TUNE TALK: Elliot Smith


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Elliot Smith reached world wide fame when he worked on the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting.

Tylar Clemente, Student Contributor

Steven Paul “Elliott” Smith was born in August of 1969 in Omaha Nebraska. He was raised primarily in Texas and lived a majority of his life in Portland, Oregon. He died October 21, 2003 at age 34. He was found with two stab wounds in the chest but the autopsy evidence was inconclusive as to whether the wounds were self-inflicted. Smith abused alcohol and drugs while suffering with depression. Those topics often show up in the lyrics of his songs.

Smith’s primary instrument was the guitar, but he was also proficient in piano, clarinet, bass guitar, drums, and harmonica. He had a distinctive vocal style that many people would describe as “whispery and spiderweb-thin.” He used multi-tracking to create layers, textures, and harmonies with his vocals.

Elliott Smith/YouTube

He played in a rock band called Heatmiser for several years before starting his solo career in 1994. He had several releases on independent record labels Cavity Search and Kill Rock Stars (KRS). He signed with DreamWorks Records in 1997 and recorded two albums. He became mainstream when his song “Miss Misery” was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category in 1998 for the movie Good Will Hunting.

His first release Roman Candle was released in 1994 after his girlfriend at the time convinced him to send in the eight most recent songs he had recorded to Cavity Search Records. The owner Christopher Cooper immediately requested to release the entire album of songs while Smith was only expecting a deal for a seven-inch record. Regarding the record, Smith said; “ 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…The thing is that the album was really well received, which was a total shock, and it immediately eclipsed [Heatmiser], unfortunately.”

At the time of his death, Elliott Smith was working on his sixth studio album, From a Basement on the Hill, which was posthumously completed and released in 2004. With Smith’s family in control of his estate, they chose to bring in Rob Schnapf and Smith’s ex-girlfriend Joanna Bolme to sort through the recordings and mix the album. As completed by Schnapf and Bolme, it was released as a 15-track single album. Many songs from the sessions, which were later leaked onto the Internet, were not included, such as “True Love”, “Everything’s OK”, “Stickman”, and “Suicide Machine”. There has been unconfirmed speculation that Smith’s family made the decision not to include some songs on the record due to their lyrical content, although songs such as “King’s Crossing” that deal with darker subjects did make the album.

Even though Elliot Smith’s career and life was cut short, he left a lasting impression on those who listened to his indie rock music.