Friday, January 29, 2010

It Was A Pleasure Then: Twenty Years of Mazzy Star

While I have trouble wrapping my head around this fact, this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the beautiful first album teaming guitarist David Roback and vocalist Hope Sandoval, a gifted twosome that would form the core of the unequaled Mazzy Star.
Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly, one of the most mesmerizing debut LPs of the modern rock era, did indeed hit record stores (remember those) back in 1990 and I wanted to take a few moments to celebrate a band that I can’t imagine the soundtrack of my life without.
Mazzy Star formed out of the ashes of the mighty Opal, an important and mostly unsung band featuring Roback with former Dream Syndicate member Kendra Smith. After the Smith version of Opal suddenly and quite mysteriously imploded in 1989, young vocalist Sandoval stepped in and Mazzy Star was born.
Mazzy Star only released three albums in their rather short career that stretched just over the seven-year mark. While the band has never officially broken up, 1996’s lovely Among My Swan remains the final album bearing the Mazzy Star name. Roback has continued on in the music industry, as has Sandoval (whose two solo albums are absolute gems) but, outside of an appearance or two, Mazzy Star has remained in silent mode for nearly fifteen years now.

My own experiences with Mazzy Star started, like a lot of fans, when I was bowled over by their extraordinary second LP So Tonight That I Might See in 1993. I had just turned twenty years old when the exquisite “Fade Into You” began breaking into the airwaves like a whispered reminder of how great popular music could be in the midst of a grunge movement that was already turning in on itself. As much as I came to love that second and finally third album throughout the nineties, She Hangs Brightly might be the definitive Mazzy Star creation, a psychedelic country-tinged classic recalling the best of The Velvet Underground, Love, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Doors, The Jesus and Mary Chain and a number of other bands who, like Mazzy Star, refused to just cater to the tastes of their day.

She Hangs Brightly is a breathtaking collection from its first song to its last. Whether it’s the delicious gentleness of the opening track, “Halah”, or the ferocious intensity of the rocking powerhouse “Ghost Highway”, She Hangs Brightly simply sounds like no other album I can think of. It’s one of those rare LPs that manages to work as a clear tribute while transcending its influences.
Mazzy Star would of course influence a number of bands throughout the nineties and into this decade but those bands lacked Mazzy Star’s bite, they lacked their intensity and their ability to breathe fire when they needed to. Mazzy Star were both lovely and dark at the same time, and nobody was more intense than Hope Sandoval when she would go as deep into a song as possible, at times, with barely a whisper.

I only had the opportunity to see Mazzy Star once but what a memorable show it was. Opening up for The Jesus and Mary Chain at Cincinnati’s Bogarts, Roback and Sandoval were a powerful experience live. So concentrated and passionate were Sandoval’s silent offerings that night that I felt like the door of the club might be blown off by the brilliance she exuded. The Mary Chain finally did blow the door off later in the evening with “Reverence” but I will save that story for another post.

While I have many memories of Mazzy Star and how they have influenced my life, they will always be of the most utmost importance due to the impact they had on me in the late nineties when, in the midst of my own very spiritual and personal crisis, their three albums provided me much needed solace from a particularly dark journey I was on. Great music will always be meaningful but music that can help lead you through deserves a special place, and Mazzy Star helped me out of the Badlands when I badly needed a guide.

Whether Mazzy Star will ever return remains to be seen. Hope Sandoval has said that there will be a fourth album eventually and I would like to believe that is true. While Mazzy Star will always occupy a special place in my past I would love to have them in my future as well.


Tony Dayoub said...

This is one of my all time favorite bands. Though I also became aware of them as a result of their second album, I completely agree with you that their first album is their best.

J.D. said...

Thank you Jeremy for those personal and thoughtful words on one of my fave bands. Like yourself, I discovered them through SO TONIGHT THAT I MIGHT SEE via the haunting "Fade Into You" video (I personally prefer the desert version) but I think that "Blue Light" may be my fave song of theirs.

And like yourself I saw them when they opened up for The Jesus and Mary Chain during their STONED AND DETHRONED tour. I've never seen a band so shy and introspective. They looked almost embarrassed to be up on stage. I also remember their set quite vividly for a stupid couple that stood in front of me and decided to make-out for their entire site. Get a room! Oh well... it didn't spoil the experience.

And the Mary Chain did not disappoint, esp. when they blazed through a blistering rendition of "Snakedriver."

Anonymous said...

Be sure to watch the movie "Clean"- David Roback has a part as musician "David Roback".

Tom said...

One of my favorite songs, "Fade Into You"....