Clip: Mark Kozelek
ADDICTED TO THE MUSIC
Aidin Vaziri Sunday, March 28, 2004
It's no wonder there are so many women in Mark Kozelek's life. His first
dates are amazing.
Today, he starts with a stop at Swenson's Ice Cream Parlor on Russian Hill,
just a few blocks away from his house, for the best chocolate and banana
milkshakes in the world. Then it's a slow descent through the Marina, past
the afternoon joggers and swaying sailboats in the bay, and onto the beach
at Crissy Field for the most spectacular sunset.
All the while, he talks: about growing up in Ohio, moving to San Francisco,
fronting the Red House Painters, landing roles in Cameron Crowe's films
"Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky," his favorite neighborhood restaurants.
But Kozelek, 37, isn't getting to second base today.
His latest project, Sun Kil Moon, plays San Francisco this week, and he's
rehearsing every night with a new band that includes two guitarists, a
viola and violin player but no drummer. Getting the unusual lineup to learn
songs from the premiere album, "Ghosts of the Great Highway," played by a
full band in the studio, is taking some work. But Kozelek is not that
concerned. "The way I look at it, it's still my voice and my songs," he
Kozelek arrived in San Francisco nearly 16 years ago, making his mark with
the Red House Painters' unbelievably deep and despairing 1992 premiere,
"Down Colorful Hill." For the next few years, the band's heartbroken albums
detailed the city's most significant landmarks -- not the skyscrapers and
museums but the lonely beds at the end of Mission Street, empty hospital
waiting rooms, the curves of ex-girlfriends' hips -- in unforgiving detail.
One of the first songs Kozelek released was called "Lord Kill the Pain."
"Looking at the dates on those records, we were doing something pretty
gutsy," he says. "Maybe almost the equivalent of what punk rock was back in
the late '70s." He's right. During one 80-minute concert in England, the
Red House Painters played only nine songs. This was around the same time
they released their stately 11-minute version of Wings' "Silly Love Songs."
No one else was doing anything so radical at the time. Not Pavement. Not
Nirvana. Not even Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Those songs still resonate. In his time here, Kozelek has been signed to
five labels. He's traveled the world. His music has appeared in everything
from Gap ads to Alicia Silverstone movies and episodes of "Queer as Folk."
He has a role in the new Steve Martin film, "Shopgirl." Steven Spielberg
reportedly wanted him to be in "Minority Report" (there was a scheduling
conflict). And he hasn't held a steady job in 12 years. "I feel like I've
beat my head against the wall for so long doing what I'm doing that it's
finally sort of caught on," he says.
On the surface, Sun Kil Moon's premiere, "Ghosts of the Great Highway,"
sounds softer around the edges.
Sometimes Kozelek even veers close to something resembling happiness. But
among the songs about dead boxers and hanging out on rooftops in South
Korea, the old demons and jilted lovers still lurk. "Carry Me Ohio" and
"Gentle Moon" may float by on chiming acoustic guitars -- a marked contrast
to the dense feedback symphonies of the Red House Painters -- but their
words still scrape the bottom of the emotional barrel. It's scarily the
same territory in which Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith lingered before it
all became too much.
"I go through phases where I could definitely lean in a direction that is
not healthy," Kozelek says. "I do have vices. I definitely have weaknesses.
But the thing is, I have so many good people around me. And there are so
many things about the day that I do love, things I love about life that
keep me away from what those guys did."
Kozelek famously went through rehab just before he turned 15. "With the
exception of going to jail, I pretty much got into as much trouble as you
can get at that age," he says. He was taking pills, smoking pot, drinking.
"When I meet kids now that are 12 or 13, I think, oh my God, I can't
believe I was doing all that stuff when I was that little." He was expelled
from school, saw counselors, the whole bit. It worked. He hasn't touched
anything since hitting puberty. "I know I have an addictive personality,"
he says. "I can see myself going back to that place. Why would I want to
risk it just to smoke a joint?"
Kozelek's dedication, perhaps, is what has sustained him as a moderately
famous singer-songwriter for all this time, in an age when most moderately
famous singer-songwriters vanish faster than layers of Britney's clothing.
"I guess on one hand it's surprising because I don't feel like I work that
hard," Kozelek says. "The only thing I can attribute it to, hopefully, is
the work I've done is quality."
SUN KIL MOON: The band plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Great
American MusicHall, 859 O'Farrell St., San Francisco. Tickets: $18. Call
(415) 478-2277 or go to www.virtuous.com.