is the first interview I’ve done in a long time," mumbles
a slouching Elliott Smith. "I wondered if I would talk
about drug use. But I guess, why hide it? It’s a lot easier
to tell the truth usually."
so it begins...
Over the course of the past three years, the Elliott Smith rumor-mill
has been working overtime. There are the tales of Smith nodding-off
between songs at various shows, fabrications about finding him
passed out in the bathroom stall of a Silverlake club with a
needle in his arm. The sorted details of his run-in with the
law at the Flaming Lips/Beck show in LA last November, have
now become infamous among his rabid fans. Yet through it all,
Smith has remained mysteriously silent. Either he was content
to let the rumors fly, or he was just too busy doing whatever
it is he’s been doing to deal with it. Most thought he simply
Of course, real life is never as black and white as the rumors
tend to paint it. Elliott Smith’s life is no exception. The
fact of the matter is Smith cares about what’s been said about
him. He’s been quite busy for the past few years. Not only has
he been combating a problem with drug abuse, but Smith has also
been working hard on a mammoth new album. He is a musician after
all, and, with his new record almost complete, Elliott Smith
has a few things on his mind he wants to talk about. So, if
you’re still interested, he would like to set the record straight…in
his own words.
You see, over the past few months another little rumor has also
been floating about. There’s been talk of Smith being clean,
sober and ready to get back to work. Instead of holding their
breath, most fans would rather wait and see it to believe it.
Well, the wait is over. This rumor is actually made up of 100%
truth. So shout it from the rooftops: Elliott Smith is back!
"A lot of your fans have been wondering: What have you
been up to in the last couple of years since you stopped touring
for Figure 8?"
It’s the question all Elliott Smith fans have been asking, and
Under the Radar’s Senior Editor, Mark Redfern, just dropped
the bomb. It’s a cold January night and Redfern, photographer,
Wendy Lynch and myself are sitting at one of Spaceland’s bar-high
tables. Across from us, wearing an orange shirt and brown pants
with the misspelled words "mroe PRICKS than KICKS"
scrawled in thick black ink on his left forearm, sits a distracted
Elliott Smith. He’s set to play the Clean Needle Benefit concert
here in a few hours, and he hasn’t practiced yet. But he doesn’t
hesitate to answer the question.
"Nothing was very good," he says with a half smile.
"Then things got better about six months ago. This is sort
of close to me, but it’s not exactly connected to just me. It
touches on drug use. I got caught up in that for almost two
years. Then, I went to this place called the Neurotransmitter
Restoration Center. It’s not like a normal rehab. What they
do is an IV treatment where they put a catheter in your arm,
and you’re on a drip bag, but the only thing that’s in the drip
bag is amino acids and saline solution. I was coming off of
a lot of psyche meds and other things. I was even on an antipsychotic,
although I’m not psychotic. It was really difficult, but also
something to get the word out about because it doesn’t cost
as much as it does to keep someone in a 28-day rehab. It’s usually
a 10-day process, but for me it took a lot longer. I think most
people go there for just a week. Some people even go there for
Elliott Smith is an odd person to talk to. When asked a question,
Smith doesn’t really answer it. He battles the question in his
mind as lines of concentration contort his face. He speaks in
very slow, almost deliberately childlike, responses. He often
loses his train of thought, scratches his head of oily black
hair, then goes onto whatever topic is on his mind at the moment.
He has a habit of changing subjects in the middle of sentences
when he doesn’t mean to. So getting him to answer a question
in full proves to be a bit difficult.
"It just bombards your system with amino acids that kick
all the shit out of your nerve receptors," he continues.
