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Mazzy Star co-founder David Roback dies aged 61

David Roback and Kendra Smith in Opal, 1983 (Image credit: Laura Levine/Getty Images)

David Roback, a co-founder of the influential alt-rock band Mazzy Star, died on February 25, a representative of the band confirmed. The guitarist, songwriter and producer was 61.

Roback was raised in Southern California, and played in a band named the Unconscious which also featured Susanna Hoffs, who would go on to sing and play guitar in the Bangles.

He would become a key figure in the Paisley Underground, defined by bands that combined psychedelia, rich vocal harmonies and intricate, often clean guitar interplay in the style of '60s bands like Love and the Byrds.

“When I started playing music, it came out sounding very psychedelic for whatever reason,” he told the LA Times (opens in new tab) in 1990.

“I guess it was just what I grew up liking. The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were the best groups for me. The late Beatles more than the early Beatles – their message, the whole political and spiritual involvement.”

Roback played with several bands, including Rain Parade and Rainy Day, then formed Clay Allison with former Dream Syndicate singer and bassist Kendra Smith.

While on tour with the Jesus and Mary Chain in support of their first full length, 1987’s Happy Nightmare Baby, Smith left the band, and was replaced by singer Hope Sandoval. Together, Roback and Sandoval transformed Opal into Mazzy Star.

As Mazzy Star, the pair perfected a hazy dream pop sound characterized by Roback's ambient guitar playing and slide work and Sandoval’s detached vocal style. The band’s 1990 debut, She Hangs Brightly, was a minor hit – and was later cited by Kurt Cobain as one of his top 50 albums.

But it was their second effort, So Tonight That I Might Sleep, that made the band stars, on the strength of Fade Into You, which featured Roback on acoustic and slide guitar. Though the song was not a huge hit in the traditional sense – it only reached number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 – it was in constant rotation on MTV and became a defining song of the early-'90s alt-rock boom.

Mazzy Star released two more full-lengths, 1996’s Among My Swan and 2013’s Seasons of Your Day. Their final effort, the Still EP, was issued in 2018.

In an rare interview to promote Seasons of Your Day in 2013, Roback summed up the Mazzy Star aesthetic.

“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,” he told Stereogum (opens in new tab).

“We make music that we’d also like to hear. That’s what we’ve always done.”

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Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.