Red House Painters are a Slowcore
band from the 90's consisting of singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek, drummer Anthony Koutsos, guitarist Jerry Vessel, and bassists Gorden Mack (1989-1995)and Phil Carney (1995-2001).
They started out in 1989 constantly recording demos. These demos are now sought-out collector's items by fans of the band. Nonetheless, in 1992, they signed to 4AD Records and scrapped most of the older material in exchange for a thicker, slower version of that material. They released their first album, Down Colorful Hill
to nearly universal critical acclaim.
After the release of the first album, they became the new shining beacons of the 4AD label along with the American Music Club
. The next year would be spent in exhausting touring and recording for the band, resulting in two Self Titled Albums
(and yes, they WERE in fact trying to mess with their fanbase). These albums would later be renamed to Rollercoaster
based off of their art work. Both of these albums are considered to be the epitome of the sadcore movement.
Then, after being pressured into creating a "pop album", the band recorded their 1995 album Ocean Beach
. Once again given critical acclaim, but faced with commercial failure. The more folk-oriented sound did not set well with some fans.
After Ocean Beach
, 4AD notoriously dropped the band after a waning relationship. The band would later join Island Records
and promptly go on hiatus while Kozelek started recording a solo album. Songs For A Blue Guitar
was released in 1996 to rave reviews. Though the album was a Kozelek solo album, it was given the RHP moniker in hopes of having it sell better.
After the success of Songs For A Blue Guitar
the band got back together to record what would be their last album, Old Ramon
. Just as they were looking forward to having it released in 1997, Island dropped them and then proceeded to refuse to release the album. It would take Kozelek another 4 years to finally raise enough money to buy the rights back from Island and release the album in 2001. By this time the band had already moved onto new horizons and RHP was no more. Kozelek went on to create Sun Kil Moon
, while other members went onto solo projects.
Known for their string of critically acclaimed albums and Kozelek's brilliant yet depressing lyrics, Red House Painters
are one of the quintessential bands of the 1990s.
- Bittersweet Ending- The final song of Rollercoaster, "Brown Eyes". The entire album is about Mark's stressful life and situations. The song is almost like a lullaby he's singing to his former self, as if to put it to rest.
- Careful With That Axe- Kozelek indulges in this during the ending of the song "Blindfold"
- Concept Album- Songs For A Blue Guitar seems like a pretty strong example. The songs are mostly about the pains of growing up and then watching yourself age.
- Cover Version- On Songs For A Blue Guitar, we have "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney, "Long Distance Runaround" by Yes "All Mixed Up" by The Cars. The Bridge Album gives us "I Am A Rock" by Simon & Garfunkel, and a version of the "Star Spangled Banner". There's also an entire Mark Kozelek album dedicated to AC/DC covers.
- Cover Album- Mark's AC/DC album.
- Creator Breakdown- Mark always seems to be in one.
- Crazy Cat Lady- Mark owns a lot of cats and often writes songs about them..
- Deadpan Snarker: Mark comes across as one in his live shows.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Shockingly enough, some of the songs on the early demos, sound a lot more upbeat, and have a more distinctive Smiths influence than their later, more somber work. Compare the demo version of "Strawberry Hill" to the studio version for a good example.
- Rewind the dial even farther to 1988 and you'll hear the shakiness in Kozelek's voice as well as a very odd sound that they tackled at first. Before this, Kozelek was part of a band called "God Forbid"; supposedly they were punk.
- Enforced Method Acting: The entire album of Rollercoaster is this in spades. It might very well be the largest case of Enforced Method Acting in musical history:
- Some of the record engineers were ordered by 4AD head Ivo Watts-Russell to make recording as stressful as possible to put Kozelek under a lot of pressure in order to get a more genuine performance out of him. So that strained, stressed sound present on it that you don't hear anywhere else? Not faked even in the slightest!
