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LOS ANGELES (TUESDAY AUGUST 15) - The renaissance of Divine Horsemen — which began in 2021 with the release of Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix, the legendary Los Angeles band’s first release in 33 years — continues with a thrilling new album for In the Red Records, Bitter End of a Sweet Night, to be released as a two-LP set and a single CD on October 27, just in time for Halloween. The first track off the new album, “Bitter End” was released today.
The new 16-track collection again features the band’s co-founding members, singers-songwriters Chris Desjardins (better known as Chris D.) and Julie Christensen, and the core members of the ferocious Hot Rise band — guitarist/co-writer Peter Andrus (a member of the group’s late-‘80s lineup), bassist Bobby Permanent and X’s nonpareil drummer DJ Bonebrake (who won’t be doing ‘live’ dates). The sound is filled out by Green On Red and Dream Syndicate keyboardist Chris Cacavas (who appeared on the 1984 Chris D./Divine Horsemen album Time Stands Still) and classically trained violinist Elizabeth Wilson. Desjardins produced the album.
Divine Horsemen’s dramatic In the Red bow, and a late 2020 archival set of club performances from 1985 and 1987 issued by Feeding Tube Records, reacquainted listeners with their powerful roots-punk musicianship, which diversified the searing approach taken by Desjardins’ L.A. punk unit The Flesh Eaters. (Christensen had previously regrouped with her ex-husband/musical partner Desjardins on I Used to Be Pretty, the 2019 album that reunited the 1981 “all-star” Flesh Eaters lineup.)
Reaction to the group’s rebirth was rapturous. Jaime Pina of Punk Globe called Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix “brilliant,” adding, “The music is lush with both acoustic and electric guitars and the songs pull influences from…country, rock, traditional ethnic folk music and blues.” Michael Toland wrote in The Big Takeover, “Reclaiming its classic sound of sweat-and grime-stained Americana, Divine Horsemen is reborn like the mythical creature in the title.” John Apice of Americana Highways raved, “Like the Rolling Stones, [Divine Horsemen] continue to thrill. They have grit, muscle and potency….Divine indeed.”
Bitter End of a Sweet Night sports seven new original songs by Desjardins and Andrus, two Desjardins-Christensen collaborations, and two solo Christensen collaborations. Another fresh original, “Garden of Night,” was contributed by Erika Wear (her lyrics), who appeared on the Flesh Eaters’ 1999 album Ashes of Time.
The set is rounded out by a new version of Desjardins’ “Murder of Courage,” first heard on his 1995 solo album Love Cannot Die, and three diverse covers: “The Next Man That I See” by the late Anita Lane of The Birthday Party and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Coffee Shop Blues” by English duo Smoke Fairies, and “It’s Still Nowhere” by Ed Kuepper’s post-Saints combo The Aints.
Considering that Divine Horsemen’s last album was released after a three-decade hiatus, the rapid materialization of a new collection may surprise some. But Desjardins says the enforced confinement of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a major creative burst.
“I started writing for this mid-2020,” he says. “I couldn’t work with Peter until the pandemic had calmed, so I wrote reams of stream-of-consciousness, and then to pull out some songs, I ruthlessly carved it up.” He adds, “I was inventing riffs on guitar, making video versions of me playing to show Peter the parts.”
A couple songs drew on Desjardins’ knowledge of world cinema. Two bear titular references of films: “Vanina Vanini,” Italian master Roberto Rossellini’s 1961 costume drama, adapted from Stendahl’s 1829 novella, and “Dirty Like an Angel,” a noirish 1991 drama by Catherine Breillat.
Though Desjardins’ marriage to Christensen ended in the late ’80s, their creative partnership remains as strong as ever, as evidenced in new song collaborations “Bitter End” and “Notorious,” which were penned in a long-distance back-and-forth.
Christensen knows good songwriters; after all, she sang with Chris, and then with Leonard Cohen from 1988-1993. Her other contributions to Bitter End of a Sweet Night were both the result of partnering with outside veterans. “No Mercy,” written with John Hadley and the late David Olney, (the latter penned Emmylou Harris’ “Deeper Well,”) first appeared on the 2016 set The Cardinal by her Nashville-based rock band Stone Cupid. She says, “Written in the vein of Divine Horsemen. I was proud of it because I had not tried to conjure that stuff in a long time.”
“These Evils,” which also fits into Divine Horsemen’s darker side of Hollywood, was written in 1990 for an unfinished Christensen solo album with the L.A. team of Dan Navarro and the late Eric Lowen, the writers of Pat Benatar’s hit “We Belong.” It had not been recorded until now. “We had done a demo then, and when I was finally digitizing the cassette, it broke, so I had to rewrite the second verse — I never had the lyrics written.”
Work on Bitter End of a Sweet Night moved fitfully during 2021, as the pandemic surges imperiled in-person work. When recording began in January 2022, the musicians employed some remote recording techniques for safety’s sake as well as long distance issues.
Desjardins says, “I knew that Chris Cacavas – who lives in Germany now – had done remote recording. When we sent rough mixes of the songs to him, he came back in a couple of days with finished versions. All of DJ’s drum stuff was done remote. He had returned from a tour with X where everyone had gotten COVID – except him! He said, ‘I’ve got an agreement with my wife. I can’t leave the house for a few months, but I think I can do this in my backyard studio.’ And he did, flawlessly.”
The wild card for the sessions was classical violinist Wilson, who adds magic to four of the songs. “Elizabeth Wilson is one of Bobby Permanent’s friends,” Desjardins says. “She had wanted to do some rock stuff and was a quick study — we only had one rehearsal with her. Even on her first passes in the studio, she had a feel for it.” Christensen enthuses, “Oh, my God! Isn’t she badass!”
Peter Andrus and Bobby Permanent have plenty more in their resumes: Peter supplied additional guitar on the recent album release of Detroit-based The Volebeats, Lonesome Galaxy, was released by Ben Harper's Mad Bunny Records. One of Bobby’s most memorable efforts was supplying several songs for John Cassavetes’ final feature film in 1984, Love Streams.
On March 29, 2022, Divine Horsemen rode again with their first live show since 1987, at the Los Angeles club Zebulon. There will be more live dates in the late fall/early winter of 2023 following Bitter End of a Sweet Night’s debut.
Additional videos for the songs “Dirty Like an Angel” and “Memory Fails” will see staggered release through the summer and early fall of 2023, preceding the October issue of the new album.