“I remember him coming off a tour with some rental car and just stuffing all the stuff that had been in the car under some work benches under our back room. Years and years go by, and I was like, “Damn, Elliott left all his junk here.” I pull all his stuff out, and it’s like a ten dollar bill, guitar picks, a road map, a Hank Williams, Jr. cassette, and then letters from fans and their albums. He must have picked up a batch of fan mail somewhere. It wasn’t ever going to register.
Even as his friend, my band at the time was Elephant Factory, and I remember pressing our CD and handing it to him. He’d come to our shows and be supportive, but I remember giving him the CD and going “He’s never gonna listen to this.” I would have other people I knew telling me “Can you give Elliott a copy of my record?” And I’d say “You don’t even want me to do that.”
“I should clarify that as the archivist, it’s not my decision to release or not release anything. But it is my job to inform the estate – his surviving family – of what they have. A little part of me understands the hardcore fan. I’m a major fan of, say, Velvet Underground or Pink Floyd, and I would buy anything that had one new song that had been dug up. I’d be in the store the day it came out. So I understand that mentality. But on the other hand, if you do have all the outtakes of the Velvet Underground, it’s still White Light, White Heat that’s really fucking good and revolutionary. You don’t want to dilute that album by making a version with 400 bonus tracks so it’s an unlistenable experience.
There’s some trepidation to put everything out. I worry about New Moon, even. Say somebody buys this as their first Elliott Smith record; it’s really good, the songs are very good, but it’s not a record that Elliott crafted in his lifetime, and I think those records are stronger. Now say there are 20 different CDs of his high school band and mumblings into a cassette when he’s 14 and… I don’t know. It starts to dilute things to a certain degree, and people might also start to say “Oh, is the family looking for money?” And that’s so far from the way things are proceeding with the estate. They would be horrified to be thought of that way. Nobody wants the money from this – that’s why portions go to charities and things like that. It’s not the reason anyone would ever do it.
Elliott’s father is fairly involved and had gone to see him play live quite a bit. But his father and his mother and half-sisters, they’re not involved in the music industry, and there are certain traps; I feel like a little bit of my job is that they understand scenarios better and can make informed decisions. They have a really great lawyer, too, who helps with decisions.”
“I really had the sense that Elliott was something special. It got to the point where I’d be in here working with Joanna, and I wouldn’t know if she was dating him or not. And I wouldn’t ask. He had a hard time with relationships. He had a hard time with depression. He had a hard time with, you know, remembering to take a fucking shower. One day we’re sitting here and I’m thinking, ‘God, he smells’, and he’s like, ‘I’m sorry, man – I forgot to shower.’ He just got so focused on his music.”
“I read a review that said that the material from disc one was recorded from Elliott Smith and disc two was Either/Or. It said a song was acoustic that had drums on it. It said that he was a drug addict at the time, which is definitely not true. I mean, I was fucking there. I can tell you that in 1996 and ’97, I was not dealing with an addled drug addict. I was dealing with a person who, at the most, would go out and have some beers with me. The review made so many assumptions that it was just a bummer to read.
To the point where the writer said that the major label let him have a steady stream of drugs . Oh my God.”
“This cd [the Beatles Love] brings up an interesting thought: how much messing around with an artist’s back catalogue and master tapes is ethical? I recently started working with the estate of Elliott Smith, researching and archiving my late friend’s music for his family and for the future. One of the first jobs entailed working with Kill Rock Stars and the estate on a collection of mostly unreleased material. I researched what tracks might be out there, dug through the reels to find unreleased masters, and then transferred tracks into protools and did the mixes. One song which consisted of double tracked vocals and an acoustic guitar, i found that the guitar track had a prominent scraping flange sound all through it – see “last hour” on Elliott’s Basement on the hill album which is on the same reel – I tried mixing it and was unhappy with the flange noise, and then I remembered that I’d found a take of the same song on another reel, yet with no vocals. So I flew the tracks together, matching the instrumental take with the acoustic guitar track where the vocals were, instead of just flying the vocals on top of the other take in order to keep the vocal phrasing dead on. Over eight hours later, I had something that worked pretty good. Thankfully, he had used the same arrangement and key. The tempo is just a little off, so I used a time compression program to get it closer. So… I made it work but was it okay to do this? We made sure that the liner notes were clear on what had been done to this track and noted that the rest of the album wasn’t created this way. I felt that in this rare case of having a flawed guitar track and perfectly fleshed out instrumental take that showcased Elliott’s arrangement skills, the option was laid out in front of me what should be done.”