Sun Kil Moon interview: Making music is the air I breathe

Mark Kozelek aka Sun Kil Moon speaks ahead of a flagship date with his band at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Ben Smith

Date published: 13th Jul 2016

Image: Sun Kil Moon 

Mark Kozelek is the man behind Sun Kil Moon, the acclaimed folk rock project, hailing from San Francisco and named after Korean world champion lightweight boxer, Sung Kil Moon. Kozelek has a rich back catalogue of music, accumulating in 20 studio albums across work with Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters, solo material and collaborations with the likes of Jesu (listen below) and Desertshore

Sun Kil Moon is driven by Kozelek’s unerring quality to deliver autobiographical lyrics in an unflinching manner, accompanied by the band’s atmospheric folk sounds. Ahead of Sun Kil Moon’s live performance at the Royal Northern College of Music Theatre on Wednesday 20th July, Mark Kozelek discussed his candid songwriting, collaborative relationships and admiration for Andrés Segovia

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Has it ever been a difficulty for you to speak candidly through your writing, or has writing personally, sometimes in prose, always been your way?

I used a fair amount of metaphors early on - which I found later, to be surface  - dancing around the centre of what you're really trying say.

You’ve worked with Rachel Goswell of Slowdive and Minor Victories on a recent solo (listen below) and Sun Kil Moon releases, as well as featuring on the Minor Victories LP. How far back does the collaborative relationship go, and what do you like about her work?

We met through our 4AD connections in the mid-90s. I’ve always had a soft spot for her, and care about her very much. She's a great person and a great talent. Our first collaboration was a John Denver cover and she sang beautifully on the Jesu/Sun Kil Moon album. I hadn't seen her in maybe eight years and we saw each other in England last year, it was so nice to see her again. 

How did you settle on nylon string guitar? It’s certainly complementary to your songwriting style and vocal tone, so was it a case of recognising that through writing and recording, or was it more to do with the influence of others that saw you using it predominantly?

I got obsessed with Andrés Segovia for a while - picked up a five CD set in New Zealand and those CDs were like crack cocaine, for a couple of years. His playing inspired ‘Admiral Fell Promises'. I’ve been more focused on lyrics over the last five years or so and the nylon string now collects a little more dust than it used to - but I love the instrument. It’s amazing especially in the solo acoustic setting.

Was your decision to establish Caldo Verde records centred primarily around an outlet for your music, or the music of others as well? Are we ever likely to see the entire roster contributing to one ensemble project?

I’ve been working less on releasing records of other artists, as it's getting so hard to sell records and I don't want to be the guy who failed at marketing someone's record. I started the label because it was time to make that move.

I’d already been promoted by 4AD, Island Records and Sub Pop - so I self released 'Tiny Cities' and found that it sold just as well, without help from labels. But like I said, it was the help of those labels that helped me get to that place.

Tell us about the guys on the road with you for these European Sun Kil Moon dates. How did you begin playing together, and how have the live arrangements for these shows taken shape?

I have deep respect for all of the guys who I play with, but sometimes they have commitments to other bands at certain times, so I have a few drummer options, a few guitar player options and a few keyboard player options.

Right now I’m out with Steve Shelley on drums, Nick Zubeck on 6 string bass, and Ben Boye on keyboards, and it’s really working out great. Every guy brings their own style into it, so each player has something different to bring to the table. Everything feels really good with this current line-up.

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Having seen success with a number of projects, what remains for you to achieve as a musician?

I’m just getting started. I’m at work on a new SKM album and a new Jesu/SKM album - both albums are blazing with great sounds, rhythms, and poetry. Making music is the air I breathe. Good night from Zurich.

Sun Kil Moon plays at Royal Northern College Of Music in Manchester on Wednesday 20th July - tickets available via the box below. 

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