varmintcong.com presents: an interview with DAVID ROBACK


Here is an unofficial biography of david roback, pieced together from several sources.

David grew up in Hollywood. He started a band called Rain Parade with his brother Steven in 1982. After Rain Parade's first album and tours, David left the band. He then got involved with ex-Dream Syndicate bassist Kendra Smith and formed a new band named Clay Allison in 1983.

After Clay Allison's '84 tour, the band decided to change their name to Opal, whose sound was defined by Roback's spare, distorted guitar work and Smith's lyrical voice. They released the Northern Line EP in 1985. SST Records signed Opal and released their masterpiece album Happy Nightmare Baby in September 1987. During the Opal tour in Decemeber '87, Kendra Smith left the band. She was replaced by Kendra's friend, Hope Sandoval, and they toured Europe through early 1988. David and Hope took the remaining members of Opal and changed their name to Mazzy Star. Mazzy Star's last release was in 1996.

In 1990 David worked as producer for the band Sacred Miracle Cave, and in 1999 David worked with Beth Orton.

Roback has been spending most of his time in Norway the last five or six years. Different sources say that he's been working on material for a new Mazzy Star album. David have also played a smaller part in the French movie "Clean" (2004) in which he played himself.

So now, we open up a time capsule dated October 1987.....

I spoke on the phone with David Roback, a couple days after the 1987 Los Angeles earthquake. The Opal album "Happy Nightmare Baby" had just been released. Because of the earthquake, the telephone connection was atrocious, but i did my best.



