Interview :: Mark Kozelek

by Ronjan Roy

For the last 20 years or so, Mark Kozelek has been producing albums under different monikers (Red House Painters and current band Sun Kil Moon) which have kept his career going in a trajectory that most artists would wish for. Signed to 4ad in the early 90’s through Mark Eitzel from The American Music Club, Kozelek bounced from a few record labels before starting his own, Caldo Verde in the early 2000s. And with the ability to control his output, he has made a legacy of sad and beautiful moments that give his listeners a space that transcends the usual sense of place.

From the sparseness of the first ep sized release of Down Colorful Hill, to the most recently released Admiral Fell Promises, he has stayed prolific, relevant, and influential. Along the way, he has took a couple of turns in film (most notably in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous), released a book of his lyrics, and put his songwriting style on covers from artists as diverse as AD/DC, Modest Mouse and John Denver.

Recently, Kozelek has released a tour documentary shot in black and white, revealing how lonely and tedious the time spent between the live shows can be. Made with filmmaker Joshua Stoddard, it follows him through airports and hotel rooms, in soundchecks and occasionally on stage. With arty shots and a self penned score aside from the track list, the journal of his trek reveals selected moments of an artist who has been notoriously private in the past. Also lately, he has co-production credits, along with lending his trademark vocals to the new album by Desertshore, released on his label. The instrumental band consists of Phil Carney (ex Red House Painters) and classically trained pianist, Chris Connelly.

For the past few years, Kozelek has taken on playing his solo live shows with a nylon stringed acoustic guitar, showing his love of classical records and elegant fingerpicking style.

Here are some excerpts from the interview I conducted with him (via email):

Stylus: Is there any projects you are working on, your own or otherwise?

Mark Kozelek: Not really. Just playing guitar a lot and spending time with my girlfriend. It’s nice to not be traveling.

Stylus: How have things changed since you have started your own label (Cardo Verde)?

MK: More freedom than I had before. I’m doing better financially, which gives me the freedom to take risks, put out records by other artists, etc.

Stylus: You have just released a tour DVD, what made you make that decision to do so at this point and where did the idea come from?

MK: Releasing albums doesn’t have the same impact anymore. I released Admiral Fell Promises last year, and people talk about it like its an old album. It was just time to do something a little different, something fresh. Plus, documentary filmmaking is a lot easier and cheaper than it used to be. This 2 hour film was made for less than the 5 minute RHP ‘all mixed up’ video that was made back in 96.

Stylus: How has your guitar playing changed since you have been using the nylon stringed guitar on tour?

MK: I take it more seriously. Nylon string sounds terrible if played badly. Any idiot can make a Gibson j-45 sound nice. But not everybody can hold their own on a nylon string.

Stylus: How is it touring by yourself? Do you feel you might tour with a full band anytime in the future?

MK: It’s funny. I read a review on the movie where a critic said “you see mark on airplanes, in airports, hotels, in trains, and occasionally you see him on stage!” It was a criticism, but that’s really what touring is. It’s lonely and tedious and very little of your time is spent performing. I’m not sure if its better or worse when friends are along. Don’t know what I’m gonna do, except keep them short.

Stylus: What are you listening to these days?

MK: Classical guitar records.

Stylus: Seeing as you have your own label, how have you felt about the change in the dissipation of music and control of what you put out?

MK: Like I said above, the shelf life of records these days is discouraging. It’s incredibly easy to find music for free. I’m very thankful for television. That’s where the money is now: song placement in TV and film.

Stylus: The touring you do is all over the world, from Norway to Spain to Japan. How is the response?

MK: Japan is amazing and Scandinavia is nice, too.

Stylus: How do you find touring nowadays? I’ve seen you in Chicago and Minneapolis a few times in the last few years, and always find the tours are brief jaunts. Are the tours going to stay short?

MK: Yes, short. Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? Go tell her you’re leaving town for 3 months and see how she reacts.

Look forward to an evening of escapism and beauty on November 4th, when Kozelek plays at the West End Cultural centre at 8pm.

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