"The different proteins in the amino acids eventually sort
of rebuild the damaged neuro-receptors. But nobody seems to
know about it. There’s been like 15,000 people treated with
it, and its success rate is 80% versus 10% for the normal 28-day
It’s important to note that the Neurotransmitter Restoration
Center, located in Beverly Hills, is not an FDA approved treatment
facility. A man named Dr. Hit, who was integral in developing
the amino acid procedure, runs the center. The treatment has
advantages for hard drug users because it virtually irradiates
all symptoms of withdrawal. Even though the neurotransmitter
restoration procedure is not covered by medical insurance, the
cost, about $1000 per day, is still much cheaper than your average
28-day program. At the moment, Dr. Hit is in Mexico treating
Smith went on to say he had a strange reaction to the treatment,
but his was something of a special case. "I had an unusual
reaction to it because I was cut off from a whole bunch of things.
It [the treatment] is very good, and I would recommend it. But
for me, it just wiped me out like some debilitating weakness.
A lot of my frustration came with being to weak too reach over
for a glass of water."
Smith’s decision to reach out to Dr. Hit and the Neurotransmitter
Restoration Center was something of a last resort. "I’d
gone into detox a couple of times, but I couldn’t stay for the
28 days because I couldn’t honestly do the first step. That
doesn’t mean the program is wrong, it just means I couldn’t
say what you were supposed to say and mean it. I didn’t want
to distract other people who wanted it to work for them, and
here I was not doing the steps."
Smith admits his short-term memory hasn’t returned in full,
he expects it will get better in time. After years of drug and
alcohol abuse, it’s really nothing short of miraculous that
Elliott Smith is finally clean, sober and, with only six months
of recovery, back at work. He’ll be the first to tell you it
wasn’t an easy road. In fact he admitted to being "a bad
alcoholic" when he was living in New York. Now, he can
barely drink one beer throughout the course of an evening. "I
don’t care if it’s the 12-step program or the Neurotransmitter
Restoration Center. There’s such a taboo of even talking about
drug use, and then there is the added problem if you play music.
Then there’s this sort of melodrama that surrounds it, which
wouldn’t necessarily surround someone who doesn’t play music.
So, its kind of an off limits subject. Actually, I thought I
would just try to avoid it, but I’m not different from other
people with drug problems. So, given the opportunity to speak,
then I guess I will."
There is something to be said about Smith’s account of drug
use. As he sits in a bar chair staring at the ground with his
hands in his lap, there is a selfless nature to the man that
extends beyond the occasional benefit show, to get the word
out about alternative drug treatments. This benefit is not the
only charity he’s involved with. Smith also started a foundation
for abused children shortly after the release of his last album
Figure 8. The foundation has been dormant for the last year,
while Smith dealt with his drug problem, but now it’s his number
one priority. His girlfriend Jennifer Chiba, of the band Happy
Endings, later admits that he is uncomfortable with money, which
is one of the reasons why he began the foundation. Smith would
rather see his money do some good than spend it on himself.
Yet, tonight’s benefit concert touches on a subject close to
him. It certainly concerns people he can empathize with. The
Needle Exchange Program is a nonprofit organization that provides
free and clean needles to IV drug users in order to stop the
spread of HIV and other drug-related diseases. "I wish
more people would accept it as a valid option of controlling
the spread of disease," he says before taking a cigarette
out of a pack of Camels on the table. "I can’t think of
anything off the top of my head that seems more important than
something designed to raise money to keep something going that
keeps IV drug users from dying." Smith frowns and starts
to light up his cigarette. He stops himself. "And I don’t
think I can smoke in here. I guess that’s a different addiction."
Jobs And Old Friends
It was almost two months later when Senior Editor Mark Redfern,
photographer Wendy Lynch and myself had a chance to speak with
Elliott Smith again. This time we were cordially invited to
the Smith residence, which sits on a tree-lined hill, squeezed
in-between similar, one-story houses in Echo Park. In order
to reach his front door, you have to walk down a few crumbling
concrete steps, which then turns into a dirt path that winds
through a veritable jungle of weeds and overgrown vegetation.
At the moment Smith is sitting at the kitchen table eating burritos
with his friend and current drummer Robin Peringer. He’s also
in the process of writing "Kali the Destroyer" in
black permanent marker on his left forearm. Today he’s chosen
to wear brown pants and a black T-shirt that says "I Love
Metal" on it.
