ABOVE: MAZZY STAR’S DAVID ROBACK (LEFT) AND HOPE SANDOVAL. IMAGE COURTESY OF ELLEN ANE EGGEN
It’s tough to find any mention of Mazzy Star without the words “reticent” or “reclusive” lingering somewhere nearby. The duo, comprised of longtime collaborators Hope Sandoval and David Roback, speaks softly, perhaps mostly in whispers. Sandoval and Roback seem genuinely unaware—or unconcerned—with the role their riveting guitar swells have played in the development of contemporary guitar rock and folk as demonstrated by everyone from Widowspeak to Beach House. Sandoval and Roback began recording in the early ’90s. Their quiet musings, reverb-threaded country ballads pieced together from the remnants of the Paisley Underground, were enhanced by Sandoval’s quivering vocals, both meditative and melancholy.
Seventeen years of silence later, Sandoval and Roback, now 47 and 55, respectively, have returned with the bristly Seasons of Your Day, recorded in London, Los Angeles, and Norway. Along with the late Scottish virtuoso Bert Jansch, My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosói and collaborators Keith Mitchell and Suki Ewers can all be heard on the record. The two speak of the recording process as though no time has passed; it could easily be 1990, and She Hangs Brightly has just dropped. There’s a prevailing sense that time doesn’t function on quite a linear plane for Mazzy Star, or a traceable one, for that matter—the two simply let the songs sweep them up completely, swerving into the shadows of L.A. after dusk before coursing past Norwegian fjords in a single verse.
PAULA MEJIA: I was struck by a phrase on your press release, which describes Seasons of Your Day as “Music for lovers, music for broken hearts.” With that in mind, what headspace were you in when writing, and how did the seeds of this record come together?
DAVID ROBACK: Each song is an individual thing, so I don’t know if there was one particular story for the whole record.
HOPE SANDOVAL: We usually get together and work when we’re in the same country, so basically that’s what we did these past few years. In and out of different cities, we would come up with our ideas, exchange ideas, and go either into David’s studio or my studio, or a portable studio that we both have and lay down a few tracks. We get together with some of the musicians that we work with and some other musicians that we hadn’t work with, and that’s basically it.
MEJIA: I read you recorded in Norway. Was the majority of the record done there?
ROBACK: Most of the record was recorded in either Los Angeles or Norway, although some of it was recorded in London, actually. I’m in Norway right now. We’re here quite a bit of the time.
MEJIA: Do you notice a difference between these disparate environments when you go back and listen to the record?
SANDOVAL: I’ve never really thought about it. I leave that up to other people. [laughs] It’s just some guitar, some singing. Things here and there.
MEJIA: That makes sense. I used to live in Denmark, so I’m always interested in how public space and art intertwine in Scandinavia. It brims from every corner.
ROBACK: Where did you live in Denmark?
ROBACK: Copenhagen’s a really cool city. I go there from time to time, I really like it there.
MEJIA: It’s gorgeous. I didn’t make it to Norway, though, which I hear is incredible. Were you recording in Oslo?
ROBACK: Yeah, the studio is basically in Oslo.
MEJIA: Seasons of Your Day was recorded on your own label, Rhymes of an Hour. Without the influence of a major label, how did you work to set parameters for yourself? Was the process different this time around in any way?
ROBACK: I think the process is really the same. We were never particularly involved with any record label, with the exception of one point when we were working with Rough Trade Records. It was a small label, we both felt quite comfortable there. I think that’s what we like. We like to do our music and allow it to evolve on its own.
MEJIA: Taking it back a bit, why did you pick up a guitar as opposed to another instrument?
SANDOVAL: That’s a David question. [laughs]
ROBACK: We write on piano and organ as well, and guitar is something—I don’t know why. There are a lot of things one can do with a guitar. There are no rules, there’s no formula.
MEJIA: Was there a particular guitar-centered group or artist that made you realize that potential? I guess I am wondering what your “this is it” moment was with guitar music.
ROBACK: You mean live, or on record?
MEJIA: Yeah, let’s say live.
ROBACK: Oh, there are so many things. So many great guitar players. Tom Verlaine is amazing, I saw him live. I really loved his style. Syd Barrett, too.
SANDOVAL: The best live shows I’ve ever been to where Green on Red live shows. Amazing live band. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were really great. I saw them live in the ’90s; they were really, really good. The music is great, and the musicians are amazing.
MEJIA: Your live performances are very reverent. Do you seek out that same experience when you see a band live?
SANDOVAL: I think it’s both musicianship and the reverence. When I go to a live show, I want to be moved. That’s why you do it. And it’s not very often that a band will move you live. Playing live can be a really, really difficult thing.
MEJIA: I heard your story about meeting Johnny Cash on Jools Holland years ago, which is how many people were exposed to your music. And he said, “Take the right path in life”?
SANDOVAL: He didn’t say “in life.” He just said, “Take the right path.”
MEJIA: Okay. Still, that’s a very sage thing to impart on a young musician. Do you think about that moment today?
SANDOVAL: I do think about it. I think we all think about that, we want to take the right path. Most people don’t. When you’re young and in a rock-‘n’-roll band, it can get pretty wild. I’m sure that’s why he said it to me. “It’s the beginning, she’s in a rock band.” All these weird things are going to start happening.
MEJIA: Has that changed the way you perceive your role in a rock band?
SANDOVAL: I just thought, I totally understood why he was saying that to me. I’m sure somebody said that to him when he first started out.
MEJIA: So essentially, you have to pass on that knowledge to another young band.
MEJIA: You’ve gained a certain notoriety for being reticent and elusive. Has anything struck you today that’s happening musically?
ROBACK: What’s occurring in 2013? From your perspective.
MEJIA: Well… with the furthered accessibility of analog instruments, and the ability to self-release records, there’s an oversaturation of music in general, which becomes difficult to sift through. But in spite of that, I think 2013 has been a landmark year for records. There are fantastic psychedelic records, very strong guitar music.
ROBACK: Yeah. There’s some really good music out there, I’ve seen some great bands in London.
MEJIA: What are some of the bands you’ve seen in London?
ROBACK: Well, I know this guy named Aidan Connell. He’s in this band called Melody Nelson. He’s quite an amazing guitar player, I saw him recently at the Saint Pancras church. But there are interesting things happening in all genres right now, I think. I don’t think there are any particular trends that are cohesive.
MEJIA: Do you think music can grow further in a positive direction, especially with the advent of technology?
ROBACK: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of interesting artists who are exploring themselves. That’s what’s really captivating.
MEJIA: Is it strange to hear other bands cite you as a prominent influence? I’m thinking of Widowspeak, a band out of Brooklyn, in particular.
SANDOVAL: I don’t know them. Somebody else mentioned them to me recently. I think… people are inspired by our music, and that’s cool. We all borrow each other’s music.
MEJIA: Have you been listening to anything striking lately?
SANDOVAL: I can’t remember what I’ve listened to. [laughs] I haven’t listened to music in about five days.
MEJIA: Wow. Is that by choice?
SANDOVAL: Yeah… I just haven’t really put music on.
ROBACK: I drove down to the Oslo fjord yesterday, and I was listening to Françoise Hardy. It was quite amazing.
MAZZY STAR’S SEASONS OF YOUR DAY IS OUT TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 24. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT SANDOVAL’S WEBSITE.