Red House Painters are a Slowcore band from the '90s consisting of singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek, drummer Anthony Koutsos, bassist Jerry Vessel, and guitarists Gorden Mack (198895) and Phil Carney (19952001).
They origins of Red House Painters are a bit of a messy story. Kozelek started an attempt at a music career in the mid-80s after years of depression and shyness. Living in Atlanta, he started a band called God Forbid that left virtually no footprint. Allegedly, recordings were made of God Forbid, but they have yet to surface. It's theorized that Kozelek formed the Painters in 1988, seeing as an early interview from that year at an Atlanta based indie station surfaced in 2011. The performance quality on these demos are shaky, it seems Kozelek has kept the early history of a band a secret due to Old Shame. The demos from this era of the band remain lost. Their success in Atlanta was very limited.
In 1989, Kozelek reformed the group and moved to California in hopes of better chances. A strong of demos were recorded between 1989 and 1991. These demos are now sought-out collector's items by fans of the band. In 1992, the demos caught the ear of one Ivo Watts Russell, head of 4AD Records. For their first album, Down Colorful Hill, they opted to remaster material from the demos. The album got critical acclaim, but didn't sell very well.
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 and Bridge based off of their artwork. 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 on Sub Pop 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.
Red House Painters incorporate the following tropes:
- 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 Album: Mark's AC/DC album, What's Next to the Moon.
- Cover Version: On Songs for a Blue Guitar, we have "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney, "Long Distance Runaround" by Yes, and "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.
- 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 much 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.
- 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.
- Growing Up Sucks: Basically the entire concept behind "24".
- Hidden Track: Ocean Beach has one at the very end in the form of "Brockwell Park Pt 2"
- I Am the Band: Mark Kozelek on Songs for a Blue Guitar
- In Name Only: Once again, Songs for a Blue Guitar. It was meant to be Kozelek's solo debut.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Power of Friendship: "Michael", which focuses more on Kozelek missing his childhood friend and remembering him on who he is and his friendship with him. It also goes into detail about how Kozelek himself wonders if his friend remembers him too, and then declaring Michael (in present tense mind you) as "My best friend".
- Rhyming with Itself: "That's when friends were nice, to think of them just makes you feel nice" from "Have You Forgotten".
- Scatting: The final section of "Katy Song".
- Self-Titled Album: One of the rare bands to have TWO released in the same year.
- 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
- Trope Codifier: For sadcore.
- Vocal Evolution: Starting with Songs for a Blue Guitar, Kozelek's voice went from being very strained and somber to higher pitched with more of a distinct Neil Young influence.