The living room of the house is littered with recording equipment
as well as an I-Mac computer Smith has been fussing about with
lately. Speakers next to the computer fill the entire house
with an ambient feedback noise. Playing with noise and different
types of sound is what Smith has been concentrating on lately,
and he says he hopes to turn what’s playing into some kind of
Next to a robotic-looking four-track recorder stands a large
painting, although you can’t really see it because soundboard
schematics are tacked all over it along with Taro Gomi’s book
Everybody Poops. Other than sound equipment the only other items
of major significance are the piles of books strewn all over
the floor. Sitting next to the computer is a copy of J.D. Salinger’s
Nine Stories. Lying on top of a speaker is Michael Foucault’s
The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception;
and propped next to Heinrich Boll’s novel Group Portrait with
Lady is a copy of Heatmiser’s final album, Mic City Sons.
In case you didn’t know, Heatmiser was the band Smith and his
best friend Neil Gust formed in Portland, Oregon after they
graduated from college in the late ‘80s. Unlike Smith’s alternative
acoustic solo symposiums, Heatmiser was a loud-as-fuck hardcore
band considered almost too heavy for grunge. "For a long
time I played in a really loud band that I didn’t think was
a very good loud band at the time," says Smith of Heatmiser.
"I’ve recently been checking it out again to see if I have
been slagging it off for no good reason. It is what it is. My
main problem with it is my singing and not with the rest of
the band. When I first started doing interviews by myself, I
was putting a lot of distance between me and them, and I didn’t
distinguish the fact that I didn’t like my singing. In fact,
sometimes I think I said, ‘That band sucked,’ which is really
not cool. That’s one of the things I regret. Since then I’ve
talked to Neil. He understands that it’s just one of those things
you can’t take back. It sucks. I think it hurt him for awhile."
When Smith speaks about his days in Heatmiser, he does so with
a reluctant nostalgia. Heatmiser’s music is a subject he slyly
avoids, but he does go into a few anecdotes about that particular
time in his life. "Around the time Heatmiser’s last record
came out, Neil and I were both on unemployment, which we thought
of as an arts grant," he hoarsely laughs. "But I was
also doing odd jobs around Portland, like spreading gravel and
transplanting bamboo trees. I had this one job where I had to
paint the roof of this warehouse with this heat-reflective paint,
and I just burnt the fuck out of myself. It was weird because
it was black, but when it got rolled on, it turned silver and
started reflecting the sun up at you. I got incredibly sunburned,
and I had no idea."
Smith went on to say that the main lesson he learned from his
first and only ill fated band was "a lot of things I don’t
want to do musically. Me and Neil both were very frustrated
at how straight our songs sounded. No matter how sort of fucked
up the structure would be or no matter what we had at the beginning
by the end it would turn out to be tight for lack of a better
word. We weren’t trying to be a band that was tight but people
after the shows would be like, ‘You guys were tight!"
That and the fact that more and more people were coming to our
shows that were the kind of people who would have kicked me
and Neil’s ass in high school."
In the eyes of many, particularly Elliott Smith, Heatmiser was
a band doomed to fail. Smith says the only reason he stayed
in the band as long as he did was for the sake of his friend
Neil. So when Heatmiser signed to Virgin in 1996, it was more
a death nail than a big break. "It was kind of ridiculous
to carry it up to a certain point and then drop the ball or
the bomb, like quitting the band right after we had signed to
Virgin. I was the guy who made that gravy-train crash so to
speak, and it was a gravy-train at the time. The breakup happened
almost immediately after the contract was signed. I watched
myself put my paw in the bear trap on that one because there
was this clause about leaving members. In the event of the band
dissolving, any members could be kept to that contract with
or without their consent under the same terms. They didn’t pick
up Neil’s option, only mine. It turned out to be a fucked-up
situation because they said the reason they had signed Heatmiser
was that they’d been hoping this [the breakup] would happen
-- or something to that effect. They said that right in front
of Neil and I couldn’t believe it."
