Mazzy Star is one of those rare bands whose very name has come to define a certain aesthetic. Many of us who make a living writing and talking about music are all probably guilty at some point of describing a new record as having a very “Mazzy Star” kind of vibe — i.e. anything pretty and dreamy and druggy and gorgeously slow. If anything, it’s a compliment to the band that they have managed, over the course of 23 years, to carve out their own private and very woozy niche. Mazzy Star makes music that brings to mind hints of the folky Paisley Underground, soporific blues riffs, reverbed guitar lines that go one for days, and a voice — courtesy of Hope Sandoval — with the same sonic quality as opium smoke, rising and weaving through songs that always sound best when played in the middle of the night (or, for those of us of a certain age, perhaps during a college makeout session). It’s been 17 years since the duo last released an album (1996’s Among My Swan), but this month they will break their long silence with the release of Seasons of Your Day, an album that pretty much sounds exactly like Mazzy Star (in the most beautiful way possible). I contacted Sandoval and bandmate David Roback via the world’s most complicated Skype scenario: Hope in Ireland, David in Norway, and myself in Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, given their reclusive nature and the famously reserved quality of their music, the two musicians might just be the unchattiest people I’ve ever tried to talk to. I don’t mind, though. Mazzy Star’s music has seen me (and a lot of people) through some dark and confusing (and also wonderful) times … and even if they aren’t all that psyched about explaining themselves, I’m just happy that they are back.
STEREOGUM: Thanks to both of you for taking a moment to chat with me. It’s been nearly seventeen years since you last released an album. Why the long gap between records?
ROBACK: We’ve been writing and recording music all along, we just haven’t released anything up until now. But we’ve been working on and off all along, so it really doesn’t feel like a break for us.
STEREOGUM: So what made now feel like the right time to release a record?
ROBACK: I’m not even sure that right now is a good time to release a record. I’m not sure there is a good time to do it.
STEREOGUM: The announcement of a new album after so many years away has caused a lot of excitement among your fans. Have you been surprised by the reaction?
SANDOVAL: We don’t really know. It’s hard for us to tell.
ROBACK: We haven’t been playing any shows recently, so I don’t know … but we’ll be starting to play shows again next month, beginning on Halloween.
STEREOGUM: The two of you have been making music together for nearly two decades now. Has your way of working changed much over the years?
STEREOGUM: You’ve both made lots of interesting music outside of Mazzy Star, but there seems to be something particularly special that happens when you write songs together. What is it about the dynamic between the two of you that makes for such amazing songs?
ROBACK: Well, we like to play live — at least when we’re working alone — and when we record it’s like we’re playing our songs live in the studio. We like for everything to have a very live kind of feel and the songs kind of mirror that live experience. That’s something that we’ve both always been very into, both me and Hope.
STEREOGUM: I know that a lot of this record was recorded in either California or Norway. David, do you live in Norway?
ROBACK: I actually spend most of my time in London these days. We recorded there as well.
SANDOVAL: I live in California.
STEREOGUM: I’ve always read that touring and playing live was kind of nerve-wracking for you guys. Hope, has that aspect of the band changed for you over the years? Do you find that performing in front of people has gotten easier?
SANDOVAL: No, it hasn’t changed.
STEREOGUM: How do you deal with it?
SANDOVAL: I haven’t really figured it out, to be honest. I just make myself go out there, and hope for the best.
STEREOGUM: The record comes with a nice little epigraph: “Music for lovers, music for broken hearts.” How does that relate idea relate to these songs specifically?
ROBACK: For people who are having a really intense emotional experience in their lives, they often have very intense connection with specific songs. I think it’s always been that way with our music.
STEREOGUM: Music for lovers, music for broken hearts ….that could really apply to your entire back catalog. People have such an emotional attachment to the kind of music you make and it becomes a really powerful thing. I remember when you guys played Coachella that there were people scattered around the audience crying and having this very intense experience with you. Do you feel that when you play live?
SANDOVAL: Sometimes, yes. It’s great.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned that you will be playing shows beginning in October. Will the live setup be different from how you’ve done things in the past?
ROBACK: Not really. Some of our songs are very acoustic and some of it is very electric, so playing live we tend to go back and forth between the two. Trying to project while playing an acoustic song that might be just a little bit fragile — you know, to a big room — it’s different every night. It depends always on the room and the mood of the audience. You never know.
STEREOGUM: I was a little worried about that when I saw you playing at festivals. You guys managed to pull it off, though.
ROBACK: We’re more comfortable in smaller venues and intimate rooms, for sure.
STEREOGUM: Was there ever a point during those seventeen years between records when you wondered if this band was over? When it seemed in doubt that you’d ever make another Mazzy Star record?
ROBACK: You know, we’re still very into playing music together and writing songs together — just like we always were — I don’t think we ever even thought about it, really.
STEREOGUM: I was admiring the artwork and packaging for the new record, which reminded me that I’d always been told that Hope was the one responsible for creating all of the band’s visuals and all the merch and stuff. Is that true?
SANDOVAL: No. I did some of it, but no. Who told you that?
STEREOGUM: A friend of mine who’s in another band — and is an avowed Mazzy Star superfan — mentioned that to me. I’d always heard that as well.
ROBACK: We kind of do it together, and we have friends who help us out from time to time.
STEREOGUM: Your band has one of the most carefully maintained — and most instantly recognizable — aesthetics in all of rock music. Is that something that’s been hard to maintain or is it something that just kind of happens naturally when the two of you make music together?
ROBACK: We’ve always experimented with different sounds and different textures, but ultimately we’ve always just made the music we wanted to make that sounded the way we wanted it to. We make music that we’d also like to hear. That’s what we’ve always done.
Mazzy Star’s Seasons Of Your Day is out 9/24 on the band’s own label, Rhymes Of An Hour Records.