Words by David C. Obenour
Epitomizing both the spiritual and the secular in Death Valley Girls, the Los Angeles quartet’s latest album is a space-gospel record that takes its name from the t-shirt of a band they’d toured with.
Welcoming you in with the chanted vocals of “Under the Spell,” songs on Under the Spell of Joy build and crash waves of psychedelia both familiar and fresh. Rock and roll similar to this has been done before, but spirit and song meld together as the band breathes-in new life and energy.
We may not be able to get together just yet, but we can get lost together and that’s a key tenet of Under the Spell of Joy’s space-gospel.
Off Shelf: I’ve been starting out all of my interviews with this, but how are you holding up these days? Have you been in Los Angeles throughout quarantine?
Larry Schemel: We’ve all been holding up alright during this surreal time, everyone in the band has been staying busy with projects at home. We had just finished recording the new album right before the quarantine so we’ve been working on artwork and videos frequently this year. I’ve also been practicing guitar now more than ever which has been really helpful to keep some sort of routine going that is productive & creative.
I’ve also finally had time to digitize a bunch of live shows I’ve filmed, weird TV, movie clips & other random stuff I’ve taped on video to share on a YouTube Channel I’ve just started!
Off Shelf: There are so many reasons why it’s an interesting time to be releasing an album, but one thing that’s hitting me is how different the world is now – when the music is being released – as compared to when it was originally recorded. Is that a dynamic you’ve noted at all in having the album come out now?
Bonnie Bloomgarden: We were talking about this very thing recently and realized even though we can’t be together physically with other people we can be together psychically! Connect through the music with our minds! We’re all a part of the universe, the Cosmic Connection as Karl Sagan once wrote about it. “Space Gospel,” it goes beyond the physical, into the hyperphysical and into the supernatural!
OS: I thought it was really cool that the name for the album was inspired from another band’s t-shirt. What is it about t-shirts that you think makes them second only to albums for band merch?
LS: The artwork & imagery is something we love to work on, be creative and have fun with. Some of our favorite bands have created their own unique world with the art, Cramps, Sabbath, Bowie. T-Shirts are such a great way to use images and slogans that connect immediately with people.
OS: Are there any Death Valley Girls t-shirts or other merch that stick out to you as a favorite throughout the years?
Nicole Smith/Pickle: We have a T-Shirt that’s just a slogan that says “Satan Worships Death Valley Girls” that’s a favorite at the merch table!
OS: The album starts off with the really cool, eerie group vocals on “Hypnagogia” – can you talk about that and why you choose it to start off Under the Spell of Joy?
Rikki Styxx: When we were discussing the track listing that song always found itself at the beginning of the album, I think we all really like the slow build, like you’re just starting a strange, mysterious, rock n’ roll journey!
OS: Gabe Flores’ saxophone is an incredible presence on the album. What were you hoping to add through these parts? After you started hearing them, did the role evolve at all in recording?
BB: We love what Gabe contributed to the album! He really has great intuition as a musician, the direction we gave him was minimal and he was able to do some incredible improvisation on some tracks that we kept along with the more structured parts. So yes his role did evolve more in the recording once we all connected on things! Same with Gregg Forman who added some amazing keys/synth/wurlitzer tracks!
OS: In a world where touring could happen, did you imagine going out with Gabe? Do you think saxophone will be a part of the band moving forward or more just something for Under the Spell of Joy?
P: That would definitely be amazing to tour with a saxophone player! On the last album there was some saxophone so we have played a few live shows with sax players, it’s very exciting to hear the sax wailing away in a live setting!
OS: Knowing that touring hasn’t been an option, you’ve been performing a few Levitation Sessions as a streaming performance option. Can you talk about how that’s been going? Has anything about doing these changed how you look at performing live?
RS: It’s been so great to play together again, even if it’s only been a few times. The major difference is that magical energy transferal between the audience and the band isn’t there, but right now we’re enjoying the pleasure of being able to play together and to share these shows with our fans!
OS: If you were given a big, bloated production budget to make an album with, what sort of things do you think you’d like adding to or experimenting with for the Death Valley Girls sound?
BB: Oh boy! If we had to pick a producer it would be Phil Spector… but the 60’s Phil Spector! We really love having our friends come into the studio to create mini-choirs so we would have way more friends come in. We would also ask Ronnie Spector, Iggy Pop, John Cale, James Williamson, Debbie Harry, Ozzy, Poison Ivy, Angus Young, Martin Rev and more to come in and sing and play on songs! Make it a party like some of the sessions in the 70’s.
OS: Recently, underground indie rock has experienced a long time coming upheaval with the exposure of scandals involving a number of the bands and management at Burger Records. How have you been encouraged or discouraged with how fans, bands, and media outlets have been responding?
BB: We are totally encouraged that these essential conversations are happening. We see this as a societal problem. What’s expected of “men” and expected from “women” seems to be at the core of the issue. That needs to change so that all people of every gender are treated equally and can live without fear. We hope this is the beginning of that change!