SHE WAS the gentle but sensuous and hypnotic voice of Mazzy Star. Today she takes that voice into quieter, more sparse, musical realms backed by My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. She is Hope Sandoval.
Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - featuring Ó Cíosóig and Irish band Dirt Blue Gene - will play Strange Brew at the Róisín Dubh on Thursday October 29 at 8pm.
Hope was born into a large Mexican-American family in east Los Angeles in 1966. At that time, California was becoming the centre of the hippy counter culture but in LA, the Watts Riots showed there was a dark underbelly to the Sunshine State.
“I grew up in a very rough neighbourhood and these things always cast a shadow on your personality,” says Hope. “I definitely have used those childhood memories in my music.”
By her own admission, Hope grew up “introverted, shy, and quiet” but music provided an outlet for expression. “Music has always been in my life,” she says.
Hope’s father encouraged his daughter’s interest in music by buying her a guitar when she was 12. Three years later she took her first steps as a songwriter. “I was 15 and I wrote my first song with Sylvia Gomez and it was called ‘Shane’,” she says.
Five years later, in 1986, Hope and Sylvia formed a folk duo called Going Home and recorded an album produced by songwriter and guitarist David Roback - an active member of LA’s Paisley Underground scene.
Going Home’s album was never released but meeting Roback was a major turning point in Hope’s life, leading her to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. “I came here to work with David,” she said. “It was in the month of October and I fell in love with the beautiful atmosphere.”
The meeting also led to Hope becoming part of one of the most admired US alternative bands of the 1990s - Mazzy Star.
Mazzy Star began as Opal, a collaboration between Roback and singer Kendra Smith, when Smith left Hope took her place and the duo changed the band’s name to Mazzy Star. The band’s dark psychedelia showed the influence of The Doors and The Velvet Underground, while, as Allmuisc.com said, “their fuzzy guitar workouts and plaintive folky compositions are often suffused in a dissociative ennui that is very much of the 1990s.”
Mazzy Star released three albums - She Hangs Brightly (1990 ), So Tonight That I Might See (1993 ), and Among My Swan (1996 ). Since then the band have remained inactive but in July Hope told Rolling Stone that a fourth Mazzy Star album is being planned. However she admits it is taking time owing to the geographical distance between the two members.
“Both David and myself live in different countries,” she tells me. “It makes working difficult as we need to be together during the process and the distance stretches the time.”
Since 1996 though Hope has kept herself busy by collaborating with a variety of different artists, including Air, folk great Bert Jansch, and The Chemical Brothers. She is due to appear on the next Massive Attack album and has given support to Devendra Banhart and folk-band Vetiver.
“We love Vetiver,” declares Hope, “and when Andy [Cabic, band leader] asked us to be involved with their first album we were flattered. He’s an amazing songwriter. It’s always good to hear new great music.”
Hope was not destined to remain in the background and in 2001 she re-emerged with a new band Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions and in October of that year released the album Bavarian Fruit Bread.
Among the members of The Warm Inventions is the former My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, whom Hope describes as “kooky, lumpy, and loveable”. How did she come to work with him? “We got to know each other about 12 years ago in London,” she says. “We met in a club there. Eventually he moved out to California and we just started playing music together.”
As with Mazzy Star’s long awaited fourth album, Hope took a long time to release the follow-up to Bavarian Fruit Bread. It was only this year that Through The Devil Softly came out. Why the eight year gap?
“After what happened in New York in 2001 we became afraid and spent a lot of time speculating and some of the speculations were more frightening than the bombs themselves,” she said. “It seemed to pale the importance of music for us, but then of course we realised it was the best remedy.”
Aside from world events, events in the music world also delayed the recording of the album. My Bloody Valentine re-formed and Ó Cíosóig was back as sticksman for Kevin Sheilds.
“The My Bloody Valentine reunion did catch us off guard,” admits Hope, “but it gave me more time to spend listening to the record and change anything that needed to be changed, or in other words, over analyse the record and indulge myself with more time to work on it.”
Eventually Hope, Colm, and Dirt Blue Gene were able to resume recording Through The Devil Softly, the songs being written in California and Ireland. Inspiration, for many of Hope’s songs it seems, comes from a little bit of eavesdropping.
“There is nothing better than sitting in a restaurant and eavesdropping on the table next to you,” says Hope. “With a little bit of imagination, by the end of the night you have a story.”
When it came to recording the songs, the approach was more one of imagination than science.
“We write our little songs and if they’re still sparkling in the morning they tell us what they want to sound like,” she says. “Sometimes they stay exactly the same, sometimes we hear ghost guitars, or a sound that isn’t necessarily an instrument, just a sound we try to recreate. The best music is ideas that are shared.”
Performing them live can sometimes be daunting. Rolling Stone noted how Hope is “notoriously terrified” about performing in public. “I don’t perform,” Hope says. “I sing live and I do feel like myself though it can be a bit awkward at times.”
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago. Gugai will be DJing afterwards.