Elliott Smith tragically died in October 2003, seven years ago, but left a legacy of beautiful music. We recommend you listen to ‘XO’ or ‘Either Or’ while reading this week’s mag feature.
Elliott Smith grew up in Dancanville, Texas, and actually had a tattoo of the state on his arm to remind himself of where he came from. His parents divorced when he was one year old and he lived with his mother after that.
His musical career began in earnest at the age of ten, when he learnt guitar and composed a song on the piano that won him an award at a local arts festival.
Elliott Smith was actually born Steven Paul Smith, but changed his forename as he believed it made him sound too much like a jock.
Elliott Smith’s first band were called A Murder Of Crows. They released their debut album ‘The Greenhouse’ when he was still only 19 years old. He was often credited as Johnny Panic during these days.
In Portland in 1991 Smith formed the band Heatmiser, and went on to release five albums with them. The band featured several other key musicians including Sam Coombs, who went on to play with Sleater Kinney and Tony Lash, who helped produced Death Cab For Cutie’s first two albums.
The mag’s listening guide features 1995’s ‘Needle In The Hay’, the first single from his self-titled debut album. It referenced heroin abuse, even though Smith himself was not using at this point.
In 1998 Smith released his major label debut ‘XO’, which was relatively well-received, garnering 7/10 in NME and 8.1 from Pitchfork.
The cover art for Elliott Smith’s third album ‘Either / Or’, whose title is derived from a book by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
Contrary to the popular perception of Smith as a quiet and introspective person, he was bold and confident or, as photographer friend Autumn De Wilde remembers “a tough badass who just happened to write really heartbreaking songs”.
Smith reached the commercial apex of his career in 1998 when his song ‘Miss Misery’ was chosen for the Good Will Hunting soundtrack and earnt him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
Following the nomination Smith made an appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brian before stepping up to the Oscars stage itself to perform the track. He lost out to Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic but was unperturbed by the result.
As well as a tattoo of the state of Texas, Smith also had a depiction of Ferdinand The Bull, a fictional character from a fable that liked to sit in the shade of an old tree while the other bulls marauded around
‘Figure 8’ was Smith’s fifth album and the last one released in his lifetime. It was recorded in Los Angeles and also at Abbey Road in London. We awarded it 8/10.
We were even more generous for ‘From A Basement On The Hill’, his sixth album which was only partially completed by his death, awarding it 9/10. Longtime producer Rob Schnapf mixed and produced it posthumously.
Elliott Smith passed away in October 2003. ‘New Moon’ was a double CD compilation album released in 1997. Proceeds from its sale went to Outside In, a Portland-based social services agency.