Death Valley High was in the midst of a soundcheck when the scheduled interview time arrived. The manager, Daniel Heerdemann of 2808 MGMT, picked up the bass player’s passport, which was casually left on a chair in the empty pre-show venue. He shook his head and chuckled, “These guys,” giving off the impression that the tour manager is the guardian of the group—the five guys soundchecking forming a musical family. That image became even sharper after a discussion on the life of the band and how the members first crossed paths.
“I am one of the newer additions, but it goes to the same thing: I grew up watching these guys play in bands and alongside them. It was a mutual circle of friends,” explained Sean Bivins, sharing how the current lineup was formed. “So it was like, when I wasn’t doing something, they came and said, ‘Would you like to do this with us? A new adventure?’ It works out better when everyone is friends and when you are growing up and you kind of come from the same background. It makes the communication stage a lot easier.”
It also goes beyond just a communication stage, where the situation is about mutual musical respect. “Me and Sean are from Sacramento and I was part of that Sacramento scene when it blew up,” Reyka Osburn, the frontman of the outfit, adds. “Sound-wise, we were a good fit.” Then there are the rituals of band bonding—“a couples discos…a couple binges together”—and then you are ready to sleep within the close confines of the tour bus together. Such things certainly run a little more smoothly when you already know the sound of your bandmate’s drunken snoring or his favorite 3 a.m. beverage, along with how he best writes songs and handles studio time.
A lifelong passion for music is the strongest thread between the members. When one watches them talk about how music has moulded their spirits and their lives, it’s clear to see how important music is to every member. For Osburn, it saved him from dark fates. “Literally, I feel like it saved my life,” the singer intimated. “I also think I would probably be a serial killer. Because…I loved horror movies when I was a little kid. I think I kind of used music and its way of expressiveness to ease any kind of burning or frustration…rather than take it out on anything else or anyone else, it was easier to bang it out on a guitar.”
These childhood influences of horror movies and the respective gore can be seen on the album art of the band’s latest release, “Positive Euth”. Osburn is still banging out his frustrations—or maybe he is dancing them out in a storm of sweat, industrial doom, and the band’s own brand of gloomy pop sensibilities. The physical CD is wrapped in bold illustrations with a color scheme of neon blues and pinks against a background of black. Decaying, zombified children wear dunce caps (or perhaps medieval conical hats) adorned with plus signs or dripping crosses. It all depends on which direction one would like to go with it. The inside cover has a representation of a nun wearing an upside-down cross upon her necklace and winged, demonic cherubs holding up the corners of her wimple.
“The actual name of [the band] came from a twist on the Sweet Valley High books, so when we were discussing the themes of the album, we described it to the artist, the illustrator, Fat Kid Illustration,” Osburn said, explaining the strong visual statement which pairs well with the band’s no-apologies mindset. “He came up with the dunce caps, the disheveled kids. We took a chance. It could be interpreted different ways, but the imagery with the zombie kids. They are all teaming up; they have been sitting in the corner too long with their faces to the wall. It was the imagery that we all kind of agreed was a good indication of what this album is.”
It is also a good indicator of the band itself. With a rigorous touring schedule and an unwavering dedication to fans, Death Valley High is operating at full speed with no signs of stopping anytime soon. In a live show, “no one is standing still,” and the band tries to give back a bit of the inspiration and energy that music has always to given them.
“You know when you went to a show, to a concert that changed your life in one night?” member Todd questioned. “That’s what any band that understands themselves and what they want to do is going for. So that’s what this band wants to do.”
To this, Osburn added that the touring won’t be stopping any time soon. “Always more touring. We’ll be back in Germany again.” Death Valley High refuses to sit quietly in the corner; the band will make you dance out your stagnancy and frustrations whether you are ready to or not.