Rainn Wilson interview with Mark Kozelek
January 12, 2016


Rainn: This album is a collaboration between you and Justin Broadrick of Godflesh and Jesu. How did you guys meet and what prompted you to mash-up? Why not call it “Sun Kil Jesu”?

Mark: That would have been a funny name! Justin and I met through a mutual friend named Zak Sally, formerly of Low. Justin invited me to see his band Jesu play, with Isis (the band!) at Bimbo's in San Francisco in 2004, I believe. I loved his show and offered him a record deal, released two Jesu albums on my label, Caldo Verde. We're about two years apart in age, we've both been in music for well over two decades, I love the music that he makes, and he cranks out music fast. We work well together, work at the same pace.

Rainn: Are you a big boxing fan? What does ‘rekindle’ mean? What does a song asking “What does rekindle mean” mean?

Mark: Yes I love boxing. Justin is not the boxing fan that I am but he was a huge Prince Naseem fan, a fighter out of Sheffield, England. We had a conversation about "Naz" - another nickname of "Prince" Naseem Hamed - and "The Prince" is referenced in the song. The song was initially sparked by a documentary that I watched called "The Road To Las Vegas". During an argument between a husband and wife in the film, the wife suggests "maybe we need to rekindle?" and her husband, who literally didn't know what the word meant, asked "what does rekindle mean?" It gave me a chill. His response was so profound and powerful, it became what I guess you'd refer to as the chorus of the song.

Rainn: This not-so-recent turn in your music from the more melodic stuff of “early” Sun Kil Moon to the more-more-recent stuff that I would call more “stream of consciousness” and “personal” has probably been talked out to death in your mind but I’d love to know more about this transition. It’s a different kind of poetry. The poetry of metaphor, of love songs and symbols VS the poetry of abject reality a snapshot a diary. What’s going on with that? Do you like poetry? Read it?

Mark: The transition began when I ran out of metaphors. Metaphors are excruciating and boring. Once you've done metaphors for ten, fifteen years, it's time to move on. It all started with this funny song - that you and I actually played together in Oakland - called 'Sunshine in Chicago'. I literally wrote it backstage before a show in Chicago, in 2010-ish. It just felt so authentic and right. So why fix what feels natural? I don't read a lot of poetry but am pretty much always reading three books at once and rarely finish any of them. The last two books I finished were your autobiography and John Connolly's "A Song Of Shadows". I'm currently reading "Beatlebone," which a friend sent me for Christmas, plus a book of cat poems, and a book about the second Clay/Liston fight. All Christmas gifts, actually.

Rainn: “Last Night I rocked the room like Elvis and had them laughing like Richard Pryor” is one of the best song titles ever. It also includes lyrics that are an actual fan letter from a fan in Singapore named Victor. Can you tell us that story? How did that go down exactly? Will you use some of my questions in your next song and give me 25% of the publishing? You also read a fan letter in “America’s Most Wanted - Mark Kozelek and John Dillinger”. You seem to have a little love hate relationship with the fans, no? More love though, no?

Mark: Ah yes it is a great title. Both titles! I have a lot of love for my fans. People just love a villain and I'm an easy target because I don't tweet or do many interviews or care if I fit the press darling requirements of the day. Those fan letters moved me and the timing of them fit perfectly into the work in progress that is my creative life. And hey, those fans technically wrote a percentage of the lyrics, so Justin and I gave them a writer's share. Victor and Tanya are going to cash in! I don't know if any of your words will make it into my music, but there will be a Rainn Wilson shout-out, one of these days, in one of my songs, and maybe I'll have you play the bassoon on it!

Rainn: What are you listening to these days? Does anything move you anymore?

Mark: Currently, Debussy, and a stack of music that Isaac Brock gave me up in Portland. The best CD in this very large stack that I've listened to, so far, is this Modest Mouse record I've never heard before, until recently, called "No One's First And You're Next". I'm still inspired but am so immersed in my own work that I don't have the time to put into being the music fan that I once did, as a kid.

