Humus And Hubris

6 June 2012 | 7:02 pm | Steve Bell

Enigmatic American composer Mark Kozelek is trying to mess with his fans’ heads on new album Among The Leaves – Steve Bell finds about balancing risk and reward.

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He's a hard man to get a handle on, is US singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek. It's been more than two decades now since he set out fronting acclaimed San Franciscan dream-folk outfit Red House Painters – that band releasing half a dozen albums before splitting in 2001 – and he's now up to five long-players with his current outfit Sun Kil Moon, including his latest release Among The Leaves.

But there's still far more to Kozelek than meets the eye. He's also released a slew of solo EPs and live releases, and amongst his discography are seemingly random concepts such as 2001's What's Next To The Moon – an album of acoustic Bon Scott-era AC/DC covers – and 2005's Sun Kil Moon long-player Tiny Cities, an album of almost unrecognisable Modest Mouse reinterpretations. This is a man unafraid to do what he wants, when he feels like it and exactly how he envisages it – no correspondence entered into.

The album he's currently touring, Among The Leaves, is a primarily solo affair – a small ensemble backs him on a handful of tunes, but it's mainly just Kozelek finger-picking his nylon-stringed guitar – and while still introspective, it finds him in somewhat of a playful mood compared to the sombre tones of his past work. According to the artist, however, this is him trying to mess with people's preconceptions as much as any new lease of life.

“I didn't really know what I was after when I set out [recording Among The Leaves],” he offers. “I just wanted to write and record the songs as I wrote them and wanted the record to be lengthy. I wanted to make a record that would take a while for people to wrap their heads around.”

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He's definitely sorted on both accounts, the album being a sprawling 17 songs in length and containing titles such as Not Much Rhymes With Everything's Awesome At All Times, I Know It's Pathetic But That Was The Greatest Night Of My Life and The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man – plenty for fans to ponder on there.

“I'm just a little more relaxed now, willing to take risks,” Kozelek chuckles. ”It's natural that any artist would get tired of themselves after a while and want to challenge themselves. I guess it's like a dramatic actor trying a shot at comedy – you want to stay awake, keep your audience interested.”

You'd imagine that after two decades of songwriting Kozelek would have a handle on his craft – most writers either find that it gets easier with experience or more difficult because you're constantly repeating yourself – but he seems unsure of his progress in this respect.

“Songwriting is hard to talk about, I can't explain it,” he muses. “All songwriters are different. Some guys just know five guitar chords, so they're kind of stuck, but I'm a pretty versatile player, so it's easy to come up with new angles. I'm pretty imaginative as well, so there's a lot of poetry out there still – every day I get new ideas, to some extent or another.”

What he is sure about, thankfully, is that he's enjoyed his previous sojourns to Australia. “My visits there are always funny – I spent two days in a hotel in Melbourne last time, watching There Will Be Blood over and over. It rains every time I'm down there,” he laughs. I travelled with Holly Throsby on my first trip there – she was nice, sweet, it would be nice run into her again. And I like those rocket salads, those are good.

“I don't know: it's like America down there – people eat a lot of meat and drink a lot of beer.”