That happened right after Lost in Translation

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“That happened right after Lost in Translation. I was gaining a reputation, it was like, “If you can work with Kevin, you can work with Elliott.” Again, Elliott wasn’t my idea, it was Mike Mills’ idea to have Elliott come in and write music. It wasn’t really to write music, Elliott was asked to do some covers. We did “Trouble” by Cat Stevens, which is a song that Elliott…He didn’t like Cat Stevens, but he liked the song. If you’ve heard that song, his version of it, I can’t listen to it. It’s too painful, but he made it his song. He literally…And it’s the last thing he ever recorded. Mike had asked him also to do a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation,” which is quite possibly one of the greatest recordings in the history of music. You don’t redo that, it’s too good. But Elliott loved John Lennon and he was working on it. Elliott was very similar to Kevin in a way, very sensitive, very quiet, great with the desk. I worked with a few people who are really insanely good engineers as well as musicians. Their engineering skills are a part of their music.(…)Elliott was fantastic. He played me some music that was just mind-blowing. I was trying to hook him and Kevin Shields up because Elliott was scared to death of his studio. He couldn’t go in it. The problem with, I could say a few artists that I know, is that they’ve made these incredible recordings, these monumental iconic records, and they’re scared to death to follow them up.”

Brian Reitzell

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Mills ended up tapping Reitzell

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©Torvioll

“Mills ended up tapping Reitzell to work on his first feature-length film, Thumbsucker. To soundtrack the film’s downer tone, they wanted to feature Elliott Smith. It had only been a few years since the release of what would turn out to be Smith’s final studio album, Figure 8, but the singer-songwriter was crippled with fear and doubt. “Elliott was paralyzed, he couldn’t go into his own recording studio, he was scared to death of it,” recalls Reitzell. But if anyone could coax Smith back into a studio, it was Reitzell. “Through my working with Kevin, he was able to make music again, which he hadn’t been able to do in 13 years. The people around Elliott knew that. I was the nurturer, I was the guy that could get Mike what he needed for the film and protect Elliott from Hollywood.”
Every day, Reitzell would drive to Echo Park, pick up Smith, and drive to West Hollywood, where the film was being edited. “He would get in the car with this Case Logic binder of 300 CDs,” he said. “It was all of his music. He had had his music stolen from him, so whenever he left the house, he took it all with him.” They had recorded a few songs for the film when Smith died; ultimately, the soundtrack duties fell to the Polyphonic Spree. The resultant soundtrack wound up very different from what Reitzell originally intended, and he wonders at what might have been had Smith lived. Reitzell says that he even tried to put Smith in contact with Shields, but that Shields never got around to calling the troubled singer. “I think Kevin will regret that the rest of his life. He wanted to — he just never…” He trails off. “It’s Kevin.” Continue reading