Profile: Mark Kozelek

From the first moment I heard Red House Painters’ Rollercoaster LP back in 1999, I became a lifelong Mark Kozelek fan. His unique voice and songwriting ability surpass even the most popular singer/songwriters around today. After 17 albums under Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon and his own name, he is one the few artists who have maintained a consistent level of quality releases throughout their career. Sun Kil Moon’s newest release, Among The Leaves, is one of Kozelek’s most stripped-down and lyrically compelling albums in years. He’s one of my all-time favorites and getting the opportunity to talk with him was a great pleasure. My thanks to Neckbrace Substitute for his assistance…

Violent Success: There’s a feeling of spontaneity across the 17 tracks of your new album that help give it a unique separation from anything you’ve done before. Was the songwriting and recording process different from your work in the past?

Mark Kozelek: A little bit. I tend to take more time working on songs, but didn’t spend much time with these. The hardest part of recording was all of the background vocals. I did 99% of the background vocals on my own. That was the hardest part of making the record.

VS: You’ve been a part of multiple musical projects over the years… Talk about your earliest moments creating music.

MK: Intense nervousness, early on. Recording from midnight until morning to get a good rate at a studio. The main thing I remember is the clock ticking, the pressure to get something done, knowing you wouldn’t get a another chance at it. The funniest part is that we’d leave with a master ‘cassette’.

VS: Are you a cocktail napkin writer or do you sit down every morning and try and get lyrics down?

MK: I get ideas on walks or in bed in the middle of the night. I don’t know. I’m just a writer, I can’t explain the process.

VS: Which musician(s) did you grow up idolizing?

MK: Jimmy Page, David Gilmour.

VS: Have you taken classes in music or are you entirely self-taught?

MK: Took lessons from about 11 years old to 13, self taught after that.

VS: How do audiences abroad compare to the ones back home? Are there any particular cities/venues that you look forward to playing?

MK: I’m in a place now where audiences are great all across the board. I just played 4 shows in Australia that all went well and earlier in the year, both Tel Aviv, and Durham, North Carolina went well. My audiences are very quiet, sweet. There are certain types of rooms I try to avoid, but if the venue is right, people tend to be very kind and appreciative.

VS: Are there any songs you haven’t released but keep working on because you like the ideas or have you pretty much released all your favorite ideas up to this point?

MK: Not really, there are always ideas lingering around, but there are no songs I’m dying to get at. No complete songs at the moment.

VS: Who do you go to for musical advice?

MK: My booking agents, my lawyer. I don’t ask my musician friends for advice, because we all operate differently. Some spend all day twittering, I don’t relate. The only advice I need right now is, how to get people to buy music. None of my musician friends know the the answer to that and my lawyer doesn’t either.

VS: Finally, listeners can often entangle a musician’s persona with the individual. What would your fans be surprised by if they actually knew you?

MK: I’ve never eaten a McDonald’s hamburger in my entire life and I shop at Walmart sometimes.