Shortly after Heatmiser completed Mic City Sons, the band called
it quits, leaving Smith with a Virgin Records contract he no
longer wanted. Of course there is a whole other history to
Elliott Smith that runs in conjunction with his days in Heatmiser.
Since he was 14 years old, Smith had been writing songs on borrowed
four-tracks. So when he wasn’t working with Heatmiser, he was
frantically writing and recording acoustic solo material. "My
first solo record, Roman Candle, was just the most recent eight
songs that I’d recorded on borrowed four-tracks and borrowed
guitar. My girlfriend at the time convinced me to send these
songs to Cavity Search. When they wanted to put out my record
I was totally shocked. I thought my head would be chopped off
immediately when it came out because at the time it was so opposite
to the grunge thing that was popular. Nothing made me start
doing it because I’d just been doing it for years. But it didn’t
occur to me to put anything out. In fact, it occurred to me
not to put anything out. The thing is that album was really
well-received, which was a total shock, and it immediately eclipsed
my band unfortunately."
Needless to say, the success of Roman Candle and Smith’s subsequent
self-titled solo record caused tensions in the band, particularly
between Smith and Neil Gust. So when Heatmiser had its long
overdue meltdown, Smith was somewhat relieved. While the band
was recording Mic City Sons, Smith was also in the process of
recording his third solo album Either/Or -- a record that would
prove to be his most successful album up to that point. But
it almost wasn’t released at all. "I remember that record
most fondly even though I nearly had a nervous breakdown,"
he says in all seriousness. "I recorded so many songs for
it, and one or two of them sucked. Then three or four of them
sucked. Then they all sucked and everything I did was terrible.
I was never good enough. That was my train of thought. I just
lost my confidence completely and totally to the point where
right before it came out, I decided that it wasn’t. Until some
people were like, ‘Just let it go.’ I really didn’t think I
liked it. Then, about a year later, I didn’t think it was so
bad anymore. Now I remember mostly the good parts of it, which
is that I recorded it myself and there was no pressure. Then,
after Either/Or, the Oscar stuff happened and that kind of derailed
my train. Although it took a lot for it to fully derail."
Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Famous
Elliott Smith’s yet-to-be-named studio sits anonymously within
a mile long strip of car dealerships on Van Nuys Blvd. in the
San Fernando Valley. After the photo shoot at his home, Smith
is excited to show us his pride and joy. Over the course of
the past two years, he’s been spending the majority of his free
time trying to get his studio into fully functional order. It’s
been a difficult road for him because the average age of the
equipment is about 30 years old. As we stand behind the soundboard
in the booth knocking back energy drinks, Smith is like a child
in a techie playground, which brings up a little known fact
about Elliott Smith: He’s a studio tech fanatic. His favorite
magazine is Home Recording because it gives helpful and economical
tips on how to improve one’s home studio. Smith’s is a far cry
from a home studio, but it is an independent studio. He owns
all of the equipment and built it himself from the ground up.
Before continuing the interview, Smith spends two hours explaining
what all the equipment does and even goes so far as to show
me how to operate certain parts of an ancient soundboard that
he rewired and sautered to hell until it worked. His most prized
possession is a 1959 Fairchild sound compressor. "It can
be used as a compressor or as a limiter. Nothing sounds like
this does. They’re really rare and really expensive." To
date, Smith has yet to record any of his own material in the
studio. A few months ago he was recording Neil Gust’s band #2
here when the whole soundboard shut down due to heat build-up.
"We were there for like three or five days at a time around
the clock, and then eventually things started to fail because
of heat build-up. So I’ve been racing up the techie ladder and
reading books on trigonometry in order to remind myself of all
this stuff. It’s not tough. There’s just a lot of information
about it. I didn’t think my mind worked like this until I had
a sautering party inside a 24-track and was amazed when it worked.
