Track by Track is a recurring new music feature in which an artist spills insider information about the stories behind each song on their latest release.
Mark Kozelek ended 2017 by promising two new albums over the next year. He delivered the first, a self-titled effort, back in April. As we enter the final stretch of the 2018, Kozelek has now released the second record, This Is My Dinner, under his Sun Kil Moon moniker. Stream the entire thing below via Apple Music or Spotfiy.
The 10-track effort follows the chronological journey of Sun Kil Moon’s November 2017 European tour. After the trek, the band set up shop at TAPF Studio in Copenhagen, Denmark before finishing the record at San Francisco, California’s Hyde Street Studios. In addition to eight original numbers, This Is My Dinner includes a cover of AC/DC’s “Rock ‘N Roll Singer” (featuring Jordan Cook of Reignwolf) and the iconic theme song to The Partridge Family, “Come On Get Happy”.
In addition to Mark Kozelek, the new record follows a trio of 2017 releases: a solo EP, a Sun Kil Moon album called Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, and a collaborative LP with Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton.
For further insight into the journey of the record and the inclusion of the those covers, Kozelek has broken down This Is My Dinner track by track. He reveals the origins of the album title, his relationship with touring, and fascinating stories of his encounters on the road.
“This is Not Possible”:
The song “This is Not Possible” was written in November 2017, in hotel room outside of Frankfurt that was set in nature with a lot of horses and farm animals around. While preparing for the that November tour and politely asking a German promoter — more than a few times — to help accommodate some rehearsal time for my band (it was our first show of the tour and we were flying in from various cities in the USA) he kept replying with the same response: “This is not possible.” In my opinion, Germany has never had the best bedside manner when it comes to artist hospitality (which doesn’t bother me much) but this particular interaction tickled me so much that I had more fun cancelling the show in Frankfurt than I would have playing it. We performed the song a few nights later in Berlin – my favorite German city – and the crowd loved it.
We recorded the song when the tour was over, during a four-day recording session for this album, December of 2017 at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Studios, with a slightly different line-up than I had in November. The line-up for the December sessions was Jim White on drums, Ramon Fermin on Guitar, Chris Connolly on Keyboards, and Jeff Cleland on bass. My favorite part of this song is Jim White’s Australian accent standing out in the chorus sections.
“This is My Dinner”:
My first trips to Europe were in the early 1990s and I’ve accumulated lots of memories with many of the countries and cities. This song is a tribute to Norway and is very self- explanatory. But I’ll tell you this much; it was 2010, backstage at a show in Stavanger, Norway, when a woman walked into my backstage area and unloaded on me about a recent break-up with her boyfriend, then showed me a Snicker’s bar – her hands trembling – and said “Mark, my life is so fucking bad that this is my dinner!” I never forgot that. The saddest part of this song for me is the part about being on a different tour that ended in Ǻlesund, Norway, and getting a phone that my cat was dying. I was supposed to spend five days in Ǻlesund in a recording studio, but I arranged a flight out of Norway and flew home in time to see my cat just before she passed. The words to this song were written on a flight to Oslo during the November 2017 tour. The band threw the music together quickly at soundcheck and we played it for the audience that night in Oslo. They connected with all of the Norwegian references. This song was recorded during that same tour, in a Copenhagen recording studio called TAPF, with the original line up of that November 2017 tour; Ben Boye on Keyboards, Scott McPherson on drums, Tony Scherr on bass, and Ramon Fermin on guitar.
Like the rest of the album, this song continues along the chronological travelogue journal of that November 2017 tour. Like many of the songs, it begins with the seat I’m sitting in while in transit from one city to another. In this case, seat 12 C Oslo to Warsaw, Norwegian Air. The song has very little to do with Linda Blair and mostly covers my associations with Poland over the years and my Polish ancestry -which I know little about. The songs get into what I love; Italian food, boxing, Led Zeppelin, and what I disdain; The Eagles and Steely dan, which when I was a kid, was referred to as “housewife music”. Back then these band’s music spoke much more loudly to our moms than it did us kids.
Steely Dan was, and will always be (to me) 1970s AM radio music. They were the soundtrack of my life in the backseat of my mom’s car during drives to my relatives in Navarre, Ohio, where the snow would sometimes strand me for weeks. I think Massillon, Ohio to Navarre, Ohio was a long-distance phone call so I’ve got no memories of hearing from my mom and dad during those visits. Though I do have wonderful, loving memories of my aunt (my father’s only living sibling). She cooked frog legs and always made sure we got Domino’s pizza on Friday nights. Like This is My Dinner, this one was recorded in Copenhagen with the November Sun Kil Moon line up.
