An interview with Mark Kozelek

From the years 2000 to 2002 I ran an online zine, Actionattackhelicopter, along with my friends, Brian and Josh. I was fortunate to interview many musicians whose work I enjoyed. I’m posting some of those interviews here for anyone who may have missed them the first time. They have been edited for length, relevance, and to correct for my poor editing skills at the time of original publication. Keep in mind that these were done over ten years ago, thus individuals’ opinions, thoughts, and ideas may no longer be relevant, but they are still interesting as a snapshot of a particular time and place.

This interview was originally published in autumn 2000.

Mark Kozelek’s music is something that I have listened to for quite some time now. Whether it be his extensive work with Red House Painters or his recently released solo project, I have been constantly intrigued by his songs—even if it is something as simple as his ability to play the same notes over and over again and yet make them incredibly heartbreaking (“San Geronimo,” “Silly Love Songs”). From what I had read and heard of Kozelek, he’s not had an easy life. Lots of heartbreak (too many songs to list), lots of strained friendships (“Michael”), and lots of distress from life in general (“24”). It could be said that Kozelek is an everyman, for we all seem to struggle with such problems, yet not every man gets the opportunity to do such things as work with Cameron Crowe on a movie or put together a tribute album for one of America’s famed folk singers. Nevertheless, there is a part of Kozelek that I can identify with: his struggles with romance and depression. We talked about all of these things one afternoon as Mark took a bath.

Mark-Kozelek

Tell me about the solo album a little. Is that something to just tide people over until new Red House Painters stuff comes out or is that something you’re really exploring?

Oh no. I guess it would just be like you put it. It was just something that was very easy to do, something I had time to do. We’ve had a lot of really ugly legal things going on with lawyers and stuff. This Old Ramon record that we’ve been trying to get back. So Dylan (of Badman Recordings) asked me to come over and he’s got a little studio in his bedroom and we’ll record some songs and put out an EP and I said, “Sure.” It wasn’t really anything I had any intentions of doing and it was so convenient and if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have even done it because I’m already shopping a record. I wouldn’t want to be shopping another idea or record. So it was very easy and fun and simple.

I heard you’re in a movie. What’s that all about?

Well, that comes out in October. It’s the new Cameron Crowe movie [Almost Famous].

What else has he done?

He did Jerry McGuire, Say Anything, and Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s kind of like a comedy. It’s in the early ‘70s. It takes place in 1973. It’s just a movie about rock during that time. There are a lot of drugs and groupies and rock stuff.

What do you play in it?

I play the bass player in the band. The story is basically the story of Cameron Crowe when he was a teenager. He was a writer. He wrote for Rolling Stone and Cream when he was fifteen. He toured with Led Zeppelin when he was fifteen. It just kind of sums up a lot of things that happened to him and put them into a movie. The whole movie is about this fifteen-year-old kid who’s on tour with a band and I’m just one of the guys in the band.

Is it a big role?

It’s something where I’m very present in the movie because I’m one of the guys in the band, but I just have a small handful of lines.

Did you enjoy doing it?

A lot. It was really, really, really fun. I don’t know. It’s just a really overwhelming experience as far as the catering aspect. You’re just so catered to. I just did voiceovers for it about two weeks ago and a limo picked me up at my house, took me to the airport, I flew first class to LA, and another limo picked me up and took me to the hotel. It’s just the treatment is so good on a major movie like that. It’s a Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks production. It’s so major. I had money laying all around my apartment. I had this apartment in Marina Del Ray and I’d wake up and there were one hundred dollar bills under my pillow. The money is just insane. You eat great and you’re picked up everyday and there are beautiful girls on the set everyday. You’re totally catered to. You get a hangnail and five people are at your service trying to figure out how to handle it. It’s really insane. I think I flew first class one time before this movie. Cameron was really cool. I was really nervous because I was the only non-actor and I had never acted before but I got along and it was great.

How’d you get the role then?

Cameron was a fan of the band and his assistants had seen me live and they told me to come in and audition and I thought, “No way,” but two months later they called me and hired me.

Wow, that’s really cool. Did you have to do a lot of actual playing for the movie? Like playing the bass?

Yeah, I played bass, but it was all lip sinking. We all played through playback but I was actually playing along.

Mark Kozelek

In some of your music I get the impression that there is a sense of depression and anxiety. I was wondering if you feel as though you’re a person who suffers from that or not.

