On the way to a San Francisco cafe in the Duboce Triangle, Hope Sandoval laughs out loud. "The journalist I talked to before you was really nice, but he called me the 'goth-rock poster girl.' Can you believe that?!"
Of course you can't -- Sandoval's style and smile do not carry one hint of gothic melodrama. She's elegant and engaging with a sweet-tempered laugh; she obviously doesn't take herself as seriously as some of her more excitable fans do. But, as anyone with a Mazzy Star CD in his or her collection knows, behind Sandoval's dainty speaking voice is one of the last in a handful of artists who take music quite seriously.
Those who have all three Mazzy Star CDs might also know that Sandoval's bewitchingly breathy singing first accompanied David Roback's velvet-reverb guitar tones in the band Opal during the late '80s (following Kendra Smith's sudden departure from the band). Sandoval and Roback played some live shows as Opal before putting the band to rest and starting anew with Mazzy Star. They then released the ashen She Hangs Brightly, and the romantic So Tonight That I Might See, building a strong cult following until "Fade into You" got more spins than a drunk punk on payday. By the time that song climbed the alternative and college charts, Mazzy Star was almost a common household (and dorm-room) name. Then the wintry Among My Swan was released in 1996. The band became a sect phenomenon and then just seemed to disappear, dropping out of the public eye's peripheral vision like a vanishing ghost.
During her long absence from the pages of music magazines, Internet rumors about Sandoval began circulating. One was that she was recording with Jason Pierce and Spiritualized (actually, she recorded a song on the Chemical Brothers' album Together, which sounds a lot like a Spiritualized song). Another rumor stated that she was recording with the LA trio Acetone (this actually almost happened). And then there was the story that she and My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig were living in the Berkeley hills, putting together and recording a new project under the name Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions (this happens to be true).
O'Ciosoig, the drummer who is partially responsible for making teenagers and twentysomethings deaf in the late '80s and early '90s, is indeed Sandoval's musical companion and housemate. Sandoval pursued him at a Snowpony show in London and soon the both of them began plotting a project that has been in the works for the past two years. Sandoval brings voice and songs to O'Ciosoig's band, and in turn he will be providing rhythm for future Mazzy Star endeavors. But Mazzy Star's ongoing musical legacy isn't of immediate importance to either of them; this is the time for new ideas, grand collaborations, and warm inventions.
"When I met Colm he was just getting into working with his band, the Warm Inventions," says Sandoval. "I was about to work with Acetone, but it just didn't happen. So Colm and his friends and I recorded a few songs together and it really just worked out well." Sandoval had come close to rolling tape with the slow-burning tones of the underrated Acetone, whose gifted lead singer Richie Lee committed suicide on July 23rd of this year.
"It's a real tragedy. I think they were one of the best bands. I was so excited about working with [them]," she says. "[Mazzy Star] did two tours with them and it was unbelievable. They mesmerized everyone; they're just amazing and beautiful people -- especially Richie. He was so talented."
Sandoval realized, however, that she wanted to make not just three or four songs but what she calls a "whole-sounding record."
Indeed, from the opening acoustic-strummed chimes of "Drop" (the best Jesus and Mary Chain cover since Primal Scream's hypnotic rendition of "Darklands"), Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions have rendered an aurally indulgent album of timeless tastes and gorgeous songs. Their rich chemistry plays on the inspiration of something new, and produces a unified sound of seasoned tunesmiths. Bavarian Fruit Bread is garnished with floating strings, warm keys, harmonica drones, and subtly intricate rhythms and tranquilizing vocals; there is not a grain of musical filler, not a moment wasted. As well, they got British folk god Bert Jansch to record with them.
"He's a genius and a pioneer," says Sandoval. "He just made up all those parts for 'Butterfly Mornings,' and it's so amazing because I think that his playing is his own interpretation of a floating butterfly.... I was in tears after every session with him. I was crying to Colm and saying, 'This is totally unbelievable.'"
"[Jansch] would just begin picking something on his acoustic guitar," says O'Ciosoig, "and suddenly all this sound would open up around him. He can make one guitar sound like an entire symphony."
