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Red House Painters

slowcore indie folk sadcore singer-songwriter

Red House Painters was an band from San Francisco, CA, United States, formed in 1989 by singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek, who is currently active in the band Sun Kil Moon, with part of the original RHP line-up.

The band is described, along with Low and American Music Club, as one of the linchpins of the movement in alternative rock. Kozelek used this group primarily as a vehicle for his very personal and emotional songs of despair, pain and suffering.

While in Atlanta, Kozelek became friends with Anthony Koutsos, a drummer. He then moved to San Francisco, adding guitarist Gorden Mack and bassist Jerry Vessel to complete the line-up for Red House Painters. After forming, the group played the San Francisco scene extensively, and recorded demos from 1989 to 1992, building up an impressive amount of material. Once they were signed to 4AD Records in 1992, they put out five-and-a-half LPs worth of material in two-and-a-half years–between September 1992 and March 1995, they released three LPs, one double LP, and one EP on 4AD.

Their first 4AD release was an album made up of select demos titled Down Colorful Hill. It was a compilation of haunting melodies complemented by Kozelek's eerie yet rich and emotional vocals. In 1993, the group came out with two self-titled records (now commonly referred to as "Red House Painters I" or "Rollercoaster" and "Red House Painters II" or "Bridge" (based on their cover artwork), solidifying Kozelek's reputation as a talented songwriter with their harrowing autobiographical tales of his troubled life and errant living with no punches being pulled. The music, which ran the gamut from beautiful acoustic folk-rock to intense, dissonant, lengthy soundscapes, effectively conveyed the sadness of the lyrics.

In 1994, they released an EP entitled Shock Me and in 1995, the introspective Ocean Beach, which saw Kozelek's songs becoming more acoustic-based and folk influenced, and featured far less of the lengthy, dreamlike epics of the group's first two albums. His lyrics also showed a considerable shift in tone, as he increasingly began to write about the power of memory and the significance of geography, a subject that would become an obsession in his subsequent recordings.

While Kozelek was beginning work on a solo project, he parted ways with 4AD Records after a somewhat tumultuous relationship. Entitled Songs for a Blue Guitar, which was released on Island Records subsidiary Supreme Recordings in 1996. It was more of a guitar-driven rock album that they released under the Red House Painters name to give the album more publicity. A year later, they came up with Old Ramon, arguably their most accessible, optimistic recording to date. However, major label mergers during the late 90's would leave them without a record label, and it wasn't until 2001 that they were able to release the album on Sub Pop.

Prior to the release of Old Ramon, Kozelek released a solo six-song EP entitled Rock 'n' Roll Singer in 2000. The record was comprised of three original acoustic compositions with minor full-band arrangements and three covers: two AC/DC covers from the Bon Scott era and one John Denver cover. Following the release of the first solo EP, Kozelek released his first solo album six months later. The record, entitled What's Next to the Moon, was released in January of 2001, but would greatly surprise fans. What's Next to the Moon was comprised entirely of shimmering, melancholy acoustic AC/DC covers from the Bon Scott era. The record was also greatly uncharacteristic of Kozelek (though he was prone to enjoy covering songs by his favorite artists) in that it is the shortest full length to date clocking in at just over thirty minutes. Even the first Red House Painters album with only six tracks was more than 45 minutes in length. Both solo albums were released by Badman Records.

4AD would release the best-of package, "Retrospective", on a double-disc in 1999. Kozelek subsequently organized and appeared on a John Denver tribute album, played a part in Cameron Crowe's film Almost Famous and also appeared as a rock musician in the Steve Martin vehicle Shopgirl. He contributed to both a benefit album for AIDS and an album of classic rock covers.

In 2003 Kozelek and Koutsos, along with Geoff Stanfield and Tim Mooney, reformed as Sun Kil Moon, releasing the acclaimed album Ghosts of the Great Highway on Jetset Records. In a 2005 interview with The Onion's AV Club, Kozelek confirmed that he considers Sun Kil Moon essentially the Red House Painters, but that he changed the band name to grab the interest of critics who had gotten bored with, or stopped paying attention to, the Painters. The move was successful, as Ghosts of the Great Highway would be his best-selling album yet, while garnering extremely positive reviews.


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