When Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon leader Mark Kozelek gets into a band, he really gets into a band. Having already released an album and an EP worth of Bon Scott-era AC/DC covers, Kozelek’s latest muse is Modest Mouse. Under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, Kozelek’s trademark gentle acoustic takes on the Isaac Brock-led group’s music can be found on “Tiny Cities,” due this week as the first release on his own Caldo Verde label.
In a scenario that underscores Kozelek’s let’s-just-see-what-happens attitude, he went to see a Shins/Modest Mouse bill in San Francisco a couple years ago but was a neophyte to the latter act’s music. Within a few minutes of Modest Mouse taking the stage, he was hooked. Kozelek quickly purchased the band’s whole catalog and began incorporating snippets of a few songs into his solo performances. A few months later, he knew how to play enough of them that he opted to start recording his versions, with no predetermined commercial expectations.
“It was very similar to the AC/DC record, where I thought, I’ll go in and record,” he recalls. “Why not? People were responding really well and I enjoy playing them. I could do three or four as an EP and see how it turns out.”
It turned out so well that Kozelek had 11 songs on tape in no time, and the results will delight longtime listeners. Clearly intrigued by severing Brock’s unique storytelling from its source music, Kozelek transforms “Four Fingered Fisherman” from a loose, lo-fi exercise into a haunting, finger-picked solo guitar piece, while MM’s modern rock hit “Ocean Breathes Salty” is melted down to its inherent bittersweet reflections on past and present.
On the heels of Sun Kil Moon’s critically lavished debut, “Ghosts of the Great Highway,” Kozelek is not ashamed to admit how happy he is with “Tiny Cities.” “I don’t know who else could have done 11 Modest Mouse covers and have it turn out like this, you know what I’m saying?,” he says. “Everybody does their ‘covers’ albums and it is always acceptable when someone does their ‘favorite 12 songs.’ I took it in a different direction with the AC/DC one and this one. Why not cover a band?”