Like all of the above, and all of the below, the songs are very self-explanatory. But what’s coincidental is that I’m writing this now from seat 20 D from Stockholm to Copenhagen SAS airlines, 10/25/2018. There’s enough about my long relationship with Copenhagen in the song that I’ll tell you something about my travels that is not in the song. I’ve been touring for 25 years. I travel so much, that every single day of my tour life, and sometimes even at home, I wake up and for a solid 2 to 5 minutes and have no idea where I am. I think: My apartment looks different. Maybe this isn’t my apartment. I have to pee. Where is the bathroom? Where is the light switch? What city am I in? What country am I in? What hotel is this?
The nice thing about Copenhagen is that my second favorite hotel in the world is there. It’s over there on Peder Skramms road by the water. They always give me a courtyard room and when I see the snow falling from my window, that’s as peaceful as it gets for me, on tour.
This song is a tribute to Stockholm. We played it just last night at Stockholm’s Södra Teatern, the same place where we first wrote it and played it, last November. The song went over just as well the second time; it got a lot of nice laughs and cheers. If you’ve been to Sweden, then you know about the candles. They’re everywhere. Part of the point of the song is that as a child, my dad wouldn’t let me burn candles out of fear that I’d burn our house down. But in Sweden, they’re part of the fabric that makes Sweden the country that it is. My dad would have a heart attack if he saw how many candles were burning in the average café or restaurant, in Sweden.
My heart is close to Sweden. I’ve got a few long time, and life-long friends over there. One of them said to me at dinner last night. “Whenever it starts to get dark in Sweden, I think, it’s Mark Kozelek season.” I’ve played a few festivals in Sweden during the summer: The Accelerator Festival, in 2000, with Elliott Smith and The Flaming Lips. And Hultsfred, in the summer of 1997. The line up for that one included The Cardigans, Chuck Prophet, Nick Cave, and Suede. Summers in Sweden are nice, but for the most part I find myself there between the months of October and February.
“Soap For Joyful Hands”:
This one unraveled after a cancelled show in Madrid during that November tour. The venue was sold out – the line outside wrapped around the block. I’d played the room before and had a beautiful solo acoustic show. But this time around I had a 5-piece band and the room had strict rules in regards to decibel levels. If we hit certain peaks, the PA crapped out when a built- in limiter kicked in, making the sound go dead silent – which was strange as we don’t even play that loud.
We couldn’t play the show that we wanted to play that night, and to this day, that show is one of only two shows that I ever cancelled due to PA system issues.
So we left the venue, passing through the queue of befuddled fans, and I went up to my hotel room and dried my socks that had been sitting in the sink, soaking in tap water and cheap hotel soap (a common cheap hotel soap with a wrapper that reads: Soap For Joyful Hands). For anyone who doesn’t understand why I didn’t wash the socks in a regular washer; it’s because they don’t have them in Spain. Not in any hotels I’ve stayed in, anyhow, and I don’t have time to look around for laundromats. The pace of tours is fast and you’re lucky to get 20 minutes to yourself before a soundcheck. Sometimes I use that 20 minutes to wash my T-shirts, socks, and underwear in the hotel sink. After the show, I dry them with a hair dryer from around 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.
I’d heard about him dying just before our show in Barcelona during that tour. Like the others, the song was put together quickly at soundcheck. I liked The Partridge Family as a kid, but I loved David Cassidy’s autobiography even more: “Come On Get Happy”.
My favorite part is when he talks about meeting people on the road who just wanted to talk about him but how he always wanted to hear about them. I’m the same way. If I’m in Winnipeg, I want to hear about life in Winnipeg. But I gotta be careful when asking people about their lives. I once asked a couple outside of a venue about their lives; and the husband quickly pulled out his phone and proceeded to show me a graphic video of his wife giving birth, with my song “Salvador Sanchez” playing in the background. I told them that it was very nice to meet them, but that I needed to get back to my hotel. I also told them congratulations on the baby.
“Come On Get Happy”:
We played Come On Get Happy that night in Barcelona too – the theme to The Partridge Family. We had a lot of fun recording that one in the December sessions.
“Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer”:
I’ve covered this song three times. If this confuses you, it’s because you weren’t aware that Malcom Young had also just died during the same November tour. We dedicated this song to him during the same show, in Barcelona. In 2001, It was brought to my attention that Malcom Young loved my AC/DC covers albums and that Brian Johnson did too, though he humorously admitted that his feelings were hurt because I only covered Bon Scott era AC/DC. On this version, the savant level guitarist Jordan Cook of Reignwolf was in San Francisco visiting, so we invited him over to play the guitar solo.
“Chapter 87 of John Connolly’s He“:
By the time we got to Ireland for our last show of the tour I was too tired to write a song for that specific city (as much as I love Dublin). So I did something else. On stage that night, I read chapter 87 of Irish author John Connolly’s book He, a biography about Stan Laurel, while my band played music behind my spoken word. It was a tribute to not just Ireland, but also to John Connolly, my friend who was in the audience.
John and I went out to Glendalough the next day and walked his dogs. I sometimes stay one day longer when a tour is over, to decompress and have a non-travel day so I can absorb what’s around me without rushing to soundchecks.