Sandoval recalls a mid-'90s London show that Mazzy Star played with Jansch, a Pentangle cofounder. She gave him a demo tape of some of her songs. They got in touch when the recordings for Bavarian Fruit Bread first began to materialize. Needless to say, Sandoval was a bit starstruck.
"I've been into his music for so many years," she says, "and all of a sudden he was there and we were having dinner. It's like if you're a fan of Jimi Hendrix or Keith Richards or Brian Jones, and then you're sitting at a table with them."
She recalls their first private meeting with clarity: "Within the first fifteen minutes that Bert came over, we all sat down on the sofa. Everybody was so nervous. And he pulls out the guitar to tune it and everybody's just sort of quiet and sitting there on the sofa. David [Roback] is a huge fan as well. He has this flat in Oslo, Norway that overlooks a beautiful park across the street. And we were just sort of facing the window and Bert starts to play. David and I just looked at each other. It was so amazing. And later David asked him, 'When was the first time you ever picked up a guitar?' When David asked him that I just got so emotional -- here we were sitting at the dinner table with Bert Jansch and he started to talk about the first time he ever played the guitar. He told us that his mother bought him a kit. It was a 'Make Your Own Spanish Guitar' kit."
Although a few tracks for Bavarian Fruit Bread were recorded at Roback's Oslo studio, this was definitely not a Mazzy Star effort. "Mazzy Star is a much more tight and very small circle of people," says Sandoval. "A lot of them are people that David had been working with even before he and I worked together. I love all those people. But I come from a different kind of music. David comes from the Rain Parade and Opal. I came from Going Home, a much mellower and more acoustic kind of project that I had with my best friend Sylvia."
On her most recent and ethereal endeavor, Sandoval hoped to traverse the regions of her own music, curious to see how it fared in the hands of other musicians. "It's been nice to sort of go back to that in a way -- to play my little songs," she says. "I wanted to play my music and explore it with other musicians, because I've only played with the musicians in Mazzy Star and, of course, Sylvia. I really wanted to experiment and see what would happen. Plus Mazzy Star became this big deal and things got a bit strange."
The sudden rise in Mazzy Star's popularity made it more difficult for Sandoval to work with some people in the music industry. "It's an awkward place to be. Suddenly there are so many eyes on you. You have this sense that there are certain people paying attention all of the sudden. And then people at Capitol Records would buy our shows out."
When a major-label band lands a radio hit, Hollywood industry heads are notorious for sometimes buying out the majority of tickets to a show. These tickets are then usually dispersed among other industry folks, turning what should be a normal gig into a schmoozy showcase with the band thrown into a compromising position as hired background noise. O'Ciosoig faced similar problems once My Bloody Valentine began to sell out American venues.
"It's like the first few rows of the audience would be made up of industry people, because they would buy those entire rows out," says O'Ciosoig. "It's like you're becoming a court musician rather than a club musician -- as if you're playing in courts for kings and queens like a minstrel or a bard. It becomes less personal and less about the music."
"We would fight this all the time," says Sandoval, "because Capitol would buy out a small club and start giving tickets away. Our manager would be on the phone with them nonstop, saying, 'No, you can't do that. We can't allow you to do this.' And it became awkward telling the record company, 'No, we don't want you to buy our show out.' We would play a 300-capacity club, which was totally easy for the label to fill up. It became a constant battle for us, and [the label] would say, 'Oh, they're being really difficult again.' When you won't budge from your original ideas, you often become perceived as 'difficult' to some in the music industry. Other than that, Capitol was really a nice label, but it just turned into something else. Different people got involved -- a whole set of different people that we didn't know, and I don't think they really had the kind of respect that the first people showed."
But those days of disrespect and difficulty are behind them. Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions are now signed to Rough Trade. And in today's climate of major-label money hoarding, Sandoval seems satisfied to be back on the indie circuit where she and O'Ciosoig have the freedom to let new ideas materialize in the form of a new band.
"It was really nice to do something with people I don't think I would have worked with if it was a Mazzy Star project," she says. "It's a team, you know? You have to agree on things, and sometimes people don't agree on everything. I think Colm and I had the same attitude on this record about working with different people. And if you truly enjoy playing music, it just makes sense to play with more than one group of people."
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