Unpredictable and intriguing
Mark Kozelek has always had the necessary traits for achieving wider fame in rock, including a rare songwriting talent and an ultrasensitive yet brooding vocal delivery. Even so, the former frontman of ’90s indie band Red House Painters, who plays two shows in Athens in the coming days, has proved too unpredictable an artist to pin labels on or market with any uniform strategy. Kozelek has just released a new album, «Tiny Cities,» with his new band, Sun Kil Moon, the latest in a series of unlikely moves throughout the man’s 15-year career. The album consists entirely of covers of songs by Modest Mouse, a ’90s indie rock band led by Isaac Brock, whose lyrics Kozelek admires greatly. Highlighting his significance on the independent rock circuit, Kozelek has been invited to perform old Red House Painters material at a London concert later this week, organized to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the historic 4AD label, on which Kozelek’s first band released most of its material. The show is scheduled for November 25, just two days ahead of Kozelek’s first of two Greek shows, on Sunday. It all began in 1988, when Kozelek moved to San Francisco with his longtime collaborator Anthony Koutsos to form Red House Painters with Jerry Vessel and Gordon Mack. Shortly after, the band recorded its first demo and played numerous live shows that made an impact on Californian artistic circles. The support shown by Mark Eitzel, frontman of another worthy fringe act of that period, American Music Club, proved instrumental in spreading the word abroad about the Red House Painters. Thanks to Eitzel’s interest, a cassette featuring six songs by the band was sent to Ivo Watts-Russel, the visionary boss of the now-legendary label 4AD, home to numerous innovative and inspired acts including the Pixies, Dead Can Dance and Lisa Germano. It took the 4AD boss little time to sign the Red House Painters. The American act released its debut album, «Down Colorful Hill» in 1992, which more or less featured the songs Watts-Russel had heard on that early demo. The debut release was followed by a songwriting surge from Kozelek that led to 22 new songs that ended up comprising the band’s next two albums, «Rollercoaster» and «Bridge.» «Rollercoaster» echoed the band’s debut release but took a deeper dive into consolatory stories about lost souls, a recurring theme in Kozelek’s songwriting. An EP that followed, titled «Shock Me,» reflected a more confident singer in Kozelek. The band’s next album, 1995’s «Ocean Beach,» a beguiling acoustic project that possibly ranks as one of Kozelek’s finest sets of songs, took the band’s style away from 4AD’s trademark dark and atmospheric sound. A year later, the gap between Kozelek and 4AD’s Watts-Russel grew wider as the Red House Painters’ frontman’s style continued to drift away from the qualities his label boss had initially picked up on to sign the band. According to legend, an extended guitar solo wedged into a 12-minute song called «Make Like Paper» was the final factor that severed ties between the band and its label. Kozelek found a new home for his Red House Painters, Supreme Recordings, a subsidiary of Island that was run by the director John Hughes. «Songs of a Blue Guitar,» the band’s debut for the label – and first release beyond 4AD – was released in the summer of 1996. Despite rumors that Kozelek was headed for a solo career, Red House Painters gathered for a new album, «Old Ramon,» which was not released upon completion because of music industry reshuffling in 1998 that affected the band. The project eventually saw the light of day in 2001, following a release on the Sub Pop label. Amid the stagnancy caused by industry changes, Kozelek mended his ties with Watts-Russel at 4AD and the two collaborated to put together «Retrospective,» a double album comprising demos, live recordings, instrumentals and previously unreleased material during the band’s days with 4AD. By now Kozelek was working prolifically as a solo artist. He put out four releases between 2000 and 2001, including «If You Want Blood,» a vinyl-only release inspired by Kozelek’s fascination of early-period AC/DC, especially the lyrics of the Australian hard-rock band’s late original singer, Bon Scott. Then in 2003 Kozelek re-emerged with a new band, Sun Kil Moon, whose lineup includes fellow former Red House Painters member Anthony Koutsos, Tim Mooney of American Music Club and Geoff Stanfield of Black Lab. Last summer, in another unexpected move, Kozelek joined forces with Alan Sparhawk, guitarist and singer of the post-rock, «slowcore» masters Low, as well as members of an act called No Wait Wait. Naming themselves Retribution Gospel Choir, the act toured last August and September, performing mostly old-school rock covers by acts such as Genesis and Pink Floyd. Nov. 27-28, Small Music Theater, 33 Veikou, Koukaki (tel 210.924.5644), 9.30 p.m. Entrance is 18 euros.