Archive: Mark Kozelek interview

Word of Mouth promotions are bringing Mark Kozelek back to play Andrew’s Lane Theatre in Dublin on Thursday 23 July. I did this email interview with him for the Event Guide last September (when he played as Sun Kil Moon) but somehow neglected to put it on the blog – so here it is finally! (Image taken from

Rock n’Roll Singer

By Aoife Barry

San Francisco- based Mark Kozelek is well known for being the frontman of the Red House Painters, who parted ways in 1998. After they disbanded, he went solo, going on to form Sun Kil Moon and creating three stunning albums under that moniker –‘Ghosts of the Great Highway’, the Modest Mouse covers album ‘Tiny Cities’, 2008’s ‘April’. In May of this year he released ‘Mark Kozelek – Lost Verses Live‘. His intimate style, confessional lyrics and unsentimental frankness mark him out as one of America’s most uncompromisingly unique musicians. As well as his musical exploits, he also works as a producer for both his own and other band’s albums (including Retribution Gospel Choir and Jesu), and dabbles in acting. Aoife Barry spoke to him about his impending Irish tour.

Hi Mark – you’re about to return to Ireland for another gig. Does Ireland hold any special memories for you?

Definitely. I’ve had a lot of fun gigs at Whelan’s. I enjoyed my last trip to Ireland, where I got outside of Dublin, and went to a few other cities. It was peaceful, riding the train around. And I always manage to meet nice people in Ireland.

Can you tell me about deciding to release ‘7 Songs Belfast’? What made those performances so special for you last year?

I listened back to a few recordings from that tour. Oddly, that one had the best overall sound and balance. The performance was calm, the audience respectful and quiet. I say oddly, because we nearly missed the gig. We miscalculated the time between Galway and Belfast, barely got a soundcheck. Not a huge deal of a gig – small crowd, but nice, and the recording is ok.

Do you prefer to have a stripped-down band when touring?

I’ve never done anything elaborate. A 4 piece band suits me. I wish I could afford a bigger crew, hire a soundman, but as far as the band, I like to keep it simple.

When you’re touring, are you quite specific about the venues you play at? Is there a certain sort of venue you prefer?

There didn’t used to be. But I’m getting more needy as I get older. I don’t like venues without a backstage area. I need a room to relax, and I prefer seated crowds to standing, for the most part. The cell phone stuff drives me nuts. Some people get excited, I guess, but don’t have any respect. Kids are sort of programmed to be annoying these days, and seated helps diminish that.

You recently auctioned off some of your guitars for the Midwest Flood Auction. Can you tell me about how this came about?

I did this for the Katrina hurricane also. I have more guitars than I need, and it’s not a big deal to auction some off, when the cause is right. We all have to let go of our possessions eventually, so why not give some stuff away early.

As a songwriter, do you think people analyse your songs too much? That they should just take them as they are and not analyse every aspect of them?

People, for the most part, don’t know how to read poetry. Some girls came up to me after a show recently and said “Happy Father’s Day!”, then I was in Japan, and a journalist asked me about my daughter. In the song ‘Harper Road’, there is the line “my blood runs through my only daughter”, but I don’t have a daughter – and Johnny cash never shot a man in Reno, nor did he spend any time in Folsom. I think people look at words too literally sometimes. I’ve personally never cared to explore what inspires a writer’s lyrics. I make my own connections and conclusions.

In the same vein, you are a very honest writer, writing about people and places and events in your life quite candidly – do people sometimes want to probe deeper into what you write about, and how does that make you feel?

Some people have time on their hands, I guess. I write songs, play them, and find my hotel afterwards. But I can’t help what people project onto me. I mean, I feel flattered if someone compliments me, but I’m not going to stand there for an hour and talk to some drunk guy who tells me my music changed his life.

What is your approach to working in the studio? Have you become more relaxed or more of a perfectionist over time?

A little of both, I’m a perfectionist, but have a relaxed way of getting what I want now. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and have found easier ways to get things right in the studio.

Can you tell me about working on the Retribution Gospel Choir debut album? Alan has said you ‘convinced’ them to let you produce the album; was there some reticence – not necessarily in a negative way – there even though you were a founding member?

I found that word odd, when he showed me the bio, but never questioned it. I mentioned to Eric, the drummer, that I’d like to produce RGC, and Alan called me up and said to book some time. I’ve always liked Alan, and had a great time working with him and the band. By the way, I’m not a founding member of RGC. I joined them for a portion of a tour once, but they were a band before I played guitar on that tour.

Does having your own Caldo Verde record label take some of the stress out of releasing a record? That you are not at the mercy of ‘the machine’; that you have complete control over what goes on?

There’s just a lot of unpleasantness to deal with when you’re on a label. Employees come and go, they have the power to drop you at any time, they lose interest in you when some new guy comes along, and they don’t honour contracts. I’d just had enough, and decided to do it myself. I enjoy it a lot.

Finally, do you have anything specific you want to achieve in the New Year – any new projects you will be working on?

I’m putting out an EP for the band Jesu later in the year. I love Justin’s music, and look forward to that.

Mark Kozelek plays Andrew’s Lane Theatre, Dublin on Thursday 23rd July. 8pm. €20
Tickets €20 excl. booking fee from WAV Box-Office ( Lo-Call 1890 200 078 ), City Discs, Plugd Records, Cork,, Ticketmaster outlets nationwide. /


One Comment Add yours

  1. The G-Man says:

    One of my all-time heroes. The two Sun Kil Moon albums released over the past two years are fantastic, both in their own way.

    Would like to see him come back with a band again as I loved The Academy show he did back in 2008 (I think) as I had only ever seen him acoustic before then.

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