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Mark Kozelek and his classical guitar

Mark Kozelek talks about the world-opening power of the classical guitar, the whimsical way he chooses cover songs and his love of boxing.

His voice has always defined his sound. With a somber and soothing sadness delivered in a haunting hush, Mark Kozelek fronted Red House Painters from 1992 to 1996, and has since alternated between releasing solo records under his name, and as Sun Kil Moon.

Known first and foremost for his introspective lyrics and melancholic tenor, Kozelek gained a reputation in recent years for his concentrated catalog of cover songs. Releasing a full album of AC/DC tunes, and later an album of deep cuts by Modest Mouse, both showcase reconstructions that are almost unrecognizable upon first listen.

“I was in very different places in life when I did all of them,” Kozelek notes. “Cover songs are just a hobby for me — like a songwriter who paints or does comic books on the side. My choices are very whimsical. There is not much thought put into it.”

Besides covers, Kozelek’s music continually touches on his unlikely fascination with boxing. The Sun Kil Moon moniker is taken from the name of a Korean boxer. Songs like “Find Me, Ruben Olivares,” “Salvador Sanchez” and “Duk Koo Kim” all reference the sport.

“What, musicians aren’t allowed to like sports?” Kozelek prods rhetorically. “Many writers and artists like boxing. Fans just have a narrow view of what they expect of their favorite artists. We watch TV and go to the grocery store like everyone else. We have hobbies, interests, things we do with our time besides play guitar.”

Classical appeal

Over the years, Kozelek has challenged himself with his guitar. His recent album, “Admiral Fell Promises,” released as Sun Kil Moon, even shows him introducing classical guitar to the mix.

“My guitar style has been all over the place over the years,” says Kozelek. “I’ve played in a heavy-handed, Neil Young-style, or in a Cat Stevens sort of way. But I don’t like the sound of loud music much anymore. I’m really enjoying classical guitar at the moment. It’s just opened up a new world for me. My ears and my fingers are enjoying it, and my audiences seem to respond positively.”