When I interviewed Steve Fisk in 1996 for Tape Op #3, one of the answers he gave for situations that made recording sessions go poorly was, "people dying." I remember thinking this was a heavy thought but nothing I had ever dealt with. A few days ago I woke up to find several emails mentioning the death of my friend, Elliott Smith. Not the best way to start the day.
Elliott and I had met in 1996 or so, when Joanna Bolme would drag him to parties at my house and I'd see them at shows. One day Elliott asked me if he could track some vocals at my basement studio (Laundry Rules) as his Mackie 1604 had broken. He came over and did vocals on "Pictures of Me", which ended up on Either/Or. I was amazed by the track he had recorded at home, and by the vocal parts he put down.
Later in January 1997, I was ready to dive into renting a space, take out a loan and open a studio. Elliott was thinking of doing the same, but just for his own use. Rebecca Gates made us talk to each other about working together, and we did. In February we signed a lease on a space and moved in. I didn't want a partner, but we'd worked out a deal where he'd help with building the space and we'd share gear and expenses. Elliott worked his ass off with me, building walls, sheetrocking and painting.
The studio was soon running, and we tracked various "demos", two of which got gussied for his Dreamworks debut, X/O. ("Baby Britain" was mistakenly credited to me but Joanna co-produced it.) Not too long into the year Elliott moved to Brooklyn. It was almost a relief in some ways, as I was getting too busy and wondered how we'd share the space. One of the songs we'd demoed was pulled aside to use for Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, and that's how "Miss Misery" was nominated for an Oscar. Elliott flew me to L.A. for a week as he worked on X/O with Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock at Sunset Sound. I slept on the pullout couch in his hotel room and we had a pretty good time despite all the interviews he had to do because of his Oscar nomination! Rob and Tom were great to watch work, though the pace was bogged down with all the hoopla going on. I did get to witness an amazing string session that sounded beautiful.
Elliott and I bumped into each other far less after this. Once we had him playing bass on a Quasi session, which was fun. One time, right before Figure 8 came out I helped him carry his guitars out on stage at a huge SXSW gig. I'll never forget my surprise as all the people screamed as we/he hit the stage. Things were certainly different.
I hadn't talked to Elliott in about a year and a half until a few weeks ago. John B. and I were back East visiting friends and studios when I got a call from Elliott's girlfriend, Jennifer. She left a message asking if I'd like to come to L.A. to help Elliott finish his long-awaited album. I talked to Elliott, and it was great to hear his voice, even if he sounded shaky. We made plans, and I was due to fly down November 10th and stay with them while we worked on the record. I was excited to work with Elliott again and to help with these new songs.
Tuesday Oct 21st I was in session starting a new album as Elliott Smith took his own life. I had a weird feeling all day, and I felt odd when I went to bed that night. When I awoke the first thing I did was check my email. I wanted to think it was all Internet bullshit rumors. Why would he be asking me to finish a record with him then do this? Why put Jennifer through the agony of finding him dying? Why make all his friends and family miss him even more than they already did?
We talk all the time about what we do, making records, messing with gear and all that crap. Sometimes we forget that we make friends along the way, and that those friendships are more important than anything. Take care.