Red House Painters - Biography
As one of the undisputed lords of the early 90’s Slowcore movement, Red House Painters set the bar pretty high. Largely the solo project of singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek, the group utilized stark yet hauntingly intricate indie rock instrumentation mixed with Kozelek’s bare, soul wrenching confessional lyrics that sometimes bordered on a therapy session. Then there is the pace of the music: slow as molasses (there’s a reason why it’s called “slowcore”) but never boring or tedious. Kozelek is the master of traditional song structure evasion. Whether it’s the ten plus minute plugged in melancholy of “Down Colorful Fill” or the acoustic folk ode to his cat, “Wop-A-Din-Din”, Kozelek rarely adheres to the verse-chorus-verse aesthetic. Instead, he and longtime collaborator/drummer Anthony Koutsos developed an almost Sanford Meisner-esque way of utilizing repetition with subtle changes to drive the themes and messages of their songs into the listener’s subconscious. Granted, the band never made feel good dance music but they did develop an uncanny way of inducing empathy for Kozelek’s tortured soul.
Born in Massillon, Ohio, Mark Kozelek was allegedly addicted to drugs by the age of ten. He was rehabilitated a few years later and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where he met with drummer Koutsos and the two began an early incarnation of Red House Painters. After relocating to San Francisco the duo picked up guitarist Gorden Mack and bassist Jerry Vessel and began to demo material and play local gigs in 1989. Over the next two years the group developed a substantial fan base in the Bay area, including American Music Club front man Mark Eitzel, who cited Red House Painters as his favorite band even though they had yet to release any music. Eitzel put Kozelek in touch with Ivo Watts Russell of the British indie label, 4AD, and the group delivered a demo tape. After two years of writing, The Red House Painters had developed an impressive array of songs that sounded more like complete recordings than rough demos. 4AD signed the group and released a collection of the demo songs as their debut full length, Down Colorful Hill (4AD) in 1992. Not keen to rest on their laurels, Red House Painters went back into the studio and recorded two albums worth of material. Issued as two separate self titled full lengths, known by fans as the “Rollercoaster” (1993 4AD) and “Bridge” (1993 4AD) albums due to their cover art, the albums are the definitive examples of the early 90’s underground slowcore movement that included American Music Club and Low.
After a few tours the group took a two year hiatus before re-emerging in 1995 with the more acoustic/folk based album, Ocean Beach (4AD), their last album for the 4AD label. By this time, Kozelek’s various disputes with the label had taken their toll and shortly after the release of Ocean Beach the band opted out of their contract. It would be the start of numerous label woes for Kozelek. The next Red House Painters release was actually Kozelek’s first solo album but new label, Supreme, thought it better to slap the Red House Painters moniker on the front as the name was better known than Kozelek’s. Songs for a Blue Guitar (1996 4AD) was performed entirely by Kozelek and spanned more eclectic genres including country and faster rock songs. The album also included reworked covers of Yes and Paul McCartney, a theme Kozolek would come back to in later years as a solo artist and with his next band Sun Kil Moon.
In 1997 all four members of the band reconvened to record their fourth full length, Old Ramon (2001 Sub Pop). However a corporate merger found the band without a label shortly after the album’s completion in 1998, which left the fait of Old Ramon in limbo as the label owned the album. The album wouldn’t get released for another four years. In the interim, Kozelek released two solo albums under his own name. Rock n’Roll Singer (2001 Badman) was an EP of originals and various covers, while What’s Next to the Moon (2001 Badman) was entirely comprised of reworked AC/DC covers from the Bon Scott era that Kozelek stripped down into acoustic folk songs. Kozelek also joined the cast of Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous as the quiet lumbering bass player of the fictional 70’s rock band, Stillwater. Crowe and Kozelek would form an unlikely bond during filming and Crowe’s music label, Vinyl Films, would go on to release several vinyl editions of solo Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon material. Eventually, Kozelek raised enough money to by back Old Ramon and finally released the album via Sub Pop records in 2001. Relying on a faster pace and more rock oriented material the album once again showed the band’s continual progression and received rave reviews. Unfortunately it was the end of the line for Red House Painters…in name at least. Fearing the public had pigeon holed their sound, Kozelek decided to continue under the name Sun Kil Moon with a different line up of musicians. Koutsos was the only hold over, however he soon exited the group when he became a first time father. Kozelek has admitted that Sun Kil Moon is basically an extension of the Red House Painters although his “slowcore” days are definitely behind him. Their first album, Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003 Jet Set) was huge critical hit and Kozelek’s most successful album. Currently, Sun Kil Moon is set to release their third full length, April, in the spring of 2008 on Kozelek’s imprint, Caldo Verde Records.