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Rock ‘n’ roll stories about life on the road tend to be rather mundane affairs: travel, set-up, sound-check, gig -- that’s where the fun happens! -- over to the hotel, sleep, wake up, repeat.
The opening date of Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions tour was anything but that. The quintet kicked their U.S. tour in Sonoma, California, at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery on Oct. 8. The gig went fine.
“We got on our bus and we took off and were headed toward Portland,” says drummer-songwriter Colm Ó Cíosóig, on the phone from Philadelphia, “and because we were in wine country we went down some small roads. We heard there was a fire nearby and we saw some fires on the ridge, but we didn’t know. We turned the corner and the fires were right there and we drove pretty much directly into the fires. It was quite terrifying. It was like a hurricane, all these strong winds going crazy. I guess the winds whipped it up.
“We had no choice but to reverse out of it. The tour bus and the trailer was wobbling and you could see the fire chasing us back out of there. It was pretty terrifying. We were getting ready to just dump the bus and run for our lives.”
At the Portland gig, two nights later, Sandoval was still so shaken she left the stage after six songs. She and the band returned after nearly an hour to finish the set.
“Yeah, it was horrifying, what was going on,” Sandoval says, during a joint interview with her Warm Inventions partner. She lives in Berkeley — as Ó Cíosóig had done once as her roommate. “Those are our neighbors. It’s heartbreaking, all of these people. The winery we played survived it, thank God, but a lot of people lost their homes.”
More centered now, Sandoval and the Warm Inventions is near the end of its 10-date U.S. tour, playing Royale in Boston on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Ó Cíosóig jokes that “when you go on tour, things improve, get better as you go along, so probably by the time we finish the tour we’ll be about ready to start.”
Sandoval laughs slightly.
The two have lived together and been off-and-on musical partners going back to 2000. The following year they made their album debut with “Bavarian Fruit Bread.” I first talked with them on the verge of their first Boston gig in 2002. The two were introduced by mutual friend Kevin Shields, guitarist for Ó Cíosóig's other band, My Bloody Valentine.
"I met Colm,” she told me then, “and Colm and I started to spend a lot of time together. I had a portable studio I was traveling with. We started to write together and that's what happened. The songs just evolved into what they are.”
Sandoval stressed music's potential to transport the listener. "I think music is like little films, and it's nice to listen to music and really escape."
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions output has been minimal. After their debut, there was the “Through the Devil Softly” album in 2009, the “Until the Hunter” album last year and this year a three-song EP called “Son of a Lady.”
Sandoval and Ó Cíosóig are each part of better-known bands. Sandoval’s is the dreamy, dark and psychedelic Mazzy Star (with guitarist David Roback), which had the hit “Fade into You” in 1994. Ó Cíosóig’s is the aforementioned Irish band My Bloody Valentine, which notched one of the most stunning debuts in rock with “Loveless” in 1991, featuring blistering but beautiful white-noise rock.
Sandoval says Mazzy Star “has nothing right now. We do plan on going into the studio, but we don’t have any dates. We’re focused on [this] tour. We’re just doing a very small benefit for Esperanza Spalding in San Francisco. I think we’ll be on stage 15 minutes.”
Ó Cíosóig confirms rumors of a My Bloody Valentine album next spring. “I’ve been working on that preceding this tour,” he says, “and I’m going to go back and work on that once the tour is done. It’s in the making.”
Both stress the Warm Inventions is, right now, “pretty high up there” in terms of priorities. The Warm Inventions don’t have the country tinge of Mazzy Star, but there are similarities: an emphasis on sound that envelops a listener, one that moves slowly and demands patience. There are Sandoval’s sultry, almost detached vocals, pitched between melancholia and sweetness and an aura of mystery. Sandoval sings in a whispery, alluring voice — she's the siren on the rocks.
The Warm Inventions are, by and large, like Mazzy Star, a quiet band, a thought Sandoval quickly counters: “I don’t think either band is quiet; I think both are quite loud."
“But, there are quiet passages,” Ó Cíosóig asserts.
“There are some quiet songs, definitely,” Sandoval says. “The bands aren’t, like, heavy, heavy loud bands. And [we have] a quiet audience, obviously, so when you play a quiet song it’s nice to have quietness in the audience.”
“I like the tension of playing things really quietly, although with the last album [‘Until the Hunter’] it got quite loud and then came back down again," Ó Cíosóig says. "It’s nice to have something that can get to points that are really delicate and quiet and has tension to it as well. And then [with My Bloody Valentine] to go in the opposite direction.”
Warm Inventions songwriting is collaborative, but O’Ciosoig says, “I wouldn’t try to do the lyrics.”
“We’re quite complementary,” Sandoval adds, saying there’s little conflict and little pre-planning when they go in the studio. “Especially when we’ve been working again with the guys from [the Irish band] Dirt Blue Gene. We don’t tell them what to do and some of the songs are written with them.”
Three members of Dirt Blue Gene -- guitarist Dave Brennan, we have a keyboardist Mick Whelan and bassist Al Browne -- flesh out the band on this tour.
“The songs have an unspoken natural, feel to them,” Ó Cíosóig says. “We just go on journeys from jamming around with ideas.”
The band is strict in stipulating that no photography or video is to take place during their concerts. They’re aiming to create a calming, but stimulating, environment. Part of that is engendered by the nature of the music and part of it by Sandoval’s stoic, near immobile and almost entirely-in-the-dark stage presence. To say she’s reserved would be an understatement.
“I don’t feel that comfortable on stage,” Sandoval says. “It’s a really strange thing to be doing, to go on stage and all of a sudden have bright lights and spotlights. That would be really bizarre.”
Here's Hope performing as Mazzy Star a few years ago:
“My suit of armor is my drum kit,” pipes in Ó Cíosóig, with a laugh. “I’m at the back of the stage with the drum kit in front me.”
Sandoval said she used to get blowback from certain audiences and critics for her stage presence (or lack thereof) “in the ‘90s. All the time. I think now people are just fine with not seeing the band really. They enjoy the visuals. Basically, [on a scrim behind us] we’re using really old photographs that we’ve collected over the years, mostly from the 1900s, old family portraits.”
“There’s a moving element to them as well,” Ó Cíosóig adds, “some slight animation as well, moving slowly. The pictures are changing in slow motion.”
The aim is to create something that, while melancholic, comforts and envelops an audience.
“We do like a lot of simple, sweet music that is very comforting,” Ó Cíosóig says. “It’s important to have music that’s comforting during times of stress.”
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions play Royale in Boston on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to an Esperanza Spalding concert that had passed. We regret the error.
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