- "Things Mean A Lot" had an unexpected piano riff added in that caught Kozelek by surprise. The song, being about Kozelek finally getting over an old muse of his, always seems to bring a tear to Kozelek's eyes because of this.
- "Katy Song" was originally supposed to be shorter for the album version, but when the band parts were recorded first, they were told to drag out the second section extra long. Kozelek was not told of this, so when his guitar and vocal parts were recorded he got confused and frustrated trying to figure out when the song was going to end. So that effect of how the guitars and vocals sound progressively more and more exhausted is actually Kozelek trying to keep the song going and getting frustrated.
- "Strawberry Hill" has the chorus sung by a group of strangers picked up from the street outside of a Los Angeles recording studio. When Mark was doing his final take for the vocal line, the crowd started singing in the background with Mark. He was not expecting this and the frail sound of his voice is actually him trying to hold back tears. The song had a lot of personal meaning to him, since it was about his troubled suicidal and depressed past.
- "Brown Eyes" was supposed to be a closing track featuring just Mark Kozelek on guitar. As things progressed, however, he was caught by surprise when the rest of the band came in and started playing with him, re-enforcing the theme of "Strawberry Hill".
- Epic Rocking- Most of their music in general has songs the stretch beyond 7 minutes. At least one song per album is over 10 minutes long.
- Really it's more difficult finding songs in their discography that don't exceed the 4 minute mark.
- Hidden Track: Ocean Beach has one at the very end in the form of "Brockwell Park Pt 2"
- Growing Up Sucks- Basically the entire concept behind "24"
- I Am the Band- Mark Kozelek on Songs For Blue Guitar
- In Name Only- Once again, Songs For A Blue Guitar. It was supposed to be Kozelek's solo debut.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes- Want to hear the original version of the Red House Painters cover of the classic Yes hit "Long Distance Runaround"? It's on the long out of print double vinyl of Ocean Beach. Though the song would later appear on Songs For Blue Guitar, many people who have heard the original claim it to be one of the best songs by the band. The later re-recording of it? Many consider it to not be one of Kozelek's best covers. The vinyl can be obtained, but it is extremely difficult, and extremely expensive, usually going for 350 to 700 dollars.
- The early RHP demos from before the well-known 1991-92 demos are considered mostly lost. What remains are 2 or 3 songs that were featured on a rare 1988 interview that didn't surface on the internet until around November 2012. While there are a few tastes given by Kozelek alone on acoustic guitar, it is likely that we will probably never know what those songs sound like with a full band, or if there are possibly more songs missing.
- The music video for "Summer Dress" was also seldom seen before the days of YouTube, to the point where many doubted to it even existing. The version you can now see on YouTube, however, has subpar audio quality.
- Their early pre-4AD demos are also pretty rare now. Not only are most of the songs not present on any "official" RHP recording, but they would never be rerecorded. Some of the tapes go for pretty cheap if their sellers aren't aware of their value, while others will go for as much as 70 to 100 dollars a pop.
- Mark Kozelek's book of lyrics and footnotes by the name of Nights of Passed Over is limited to about 2500 copies worldwide. While copies can be found on the internet, chances are that they will cost about 300-400 dollars.
- Leave the Camera Running- On the track "Over My Head" on Ocean Beach there's a few seconds of the band just talking in the recording studio before the songs starts and after the song ends.
- Lighter and Softer- Ocean Beach is considerably more upbeat than the preceding albums
- It could be argued that every album after Rollercoaster and Bridge headed towards this direction. This culminated with the release of Old Ramon, which is one of the most upbeat albums that Kozelek has ever recorded. Mind you, the band still maintained their tendency to drive listeners to tears
- Lyrical Dissonance- "Lord Kill The Pain" is one of the most upbeat sounding songs in the band's entire catalog. The lyrics on the other hand aren't nearly as sunny.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor- Kozelek seems to like playing the role of a snobby Jerkass on stage, but many people who have interviewed him and his closest friends all claim that he is one of the nicest guys out there. A possible explanation for the Jerkass behavior on stage is so that way he doesn't get obsessively stalky fans.
