Born: April 4, 1958;

Died: February 24, 2020.

DAVID Roback, who has died aged 61, was an American musician and songwriter who was known for his involvement in a number of Californian indie and alternative groups from the early 1980s onwards. His most famous creation, alongside singer Hope Sandoval, was the group Mazzy Star, which emerged from Sandoval’s replacement of singer Kendra Smith in Roback’s previous band, Opal.

Mazzy Star were known for the fragile resonance of their country-influenced music, which coasted with simple but heart-stopping emotional power upon Sandoval’s dreamy vocal and Roback’s winsome blend of acoustic and electric slide guitar. They released four albums, beginning with 1990’s She Hangs Brightly and concluding with 2013’s Seasons of Your Day – a reunion record, given that it had been seventeen years since their last album.

The duo wasn’t a huge commercial success by any means, but to their fans they were both hugely influential and deeply personally affecting. The song Fade Into You, from 1993’s second album So Tonight That I Might See, was the signature song of their career, a plaintive and affecting love ballad which has lost none of its singular ethereal power. It has since become a staple of indie film and television soundtracks, and has been named high on lists of songs of its decade by sources including the music website Pitchfork.

The closest the pair came to a hit in the UK was Flowers in December, the lead single from their 1996 album Among My Swan, which just grazed the top forty; their most successful album, in terms of chart placing, was Seasons of Your Day, which reached the top thirty. To dwell on their commercial standing, however, negates the fact that Mazzy Star were an entity of their time, when life outside the mainstream and with the appreciation of a dedicated fan community built a greater myth and a more enduring legacy.

Throughout the 1980s, Roback was a leading name in the Californian music scene known as the Paisley Underground, which adapted the psychedelic rock sound of the 1960s for a new decade. In 1981 he founded Rain Parade with Matt Piucci, and the pair were later joined by Roback’s brother Stephen and others. Their 1983 debut album Emergency Third Rail Power Trip is seen as a psych-rock classic, although Roback left soon afterwards to appear with the short-lived local supergroup Rainy Day, who released a self-titled album in 1984.

Among Rainy Day’s membership was singer Kendra Smith, formerly of the Dream Syndicate, whom Roback teamed up with for his new project, a duo briefly named Clay Allison and then retitled Opal in a reference to the differently-spelled Syd Barrett song. In 1987 they released their only album together, Happy Nightmare Baby, which appeared on the Rough Trade label in the UK, and shortly afterwards Smith departed during a US tour as support act to East Kilbride’s Jesus and Mary Chain.

She was replaced, initially as a stand-in Opal member, by Sandoval, although in 1989 she and Roback retitled their joint project Mazzy Star. Individually or together, the duo were reputed among music writers as tough and taciturn interviewees, yet both this and their ethereal style of music only added to the sense of mystery and excitement around them. Sandoval’s statement following Roback’s death included the words, “I lost my dear friend and I am devastated".

David Edward Roback was born in 1958 in Los Angeles, the son of Rosemary and George, a nurse and doctor, respectively. He attended Palisades High School and studied art at the University of California at Berkeley; both of which he shared in common with his childhood neighbour Susanna Hoffs, later of the Bangles, with whom he founded a school band named the Unconscious with alongside his brother. Hoffs was also a member of Rainy Day some years later.

Alongside work with his own bands, Roback also produced music on Beth Orton’s acclaimed 1999 album Central Reservation and played slide guitar on the Glaswegian-born guitarist Bert Jansch’s final album, The Black Swan in 2006. Fade Into You was sampled in 2003 by British club producer Richard X for his song Into U, which featured new lyrics and vocals by Jarvis Cocker.

“The outside world is really not on our minds, in so far as the music is concerned,” Roback told Uncut magazine about Mazzy Star’s concerns. “We’re really doing it in our own world for ourselves.” A final EP, Still, appeared in 2018. He died of cancer in Los Angeles, and is survived by his mother, brother, sister and wife, Hedi.