Heavy Rock Duo Deap Vally Left Their Major Label and Made Their Most Badass Album Yet
Freed from their major-label contract, blues-rock duo Julie Edwards (left) and Lindsey Troy are about to return with a new album, Femejism.
It's rare to get puked on during an interview. But today, in an act of pure, unapologetic self-expression, Mira Pirrone spews up some off-white gunk over my hand in broad daylight, outside a bar in downtown L.A.
She does it without making a fuss, or a sound. The newest member of psychedelic blues-rock duo Deap Vally's touring entourage is merely communicating the completion of a satisfactory dinner, as moments earlier she was nuzzling on mother Julie Edwards Pirrone during her latest feed.
At 7 months of age, the apple does not fall far from the tree. Mira, all smiles, with a ferocious passion for exploration, crawled around the band's photo shoot earlier, then accompanied us to a post-shoot hang, opting for milk over tacos. Her act of regurgitation is proud, honest and so Deap Vally.
What strikes you immediately when you speak with drummer Edwards (formerly of L.A. duo The Pity Party) and her guitarist partner-in-crime Lindsey Troy (Janis Joplin–/soul-inspired blues singer since her teen years) is their straight-shooting, no-fucks-given attitude. The pair met five years ago at an Atwater Village knitting shop Edwards owned, where Troy was learning to crochet. Beyond the needles, their combined musical forces birthed a riff-heavy soundtrack for modern feminism, to which they've added their own tongue-in-cheek humor — hence the title of their forthcoming second LP, the beefy, growly Femejism.
"It wasn't till we were being interviewed that we realized feminism was a huge talking point," Edwards says. "We just wanted to make heavy rock. So the line in [2016 single] 'Smile More' — 'Yes, I am a feminist, but that isn't why I started doing this' — is literal. Too bad the F word still turns people off."
Between Edwards (seven years her bandmate's senior, married and settled), Troy (newly turned 30, her life frequently up in the air) and — what the hell — Mira, too, Deap Vally represent three types of modern female experience. As a unit, they defy society's mistaken preconceptions of women on any number of levels.
"We all start life as women," says Edwards, offering a burp of her own. Indeed, humans all begin as two XX chromosomes unless one morphs into a Y and we become dudes, our life experience taking a different turn.
A week after our interview, Deap Vally embarked on their first European run of dates in two years, ahead of a U.S. tour with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979 later this fall. The differences they experienced compared with past tours were highly tangible.
"I've put diapers on the rider — a first for my tour manager," Edwards says, blasé. "There's not much information about touring with a baby. It'll be tough, but someday I'll look back on this time as the biggest adventure. Becoming a mom is a head trip. It fucks your life up, but it also is life. Rock & roll is this limited world where you have to be 19 years old, getting fucked up every night. Well, it's time that moms didn't feel marginalized by rock & roll. Moms can do more than clean poopy butts. I'm going on tour for them."
Julie Edwards Pirrone, holding daughter Mira, and Lindsey Troy of Deap Vally
Before the beginning of 2015, the Deap Vally adventure was a high-speed chase toward the guitar-laden, drum-heavy gates of hell. They toured with the likes of Marilyn Manson, gained the respect of peers such as Shirley Manson of Garbage, played legendary festivals including Glastonbury and Hyde Park in London with Iggy Pop, and built an army of fans from touring debut album Sistrionix, released in 2013 by Island Records. Their no-shame messaging inspired fans to share stories of their own liberation and debauched nights, in thrall to anthems such as "Bad for My Body," "Make My Own Money" and "Walk of Shame."
Initial success struck in Europe, where the duo remain a popular export. By contrast, in L.A. they've maintained anonymity and had a chance to recalibrate. While Edwards was pregnant, planning the annual Desert Daze festival with husband Phil Pirrone of psych band JJUUJJUU, Troy toured as the bassist for punk rockers White Lung. They spent a year writing Femejism, recording in El Paso and downtown L.A., this time with their Yeah Yeah Yeahs friend Nick Zinner, who acted as producer, pushing them to their limits.
You may wonder if the long wait for Femejism is due to clichéd "difficult second album" bullshit. You'd be wrong. Its release marks a far more significant new chapter for Deap Vally. After Sistrionix, they took a massive risk and parted ways with Island, leaving themselves musically homeless. They decided that the band's uncompromising integrity shouldn't be confined to their songs. Deap Vally wanted to be in charge of their ship, which wasn't feasible on a major.
"Over the past year we've been taking our business over hands-on," Edwards says. Not once during their time without a label did they fear the end was nigh. "Our bottom line is decent," she adds, sounding like a true CEO. "This may be a dream, but it's also a reality. I could see how this would be our career. We won't be a flash in the pan. We work too hard."
They've since struck a deal with Cooking Vinyl in the United Kingdom and Nevado in the United States to release the album in September, both labels receiving a completed Femejism without seeking to tinker.
Reflecting their staunch new independence, Femejism packs a heftier punch, eclipsing the power of other noted blues-rock duos like The Black Keys or Royal Blood. Kicking off with lead single "Royal Jelly," a coy blues jam, the album also contains the rebellious crowd-surf moment of "Gonnawanna" and the band's biggest curveball, "Critic," a Hole-influenced acoustic heart-stopper about how "everyone's a fucking cynic."
Authority bleeds through everything on the record, accompanied by funky beats and brutal guitar lines that render the messages impossible to ignore. Take the frenzy of "Two Seat Bike," about the way young women make mistakes in pursuit of feeling valued. It documents how women desperate for male validation allow themselves to be photographed naked. In this digital age, the consequences of that act can be permanent.
"You might feel like being a porn star for six months when you're 19, but you're probably not going to for the rest of your life," Edwards explains. "You don't want to fucking blow it. That'll always work against your self-esteem. I'm not squeamish about the naked body, but I'm mistrustful of the public. There are perverts out there. If they're going to use me, they can use photos of me drumming. At least that way I have an identity and there's context. Then I'm more than just a female body."
On the subject of appearances, Deap Vally's onstage garb has long been a stick their detractors have used to beat them. Reviews often focused on older men at the front of their shows leering at their denim cutoff shorts, figure-hugging Spandex jumpsuits and gloriously low-plunging necklines. Critics didn't seem to understand that Deap Vally weren't wearing their outfits for the benefit of the male gaze.
"Society says you're either the Madonna whore, or you're this sexless thing that's intelligent," Troy says. "We say you can have both. It's super feminist to feel ownership over your own body."
"Iggy Pop is shirtless onstage," Edwards chimes in. "Is that degrading to men? Ultimately, it's body shaming. If we were skinny sticks, we wouldn't look that way in cutoffs. We have thighs and a booty, so it changes the political perception of those shorts. When we put them on, we look like we're gonna go out and hook. All I wished for so long was that I could just wear skimpy shit and look chill. The reality is that because of [our body types] it all gets turned around."
I suggest that men of all shapes and sizes can wear tank tops without judgment or comment. Troy agrees. "The way society perceives a woman's look is so deeply seeded in a way that doesn't happen with men, not to the same extent."
With all this talk of counteracting arcane systems of gender discrimination, I wonder what Deap Vally make of the influx of women in power across the political spectrum, particularly Hillary Clinton. "Hillary's never gonna live up to what people want," Edwards says. "It's not possible. I bought a Hillary T-shirt and I'm gonna wear it. That's all I gotta say about that."
Before long, Mira calls time on the interview with a sleepy yawn, and another tiny barf. Man, woman or baby, every day is a learning curve for all of us. But it's much more bearable when you've got a killer rock band to keep you in check.
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