- Mind Screw: "Evil" definitely qualifies. Unlike most of Kozelek's songs, which are usually related to his past or inner turmoil, the subject matter in this story is very vague, and as a result, the song becomes incredibly creepy.
- "Red Carpet" is also one to a lesser extent. It's very brief, and it's not fully clear who the song is addressed too.
- Missing Episode- Old Ramon had become one of the most famous "lost albums" of all time before it was finally released. The hype built up so much that it's said that the band's fanbase nearly doubled just because of the circulating rumors of the album.
- New Sound Album- Ocean Beach
- Songs For A Blue Guitar qualifies as well. It takes the folk influence of Ocean Beach a step further and lays the template for the work Kozelek would later do with Sun Kil Moon
- Perishing Alt Rock Voice- Probably the absolute, most perished example in the history of music.
- Post Rock- Arguable, but with the droney nature some of the longer songs take, especially on Down Colorful Hill and Rollercoaster, as well as the band's odd use of time signatures and harmonies, they could qualify as this.
- Rhyming with Itself- "That's when friends were nice, To think of them just makes you feel nice." From "Have You Forgotten".
- Short-Lived Big Impact- The band was around for only 9 years, but their impact on the slowcore genre is still evident to this day.
- Screwed by the Network- Their treatment under 4AD and Island Records.
- Self-Titled Album- One of the rare bands to have TWO released in the same year.
- Singing Simlish- The final section of "Katy Song".
- Spiritual Successor- Sun Kil Moon to the point where comparisons have become nigh impossible.
- Studio Chatter- "Over My Head"
- Textless Album Cover - Ocean Beach and Old Ramon
- Throw It In- They were notorious for this. From the Studio Chatter on "Over My Head", the jazz-like improvisation on the same track, on-the-fly droning that stretched originally 5-minute-long songs to 7+, and the borderline atonal guitar solos Kozelek added on Songs For A Blue Guitar, there's a lot that was just "thrown in" for the band.
- Trope Codifier- For sadcore.
- Troubled Production- Songs For A Blue Guitar and Old Ramon suffered this. Read their sections on the trope page for more info
Mark Kozelek: I know the Rollercoaster album is many people's favorite. But for me, it is and will always be the most difficult to get through. I hadn't heard it in years, and...what I remembered most, even when I look at the album's cover, is nine months of worry.
- Too Soon- The music video for "All Mixed Up" exited television circulation nearly permanently after 9-11. The reason? The Twin Towers looming in the background would be enough, but to make matters worse there's a few scenes of a desperate, sad, and panicked fairy running around the courtyard of the same towers. It's actually a little cringe inducing when it happens. There's even a shot of the fairy crying with World Trade Center in the background as well.
- Vocal Evolution- Starting with Songs For A Blue Guitar Kozelek's voice went from being mournful and reverb drenched, to higher and with more of a distinct Neil Young influence.
- What Could Have Been- Rollercoaster was originally supposed to be a double album with the songs that originally appeared on Bridge mixed into the sequence of Rollercoaster. One has to wonder how the album would have sounded being twice as long and possibly twice as depressing.
- Songs For A Blue Guitar almost ended up being changed completely into a more commercially accessible album. Kozelek fought back against Ivo Watts-Russell's meddling and was thrown off the record label due to his inistance of not letting it get changed.
- Kozelek had many plans for Red House Painters after Old Ramon. He was going to create a few concept albums (one of them became Ghosts Of The Great Highway, Sun Kil Moon's first album) but after Island dropped the band, they were unable to get back in contact with each other and Kozelek had to drop some of the ideas he had.
- Old Ramon was also originally going to be a double album that included a longer version of "Michigan" and a song by the name of "The Mission" that was said to have been nearly 20 minutes long.
- Rollercoaster was originally going to have a fish head as an album cover. Similarly, the album cover for Ocean Beach was going to be some broken church pews or abandoned hospital beds.