Hope Sandoval returns with the Devil on her shoulder
Despite being a seasoned performer and the enigmatic voice behind the dreamy ’90s folk pop cult band, Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval is notoriously pained by the thought of performing. It’s been eight years since a major tour, and her return to the road with Colm Ó Cíosóig in the Warm Inventions, which kicks off this Friday, Sept. 18 at the Brookdale Lodge, is no light affair—literally and metaphorically.
With wistful atmospherics in dimly lit venues drawing audiences into an intimate haze of seductive, reverb-drenched lyrics, Sandoval’s signature mystery—and fragility—perhaps stems from the fact that she just may be the ultimate shoegazer.
“I appreciate people coming out and being supportive [at shows] but it’s really difficult,” the 43-year-old admits from her current digs in California; her quiet, monotone voice reaching as if it’s barely able to makes its way through the phone lines. “I think anybody, or most people, would feel the same. It’s awkward to get up on a stage or platform and have 300 or 500 people watching you. I always get nervous before shows, just the whole idea of it is pretty nerve-wracking … I still haven’t overcome it.”
Still, Sandoval’s recordings—polished orchestrations of lush melodies, angst-friendly heartbreak and syrupy vocals—have betrayed that fact, starting with Mazzy Star’s 1990 debut, She Hangs Brightly.
Now, as Mazzy Star quells fears of the band’s demise and puts the finishing touches on a highly-anticipated fourth release (“It’s almost done, there’s not really much left to do. But I don’t know when it’s going to come out”), Sandoval’s Warm Inventions side project picks up the baton with its sophomore tracklist and follow-up to 2001’s Bavarian Fruit Bread, Through the Devil Softly. And whereas in Mazzy Star she teams up with guitarist David Roback, here she finds comfort alongside Ó Cíosóig, ex-My Bloody Valentine drummer.
“In this project I play a lot more guitar and Colm plays guitar, but we’re not as good as David,” she says. “That stands out [as different]. Also, I write more of the songs on my own, whereas in Mazzy Star every song was written together.”
While penning the soon-to-be-released Through the Devil Softly (Sept. 29), an album she describes not-so-surprisingly as “dark,” Sandoval’s gravitation toward the imagery of the Devil continues beyond the CD title, because, she explains ambiguously, “it just keeps popping up.” The songs “Bluebird” and “Sets the Blaze” both swirl with lyrics referencing that guardian of the underworld, while “Blanchard” boasts Sandoval musing, “I knew then that we could never be blessed / … I play death in the space of my life / That’s how I feel, and I never think it twice.”
Her lyrics throughout, which Sandoval says embody an amalgam of both personal anecdotes and imaginary tangents, resonate against a veil of undulating slide guitar, vibraphone, cello, harmonica, glockenspiel and restrained drumming. Instrumentally, Sandoval and Ó Cíosóig share duties this time with Irish indie rockers Dirt Blue Gene, which will tour as the opening act and backing band for the Warm Inventions. The band co-wrote a handful of the songs on Through the Devil Softly and performs on about half of the tracklist so, Sandoval feels, “it’s almost just as much their record as it is ours.”
She opens up with enthusiasm when describing the band’s involvement on the CD, which was cross-continentally recorded at home and in Ireland, and she’s amped to finally share the stage with her latest collaborators on this tour: “It should be fun; Dirt Blue Gene is really amazing! I’ve heard their music but I’ve never heard their band live, so I’m looking forward to that.”
So what about her own skills live, known to silence a room and spark shivers in the soul? At the start of each night, Sandoval still follows the same formula to help her face her fears and get through every concert like she did early on. And it’s one that perfectly reflects the esoteric, haunting songs she delivers.
“I just keep it dark,” she says, “and keep my eyes closed.”
Photo Credit: Tilden Park