Well, it really depends on who I’m around. During that movie, I was hanging around with Jason Lee, the skateboard guy, and some really funny people. Jimmy Fallon from Saturday Night Live. On that set most of those people would probably think, “Mark seems kind of depressed. He seems kind of quiet. He’s not the party animal, or the party person.” I’d say on that set I was one of the more quieter, thoughtful, more introspective people, maybe. In the context of my life up here in San Francisco, I’ve got friends who are really depressed. They have lots of problems. They might say, “Mark’s really got his life together. He has a career. He goes fishing. He goes on camping trips and stuff.” So it really kind of depends. I would say that everyday I feel sad about things or I have regrets about some decisions I’ve made and I have regrets about some people I’ve hurt. Things come up, music I hear, things I see that remind me of these things and bring me down to this level. But at the same time I’m functional. I can get out of bed everyday, I don’t cry everyday, I’m not on any medication for depression. I don’t see any reason to be. But at the same time I’m not skipping down the street and throwing flowers on people’s doorsteps.

[laughs]

It really depends. Sometimes I’m around some people and I think, “God, those people are really happy and confident. Damn.” It makes me feel like, “Fuck…” But then I’m around some other people and I feel like I really have my life together. It just depends. Overall, I don’t know. I can laugh, I have friends that can really make me laugh, or I can get really grumpy about things. I can get mad about things.

You’ve never been diagnosed with anything though, have you?

No.

So how do you combat depression in your life when you feel it coming on?

I don’t really know. There are different things I do. It’s interesting because sometimes when I’m down I feel like I’m gonna call somebody. I’m gonna call one of my friends that makes me laugh and I’m gonna go out. But then sometimes I think that I don’t want to do that and I just want to sit by myself and feel this. I want to try and feel what it’s about rather than run away from it. There are times when I go to bed at night and I sleep like a baby and there are times when I go to bed at night and my head is all fucked up with things I’m really confused about and things I’m upset about. You just toss and turn for a while until you fall asleep. But I don’t really know that I have any real method. It’s such a cliché to say that songwriting is therapeutic but I guess it probably is. The way it’s therapeutic for me is different. It’s not like I feel like, (says melodramatically) “Oh, I’ve worked through this problem. I’ve sat down and written of this thing and I’ve worked through my problem.” It’s not really like that; it’s more like I’m walking around humming a melody in my head and going, “Whoa! I just wrote a good song.” And it’s got this really pretty melody. It’s like, “Whoa, I finally wrote a good song that I can remember the next day and that I can walk down the street and I’m singing it in my head.” I feel proud of myself. I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Maybe I’ve also worked through some problems but I don’t really think about it that way.

How do relationships play into that then? Do you think that relationships have spurned on the depression sometimes? I’m speaking mostly in regards to relationships with the opposite sex.

Well, that’s just such a hard subject that I could just go on for days about it. It’s really, really hard, too, when you get into a position where you’re in this position. When you’ve made records. I’ve got to admit that most of the people I’ve met in my life are through music. When you’re in that position, there’s an element that’s brought in. I’m not saying that people don’t play games; people play games with each other no matter what. But I think that I’ve definitely experienced over the years as more records have come out, and not that we’re in a huge band like Pearl Jam or anything, but there are people I meet through the music that are maybe awed a little bit by the music. Sometimes you meet people and they play games with you. They don’t really treat you like they’d treat somebody else because they think, “Oh, he probably has people that fall to his feet and grovel at his feet so I’m not gonna do that with him. I’m gonna show him that he has to work for it.” I’ve experienced that a lot with dating and it really gets me down and I get really tired of it. It’s really hard to explain. People I know that are in bands, they can relate. There’s a certain thing that gets brought into it that’s just like, “Ugh.” Sometimes you meet somebody and everybody meets on the superficial basis in the beginning anyhow, but you work through it. I’ve worked through that with some people where we weeded through the fact that I was into them because they were hot and they were into me because I was in this band. You get to this other place that’s really nice. I don’t know, man. I’m really affected by relationships. Over the past few years I’ve had a really hard time with it.

kozelek_01

I can imagine. Especially with as busy as you’ve been.

