During her 30 years in the music industry, Hope Sandoval has seldom ventured outside her self-made haven of secrecy. Notoriously shy onstage and averse to any kind of publicity, she has become somewhat of a musical enigma. In today’s Internet culture of online curatorship, Sandoval is a cryptic muse of nonconformity and pure creative intention.
Since 1989, Sandoval has made up one half of duo Mazzy Star with David Roback, releasing albums in 1990, 1993, 1996 and 2013, and EPs in 2014 and 2018. In 2000, she collaborated with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, and released solo work in 2001, 2010, 2016 and 2017 under Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. After the vast success of Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You” in 1994 (from So Tonight That I Might See), their notoriety infringed on Sandoval’s withdrawn disposition. As they began to perform on more televised appearances, she was visibly self-conscious, hiding behind her flowing hair.
After their 1996 album, Among My Swan, Mazzy Star continued to produce music under Capitol records. Yet, Sandoval allegedly pleaded for the company to release their contract, stifled by the domineering influence of a large music label urging for a hasty and formulaic process. This imposed on the band’s languid and organic style of writing music. Subsequent releases under Mazzy Star or the Warm Inventions were sporadic, reflecting Sandoval’s desire to be free of external pressure.
With the rise of social media and digitised visual culture that have arisen over the last two decades, her seclusion endures. The majority of updates come from Sandoval’s official website. Absent from Instagram and Twitter and mostly uncommunicative to the press, listeners must wait patiently for her return without hints of what that may bring. Sandoval only releases music when she feels like it. This unassuming approach does not account for the media’s fascination in assessing the artist and her creative process.
Social media has served as a way to cultivate a sense of intimacy between artists and fans. Even as our interactions become better attuned to virtual platforms, however, this feeling of intimacy is still fabricated. There’s an escalating pressure on artists to take part in showcasing their lives as an extension of their music. With the extensive connectivity amplified by social media, consumers might feel more entitled to such content. Sandoval, however, never amalgamated her private life with her craft. In music videos, she scarcely features, and she’s often concealed in ghostly silhouettes and hazy video overlay. No contextualisation of whom or what her songs are about are surrendered, and she refuses to indulge in this aspect of celebrity culture.
Sandoval’s aversion to public attention is most observable on stage. She is often shrouded in darkness and hidden behind her music stand. Phones and recording devices are strictly prohibited at every concert, and Sandoval seems often coldly unaware of the audience. After a few hushed words were uttered at a 2018 Philadelphia show for her tour with the Warm Inventions, an audience member begged, “Say something else!”
Despite Sandoval’s wish to separate artist from art, it’s hard not to see her reclusiveness as a perfect reflection of the wistful, dreamy music she creates. The sentimental, ambiguous lyrics are sung over distorted guitar twangs to a leisurely rhythm, encompassing the enigmatic energy she radiates. Sandoval most recently lent her vocals to “Big Boss Man” on Mercury Rev’sBobbie Gentry: The Delta Sweete Revisited in February 2019. Her ethereal, honey-soaked voice remains unchanged, a time capsule of dream-pop brilliance. She can lull anyone into an intoxicated state of dreamy nostalgia, but Hope Sandoval is pure punk in her defiance against conventionality.