“I think people could look at us and make one assumption, and then when they see us play, that assumption will be shattered,” says Julie Edwards, Deap Vally’s drummer. “And that’s the beauty of it.”
Indeed there are plenty of assumptions to make about a female duo which on the surface of things are all wild hair, short shorts and lip-curling attitude. But this would not prepare for the sheer hurtling power of their music; the kind of inextinguishable ferocity that cannot be faked; it can only be hauled up from the guts.
Edwards met her bandmate and co-conspirator Lindsey Troy in the unlikely environs of a crochet class in Los Angeles’s Atwater Village. Edwards was teaching; Troy her new student. “Lindsey learned crochet really fast,” Edwards recalls, “she had good eye-hand co-ordination which was a good sign. But while we crocheted, we bonded, and talked about our struggles as artists – how frustrated we were.”
At the time, Edwards was in another duo, the Pity Party, while Troy was performing solo, each somehow orbiting one another as they played different circuits in LA. Both felt unsatisfied. Troy was quietly plotting her solo world domination, while Edwards, feeling burnt-out, was contemplating a return to college to study psychology. But following that first fateful meeting their plans began to shift.
“We kind of stalked each other online after that a little bit,” is how Edwards explains it. “I was really impressed by her,” adds Troy. “I thought she was really cool. You know, like Cool with a capital C.”
The idea of jamming together seemed a natural one, and at that first session Edwards brought in a bassist friend to make up a three-piece all-female band they jokingly named God’s Cuntry. But with the bassist away on tour thereafter it was just Edwards and Troy — a guitar and a drum kit and two wild voices.
“I knew before we even went in to that first jam it would be special,” says Troy. “I could feel it. And I was happy being a two-piece. A big part of Deap Vally is that there are limitations, and we enjoy those limitations, but at the same time within those confines having no limitations. We like to push boundaries.”
It is when they play that they say they feel freest — ignited by the roar and the pure physicality of it. “I have always wanted to make heavy music,” says Edwards. They speak of their soul and gospel and punk influences, of R’n’B vocal melodies and Blues riffs meeting “powerful dark dissonant Sabbath-esque chord progressions and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.” They talk of the “heavy” sensation of fingers stumbling on a new riff, arms beating drum-skins. “It’s just a great release,” says Edwards. “It’s very freeing.”
They first played live in the spring of 2011, first at the Silverlake Lounge and then at the Hotel Café, where Marilyn Manson pushed his way to the front row and heckled them as they took to the stage. After the show the first thing he said to them was, “Can I be your groupie?”
That so many eyes and so much attention lingers on their bodies and their attire does not ruffle them. “Sex is a big part of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Troy. Look at all the great rockers, the power they had over the crowd. Sexuality is power, and we don’t want to be a neutered band; we like embracing our sexuality. It’s a part of our music, and being women is a big part of it, our lyrics are very much from our experience. We’re very much women.”
Certainly many of the songs on this record are from a powerfully female perspective — from dealing with sleazy men in Creep Life to the glorious two-fingered defiance of Gonna Make My Own Money. “That song is kind of literal,” admits Troy. “My Dad was always saying ‘You’re gonna have to marry a rich man!’” Edwards nods. “And my Dad would be like ’When are you going to meet a nice dentist?’” It is a song, Troy explains, that is about “people underestimating your ability to do things as women and feeling like ‘fuck you I’m going to do this and prove you all wrong!’ It’s that spirit of independence and achievement.”
But there are gentler songs here too, songs about relationship dynamics and heartbreak, as well as a number called Procreate, which was, Edwards elaborates, “an idea Lindsey had, about wanting a guy so much that you want to have their baby. That weird lust that exists, and which I totally relate to, but a lot of people don’t write about, because maybe writing about babies is kind of weird. A man wouldn’t write that song, and if they did it would be a little bit different. It would be more like ‘I wanna knock you up so you stay home and you’re mine forever.’”
They were drawn to each other, they say, by a mutual unapologeticness, by the fact that they are both, by their own definition, socially aggressive women. “I was always very drawn to female performers who were very loud and outspoken and flamboyant,” says Troy. “And I feel like with Deap Vally we are unstoppable – we are so driven, full throttle, it’s undeniable. We really believe in what we represent as a band. And what we represent I feel is like post-post-post feminism.”
By their nature, they say, what they do is political — “In that we’re women,” Troy says, “and we play this type of heavy rock music, not afraid to let it all hang out,” she says proudly. Edwards adds, “So many women masculinize themselves and play their femininity down, and something Lindsey and I felt is that we have never wanted to do that. I’ve been playing drums in tiny shorts for as long as I’ve been playing drums.”
Certainly, short shorts and their breed of visceral, heart-churning rock ‘n’ roll is quite an arresting combination. “I don’t know what image of femininity we’re trying to fulfill,” Edwards says, “and maybe we’re creating a new one: we’re badass but we’re not mean-spirited and angry. We just really, really love heavy music.”
“We believe,” says Troy, “in bringing truly live music back.” Edwards nods. “And we believe in the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, bringing guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll back to the mainstream. We love Led Zeppelin —they’re our heroes. Because that’s a band that played stadiums, didn’t have a safety net of a pre-recorded back-up tape, they didn’t record to a click, and they were really, really sexy and really commanding. And why can’t that happen again? “