That machine was one of the first 24-tracks they made."
Smith would be more than happy to go on and on about studio
teching if you let him. Just a few weeks ago he had The John
Spencer Blues Explosion recording here, and, in turn, they asked
Smith to play bass for them on a few songs at a New York show.
"I played bass and sang on that Beatles song ‘Yer Blues.’
Me and John Spencer were both singing that at the same time.
It was really fun."
When it’s time to pick up the interview where we left off, Smith
sits down in a chair with an electric sitar, and we eat Rollo
candy and with some oranges. It’s Oscar time.
"The places I used to play were like punk clubs -- especially
in Portland. But Gus Van Sant used to come and see me play.
We just kind of became friends. I’m not so sure I knew much
about him at the time. I knew he made movies and that they were
considered sort of indie. Initially we hit it off because he
also records. We would talk about microphones and sing the praises
of 57s -- really underrated mics." Most of you probably
know what happened next, but in case you don’t: In 1997 Van
Sant made his first studio blockbuster hit with the Matt Damon/Ben
Affleck-penned Good Will Hunting. Van Sant decided to use a
few of Smith’s songs for the soundtrack to the film, and the
whole thing blew up in front of Smith’s face, resulting in an
Academy Award nomination for his original song "Miss Misery."
"I didn’t intend to play it, but then they said that if
I didn’t play it, they would get someone else to play the song.
So for all the songwriters who don’t want to perform their songs,
they’d get someone like Richard Marx to do it. I think when
they said that they had done their homework on me a little bit.
Or maybe Richard Marx is a universal scare tactic." In
the end, Smith did perform on the Oscar’s, and it still remains
one of the most surreal nights of his life. "It was kind
of ridiculous," he says. "But at a certain point I
threw myself into it because it seemed to make my friends happy.
You know, all of my friends were like, ‘One of us is on the
moon!’ When really I was on this ridiculous awards show playing
this song. It was a little weird. I walked out and Jack Nicholson
was sitting about six feet away, so I avoided that area and
I looked up at the balcony in the back and sang the song. It
was surreal enough that it didn’t seem like it happened to me."
Although the Academy Awards ceremony didn’t sit too well with
Smith, and he, as well as his bright white suit, was trashed
on television, he says it did force him to change his mind about
Celine Dion, who performed right after he did. "She was
really sweet, which has made it impossible for me to dislike
Celine Dion anymore. Even though I can’t stand the music that
she makes -- with all due respect I don’t like it much at all
-- but she herself was very, very nice. She asked me if I was
nervous and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she was like, ‘That’s good because
you get your adrenaline going, and it’ll make your song better.
It’s a beautiful song.’ Then she gave me a big hug. It was too
much. It was too human to be dismissed simply because I find
her music trite."
The Academy Awards performance opened Smith up to an entirely
new audience, and the publicity was as much a curse as it was
a blessing. At the time Smith was busy trying to complete his
fourth studio album, XO. Dreamworks had bought out his contract
from Virgin, and, due to the Oscar buzz, the new record was
going to get the royal promotional treatment. XO remains Smith’s
best-selling record to date, but his short-lived dance with
fame has left a sour taste in his mouth. "I still don’t
particularly like hanging out with famous folks much because
it’s too weird," admits Smith. "Their lives are fucked
up because they’re famous folks, so conversation with them tends
to get all strange. I don’t know if there is any way of having
constant attention focused on you without your life becoming
totally bizarre one way or another. I never think about the
Oscar thing any more, except for the fact that it comes up in
interviews. It doesn’t bother me anymore."
After spending some time with Smith, it’s easy to see why fame
didn’t quite agree with him. As one would guess from hearing
his music, Elliott Smith is a rather shy and reserved man. He
goes out of his way to avoid conflict. In short, Elliott Smith’s
personality is the type Hollywood and music industry executives
have for breakfast. Smith expressed no desire to be a part of
fame’s cutthroat machinery. "It got personal with people
saying how fragile I looked on stage in a white suit. There
was just all of this focus, and people were saying all this
stuff simply because I didn’t come out and command the stage
like Celine Dion does."
