By any other name, it’s still Mark Kozelek
On his group’s latest album, April, singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek produces melodic folk soundscapes and sings from the heart about life’s ups and downs. April is only Sun Kil Moon’s third release, but Kozelek, the primary member, has been a folk-rock pioneer for more than 15 years now, beginning his career in 1989 with the visionary Red House Painters. He has since released 17 albums, including four solo records.
This seemingly hectic schedule would lead one to believe that Kozelek must not have much time for other projects. On the contrary, he runs his own record label, Caldo Verde, is an accomplished producer and has even gotten involved in the movie industry, scoring the 2001 independent film “Last Ball,” and playing small roles in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” and “Vanilla Sky.”
“Just because you’re not releasing a record doesn’t mean you’re not active, that the wheels aren’t turning,” Kozelek said. When writing April, he said he forced himself to push his other projects aside. “With this one, I had to sort of remove myself from my environment, to really dig in. I’m a little older now, running a business, so there are more distractions now.”
Sun Kil Moon’s last tour was almost five years ago, in support of their 2003 debut Ghosts of the Great Highway. Though this was their first album, Kozelek had already released six albums with his first band, Red House Painters, which he formed in San Francisco in 1989. After a string of successful albums with Red House Painters, Kozelek officially began his solo career in 2000, releasing the Rock N Roll Singer EP. It was around this time that Red House Painters disbanded and Kozelek started to concentrate more on his solo efforts.
He gathered RHP drummer Anthony Koutsos and some new collaborators for what would become Sun Kil Moon. Kozelek considers the two projects drastically different from each other.
“I can’t compare the two bands. Red House Painters was kind of my Crazy Horse. It just worked, like an older marriage,” he said. The most significant difference is that, even though Kozelek wrote most of the Red House Painters catalog, Sun Kil Moon is largely his brainchild, a project whose direction he controls.
Kozelek explained that the new name also helped to free him from past associations. “Red House Painters, the name, seems very associated with the past, and there is momentum now with Sun Kil Moon.”
With Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek has continued his penchant for reworking songs from his favorite artists. The second release, Tiny Cities, was a collection of Modest Mouse covers. He said he was looking for a new outlet and never stopped writing his own songs. “I was just looking for a distraction, an affair with something else, musically. I was doing what I always do, playing music. I was just singing someone else’s songs,” he said. “Modest Mouse was the last band that really blew my mind.”
April is essentially a best of both worlds, combining the haunting folk melodies of Ghosts of The Great Highway with some of the Red House Painters’ edgier folk-rock tendencies. The dominant theme on April, Kozelek said, is its “settled feeling, coming to terms with life issues.” The dramatic nine-minute opener, “Lost Verses,” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its emotion-drenched lyrics and thick, layered production. “Moorestown,” a future fan favorite, is one of his most somber and visceral melodies to date, depicting a perpetually discontented lover and a consequently broken relationship. Coincidentally, Newport, Ky., is acknowledged as a landmark in the song.
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