Described variously as dreamy, moody, and unusual, Mazzy Star created its own musical galaxy by mixing blues, country, psychedelic, and acoustic folk into skyrocketing success. From the beginning of the band’s career, critics consistently compared their airy, ethereal sound to groups of a different era, like the Velvet Underground, the Doors, and the Beatles.
In 1982 guitarist David Roback played in an underground band called Rain Parade. The group later became known as part of the “Paisley Underground,” a collection of psychedelic 1960s-influenced guitar bands based in Los Angeles. After Rain Parade released their first album, Roback left to form Clay Allison with fellow Paisley Underground member Kendra Smith (original bassist for the Dream Syndicate), drummer Keith Mitchell, and guitarist Juan Gomez. Clay Allison dismissed Gomez and dropped their name before their 1984 release Fell from the Sun on Serpent/Enigma. Until they renamed the band Opal, they simply recorded under the names of the three remaining members. The following year, Opal released its first EP, Northern Line, on One Big Guitar Records.
In the meantime singer Hope Sandoval and her friend, guitarist Sylvia Gomez, had formed a folk duo called Going Home in 1986. After Roback met Sandoval and heard Going Home play, he offered to producetheirfirst album. The recording was completed shortly thereafter but was not released until 1995.
After Opal’s second album, Happy Nightmare Baby, came out on SST Records, Kendra Smith quit the band—right in the middle of their tour with the Jesus&Mary Chain. Left without a singer, Roback invited Sandoval to take Smith’s place for the remaining shows on the tour. “When I was playing in Opal, we were friends, Hope and I,” Roback said in Rolling Stone. “But I don’t think we were really part of the music scene in the way that people may have perceived it at that point. Actually, we were both sort of alienated—that’s what we had in common.”
Once Roback and Sandoval started writing music together and headed to the studio, they decided to change the band’s name to Mazzy Star in order to have a completely fresh start. In 1990 the new group released their debut album, She Hangs Brightly, on the British independent label Rough Trade Records. Even without major label distribution, the album garnered some sizable attention. Yet Mazzy Star hadn’t approached their music with stardom in mind. “Inever really thought too much about success,” Roback told Steve Appleford in
For the Record…
Band formed as Opal, 1984; Sandoval joined and group changed name to Mazzy Star, 1987; signed with Rough Trade Records; released She Hangs Brightly, 1990; signed with Capitol Records, 1991; released So Tonight That I Might See, 1993.
Addresses: Record company —Capitol Records, 1750 North Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.
Billboard. “The size of your audience is like the size of your car or something. Bigger audience, bigger car, bigger house.”
When Rough Trade closed down its U.S. operation— leaving Mazzy Star without a label—Capitol Records snatched them up with a contract in 1991. Capitol rereleased She Hangs Brightly with major distribution, but the growing sensationalism startled the shy, reclusive members of the band. “We were more at home at a smaller label,” Roback admitted to Craig Rosen in Billboard. “With the kind of music we make and the thing we do, I don’t think we fit in with the Hollywood industry…. I heard someone say that underground music is more accepted today, but I really have my doubts about that. I have to see it to believe it.”
For the next two years Mazzy Star stayed in seclusion, excommunicating themselves from the press and the music scene. They spent their time experimenting with different ideas and writing songs for their next album. The result, So Tonight That I Might See, hit the stores on October 5, 1993. “It’s not like we set off to change what we were doing; it’s just what we were into doing this time,” Roback told Ken Hunt of the Seattle Times.
Almost a year after the album’s release, the first single, “Fade into You,” became a hit. As Mazzy Star’s popularity took off, reports of the bandmembers’ eccentricities, aloofness, and reluctance to take the limelight escalated. Many interviewers commented on their shyness and the long, quiet pauses between questions and answers.
Diminishing conversation even carried over to Mazzy Star’s live performances. In one concert Sandoval reportedly reprimanded an audience for their applause after they played “Into Dust,” since the crowd had just talked through most of it. “I couldn’t hear myself because there were so many people talking,” Sandoval recalled in a Musician interview with Dave DiMartino. “And after we finished, everybody applauded. It was obvious that nobody really listened, and everybody was just going through the motions.” “Into Dust” would later become known within the band as the “Shush Song,” referring to the devoted fans who “shush” the uninitiated every time they perform it.
In the same Musician interview, Sandoval went on to say that she would rather have the people who come to Mazzy Star shows just listen to the music. “I don’t understand why people expect me to communicate with the audience,” she continued. “There’s nothing wrong with me that I just come out and sing and don’t speak, and don’t dance.”
With Mazzy Star’s fame on a steady rise, Capitol Records released the second single, “She’s My Baby,” with “Halah,” a song from their first album, on the B-side. Instead of playing the intended single, radio stations across the country—along with MTV—resurrected “Halah” almost three years after its original release. And in late 1994 the Jesus&Mary Chain released their album Stoned and Dethroned; on the single “Sometimes Always, “Sandoval provided guest vocals. (She is said to be romantically involved with Jesus member William Reid.) With the timing of the album’s release and Mazzy Star’s new explosion, the two bands embarked on a global tour together.
Furthering their exposure, Mazzy Star contributed the song “Tell Me Now” to the Batman Forever soundtrack in 1995. But despite the group’s success, they still held on to their own creative direction without being swayed by fame and accomplishment. From their first album, Roback has produced every piece of music in order to ensure its integrity. “All through the ’80s, there was, like, this big party going on,” Roback told DiMartino in Musician. “Hope and I were never invited to this party. We certainly aren’t going to get up and start entertaining this party we were never invited to. That hasn’t changed. We like to play music. We’re not trying to make a big deal out of it. We’re just doing it.”
She Hangs Brightly, Rough Trade Records, 1990; reissued, Capitol, 1991.
So Tonight That I Might See, Capitol, 1993.
The Trouser Press Record Guide, edited by Ira A. Robbins, Collier Books, 1992.
Billboard, August 25, 1990; October 16, 1993, p. 16; June 25, 1994; August 13, 1994; October 29, 1994.
Guitar Player, January 1994; November 1994.
Musician, December 1993; December 1994, p. 23.
People, July 31, 1995.
Rolling Stone, August 23, 1990, p. 36; September 6, 1990; December 13-27, 1990; December 9, 1993; October 6, 1994; October 20, 1994; November 17, 1994.
Seattle Times, April 1, 1994; June 2, 1995.
Spin, January 1995.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Capitol Records press material, 1993.
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