Profile of Enigmatic Singer Hope Sandoval

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 2009

Hope Sandoval's personality, as much as can be discerned from a truncated 15-minute interview, echoes her music. She is hard to understand, mysterious and mellow.

And she doesn't give much of herself away.

On what she has been doing during her eight-year hiatus between full-length albums with her band, the Warm Inventions, she says, "Various things." On what it was like being part of Mazzy Star when the band's "Fade Into You" became a 1993 hit, she recalls, "We didn't really notice." On which musicians she likes, she notes, "I listen to many different people." Finally on whether she likes giving interviews at all, she comments, "It's okay."

Oh, and Sandoval is barely audible on the phone over the sound of my typing.

All this makes her appear aloof and bored. Which she may be. Or, she may be just shy.

The most interesting (known) fact about Sandoval is that she suffers from stage fright, and a quick peek at YouTube clips of live performances reveals this firsthand.

Sandoval, 43, has been singing since high school in Los Angeles. She started performing with David Roback's band, Opal, in 1987. In 1989 Opal became Mazzy Star, a progressive rock band with Sandoval and Roback writing ethereal, meandering, undefined tunes along the same vein as Cowboy Junkies, only (even) more chilled out.

Mazzy Star released three albums in six years. Their second album sold 40,000 copies, but the band faded with the 1990s. In 2001, Sandoval released her first album with the Warm Inventions called Bavarian Fruit Bread, collaborating with Colm O'Ciosoig from My Bloody Valentine.

Through the years, Sandoval recorded with such bands as the Chemical Brothers and the Jesus and Mary Chain. (Sandoval dated William Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain for a time.)

Yet, despite all the performances, successful recordings and tours with big names, Sandoval remains an enigma, and she doesn't aspire to change that.

Sandoval performed with the Jesus and Mary Chain on the "Late Show With David Letterman" in 1994 with her arms behind her back and her head down, coy and childlike. That's true of many performances: She hides behind her long, dark hair and looks either very cool or very scared.

"Once the music is playing and I start to sing, I can block [the audience] out and sing. I just go inside the music and hear the music. I close my eyes," says Sandoval, whom reviewers often use as a point of reference to describe other singers with moody, mumbling sopranos.

She doesn't smile on stage or engage the audience. She is a performer uncomfortable with performing. "Anybody would feel that way," she says. "You walk into a room and 500 people are staring at you, it would make you nervous. It's awkward."

At the same time, she believes it is important to perform live "because it's real. You can cheat in the studio. You can't cheat live. You have to be able to do it note for note."

Sandoval worked closely with O'Ciosoig again on her newest album, "Through the Devil Softly," released last month. It's what you would expect from the singer. Sexy (sleepy?) music, good for a rainy day.

According to Sandoval, Mazzy Star has been working on a fourth album, but she didn't know when it would be released.

The one topic that does get Sandoval excited is California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area and she says, "I love it there!"

But that's all she'll reveal.

Hope Sandoval Appearing Wednesday at Sixth and I Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $22 in advance, $25 the day of the show. 202-408-3100 or The Download: For a sampling of Hope Sandoval, check out: From "Through the Devil Softly": -- "Wild Roses" -- "Thinking Like That" -- "Trouble" From "Bavarian Fruit Bread": -- "Drop" -- "On the Low" -- "Feeling of Gaze"

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