INTERVIEW: Sun Kil Moon | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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No one quite captures the bittersweet like Mark Kozelek. His harrowing autobiographical lyrics give unflinchingly detailed accounts of pain, love and despair. Previously of San Franciscan alt. rockers Red House Painters and now performing under the moniker Sun Kil Moon, his contemplative songwriting style has brought him much adulation, although his outspoken criticism of other artists has made him an equally divisive figure.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a marked difference in his songwriting style, moving from the melodic output of his early recordings to a more direct approach that often feels like diaristic reportage. Indeed, it seems to be a deliberate transition from a poetry of metaphor and symbolism to a poetry of abject reality. The catalyst for this change came as Kozelek reached a creative crossroads. “I suppose I ran out of metaphors, and when you get older, you’re bothered, or inspired, by things in life other than a girl breaking up with you.” He says.

This evolution in writing style towards a more stream of consciousness approach is one he seems empowered by, and ultimately one which facilitates his new found inspiration. “It feels good, healthy, fun and genuine so I have decided to continue to work like this – not agonising over words.”

In 2014 he released Benji, which was met by universal critical acclaim for its brutally honest depiction of love, life and death. The album was conceived following the unexpected death of Kozelek’s cousin, a personal tragedy that clearly had a profound impact upon him. “That record took on a life of its own, due to a horrible accident that happened to a relative. Had my cousin not died, that record would not have been what it was. I don’t know where it would have gone, but it was her passing that sent me in that direction.”

The album demonstrated his innate ability to create unfiltered immediacy through terse and direct language. In doing so, Kozelek deftly exposes so much of the beauty, truth, ugliness, humour and grace inherent in simply existing in the world. Although he rarely strays from a first person perspective, he is very reticent to reveal the extent of which the songs are rooted in reality. “I don’t think much about how much of it’s real, or made up. To say that a record is all true sounds like you’re trying to defend something that you don’t need to defend.”

I ran out of metaphors, and when you get older, you’re bothered, or inspired, by things in life other than a girl breaking up with you

Equally prolific as he is decorated, Kozelek appears to maintain a constant state of activity having amassed a considerable body of work throughout his career. However, his continuous output seems not to be a conscious decision but rather an inability to quash creativity. “I don’t really know how to take time off from making music.” He admits.

In conjecture with his solo work, Kozelek has been prone to collaborating with other musicians from Jimmy LaValle to Desertshore, seeing collaboration as a vessel for experimentation which also helps fuel his desire to keep putting new material out. “Working alongside collaborators not only keeps me busy but keeps me working with fresh ideas.”

Earlier this year saw him collaborate with Justin Broadrick of Godflesh and Jesu fame. The project came to fruition organically after the musicians struck up a friendship in the early 2000’s following Kozelek’s attendance at a Jesu concert. He liked it so much that he offered Justin a record deal and subsequently released two Jesu albums on his own Caldo Verde label. However, the duo did not work creatively together until Broadrick sent Kozelek a couple of demos, to which over the next year the latter penned some accompanying words. “Once we got the first few tracks down, he sent more music and we got a record together pretty quickly.” They certainly share a similar work ethic and a mutual respect for one another’s artistry. “My work with him is very important. He’s the first collaborator that we took it to the live level with, and that aspect of it has been a lot fun.”

Kozelek is an avid boxing fan and often uses it as a reference point within his music to help grapple with more complex themes. His primary recording moniker is even a homage to boxing, named after the Korean Bantamweight, Sung-Kil Moon. It is the perceived parallels between boxers and songwriters that draws Kozelek to the sport. “Boxers are individuals. They win and lose alone and that’s why I identify with them.” Rather like a songwriter, Kozelek feels that irrespective of extrinsic influences it is ultimately the boxer who ends up falling on their sword. “Sure they have a team and trainers, guys who get a cut of the money but they are in the ring, alone.”

Sun Kil Moon play Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle on Wednesday 22nd June.



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