like that. We’re just figuring it out, but it seems pretty exciting to work on that while we wait for the record to come out and wait to see if we get to go back to our job of touring. We’ve had probably like ten extreme, supernatural, paranormal events happen in the course of our six years as a band, and we’re just going to try and make a cartoon about each of the experiences and then maybe get a specialist come and talk about what possibly happened. Like Scooby Doo!
What supernatural, UFO experiences come to mind?
If you choose a genre of the supernatural, I bet you we have everything. From dreaming the exact same dream, which isn’t that exciting, from dreaming the exact dream to getting stuck in a town where one of us was painted on the wall in the middle of Texas somewhere we’ve never been. Ghost stories. UFO sightings. You name it, it’s happened! We even saw a mummy running down the street once. I think that we’re trying to figure it out. Lots of psychedelic experiences as well that can’t really be explained by any language we have like… We just use the word ghost because we don’t know what it is. I think through the cartoon and our continued studying, you’ll get closer to the answer of unravelling the mysteries of the universe.
Do you think you’ll do stream concerts?
It’s hard because we’re definitely thinking of every possible different way to move forward in this future. It kind of highlights how bizarre our job was before of bringing five people all around the country for 30 days so we can deliver a physical copy of a record. I’m not sure that live stream shows is the answer, but there’s something. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. I think the music industry needed to sort of change because musicians, our section of musicians, aren’t really treated that great in this country in that way. In other to maintain this job, we all have to think about it a little bit differently, but I’m not sure what that mean yet. Maybe a cartoon!
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