The music on Mazzy Star’s new album, “So Tonight That I Might See,” is inward and deep.
It seems to flow from the fragmentary consciousness of a mind falling toward sleep during the last sentient moments of an emotionally wearing day.
This is not the rock of the shake and strut, but of the murmur and sigh.
Guitarist David Roback and singer-lyricist Hope Sandoval, clearly are not folks who have shakes and struts rattling within their marrow, just waiting to be exorcised in that modern rite, the rock concert.
Speaking over the phone recently from a tour stop in Vancouver, Canada, the laconic Roback said that he had no misgivings about the contradictions inherent in playing such internalized music on a public stage.
He dismissed the notion that an ideal Mazzy Star universe would have a recording studio, fans willing to sit by their stereos and be drawn into those studio-woven moods, and no tour itineraries where clinking beer bottles might disrupt the music’s suggestive spell.
“No. . . . We like playing live,” Roback said. “There are a lot of chance elements, improvisational elements. The music can succeed whether or not the connection is being made with the audience. Whether it succeeds for us internally, or makes the connection (with concert-goers) are two separate issues. When you’re connecting, it does definitely add something that we like, and it does happen a lot. Sometimes it doesn’t. We’re prepared (to play) even if it doesn’t happen.”
When he hands over the backstage phone to Sandoval, a different perspective emerges.
Roback is a rock veteran, having first recorded in 1983 with Rain Parade, one of the leaders of a psychedelic revival in Los Angeles whose adherents (the Dream Syndicate and the Three O’ Clock were others) were collectively dubbed the “paisley underground.”
He subsequently formed the mid-'80s band, Opal, with Kendra Smith, an alumna of Dream Syndicate. When she left, Roback turned to Sandoval. Mazzy Star’s critically praised debut album, “She Hangs Brightly,” marked her record debut in 1990.
Now in her mid-20s, it is she who has to do the dreaming aloud in concert.
Sandoval said she still finds the stage an uncomfortable place to be--even more so now that she has an audience that knows her music than in the days when she was an unknown folkie on the Los Angeles club scene.
“Personally, I have a hard time playing live,” Sandoval said softly. “A big part of it is because the lyrics are really private. . . . I think with this record it’s a lot harder to do the whole live thing.
“I think the record is really dark and a lot of it is acoustic, and it seems like a lot of the times the audience isn’t ready for that,” she said. “A lot of them are just hanging out, drinking. (There are times) when you can hear the girl alongside of you (in the audience) talking about her wardrobe or something. It gets that way when you get kind of popular. You get all these different kinds of people, and some don’t care.
“I used to get really hostile about it,” she added. “I used to just lose my temper and tell the audience to shut up. On this tour, I’ve been sort of holding it in. If I’m onstage and the audience seems really noisy, I’ll turn to the band and say, ‘We’re not doing ‘Into Dust’ (an acoustic number) tonight.
“When I started out playing live, it was different,” said Sandoval, who began performing in her teens. “I felt good about it. Nobody knew who I was. I just opened for so-and-so. Now, I’m playing to people who are coming out to see the band. There’s too much attention on the band and me. It’s sort of hard to concentrate and just relax, because a lot of people know the records, and they sort of have this piece of you almost. It just seems really weird. I don’t understand it myself.”
Thrown by the prospect of revealing herself to an audience, Sandoval greets an interviewer’s questions about her songs’ themes the way most people react to beggars in the street. Mainly, she just wishes they weren’t there.
As the album progresses, desires and desires unfulfilled unfold in a flickering play of shadow and light. Darkness descends quickly from the start (“Fade Into You”). Hope emerges in “Blue Light,” which longs for connection with a “best friend” who has shining eyes. Such connection, however, seems beyond the emotionally paralyzed narrator’s reach.
A chill, deathly stillness enfolds “Into Dust.” But on the next, and concluding track, “So Tonight That I Might See,” Sandoval seems to be praying for a restoration of absent light during a murmured mantra that calls to mind the incantatory song-poems of Patti Smith.
Roback isn’t inclined to say much about Mazzy Star’s musical guiding lights. On various tracks, you get echoes of the Doors at their spookiest and the Stones and Velvet Underground at their most played-out, along with traces of old English balladry, and a skewed appropriation of Chicago blues crunch on “Wasted,” the album’s most assertive song.
“A few of our songs have organs, so people say it reminds them of the Doors,” Roback said in a dismissive tone. “There is sort of a tradition (that the band draws upon), but the essence of what we do is not to recreate something from the past at all.”
As to the name Mazzy Star, Roback assures a questioner that it does have a specific meaning, and that he and Sandoval have no intention of divulging it.
“So much about music is overdetermined by television and what people write and say about it,” he said. “You have to leave something to people’s imagination, so they feel they can participate. Music is music. We don’t want to be part of that over-determination. We feel you should be able to shut your eyes and listen to it.”
* Mazzy Star, St. Johnny and That Dog play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $15. (714) 496-8930.