Rainn: You’ve been doing a good amount of acting these days. What is your relationship to the craft of acting? Do you enjoy it? Does it fill you with dread or delight? Do you want to do more?

Mark: I want to do more acting and have just been hired for my first lead role which will shoot later this year. I don't want to say much on it as the pieces are still being put together. But it's an independent film directed by Jason Massot, who of all things, is the son of the filmmaker of "The Song Remains The Same" - my favorite concert film. I look forward to it because it's a real part - with real dialog - not just a line here and there, like I've done in other movies. I've done metaphorical lyrics and I've done stream of conscious songwriting and played the hell out of my guitar, but I'd like a real shot at a real part in a film before I pass through this life.

Rainn: David Bowie died two days ago. Did you listen to his last release? Lazarus or Blackstar? What a way to go. On an artful, mysterious song-cycle about death. Do you like Bowie? Did he influence you at all?

Mark: The night before he died, I asked my girlfriend if she had seen "The Falcon and the Snowman" and she said she didn't think so. I said "You know, with Sean Penn and that David Bowie song?" She said she hadn't seen it, so we watched it that night. The next day I was in the studio all day, came home, turned on CNN and saw that he died, and there was also something about Sean Penn interviewing El Chapo. What a coincidence that we just watched the movie the night before. Let me tell you something. My first flight ever, was a trip to see my grandmother during the summer between second and third grade. Back then, you could listen to one song or another on the plane, and I listened to "Young Americans' about a hundred times on the way to Los Angeles from Ohio. When we got back to Ohio, I begged my mom to buy me that record. It was my first album and it was 4.99. The song 'Win' is one of my favorite songs, ever. Guys like Jimmy Page made you want to play guitar, and guys like David Bowie made you want to sing. He got a shout- out on 'Benji' and his passing has already made it into some lyrics that I wrote earlier today.

Rainn: I thought 'Exodus' was just gorgeous. The sad wall of sound and the surprising turn that the song took into a plaintive compassion for all parents that had ever lost children. It me realize what a significant and profound tragedy the loss of a kid is or would be. It stopped my heart. You seem very empathetic. Are you? Does it come naturally to you or do you have to work at it? It’s a song that should be sent to every parent of a dead child.

Mark: I've lost some friends who were way too young, and I know that you mentioned the same thing in your book. Seeing what their parents went through, and continue to go through, is something that I carry around and care about very much. That's the big picture stuff in life. The song is named after Mike's Tyson's daughter. I saw his live show, "The Undisputed Truth" in San Francisco and L.A., and during the part about losing his daughter, I don't think their was one dry eye in the place. That's as sad as it gets. My love goes out to all bereaved parents. I know a few of them.

Rainn: I’m doing this play in LA called “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” and in it, the playwright Will Eno writes: “What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? That’s easy. You’d be brave and true and reckless. You’d love life and people with a wild and new abandon. What if you only had 40 years? What would you do?” That’s the question isn’t it. I’m about to turn 50 and you are about to turn 49. What if you only had 40 years to live?

Mark: If I only had 40 years to live, I'd live them exactly as I lived my first 40 years. By the age of 40, I had already accomplished what I dreamed of - making a living as a musician. As a child, I fished with my friends, heard Led Zeppelin's music, and learned to play guitar. As an adult, I traveled to more places than I ever dreamed. By 40, I met truly inspiring people, including my bandmates, my ex-girlfriend Katy, Ivo-Watts Russell (founder of 4AD Records) and even director Cameron Crowe. There was no shortage of friendship, love, or inspiration in my first 40 years. Fuck - at 32, I even met you! And that's way more than my remedial reading teacher would have ever expected of me. But I'm glad I made it to 48, because every day I wake up next to someone who I love, very much. I love her, and I love making music. And that's a lot of love.