Editors' pick

Mark Kozelek


Editorial Review

Fans of former Red House Painters mastermind Mark Kozelek have harvested a bumper crop of music this year. His book of lyrics was packaged with a disc of live tracks and a free promo EP, and the sleepily stoic San Franciscan singer/songwriter released "April" (Caldo Verde) with his band Sun Kil Moon.

Kozelek will release a second full-length, "Finally" (Caldo Verde), under his own name in December, which collects his covers of songs by Kath Bloom, Husker Du, Low, Stephen Sondheim and AC/DC, along with a few originals and instrumentals. There's also a song from "Yo Gabba Gabba!," a favorite among young kids and potheads.

It'll be just Kozelek and his acoustic guitar — which many fans say is the best way to hear his songs — playing covers and originals at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Nov. 10.

Express spoke to Kozelek about his Caldo Verde label, how he divides his songs among his different projects and whether he's a "Yo Gabba Gabba!" fan.

EXPRESS: Can you tell me a little about the "Finally" LP and how it came together?

KOZELEK: I realized some of those songs would just end up in the same various artists tribute graveyard that all the other ones did. Those songs — and those compilation albums — fall into obscurity. Nobody hears them, because they're terrible sounding and don't flow. I wanted to take some of my favorites that I've done over they years and give them a new home, a new life.

EXPRESS: How does running your own label and releasing your work free you up creatively? Are there plans to expand the roster, or keep it small?

KOZELEK: It frees me up. It's more lucrative, running things myself. I do things at my own pace. I pay for my own recordings, pay for my own tours, but the return is much bigger. This way you don't owe anybody anything, don't have to get permission to do anything. I can take a year to make a record if I want, without anyone breathing down my neck about deadlines, don't have to worry about being dropped because the label signed the new bearded guy who sells more records. It's like the difference between owning a store and working in one. I just feel better about myself.

EXPRESS: I'm curious how you determine if a song is better suited for a Sun Kil Moon album or for a solo album. Are you those separate projects for you, or do they bleed together?

KOZELEK: I guess they bleed together. It depends on how elaborate the record is. If I bring in a band to record it, it makes the most sense to define it by giving it a band name. If I play a bunch of solo shows and make a record out of it, it makes the most sense to release it under my name.

EXPRESS: Are you a "Yo Gabba Gabba!" fan?

KOZELEK: I've never watched "Yo Gabba Gabba!", other than the episode my song was in. A friend of mine is a writer down there and asked me to cover a song of his for the show. I don't know. I get asked to do these kinds of things a lot. We probably get four e-mails a month from people asking me to cover songs for tribute albums — Kiss, Led Zeppelin, bands I've never even heard of, whatever. It just has to be something that speaks to me. It doesn't even necessarily need to be an artist I like. It just needs to be something that I can feel inspired doing.

EXPRESS: Memory seems to play a big role in your songs, like you're documenting people you've known and loved.

KOZELEK: My life and my friends span a lot of years and cover a lot of ground. This music thing brings you into the world, and you meet a lot of people along the way, have a lot of experiences. Some I've been very affected by, and knowing these people has sent my life in a certain direction. You write about what you know, and this is what I know and care about.

EXPRESS: These are all obviously very personal songs to you. What is it like to revisit them every night? Do it take an emotional toll?

KOZELEK: No emotional toll. These songs are just little things I've gathered along the way in my life. I guess there's a handful of people who feel connected with them, so I enjoy going out and playing them.

--Stephen M. Deusner, Express (Nov. 2008)