David Roback
Jeff: I'm talking with David Roback from Opal. I guess the first thing I should ask you about is the earthquake out there. Anything major happen around your area?
David: Yeah, well it was really frightening ... shaking ... it was like being in a blender or something like that ... up and down ... turbulence ... the whole house was shaking ... the lamps were shaking ... the stars were falling ... it was wild, it was a big earthquake.
Jeff: Ok, let's talk about the new album, "Happy Nightmare Baby." I read somewhere that you guys like to drop out of sight to record. Does that aid in the recording process?
David: I think it was just part of it ... like we got totally absorbed in working on it. I think being in that kind of atmosphere is kind of useful to us.
Jeff: We've played different cuts on our show and everyone seems to like it a lot. Is everybody in the group pleased with the way it came out?
David: Yeah, I think everybody is real excited about it. It came out, there's a lot of improvisation and spontaneity in the making of the record, but it came out different than we thought it would going into it, but that's part of that kind of improvisation. But it was very interesting, and we all feel real good about it.
Jeff: I've been following your career since you and Kendra Smith left your respective bands (Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate, respectively). The new album seems to have a harder edge to it, but it still retains the spiritual feel of the earlier recordings. Do you have a preference between the heavier stuff and the more acoustic side?
David: Well, I really like both things. I like acoustic music and I like electric. What we wanted to do ... and have been trying to do is the more electric stuff ... partly because it's a very different feeling being up on stage playing acoustic ... very ... sort of a quieter thing. It can be really intriguing in concert but being on stage playing really, really loud, it's a tremendous wall of noise and you feel like you're right in the center of this giant sound thing. It's a big turn-on for us to be right in the center of this giant wall of noise. And that is really where we're at right now. More than the acoustic music we were doing a couple of years ago.
Jeff: I wanted to ask you which guitar players, I'm sure there are quite a few who influence your playing and who you admire.
David: Well, yes, there are quite a few people I admire. I think the type of really heavier electric guitar thing. There are certain guitarists that I think any electric guitar player who's playing a heavier thing would have to acknowledge as influential. From people as basic as like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page or somebody like that. People like that who are real pioneers in that style of guitar playing. And then you know there's a lot of abstract guitar players that are really, really great guitar players ... maybe somebody like Syd Barrett ... there's so many great guitar players. Greg Ginn is a great guitar player.
Jeff: Are you planning any live dates in the future?
David: Live dates? Yeah, we're playing San Francisco next weekend and San Diego. And we're planning an east coast tour in the late fall/early winter ... late November. We were supposed to play a big outdoor festival concert with Sonic Youth and Leaving Trains but it got cancelled at the last minute because the police thought it would be too unruly.
Jeff: Do you like to tour a lot or do you just prefer to play various dates or do you have any preference at all?
David: Well, I personally like to tour a lot and we have not toured for awhile because we really wanted to have a full album, a full new body of work so we could just go and play for an hour uninterrupted. Something that had a lot of continuity within itself and ... that's what the album represents now, that type of effort. That's what we'll probably be doing is taking that and other new material and playing that and whatever else we feel. And sometimes we just come up with ideas, literally like right in the middle of playing onstage. We'll just go into a brand new song. We really are oriented right now towards playing for an audience and trying to make that connection between what we're getting off on onstage, and hopefully making that connection with the audience.
Jeff: I wanna talk a little bit about the past, if that's ok.
David: Sure.
Kendra Smith & David Roback
Jeff: Because you and Kendra both have made some classic albums in the past and the new album goes right up along with the older stuff too, I'll just make some comments about the albums and you can toss out whatever comes to your head or how you look back on it. First, the Emergency Third Rail Power Trip album. It's one of the more classic albums from that period I think. Classic guitar and neo psychedelia ... I mean, it's a great album.
David: Yeah well, that album ... that was definitely a phase, at the time, that I was going through and ... we parted ways because I wanted to take some of the ideas that maybe are embodied on that album and take them in a more electric, harder rock direction and they wanted to go in more of an acoustic with vocals direction. I didn't really think that was where I was at, at the time, so I parted from the group. We actually had a whole lot of other songs that we were gonna record for the second album, and I think it would've been as strong as the first, but we never got around to that.
Jeff: One of the other albums that also gets cited a lot now as one of the better albums from that period is the Rainy Day album. When it came out nobody really seemed to pick up on it or recognize it, but now it seems to be widely accepted as one of the better albums from that particular time. Can you look back on it now and see that it was ahead of its time or do you think that people were just a little slow to pick up on it?
David: I think it's got some really good songs on it ... it was never something that we ... when we did and released it we didn't really get that involved in the selling and the marketing of it. We were so involved in our other projects at the time that we just handed it over to the record company people and that was that. I think it was a neat idea at the time. I haven't listened to it in a long time, I might hear songs on the radio, you know, it has stood up through time.
Jeff: And the other one I wanted to touch on was the Fell From The Sun EP. That was one of my very favorite recordings from the summer of '84. It was the perfect summer record, and it still stands up that way. Do you agree with that?
David: I think it's a good album for the summer of '84. Summer of '84 was a weird summer for a lot of people, but, I think that ... actually SST is re-releasing that with three or four other unreleased cuts from the sessions (the Early Recordings disc was actually released on Rough Trade records in 1989).
Jeff: That's really great.
David: And that's going to be coming out probably around the end of November .... And yeah I mean I still think that stuff's kinda neat, that was really a phase that led directly to Opal ... we took those songs and electrified them ... upped the voltage a couple of notches.
Jeff: How do you like being on SST?
David: I feel very comfortable, very at home on SST ... I think they're a unique label, and their commitment to providing a legitimate alternative format is really very, very important. SST or any label like them is very important to keeping music alive and keeping it from being controlled by the capitalist music business structure. It's a vital thing to have labels like that and that's what's great about being involved with it.
Jeff: Do you think the quote "Psychedelic Revival" is valid or do you think you fit into that or do you not want to be associated with that?

David: It's really hard for me ... from my point of view ... I don't really look at it that way but I think that if you're talking about the revival of psychedelic music, I don't even really know if there is or there isn't like ... was Patti Smith a revival of psychedelic music? Was Iggy a revival of psychedelic music? There's so many ways that psychedelic music ... I just think of it as being heavier electric music. I don't think this type of music now is really so linked to psychedelic style or something like that. I think there's a lot of bands who really adopt the surface appearance of the psychedelic era - I guess the 70s and 60s and that's usually something that's very superficial. There's another side to psychedelic thinking that's more the actual psychological side of it.


Copyright 1987 GTO/HoMade/Jeff Schwier/varmintcong.com
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