Reformed veteran L.A. punk the Divine Horsemen are back with a new single, “Mystery Writers,” and an album due out later in the year. We chatted with Chris Desjardins and Julie Christensen about all that and more…
L.A. WEEKLY: This being your first new material since ’88, we have to wonder why now? What encouraged the reunion?
CHRIS DESJARDINS: I’ll let Julie go into more detail. But she and I had started talking about it in 2014. ‘Life’ stuff kept getting in the way, including our longtime friend and bassist, Robyn Jameson’s death in the summer of 2018.
JULIE CHRISTENSEN: A Tarot Reader told me when I first moved to Nashville that “my old band would be getting back together.” I chuckled and said, “Well that’s not gonna happen!” The next year, when one of my guitarist friends heard some Divine Horsemen music, he encouraged me to tap my rock & roll roots. I missed rockin’, so for my next gig in midsummer 2014, we put together a pretty bitchin’ band, made a record, and toured once in the midwest. It wasn’t a business model I could sustain. So after putting out that record in early 2016 and touring, I pared down to a smaller more acoustic unit. During that time I had told Chris about my Stone Cupid band, and that I’d been doing 2 of the old songs and enjoying that rush of playing rock again. Chris had toured with the Minute To Pray lineup of The Flesh Eaters a couple times in the meantime, too. It had taken awhile after Divine Horsemen broke up in 1988 for us to become friendly again. But at this point, we’d been in fairly good touch, and I sang on some of Chris’ other Flesh Eaters projects, like Miss Muerte and a couple of live shows. It wasn’t until summer of 2018 that we got a wild hair to tour with some of the old songs. We had a booker friend in Austin who was getting some bites, when tragedy hit, and we lost Robyn Jameson, who’d been really excited about the project. Peter, Chris, and I vowed to make another record after that, because we were excited, too. When Chris decided to record that epic lineup of The Flesh Eaters, and tour, I was invited along for some of it. There’s been some interest lately in the L.A. bands from our era: (X, Dream Syndicate, Alice Bag…) And we have a great chemistry, the 3 of us. Always have. The addition of Peter’s pal Bobby Permanent, and DJ saying yes to this, was icing on the cake. I’m real proud of this music.
What do you think defines the Divine Horsemen sound?
CD: It was always intended as an effort to get back to a more melodic approach to the same subjects of my other band, The Flesh Eaters. Dark stuff, mostly about love and failed relationships, initially manifesting through Divine Horsemen in my take on old school country/folk, storytelling/ murder ballad type material. People might call it Americana today. Partnering with Julie during the first album in 1984, Time Stands Still, gave it kind of a unique sound I wasn’t hearing from other similar bands. There was a strange synergy emerging that astonished us. As we played live and recorded & released the 4 SST records in 1986-1987, we rapidly moved back to a more electric and harder rock sound. Though stopping just short of The Flesh Eaters’ style. That’s been honed even further now with this latest album, Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix.
L.A. punk is internationally revered — do you think the Divine Horsemen get the respect they deserve?
CD: No, I don’t. But I think a great deal of it is my fault, being unable to clean up substance issues in late 1987, when Julie had quit for good during that past summer. It broke up both the band and our marriage. We’d been in talks with our European label, New Rose, about touring over there, which I think would have increased our popularity and served us well when we got back to the USA. But we’ll never know. It’s one of those ‘what-ifs’ that’s futile to contemplate. In the ensuing years, Julie and I were estranged until late 1996, when I got cleaned up for good. I’d been continuing playing music with various Flesh Eaters line-ups. She had a family and was busy. And Julie and I knew we could not do Divine Horsemen without each other. Unlike the Flesh Eaters, I didn’t have the same ability to keep Divine Horsemen’s name out in the public eye. The 4 SST records went out of print, I imagine mid-1990s.
JC: I also feel badly that I had to leave the band to have a better shot of saving my life, and I’m glad that I was able to have a family with my current husband, John Henry Diehl, who is very supportive of this whole enterprise. We don’t have time or room for regret, now.
Are you happy with the new stuff? Were you able to recapture the magic?
CD: Yes. Very much so. More than I’d ever imagined. I’ll let Julie speak more to that.
JC: I’m very proud of this music, like I said. Chris and Peter got together to flesh out the tunes Chris was compiling and culling from other projects he’d done, and they wrote a few together. Chris picked some great covers, including some from Patti Smith and Jefferson Airplane. I brought in a couple tunes from Tennessee friends, and a tune I wrote with an Austin pal, Lathan McKay. Then, Chris suggested he and I write one together, so we wrote a ballad that hearkens back to the style of the Time Stands Still LP, when we were first getting together and before we had a real band that “went electric.” What we were doing with the synthesis of folk, murder ballads, and rock was anything but “folk rock.” Neither of us like genre labels, and the fact that Peter is an alchemist on the guitar makes a unique sound. Chris is right. Divine Horsemen wouldn’t be possible without us both, so I’m thrilled to be in this whirl again. We recorded the new album in October while I visited Los Angeles where my son lives. I’d come out to rehearse a couple times in the summer, and we’d worked on the songs remotely while I was back in Nashville, so we all sounded like we’d played out live by the time we got in the studio. In the first 2 1/2 days of recording, we had all 13 songs done, live, with good vocals at the same time. Overdubs took a few days the following week, then Chris and Craig mixed it and here we are!
What’s next for the band, this year and going forward?
CD: Well, my co-producer, Craig Parker Adams and I finished mixing this latest 13 track Divine Horsemen album, Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix between this past Christmas and New Years. About a week after Julie and I mastered it at Mark Chalecki’s Little Red Book Mastering in late February, the pandemic lockdown hit and every indie record label seems to have understandably gone into suspended animation. We finally decided to self-release a single and video online ( “Mystery Writers”) to get the ball rolling, which is happening now. We also have a mastered ‘live’ album in the can, made up of two shows from late 1985 (Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach) and early 1987 (The Rat in Boston). At the moment, we don’t have any record company affiliation. We’re eager to perform and tour, but can’t really do that till it’s absolutely safe for both band and audience. Stuck at home the last few months, I’ve already written more than enough material for our next album. Hah!
The Divine Horsemen’s “Mystery Writers” single is out now, with the Hot Rise of an Ice-Cream Phoenix album out later in the year.