People’s perception of Smith’s live performance is another bee
in his bonnet. Recently many have been making derogatory comments
about Smith’s live performance, particularly his knack for cutting
off songs before they are finished. Many thought it was due
to the drug problem -- that he was on some type of substance
that hindered his ability to perform. Smith assures me this
is not the case. "If people come out to see me play, I
won’t do things to deliberately play worse than I can. I try
to play as well as I can, but I also don’t hesitate to stop
songs once I’ve started playing them. I’ll see it in the set
list then I’ll start playing it, and then I realize I’m thinking
about something else, or I’m thinking about whether or not I’m
singing on key. That’s usually the big tip off. My favorite
shows are the ones where it seems like every song is a bullfight.
I either want to do the bullfight or not do the bullfight. I
don’t want to be like, ‘I squeaked by. Hurray!’ Sometimes it
seems like the audience reacts that way -- like, ‘Alright.
He made it.’ That’s how I take it anyway."
If there is one lesson Elliott Smith has learned about being
famous, it’s to ignore all media hype. Around the time of the
Oscars, Smith made a vow to never read his own press again.
When asked why, he simply responds, "For one thing, I was
there when the interview took place, so I know what we talked
about. And for another thing, it’s just too weird. It’s a problem
if you’re trying to get out of your own weird headspace and
you’re having a lot of conversations on tour, where no matter
how much you try and talk about, say, music or something, the
questions are constantly redirected back to yourself and who
you are. I don’t think it’s important who I am. I really like
playing music, but I don’t really want to be anything in particular."
Album / New Beginning
"It feels like a million years since I recorded what was
initially going to be this new record," says Elliott Smith.
It’s almost midnight now and Smith is fiddling with a CD player
in the soundbooth of his studio that looks like a skinny droid
from Star Wars. It’s now come to that golden moment in
the evening where Smith is going to play us a few tracks off
of his new album From a Basement on the Hill. But first he’s
trying to establish the fact that what we are about to hear
is really the final evolution of an album he abandoned almost
two years ago. "There was even a little more than half
of a record done before this new one that I just scrapped because
of a blown friendship with someone that made me so depressed
I didn’t want to hear any of those songs." Smith doesn’t
elaborate on who this particular friend was, and when pressed
he says, "He was just helping me record the songs and stuff,
and then the friendship kind of fell apart all of a sudden one
day. It just made it kind of awkward being alone in the car
listening to the songs. Those weren’t happy days. So I was like,
‘OK, start over.’ I like the new one that started over better.
Usually I hate everything as soon as it’s done, so I don’t know
what it means that I actually like this one."
then pushes the play button and From a Basement on the Hill’s
first track "Shooting Star" comes blaring out of a
huge pair of wall-mounted speakers like a banshee playing a
guitar with delirium tremens. When speaking of the new record,
Smith gets as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. He says
the album is coming along nicely and is all but finished --
with the exception of a final mix for a few tracks. The title
of the record stems from the fact that Smith recorded a large
portion of the album in the basement of a friend’s Malibu mansion.
"The lyrics on this one are a lot less impressionistic;
plus the production of it sounds unlike the last two records,"
he says while trying to light a cigarette with a broken lighter.
"Most of this record was done in first or second takes.
It’s a pretty big departure. The songs all sound pretty different
from each other. Some were recorded on a 24-track with two-inch
tape and some on other formats. The songs get weirder as they
go along, and then, when you get near the end, you get to the
really weird ones. They’re kind of more noisy with the pitch
all distorted. Some are more acoustic, but there aren’t too
many like that. Lately I’ve just been making up a lot of noise.
And it could be a song if I sang over it, but it has no structure
in and of itself."
