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Debut Due From Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek, founder of the San Francisco atmospheric folk-rock quartet Red House Painters, has formed a new band, Sun Kil Moon. The group's debut album, Ghosts of the Great Highway, will be released November 4th on Jetset Records. Kozelek will perform material from the new album at a half dozen solo shows in December and early January. A full-band U.S. tour will follow "early next year," according to Jetset spokesman Robert Vickers.

Sun Kil Moon are a quartet comprising two drummers — the Red House Painters' Anthony Koutsos and American Music Club's Tim Mooney — plus Black Lab bassist Geoff Stanfield and Kozelek on guitar and vocals. To record the album, Kozelek also brought into the studio a string trio from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Kozelek wrote the album over a 15-month period beginning in 2002, after which he put the band together in San Francisco and recorded from March through May of 2003. Aaron Prellwitz (RHP, Hella) engineered.

Ghosts of the Great Highway is a collection of songs that showcase Kozelek's lyrical, as well as musical, talent, each song reading like a short story. Two of the songs are tributes to boxers who have died untimely deaths ("Salvador Sanchez" opens the record and also closes it in an acoustic version titled "Poncho Villa").

The name of the band, Sun Kil Moon, is an antonym for a Korean fighter who also passed away. Kozelek said he became interested in boxers nearly a decade ago. "It all started with getting cable TV in the early '90s," he said during a recent phone interview. "I'd be watching boxing, waiting for my girlfriend to get home from work, until 2 a.m. It's like a series you get addicted to, like 'The Sopranos.' I got obsessed with the history."

Kozelek's lyrics are at times so intimate they seem like they came right off the pages of a personal diary. The album's songs that are not about boxers find him reminiscing about such things as childhood debates over rock guitarists in Judas Priest, and the recent death of the owner of the donut shop Kozelek patronized for many years, just down the hill from the singer/songwriter's Nob Hill apartment.

Since their formation in the early '90s, the Red House Painters' music has often been compared to that of the late British folk-rocker Nick Drake. They recorded a number of striking albums for 4AD including Rollercoaster. The group appeared to break up in 1997, but re-emerged in 2000. That year the album Old Ramon (recorded a number of years earlier but not released at the time because of problems with the record company they were then signed to) was finally released on Sub Pop, and the RHP toured the U.S. "We are all on good terms," Kozelek said about the Red House painters. "We have been doing this for years. We're all doing our solo things right now. I can see doing another record under this Sun Kil Moon name, then another with Red House Painters."

Kozelek will be performing material off the new album at six solo shows, beginning at Shubbas in Chicago on December 5th. He'll then play Middle East Upstairs in Boston on December 7, Fez in New York on December 9, the Crocodile Café in Seattle on December 17, the Troubadour in L.A. on January 17 and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on January 22. Sun Kil Moon will tour the U.S. beginning early next year, according to Jetset's Vickers.

After the Red House Painters went on hiatus in 1997, Kozelek made some solo recordings including What's Next to the Moon(Badman), an album of AC/DC covers that found him transforming the Australian hard-rock band's material into gentle folk songs. He also produced Take Me Home, a Tribute to John Denver.

Kozelek has been quite productive during the past five years. In addition to his solo recordings, he produced projects for promising young musicians including Lisa Cerbone (winner of the Washington State BAMMIE Award two years in a row for best alternative female vocalist) and San Francisco songwriter Hannah Marcus, and appeared on David J's (formerly of Love and Rockets) most recent record Embrace Your Dysfunction. He scored the independent film "Last Ball," and compiled an eclectic collection of RHP live tracks and unusual archival finds for the RHP two-CD compilation Retrospective.

Kozelek hooked up with director Cameron Crowe, who cast him in acting roles in both "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky" (for which he also contributed a version of the song "Have You Forgotten"). Crowe's record company, Vinyl Records, has just released a limited edition 10-inch of the song "Duk Koo Kim"; a different version (14 minutes in length with xylophone and Portuguese guitar) appears on Ghosts of the Great Highway.

Kozelek seemed quite proud of the recent publication in Portugal of a book of his lyrics, titled "Nights of Passed Over." "After 9/11, I had cancelled a couple of tours, and a book company over there had been trying to get me to do a book for some time," he said. "So, I got my lyrics together, wrote the foreword. I don't know how book-worthy my lyrics are, but it was very satisfying, a nice thing to have. It's a nice thing to give people."

For more information on Mark Kozelek and his Sun Kil Moon check out the Jetset Records site — Nicole Cohen [Monday, October 20, 2003]

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