Elliott Smith Dead At 34
Elliott Smith, the pop-rock singer/songwriter whose Beatlesque melodies and at times dark subject matter won over the hearts of a generation of indie rockers, apparently committed suicide, according to an Associated Press report. He was 34.
Smith known for his gloomy, introspective lo-fi indie rock songs sustained a single self-inflicted stab wound to the chest, Los Angeles County Coroner Records Supervisor Marsha Grigsby told AP Radio. His body was found by his live-in girlfriend at their L.A. apartment. He was later pronounced dead at Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center.
A gifted songwriter best known for his song "Miss Misery," which received an Oscar nomination for its 1997 appearance in "Good Will Hunting," Smith began his musical career in the early '90s when he relocated from Omaha, Neb. to Portland, Ore., joining the local punk-inspired indie rock band Heatmiser, an underground legend that would leave its mark on the Pacific Northwest scene.
Born Steven Paul Smith in 1969, Smith had been venting sadness and frustration in song since the age of 14, but did not put out a solo record until releasing Roman Candle on the tiny imprint Cavity Records in 1994. He made his Kill Rock Stars debut with a self-titled sophomore effort in 1995, following it with 1997's critically lauded Either/Or.
It was while working on Either/Or that Smith started working with engineer/producer Larry Crane. They shared a recording studio for a time. "We just pooled our resources, and the first thing that we did, we tried recording him to see how the stuff sounded, and that ended up being 'Miss Misery,'" Crane, who run's Jackpot! studio in Portland and edits Tape Op magazine, recalled during a 2002 interview. "'Oh, O.K., you're nominated for an Oscar.' It was the weirdest year."
Crane had the opportunity to watch Smith at work on many occasions. "He is like the consummate musician," Crane said in 2002. "He can play everything, pretty much, and he has songs written out in his head really well.
"He would come in and play drums or guitar and start building the song from there," he continued. "Or piano and build the song up. They were all different in how they started. And then he'd play all the parts and it would work or not. You might have to go back and start over, but he's so good that you don't really have to worry about it, and he's a very good singer, obviously."
Smith's solo records, which often featured just Smith's pained voice and an acoustic guitar, spoke simply yet poignantly to life's darker sides, never failing to rend the hearts of those who listened.
Following Smith's musical contributions ("Miss Misery" and others) to Portland filmmaker Gus Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting," Smith signed a deal with Dreamworks. Two lush Beatles-influenced albums 1998's XO and 2000's Figure 8 followed. Both were warmly received by both Smith's growing fan base and the rock press.
According to various sources, Smith had struggled with drugs and alcohol problems for some time. That struggle had become more difficult after Smith relocated to LA.
Smith had been working on another album for Dreamworks titled From a Basement on the Hill; that album bounced on and off the label's schedule several times. The independent Suicide Squeeze label recently released a two-song single by Smith, quickly selling out the 5,000 copies pressed.
Both Smith's raw acoustic sound and his more produced, Beatlesque efforts touched and consoled many he will be missed by music fans the world over. Jenny Tatone [Wednesday, October 22, 2003]