Smith doesn’t want to release the record on Dreamworks, so he’s
in the process of shopping around for a new label. Since he
is still label hunting, he doesn’t think the album will be released
to the public until the end of the year. When asked if he feels
obligated to his fans to get the album out sooner, he simply
replies, "I could throw something together tonight, but
it would be better to wait because I know where it’s going and
I know what I’m doing. So I can put it together as a double
record or a single record with a bonus disk. Then in the liner
notes, I’ll explain that it’s a double record and that the bonus
disk is the second disk to the album. A lot of it was done with
another guy, David McConnell, engineering it with me. It’s really
kind of uncertain what’s going to be on it now. It’s sort of
like it was with Either/Or because there’s so much time that
went by while I was waiting for my studio to get done that songs
have piled up. So now I’ve totally lost any dream of objectivity
about what should be on it. I really want it to be a double
record, but then looking on the back of a CD and seeing like
19 songs is kind of fatiguing. The other problem is getting
around what label puts it out. They are inevitably going to
be concerned: If (A) it’s sold as a double record, the cost
will be too expensive; or (B) if there are two records released
within a short amount of time from each other, they won’t like
that either. It wouldn’t be like that if it was back decades
ago when people like Elvis Costello came out with an album every
six months. If that was possible now, that would be great."
Smith also said he was thinking about putting out a limited
edition EP made up of new demos as well as a sneak peak at a
few tracks off of From a Basement on the Hill. Of course all
of this hinges on whether or not he can find a suitable label
for the record. "For a change this time, I’m really going
to try and sell this record, which is a new idea -- but not
a bad one in this case -- because the money is not going to
me. I need to put money into my foundation for abused children.
I’m not looking to be benefited by luxury."
As the acoustic beauty of "A Distorted Reality Is Now a
Necessity To Be Free" floats around us, Smith also gets
into a subject concerning the recent theft of a few new songs
off of his computer. "Not long ago my house was broken
into, and songs were stolen off my computer which have wound
up in the hands of certain people who work at a certain label.
I’ve also been followed around for months at a time. I wouldn’t
even want to necessarily say it’s the people from that label
who are following me around, but it was probably them who broke
into my house. That’s all I really want to say about it."
When a tentative track listing that was pulled off the Internet
is produced, Smith looks it over carefully and says, "This
is the order which they were in on my computer when the songs
were stolen. This is not the right order for the final album.
There are other songs that aren’t on here. Oh, I-Tunes!"
Elliott Smith isn’t the only one who’s had problems with computer
thievery. Recently, Radiohead also had an unfinished mix of
their new album Hail to the Thief stolen from a computer and
posted on the Internet. Just remember all you musicians out
there using your computers as sonic storage bins: Those whom
you trust might be the ones ripping you off.
As long as we are dispelling rumors, it seems appropriate to
touch on the events of the Flaming Lips/Beck show on November
25th, 2002. Although Smith went into great detail about his
run in with the law at the show, the particulars must remain
off the record due to a pending court case. What can be said
is that Smith and his girlfriend were victims of needless police
brutality by off-duty officers working security for the event.
Although Smith claims he did not physically assault any of the
officers, he was assaulted and arrested without probable cause,
and he was not read his Miranda rights. Both he and Jennifer
Chiba spent the night in jail without the benefit of even seeing
Beck’s set. Smith also sustained a hefty back injury from the
arresting officer and is now on a strict regiment of pain pills.
The pain pill medication greatly concerns Smith and his girlfriend
because of Smith’s past drug problems. (If anybody witnessed
the events that transpired at the Flaming Lips/Beck show or
has any information pertaining to said events, please feel free
to contact Edward Rucker at (310) 576-6242. All eyewitness testimonies
are greatly appreciated.)
Unfortunately, it has now come to the point when our time with
Elliott Smith draws to a close. It’s almost 1:30 in the morning
and we have been listening to tracks off of From a Basement
on the Hill for the past hour-and-a-half. Before we leave, Smith
says he thinks he’ll stick around to put a bass part on an incomplete
song. Since he’s been recording this album in quick takes, he
says it probably won’t take too much time as long as he doesn’t
have to sauter anything in the studio.
