David Roback and Hope Sandoval talk us through their illustrious career
Hope Springs Eternal
Seventeen long and sad years after Mazzy Star last released an album, Hope Sandoval and Dave Roback are back, magnificent and unchanged. What happened? Uncut charts the uncanny journey of the pair, from The Rain Parade to the quietly triumphant comeback, Seasons Of Your Day. “We’re not so concerned about the outside world,” admits Roback. “They’re not your normal rock’n’roll people,” understates one of their associates…
Steve Wynn remembers an unexpected phone call he received one day in 1991, from David Roback, the guitarist and co-founder of Mazzy Star. As Wynn remembers it, Roback said to him, “I’ve been thinking, I want to do some sort intense, jammy band like Cream or something like that, and I’d like to do it with you.” Wynn had long admired Roback, and readily agreed. “But I think my instant enthusiasm took him aback,” says Wynn. “He said, ‘I mean, just in theory, maybe some day, not right away, maybe down the line, I just want to see what you thought about.’ So I said, ‘Hey, it sounds really fun, I’d love to play with you so give me a call when you’re ready.’ That was the last time I spoke to David Roback.”
Wynn has known Roback for 30 years, from the earliest days of their careers among the Paisley Underground movement, when Wynn was frontman for the Dream Syndicate and Roback the co-singer and guitarist with the Rain Parade. “Of all the people in that scene, I’ve stayed close to just about everybody in one way or another over the years,” claims Wynn. “But David, he wasn’t that easy to know.”
It’s tempting to ask, does anyone really know David Roback? Along with Hope Sandoval, his creative partner in Mazzy Star, Roback comes across as elusive, often cryptic. Questions about the length of time it’s taken to record Mazzy Star’s new album Seasons Of Your Day – released a full 17 years after its predecessor – aren’t answered as fully as you’d like. Asked, for instance, what the first song was that they recorded for the album, Roback replies: “Well, we really weren’t working on Seasons Of Your Day as it exists now, we were just recording various things. We never really stopped. We just kept writing and recording.”
Such is the degree of mystery Mazzy Star seem to cultivate around their work that one musician contacted for this article wasn’t even aware that his contribution to Seasons Of Your Day had been used; not surprising, perhaps, as he recorded it nearly 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Roback and Sandoval’s interviews with Uncut are conducted via Skype, peppered with awkward pauses and elliptical responses.
“They’re not your normal rock ‘n roll people,” explains Geoff Travis, whose label Rough Trade distributed Mazzy Star’s 1990 debut, She Hangs Brightly. “I think they really do live in their own worlds. It’s a very typical musician thing in a way, in that they’re so obsessed with music and doing what they do, that it kind of removes them slightly from normal social mores.”
Looking back over a quarter of a century of Mazzy Star, I ask Sandoval what’s she most proud of.
“I’m proud of the music, and I’m proud of our friendship,” she replies after a typical hesitation. And when is she at her happiest? Is it when she’s writing songs? Or in the studio? Or after a record is completed? “I’m happy with all of the different aspects of it,” she replies instantly, her voice taking on an unexpected urgency. “But I’m also miserable with all of the aspects. They’re nice, they’re gratifying, but at the same time they can be difficult and emotional. Every phase, there’s happiness in it, there’s enjoyment in it, but there’s also torture.”