Hope Against Hope ... Has Mazzy Star Returned?
by Ron Hart
A hefty portion of us who were teens in the early nineties lost our virginity to one of two sounds: either that of a sensual balladeer working under the banner Mazzy Star, or the cacophonous rebellion of a feedback outfit named My Bloody Valentine. They addressed, in opposite ways, a feeling of momentousness tempered by confusion -- and therein lies their appeal. Mazzy Star chanteuse Hope Sandoval offered a voice that massaged the troubles of coming of age, while MBV offered release. Since that adolescent turning point, most of us may have felt similar periods of confusion or import, but likely nothing that hastens a collective coming of age quite the way the last couple months have. Likewise, since 1996, neither Sandoval nor MBV have made so much as a blip on the radar screen. Now, with the release of Bavarian Fruit Bread, and under the moniker of Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, the bands are back, at least in some form. Joined by MBV drummer Colm O'Ciosoig, Sandoval is set to release the album that fans of both bands expect to be their return -- or better yet, a bastard child collaboration of the two artists' former selves. In fact, it's neither.
Sparser, lighter and undoubtedly more rustic than the dreamy psychedelia of classic Mazzy albums like She Hangs Brightly and So Tonight That I Might See, the curiously titled Bavarian Fruit Bread sounds more like a shoegazing version of some Leonard Cohen afterworld. But for O'Ciosoig, the opportunity to create something outside his sonic demographic was very enriching.
"The old stuff is great," he muses with regard to inspirations for BFB's eclecticism. "The quality of the oldies, how they came out, seems like it got lost somewhere along the way. You wonder if it's lost in the psyche of the fact that people have just gotten lazy. In the 40's and 50's, the influences of making great music with other people were so much more relevant than they are today, be it jazz or blues or folk. But it seems like [modern technology] has chipped away a lot of the artistry."
For Sandoval, who wrote the majority of BFB over the course of her four-year, unexplained hiatus from the music business, one of the primary milestones of the recording process was working with, in addition to O'Ciosoig, one of her favorite British folk guitar greats Bert Jansch.
"I don't play guitar very well," proclaims Sandoval. "So I asked Bert while I was working on the songs for this album if he would be into playing on some of them. I sent him a tape and he really liked it, and said he would do it."
Sandoval first met Jansch when Mazzy Star played a double bill with him during the Among My Swan tour. On Fruit Bread, Jansch's legendary fretwork marks a number of tracks, including the haunting "Charlotte," one of Sandoval's most arresting ballads since "Fade Into You."
Sandoval says she was so pleased with the sessions between Jansch and The Warm Inventions that she might record with him once again as a duo. "But this time it'll be a bit different because he'll be writing all the music," she says. "For the tracks he did on Bavarian Fruit Bread, I wrote the songs. So next time it'll be all his music."
Undoubtedly, some of Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine fans will be disappointed, if not just surprised, by the unexpected sound of the collaboration. In fact, posts on various newsgroups and fan sites are decidedly split on the union, having caught an early glimpse of The Warm Inventions in the form of a four-song, import EP released last year entitled At The Doorway Again.
"It's okay, but not as moody and psychedelic as Mazzy Star," explains one poster in a Mazzy Star newsgroup. A person writing under the handle The Other White Meat on the newsgroup fa.music.ecto champions Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions "as languid as Mazzy Star, but more liquid."
Like most artists who refuse to speak on past milestones in their careers, Sandoval and O'Ciosoig, sitting in the Belmont Lounge in one of their first encounters with the press in quite some time, are reluctant to speak of how the union relates to their former bands. "We're just doing the kind of music that we like doing together," explains O'Ciosoig. "This is not some stiff, radio-ready pop record. We like all the rough edges. It's real music, y'know. Just as long as it's not forced. If its natural, and the musicians playing the music are enjoying it for what it is worth and what it should be, then it's gonna be alright."
They do begrudgingly admit to staying in touch with former bandmates on a personal level. O'Ciosoig confesses to meeting up with ex-partner Kevin Shields every now and again for a beer, and Sandoval stays in touch with her old Mazzy Star mate Dave Roback. Nevertheless, there's no sign of any imminent reunion between the duo. But for the legions of followers who still keep the memories of Hope Sandoval's and Colm O'Ciosoig's previous ventures in their apartments and bedrooms, online and off, no need to worry. The chemistry between them quintessentially works under the banner of Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions.
"It's a great bread," Sandoval muses with regard to the album's title. "You really ought to try it sometime." With the need now more than ever to return to the sounds of comfort and catharsis, her timing couldn't be better.