L.A. musician Larry Schemel’s almost over qualified for the Hidden Gems column, having created a few of them himself. The guitarist has held down time in ‘90s underground faves Kill Sybil/Sybil and Midnight Movies, contributed to The Flesh Eaters repertoire and has been anchoring Death Valley Girls for the last few years. Larry certainly seems like a source of some deep shelf picks for this column so I reached out to see what he might recommend. He picked a favorite that I share as well, opting for the sole LP proper from Opal. Hear how this pre-Mazzy Star nugget came into his life and the impact it has had on him over the years.
“Being a teenager in the 80’s into underground music was a very exciting time,” recalls Schemel, “it seemed like every week there was some amazing new band, single or record coming out. SST Records was one of the greatest punk/indie labels on the planet and in 1987 they were on a roll releasing Sonic Youth’s Sister, Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me, Screaming Trees’ Even If… and this record by a mysterious LA band called Opal. I came across it at a Seattle record shop, the SST label and the name Kendra Smith on the back immediately got my attention — already being a fan of her previous band The Dream Syndicate. David Roback the guitarist was a member of another amazing band from the LA paisley underground scene The Rain Parade, so with just enough money with me I bought the record.”
“I was hooked on my first listen,” admits Larry, “the dark psychedelic drone & fuzz pulled me right in. I could hear elements of some of my favorite music, The Velvet Underground & Nico, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, T. Rex, The Doors, but done in a way that was purely their own. Kendra Smith’s vocals and David Roback’s guitar were the perfect mix. Haunted vocals, great minimalist riffs, fuzzed out feedback, droning organ, and the songs! Every song is brilliant! The stand out tracks I would say are the title track “Happy Nightmare Baby” (a low budget Super 8 Video for the song is on YouTube) “Magick Power”, “Super Nova”, “Siamese Trap”… pretty much the whole album!”
“It’s one of those records and bands that had a very unique vision and sound, they created their own surreal world to wander around in. I don’t think it’s been reissued in years. David Roback did go on to some commercial success with Hope Sandoval in Mazzy Star after the break up of Opal but I think it’s definitely time for this particular record to be rediscovered. It’s without a doubt been an influence on the music I make. The guitar playing, songwriting, vocals, everything… David Roback & Kendra Smith’s wild mystical vision is forever inspiring!”
Funny that Larry should mention reissue, as there was news just this year that before David Roback’s passing he’d worked out a deal for Opal’s debut and the collection Early Recordings put out by Rough Trade a few years later. Still, Happy Nightmare Baby remains a dream pop classic that can’t possibly be ignored. Hopefully the new issues should bring on another wave of praise for the band outside of their short tenure. Death Valley Girls’ new record Under The Spell of Joy is out now on Suicide Squeeze and I’d recommend picking that one up where you can.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.