Smith is one of the nicest and most giving of musicians in this
crazy business we call the music industry. There is no one who
makes music quite like he does or the way he does. Elliott Smith
makes his music much like he lives his life: on his own terms,
for better or for worse. As we leave the studio, Smith is in
the booth busily hunched over some wires sticking haphazardly
out of the soundboard with a cigarette in one hand and a manual
of some sort in the other. His girlfriend yawns and bids us
adieu before looking over her shoulder at her boyfriend and
shaking her head in loving dismay. She says she’s used to spending
late hours here with him as he fiddles about with his obsession
over sound equipment.
Days after the interview there is one thing Smith told me that
stayed in my mind for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s proof
of Smith’s new lease on life, but it’s certain his remark can
be taken as a sign of the good times and better music to come:
"Thanks for coming around," he said. "You know,
for a couple of years I dropped out of just about everything.
But I feel better today. I think it’ll be a good record."
The Elliott Smith Song Box
Under the Radar visited Elliott Smith in his studio he played
us a recording of twelve cuts off of his new album From A Basement
On The Hill. Many were final mixes but Smith also played a
couple of rough demos. A few of the songs were even from a
different now abandoned album he started recording two years
ago. The following are just a few quick snapshots of the new
material with Smith’s comments about each song attached.
Shooting Star: "This one is kind of all over the map.
The end part is a joke. It was supposed to have faded out
but I decided to keep this whole big noisy section at the end."
- Includes the great lyric: "To fuck some trophy boy that
you won tonight at the bar/ So sad so far/ You’ll make him sad
A Passing Feeling: "I was really into staying up four
or five days at a time while recording. Some of them didn’t
take to long like this one. There was a co-producer early on
but he didn’t really co-produce. He just walked angrily in
and out of the room because I knew what I wanted to do. I’m
playing every instrument o n this one except one. There’s also
a fill in this song that’s almost all kick drum and sounds really
See You In Heaven: "This one took me several days. It’s
one of my favorites. I kept setting parts for this song then
fucking them up and doing them over again just to hear the sound
I’m Already Somebody’s Baby: "This is a rough mix and
I think I’m going to keep it that way. I don’t want to double
the vocal. It sounds good to me as it is. I guess it’s called
‘I’m Already Somebody’s Baby’. It’s kind of a boring title.
I’m not necessarily somebody else’s baby though. There’s a
sample in this song that’s layered Chamberlain and Melloton."
Coast to Coast: "This one was called ‘Circuit Rider’ but
not any more. This song I don’t play everything on. This one
actually has two drummers on it. One is Steve Drozd from the
Flaming Lips and the other is the drummer for the Lillies.
Steve and I are good friends and we’ve both had similar situations
and we have both improved in the same way. I asked this friend
of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could
in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being
unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there
is a main vocal that goes over that."
A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free: "This
one is my girlfriend’s favorite. There’s also a rough demo
of this that sounds a lot different."
Includes another great lyric: "My momma told me, ‘Baby
stay clean/ There’s no inbetween’".
Let’s Get Lost: "I know it’s the name of a movie but what
are you going to do. This one is not a perfect mix by any means
but it’s got a certain something I don’t want to disturb. I
just played this one twice and sang it at the same time."
True Love: "True Love is a lyric driven song. This is
the oldest one that we’ve heard so far. This is from that record
I was going to throw away. I still might. Those weren’t very
happy days. It was a long time ago at this point."
are all the most normal songs. They will be interspersed with
God knows what because there are some songs that are a lot more
distorted. Then there are some that are more acoustic but there
aren’t too many that are like that.” – Elliott Smith
here to read all the quotes that didn’t make it into this article.
Smith Dies at age 34
Elliott Smith’s official site here: www.sweetadeline.net