Yeah, that’s hard too. Being away from home a lot it’s good…what do I mean? It’s bad. You’re away from home. At the beginning of July I’m going to Sweden for a week and then I’m going to the East Coast at the end of July and I’m going to England in September. It’s great, but it gets hard. Sometimes I’m out for a while and it’s like, “God, I really don’t have anybody here.” It’s tough.

I was reading the Retrospective booklet and as I read it I was amazed at how different things have become for the band over the course of the years. What would you see as the biggest change in Red House Painters from the beginning to now?

There have been a lot of things for me. Lots of good things. I’ve got the full digital cable now and I don’t sleep on a futon anymore. Girls want to talk to me now and they didn’t want to before. There are all kinds of things. As a band there’s a certain amount of confidence we’ve gained over the years. In the beginning there’s a lot of worries and then it just becomes what it is. Which is really a nice feeling. In the beginning, you first get signed and you first start traveling around and there’s this nervousness and everybody wants to look at each other’s hotel rooms and see who has the biggest one. After a while it just becomes what it is. You just go and you just do it. Things happen and you gain certain confidences when certain things happen. Before we were signed we didn’t have any confidence and then Mark Eitzel decided he liked our band and all these people would come and see us and we had more confidence. Then Ivo Watts-Russell signed us to 4AD and we had a lot of confidence. Then other bands ask you to tour with them and you get where there’s a relaxed feeling. I’ve been able to relax more since a few years ago. I’ve been able to relax more with it. You can still really be affected by things like with Cameron Crowe patting me on the back and Steven Spielberg asking me to come down there to audition for something else. There are still things when somebody criticizes you. I was in Spain about a year and a half ago and I did a show in this city called Cadiz and I got off the stage and this girl came up to me and she said, “I just want you to know that I think your Songs For A Blue Guitar record is shit.” I was like, “What?” and she said, “I just want you to know that I think your Songs For A Blue Guitar record is shit and you must think so too because you did not play any of the songs from it tonight.” It really affected me and her boyfriend got involved and we almost ended up throwing down. I was just like, “Jesus!” And for days I was tripping about it. It just seems that no matter what, there are things that can end up bringing you back down.

I think a lot of it too is that because you’re in a band people want to pick on you.

That’s exactly what I was just talking about with the dating thing. I swear to God. Let me give you an example. I will give you a fucking perfect example. I was dating this girl for a little bit. Oh God, I met her sometime just after Christmas or something. She knew who I was and she knew the band. She had a little experience with acting before, and she knew and she heard that I did a movie. But at the same time she said she had never heard of Cameron Crowe, never heard of Jerry McGuire, she’d never heard of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, she’d never heard of Singles or Say Anything. I was like, “Where the fuck have you been living? You been living on some fucking commune?” It’s like, how can you live in America and not have heard of these things? That’s what I’m talking about with being picked on. It’s like, “He thinks he’s really cool so I’m gonna pretend I’ve never heard of any of this stuff.” It’s those kind of things that I would consider being picked on. “You think you’re cool? Well, I’ve never heard of any of that shit. You’ve got to start from scratch with me, buddy.”

“Who looks stupid now?” That type of thing.

These are the same people who when they are on an airplane going to the fucking Bahamas a year from now and that movie is playing on the airplane, they’re the first people that are going to say, “I know that guy!”

Okay, last question here. I’ve gotta ask this because I’ve been wondering about it for a long time. The song “Michael”—did you ever find Michael?

Oh yeah. I haven’t talked with him in a long time. He’s a friend that I’ve kind of grown away from. I saw him a few times in Atlanta when my band went through and played. He’s a real elusive guy.

Is he from back in high school?

No, I met him in Atlanta when I moved to Atlanta. He’s just crazy and he’s been in a lot of trouble. There’s always something happening. But we’ve lost touch. Our lives have just become too different.

I think I’m at that stage where the songs you wrote for the first album are the songs I can relate to the most. I’m kind of that age with losing my friends and growing up like it talks about in the song “24” and all that kind of stuff. But I like all the stuff. It’s great. Major props to you for everything you’ve done because it’s been fun to listen to it all and it’s been a good experience.

Great. That’s cool.

I appreciate you doing the interview.

Hey, no problem.

Are you taking a bath right now?

Yeah.

Yeah, I just wondered because I heard a lot of water splashing around in the background.

Yeah. I am. Well, cool man.

I appreciate it, Mark.

Yeah, you take care.

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