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Sparklehorse Singer Mark Linkous Remembered

Mark Linkous' often pretty melodies contrasted with lyrics that were sometimes dark.
Barney Britton/Redferns
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Mark Linkous' often pretty melodies contrasted with lyrics that were sometimes dark.

Mark Linkous, founder of the acclaimed alternative rock band Sparklehorse, has died. The singer and multi-instrumentalist took his own life Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. He was 47.

Linkous was the creative force behind Sparklehorse, his recording moniker and band. He wrote all the songs, played almost all of the instruments, and manipulated his voice like it was just another layer in the mix.

"I started at first trying to disguise my voice 'cause I didn't like it," Linkous told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1999. "But now, I've gotten to really just use it as just another instrument. Seems to make the proximity of a voice seem a lot closer to your ear."

What the Virginia native's voice was saying was often surreal. Yet the music drew the attention of indie-rock giant Radiohead, which invited Sparklehorse to open for it in 1996. During the tour, Linkous overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants and other drugs. He actually died for several minutes, and suffered permanent damage to his legs.

Still, Linkous' friend and collaborator Wayne Coyne, of the band The Flaming Lips, says that didn't stop him from recording and performing.

"He was always gentle and pleasant," Coyne says. "What made it more pronounced was that I knew he was in pain. He struggled to stand there and sing those gentle, crazy songs."

Coyne and Linkous worked together on last year's Dark Night of the Soul, a music-photography project involving Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse, filmmaker David Lynch and others. The project had been held up for legal matters, but just days before Linkous' death, it was announced that the record was finally going to see official release this summer.

While Linkous seemed happiest working on studio projects like this one, he told Fresh Air that he also enjoyed performing before an audience.

"When they really appreciate the slow songs," Linkous said. "When you can get 500, 200, 2,000 people to be totally silent, and they totally get it, and it's not just like a social situation where everyone's going out to drink and talk and socialize. They're really there to listen to what's going on."

Linkous was in the process of moving his studio to Knoxville, and had almost finished work on a new Sparklehorse album due later this year.

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Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.