February 10, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Jan Alfaro

A few days ago, I was making dinner and realized that I had listened to Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” about nine times back-to-back: it’s that good. The question of “what do I write about for next week’s earjam?” found its answer. So, here is Mazzy Star.

Mazzy Star is an alternative/dream-pop American band that originated in Santa Monica, Cali. out of the ’80s group Opal. Heavily inspired by the Paisley Underground genre that surrounded Los Angeles in the ’80s, drawing from groups like The Beatles and The Beach Boys, Opal was formed by guitarist David Roback from the band Raid Parade, vocalist Kendra Smith from the band The Dream Syndicate, and drummer Keith Mitchell.

While on tour, Smith dropped out of the psychedelic/alternative rock band where Hope Sandoval, the hallmark voice of Mazzy Star, replaced her and finished touring with Opal. Roback, familiar with Sandoval, having heard a tape from her folky duo “Going Home” while on tour, was intrigued. With Sandoval on board, the group decided to change their name once touring finished, and they began to make new music. Thus, in 1989, Mazzy Star was formed, giving the band a clean slate.

Before the formation of any official group, Roback spent time in the ’70s New York artist’s scene with hopes of becoming a painter. The longer he stayed, the more he was inspired by the music scene than the art scene, prompting his move back to Los Angeles.

From east L.A., Sandoval was the youngest of 10 children and grew up skipping class, staying home listening to records instead. As a group, Roback brings forth his multi-instrumental skills, producing most of the band’s instrumentals, and Sandoval brings her breathy melodic vocals, singing lyrics that she mostly writes—sometimes even accompanying Roback with the tambourine and harmonica.

The dreamy and moody-sounding band that is Mazzy Star released their first record in 1990, “She Hangs Brightly”. The album entered a few Billboard charts, with the most popular song from this album being “Halah.” From the get-go, the band was introducing their signature hauntingly sweet melancholic folk sound and had early listeners hooked.

Just about three years later, the group released their second album, “So Tonight That I Might See”, which contains “Fade Into You,” the band’s call to fame. With about 300 million streams on Spotify, the song includes beautifully sleepy vocals from Sandoval and layered restless guitar from Roback. The song is not about nostalgia but more a song about the present.

Written in about a day, the group just wanted to write another song, not a melancholic hit. Despite their intentions, I think the song remains a timeless piece that brings nostalgic melancholy to fans, including me. In addition to its personal impact, the song has provided the blueprint for the dream-pop genre that continues to follow to this day. During this era, “She’s My Baby” was released as a single alongside “Halah,” a track from their debut album.

With their growing popularity, the spotlight shined light on the band’s reluctance to take the limelight. In an interview, Sandoval commented on her scolding of a crowd for their applause after the track “Into Dust” had finished. Apparently, the crowd had been talking the whole time and to Sandoval, “it was obvious that nobody really listened, [where] everybody was just going through the motions.” What became known as the “shush song” as devoted fans would shush those at concerts who were aware of the incident, this highlights Sandoval’s wish that more fans would arrive at shows to just listen to the music, not expecting her to interact with the audience or dance.

The band’s third studio album, “Among My Swan”, was released in 1996 and although their fanbase had been growing across several generations, it was considered a “commercial disappointment.” While reading this, I was taken by surprise as I probably have the most saved songs from this album, so don’t let that small technical fact distract you from its beauty.

With a growth in popularity came a push from their record label to become a band that exists with the intent to sell millions of records. As a band that wanted to make authentic music for pleasure, the departure from their label was no surprise. This put the band in a thirteen-year hiatus until their next release  in 2013, with “Seasons of Your Day”. This is their most recent album with the exception of their EP, “Still”, which was released in 2018.

Sadly, Mitchell passed away in 2016, and Roback passed away in 2020. As Sandoval remains the only living member of the original group, I’m not sure anybody knows what the future holds for Mazzy Star.

Despite uncertainty about their future, I believe that the gifts of their music are fruitful and infinite; their determination to stay true to their creative direction, despite their growing fame, is admirable. In an interview Roback once said, “All through the ’80s, there was, like, this big party going on. 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.”

This idea of doing the thing they love for their pleasure brings joy to my heart and as I listen to my favorite song of theirs, “Into Dust,” I appreciate all they’ve put into the world. I hope you enjoy the associated playlist filled with Mazzy Star’s breathy vocals, dreamy guitars, pianos, and harmonicas.

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