Salvador Dali once said, “The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.” That’s the razor-thin line that creative geniuses must learn to walk — the ability to control and channel obsessions without being controlled and channeled by them.
It’s doubtful that singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Mark Kozelek considers himself and his work from that perspective but geniuses rarely acknowledge their gifts or encourage any conversation that might allow the subject of their perceived greatness to be broached. That may be the reason that Kozelek rarely does press for his albums or tours anymore, preferring to allow his reflective and deeply emotional work, in all its forms, to speak for itself.
A native of Massillon, Ohio, Kozelek came to prominence in the early ’90s with his first major band, Red House Painters, one of the leading lights of the nascent Slowcore movement. The group’s albums were critically heralded as among the best releases of the ’90s, and continue to hold up as brilliant musical achievements two decades later. Sadly, conflicts arose with the American arm of their label, 4AD, who released RHP from their contract. The band’s final lineup reformed as Sun Kil Moon in 2001, pursuing a similar direction with distinct Classical guitar influences. In 2010, Sun Kil Moon effectively became Kozelek’s solo project, with a rotating cast of musicians (the current lineup has been in place since 2015).
Kozelek also began recording under his own name during the legal wrangling with 4AD. His first EP and full-length album consisted of radical re-imaginings of Bon Scott-era AC/DC songs. Since then, Kozelek has released nine studio and 16 live albums alone and in collaboration with other artists, plus another eight Sun Kil Moon albums, including SKM’s latest, I Also Want to Die in New Orleans, released last April.
As SKM hits the road to promote New Orleans, Kozelek is readying a variety of new projects: a new album with Petra Haden — last seen here in Cincinnati as a member of the Megan Mullally/Stephanie Hunt band Nancy and Beth — titled Joey Always Smiled, slated for early October, and the second volume of his collaboration with avant Folk artist Jim White and SKM member Ben Boye, which will drop next March. Kozelek is also publishing a limited edition hardcover book, Nights of Passed Over 2, a memoir of sorts that will document his lyrical output over the past decade.
In the meantime, Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon are touring on a presentation that will touch the soul and electrify the senses. It’s the sort of thing a genius would do.
Sun Kil Moon performs Monday (Sept. 16) at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater. Tickets/more info: woodwardtheater.com.