Elliott Smith Archive Interview – ‘There Has To Be Darkness In My Songs’

The new issue of NME is devoted to unsung genius Elliott Smith. Back in March 2000 the songwriter did a webchat for us. We’ve reprinted the quickfire highlights below

Smoult: I just bought ‘Either/Or’ and it’s great. I was wondering, what is that tattoo on your arm of?
One is of Ferdinand the Bull (a children’s story), and the other is the state of Texas where I grew up.


Elmo: I find your albums really good to listen to late at night. What is your perfect 2.45am album?
There are several. I think ‘Marquee Moon’ by Television and ‘The Marble Index’ by Nico (laughs).

Elliott Smith – a photo tribute

James L: What was the inspiration for ‘Son of Sam’?
Unclear inspiration. There’s usually no particular inspiration except a feeling, it’s like describing a dream last night but you’re having it now
when you’re awake. It’s about two destructive figures but not the serial killer.

Elmo: If you could find a secret passage to anyone’s head, Being John Malkovich-style, whose would it be?
Probably Nico.

Canary: Have you ever tried your hand at visual art?
I draw things but not in any serious fashion, just for kicks. I don’t have aspirations to use music as springboard into any art activity.

Andy King: I reckon you sound like Kurt Cobain fronting Simon and Garfunkel. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
No, but what is a fair assessment? No fair assessment is going to come from a comparison.


Kai: Do you like Belle and Sebastian?
I guess I have to say yes.

Nips: How did it feel to sing The Beatles’ ‘Because’? I thought it was perfect.
Thanks. It felt weird because I don’t see the point in covering a Beatles song, except to take it apart and put it together again. There were four vocal parts, so there was a question of whether I could do it.

Rachel: How about giving us a little sneak peak of the new album [‘Figure 8’]? What does it sound like?
It sounds like someone who isn’t in a band emulating one I guess. It hasn’t got one song that’s representative of what it sounds like, in fact if there’s any goal I say it would be to make it indescribable.

Elliott Smith remembered, by photographer Autumn De Wilde

Slim Shady: Is there a specific word you would like to incorporate into a song but haven’t?
That’s a good question. No but I thought it was pretty funny that the word ‘conquistador’ ended up on ‘Figure Eight’. I wanted to remove it but my friends made me keep it.

Sertaç: What makes you so sad?
I’m not ‘so sad’. There has to be a certain amount of darkness in my songs for the happiness to matter. Just ’cause I’m not singing about sex and sports doesn’t mean I’m sad.

Neil: What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen?
The best shows I’ve seen were local bands from Portland, Oregon because of the energy and the locality, people were so into it. Some went on to record… Crackerbash, Quasi. There were a million bands for a while in Portland.

Stream new compilation ‘An Introduction To… Elliott Smith’

Charlie: I hear you have tonnes of songs you never release. Do you ever think about making plans to release more often?
I thought about making a double album for the last three records and if I could put out a record every six months, I would. But it’s not how the monsters operate.

Mickey: What are your favorite artists or painters?
Probably Mark Rothko.

H: What music do you like that your fans would least expect?
Maybe Flamenco and Motown. I used to listen to Flamenco a lot. I used to try and play it but ended up with a bastardised version of it.

Nathalie: What are your favourite books? Do you love Bukowski?
I don’t care too much for Bukowski. I like Beckett and Dostoevsky and a lot of Russian novelists. Bukowski is American and seems too much like he’s telling me stuff I already know.

Stephen Biggs: At what age did you realise you wanted to become a musician?
Probably five as soon as I heard The White Album. It was pretty much my inspiration, that and AC/DC.

Richard: What is your favourite movie?
Paris, Texas.

Ian: Why did you decide not to put ‘Figure Eight’ on your new album?
Well there were about twenty-five songs that could have been on it and it was on there until the last minute when it was replaced by a song called ‘Easy Way Out’. It seemed to fit better and it was not a cover.

Andrew: Who is your all time favourite vocalist?
There are several of them. John Doe, Stevie Wonder, Sam Coomes, Nico.

Ian: Who is better, Bob Dylan or Neil Young?
There’s no real answer to that question. Why make a hierachy of people, they’re both great. Neil Young is more oblique, but I like them both.

Chris Birch: How come ‘Miss Misery’ wasn’t on an album?
Because it seemed to belong to the movie it was in (Good Will Hunting), it would have taken up too much attention space and it would have distracted from the album.

Maarten Schiethart: What do you listen to in the morning, if anything?
The same thing as at night. I usually listen to one record for months. It’s ‘The Marble Index’ by Nico at the moment.


George Henry Dickie: Are your lyrics more about feeling than story telling?
Yes I would say so, if there’s a story it’s usually a fragmented one.

Stephen Biggs: Which album are you most proud of?
Not really any of them more than the others. The self-titled one was a turning point. At the time I felt it was fully what I was and I had no concern about what people would think of it.

The new issue of NME, featuring interviews with those who knew Elliott Smith best, is on sale from Wednesday 27 October.

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