The Most Haunted Band in America
Between her music and her paranormal investigations, Death Valley Girls frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden doesn’t believe in keeping a day job.
By Elle Carroll
This is the story of how Death Valley Girls frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden celebrated her birthday last year.
It started with an invitation to the Oman House, a private residence located in Benedict Canyon, an über affluent Los Angeles neighborhood home to billionaire investors, industry moguls, superstar entertainers, and, if you believe the rumors, a Native American burial ground. It’s also the former site of 10050 Cielo Drive, the French country-style house where members of Charles Manson’s Family murdered a pregnant Sharon Tate and four others. Oman’s three-story residence sits approximately 150-feet away.
The house’s lone living inhabitant — a film industry veteran named David Oman — was the one who invited the members of Death Valley Girls to a séance in the basement. The proposed date serendipitously coincided with Bloomgarden’s birthday and a full moon. How could they resist? (They couldn’t.) So they went — and hated it.
“The feeling of actual evil, or whatever you would call it, just physically does not feel good, shockingly!” Bloomgarden told OK Whatever with a laugh. “It was like the worst feeling in every way. But we were like, ‘I guess it’s our job, right? We are paranormal investigators, aren’t we? We have to keep going back.’ ”
Oman kept inviting them back, and Death Valley Girls kept returning. They discovered that nausea, vomiting, pressure, itching of the lymph nodes, swelling, and difficulty breathing are common side effects of venturing into an alleged paranormal hotspot. Granted, prolonged exposure offered some minor acclimation.
On one occasion, the band brought along both a reporter and photographer from the Los Angeles Times. The photographer refused to stay in the room during the séance for more than 20 minutes at a time and kept her eyes closed throughout, including while taking photographs.
When other bands in the Los Angeles scene heard about Bloomgarden and Death Valley Girls’ paranormal exploits, they begged to ride along.
“I was like, ‘No, trust me, you don’t want to go,’ ” Bloomgarden said. Eventually she would relent, only to be proven right. “I would be like, ‘Alright, now we have to go and show you why you don’t have to go.’ ”
Sure enough, bands would leave with an acute understanding of why they should have listened in the first place.
The handful of séances they’ve done have lasted for six hours and typically involved “something beyond reality” happening each time. It took patience and occasionally proved worth the wait.
One night, mid-séance, a toy keyboard in the room plunked out a few notes without being touched. Bloomgarden and her bandmates went over to investigate, noticed the keyboard was turned off and lacked preset capabilities, and then did what any rock band would do in this situation: They sampled the ghostly bit.
“It’s the scariest little song. It’s really terrifying. We’ll use it for something for sure,” Bloomgarden said.
This story is somewhat atypical for Death Valley Girls, as in the band doesn’t typically have to go looking for the paranormal. Paranormal encounters are especially common when they’re on tour.
There was, for instance, the first band-wide haunting in Tucson, Arizona. The band played the (reportedly haunted) hotel-venue Club Congress, then split their sleeping arrangements between the band accommodations in the venue and a motel room. At 2 a.m., Bloomgarden woke suddenly and found a giant gray dog waiting outside her motel room door.
She coaxed it inside, then let it out the next morning. That day, reunited with the whole band, then-vocalist Jessie Jones told Bloomgarden she’d dreamt that Bloomgarden had told her drummer Laura Kelsey (a.k.a. The Kid) was in trouble. The dream frightened Jones enough to go looking for Kelsey. She found her outside and naked, talking to a maid that wasn’t there.
“The Kid just was not herself for the next couple days,” Bloomgarden recalled.
On one tour, Death Valley Girls’ van overheated so badly they could only drive at night. They ended up witnessing a jackrabbit boxing match and the “glorious” Marfa lights, an unexplained phenomenon credited to aliens, ghosts, will-o-the-wisp, car headlights, small fires, and whatever else.
It follows that Death Valley Girls play the kind of music you would expect from a band that considers séances on Cielo Drive a reasonable night out. Starting with their 2014 full-length debut Street Venom, the band has spent the better part of this decade making high-octane garage rock indebted to old school Detroit punk, glam rock, and the melodic side of 1970s heavy metal.
Death Valley Girls were never going to play any other kind of music, and their all-in approach (read: relentless touring schedule) continues to gain momentum. Iggy Pop is among their most famous fans, and they recently recruited him to recreate Jorgen Leth’s famous clip of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger for the Kansas Bowling-directed music video of their track “Disaster (Is What We’re After).”
Bloomgarden and guitarist Larry Schemel went down to Miami for the shoot. It turns out Iggy Pop, punk icon, doesn’t know how to tie a tie. Bloomgarden was happy to assist. The filming process took one take and one hour. When it was over, Iggy left to buy bird food.
“He’s the coolest in every single way. If he could package what he radiates, it could save the world,” she said.
Like Iggy, Death Valley Girls’ approach to punk is not entirely self-serious. They’ve played with the genre’s relationship to Satanism for years, giving themselves the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Hell’s house band” and decorating stages with a massive devil head hanging over the drum kit.
Lyrically, Bloomgarden delves into everything from gender politics (“If you’re a man, I’m twice as man as you”) to the occult (“Abre Camino” on last year’s Darkness Rains is named for an herb used in an obstacle-clearing spell). She is open about her writing process, which is more spontaneous and metaphysical than literary.
“We just go in with fear and then the buzzer is off and you just have to have the words. They always seem to magically come. I don’t know why,” she said. “If that’s the one way we’re lucky, I’m very thankful and I hope that’s the way we can always be lucky. I’ll give up other luck to have that luck.”
On her own time, she’s beginning to explore manifesting and synchronicity. She and the band plan to spend 2019 touring on the back of Darkness Rains. She’s trying to wean herself off listening exclusively to true crime podcasts while on the road. And she vows to keep sifting through the paranormal as her touring schedule allows.
If it sounds bonkers, fine. Bloomgarden has embraced bonkers. She’s used to bonkers.
“I know that this sounds crazy. I like to make fun of myself, too,” she said. “But I do totally believe the things I say.”