Published September 28, 2009
Mazzy Star’s 1994 hit radio single “Fade Into You” might very well have been the sexiest song of the of the decade. Taking inspiration from The Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser and Lynch chanteuse Julee Cruise, Mazzy frontwoman Hope Sandoval would whisper sweet nothings over guitarist David Roback’s languid strumming and sparse, chamber-meets-shoegazer production. In the most recent decade, she has teamed up with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O’Ciosoig to form Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, releasing Bavarian Fruit Bread in 2001. A more minimal combination of voice and multi-instrumental percolations, with guest guitar by the legendary Bert Jansch, the album received a warm critical reception and introduced Sandoval’s enigmatic songwriting to a much wider, post-indie audience. (PHOTO COURTESY OF NETTWERK)
After an eight year hiatus–during which time Sandoval collaborated with Air, Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers–the Warm Inventions returned this summer with a new single, “Blanchard.” Tomorrow, a full-length album, Through the Devil Softly, will be released on Nettwerk. “Blanchard” is a bluesy collage of acrylic dribbles and pneumatic atmospheres, quite incomparable to anything but Sandoval’s own past work. The whole of Through the Devil Softly takes a similar tack, blending hushed guitar strums and the tintinnabulations of various bric-a-brac–autoharps, music-boxes, vibraphones–to haunting effect. With a voice so dolorous and melodic–only ripening and gaining complexity with age–Sandoval could vie with Morrissey as the most distinctive singer of her generation. Last month, with the sounds of an local folk band floating in the background, I caught up with her via phone from Ireland.
Erik Morse: I read that you grew up in Los Angeles, and that got me to thinking whether film or Hollywood had a big influence on you, because your music has always had such a cinematic quality?
Hope Sandoval: Somewhat. Well, not really. I was born there and I grew up in East LA, not Hollywood.
EM: Your vocals reminds me so much of Morrissey in an odd way.
HS: I love Morrissey! I love The Smiths! The Smiths were on Rough Trade and Mazzy Star was on Rough Trade so we were sent their first singles years and years ago. And I loved them! I turned so many people on to The Smiths before they got huge.
EM: I have so many friends who have fallen in love with your voice, which must be such an odd thing for you to hear from people. Have you had a similar experience falling in love with a voice?
HS: Morrissey is definitely a good example. But there many, many singers I love. I’m here with my friends right now and we were talking about June Tabor. She’s an English folk singer and she sings a lot of Irish folk songs. She’s one of the most amazing singers. Her voice is beautiful. She is that voice I fell in love with. I’m not sure if she’s making records right now but she was recording from the 60s to the 90s. She was in a group called the Silly Sisters.
EM: Much of your music has a childlike quality to it with all these toy sounds like music boxes and vibraphones. Is there something you bring to your albums from childhood?
HS: Maybe. Probably. They’re just beautiful sounds. Especially the vibes. The vibes have a really really warm and beautiful sound. The music box on the new record was given to me and we just decided to use it. I actually don’t know how to play the vibes. I’m just winging it! I’m pretending.
EM: Your collaborator Colm’s work in My Bloody Valentine is so noisy and layered and dense, and your music is, by contrast, really acoustic and airy. So how do you guys work together musically as a unit?
HS: I’ve known Colm for a really long time. And I think for Colm, [the Warm Inventions] is a completely different world, it’s so mellow. It’s a quiet world. Whereas when he works with Kevin [Shields] it’s really loud, but it just sort of works. But I never really thought about it in that sort of way until we made our first record and the journalists were saying these things about the music being so much quieter. I think it’s natural for him.