TRIBUTE: Elliott Smith

elliott-smithSinger/songwriter Steven Paul “Elliott” Smith, was born on August 6th, 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska. He grew up in Texas and Oregon, but it was in Portland, Oregon where his music first became noticed. Between 1987-1991 Smith attended and graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a degree in Philosophy and Legal Theory. While in college he created his band Heatmiser with classmate Neil Gust. After graduation he added drummer Tony Lash and bassist Brandt Peterson. The band began performing in Portland in 1992. Between 1993 and 1996 Heatmiser produced a total of 4 albums, including Dead Air (1993), Cop and Speeder (1994), and Yellow No. 5 (1994) to Frontier Records and Mic City Sons (1996) to Virgin Records. Smith also began his solo music career while in the band, but the success of his first two releases (Roman Candle (1994) and Elliott Smith (1995)) created tension within the band. Heatmiser broke up shortly before the release of their final album Mic City Sons. Due to the encouragement of his girlfriend at the time, Smith released Roman Candle in 1994 to Cavity Search Records. After the release of the record, Smith stated, “I thought my head would chopped off immediately when it came out because at the time it was opposite to the grunge thing that was popular…” And indeed Smith’s music was different compared to the music that was being released during that time era. Instead, his music was considered indie and acoustic folk rock, with dark lyrics and sung in the style of soft and shy melodies. In 1996, director Gus Van Sant chose Smith to be part of the soundtrack to his film Good Will Hunting. Smith recorded “Between the Bars” in an orchastraic style with composer Danny Elfman, as well as new song called “Miss Misery” and three released tracks, “No Name #3,” Angeles,” and “Say Yes.” The film was a huge success and led to an Academy Award nomination for Smith’s “Miss Misery.” Smith performed the song live at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony. Soon after he began making musical appearances on television, including Late Night With Conan O’Brien and The Oscars. During this time Smith signed to major label DreamWorks Records, however the singer/songwriter fell into a depression and attempted suicide. Later that year he released XO, his first album on DreamWorks Records. The album reached number 104 on the Billboard 200 and reached 123 on the UK Album Charts. The record sold over 400,000 copies and has been considered Smith’s best-selling album of his career. In 1999 Smith moved to Los Angeles and lived in a cabin in Silver Lake, in which he recorded a cover to The Beatles “Because,” which was featured in the film American Beauty as well as the film’s soundtrack. Smith’s final completed album was Figure 8, which released in April of 2000. The album was inspired by The Beatles and was partially recorded in Abbey Road Studios. It reached number 99 on the Billboard 200 and number 37 on the UK Album Charts. In 2001 Smith began to show signs of Paranoia and believed people from his record label were out to get him. He fell into heavy drug use and distanced himself from his manager and his friends. When performing at live shows the singer/songwriter suffered from memory loss and received negative reviews from reporters. In 2003 Smith tried to go to rehab several times but felt he could not relate to the 12 Step Program. With two sold out concerts in Hollywood, he attempted to regain his credibility as a live performer. Things started to improve for Smith and soon he began to experiment with noise music and recording on a computer, he practiced with girlfriend Jennifer Chiba’s computer. Industry friends thought Smith was finally on the road to recovery, yet sadly Smith was found dead on October 21st, 2003 from two stabs wounds to the chest, he was 34 years old. An autopsy report was inconclusive as to whether the wounds were self-inflicted or suspect to foul play. Although we do not know how Elliott Smith died, we do know how the talented musician lived and that the music he brought us will live on forever in our hearts.

elliot smith

Elliott Smith August 6th, 1969 – October 21st, 2003