Mark Kozelek has been hiding behind band names since at least 1989. His band the Red House Painters released their debut that year. A strange habit for someone whose lyrics are so personal and honest.
He’s often compared to Mark Eitzel (American Music Club) who has a similar following, but whose lyrics don’t cut through in the same way as Kozelek’s, for me at least.
He now records with a small band as Sun Kil Moon. Their albums are consistently good, and actually make picking favourites very difficult. This is the first track from Admiral Fell Promises, called Ålesund. From the first guitar picked notes, the hairs on my neck stand up in expectation of the album.
The beautiful intro to this song demonstrates the confidence with which he records now, in other hands it could seem indulgent, but he seems a most self-effacing man.
He’s also known for his many friendships with other musicians. Sun Kil Moon’s new album (Feb 2014 release) is called Benji after the 1974 film, although also seems likely a tribute to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. Stories abound of their friendship, but the song Ben Is My Friend, last track on the new album, explains neatly their comparative rises and falls from popularity. They met when Death Cab were starting out, and the Red House Painters were huge, and below he reflects on Ben’s success.
Thought of Ben when I met him, in 2000
At a festival in Spain, he was on a small stage then
And I didn’t know his name
Now he’s singing at the Greek and he’s busting moves
And my legs were hurt and then my feet were, too
Calling after ‘Settling’, said I’ll skip the backstage high five
Thanks for the nice music and all the exercise
He is definitely high on my list of people to see live and his music has been the haunting soundtrack to many long journeys (physical and otherwise).
Benji is somewhat morbid, in that nearly every song features a death. One spectacularly open and confessional song pays homage to his mother, as is his wont. But one of the stand out tracks for me describes his “redneck” Uncle’s death, Truck Driver, featuring Will Oldham (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) on backing vocals.
Just as Ben Gibbard had a foray into the film world (2009’s slated Brief Interviews with Hideous Men) Mark appeared as the bass player in the cultish film, Almost Famous in 2000. Again their careers strangely echoing each other, while still years apart.
One of the most endearing things about him is his obvious love of music. This must be a man who watches the support act on before him, and probably cheers the loudest at the end of each song. Having seen Modest Mouse at a festival he was playing at, Mark recorded an 11 track covers album, taking songs from all their albums to date. It was a fairly covert project, and it was only on release in 2005 that he realised how much the project confused people. Covering the work of a band who on the whole are a decade younger than him caused ripples, more so than his other covers of AC/DC, etc. It seems like he never did find out what Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse frontman) thought of the project… He just wanted to draw attention to their music, and pay homage in the most sincere way:
“I don’t know how he’ll feel about it, just like I don’t know how I would feel about it if an artist did 10 or 11 Red House Painters covers.” He laughs. “It might freak me out.”
Here’s Modest Mouse’s version of Jesus Christ Was An Only Child:
And Mark Kozelek’s version, recording as Sun Kil Moon:
The Red House Painters peaked before I had the chance to get familiar with them, but retrospectively it’s easy to appreciate why they were popular. So for completeness, here is one of my favourite tracks from them, Summer Dress: