The accidental rock star
with Jr. High. Thursday, April 1. Opera House, 735
Queen E. $15.
BY JOANNE HUFFA
In the year that has elapsed since Elliott Smith sang
his Academy Award-nominated "Miss Misery" to an
auditorium bursting with movie stars, he has been
featured in almost every magazine. Yet he's avoided
becoming a household name.
"Now there are more people who come to check it
out because they heard about it somewhere," says
Smith, "or somebody told them that they're
supposed to like me. It's a little weird, but most of
the time it's fine. There's a higher percentage of guys
that their girlfriends brought along." He snickers at
the thought. "They stand there and look at me like,
'What the fuck is this?' "
His recent albums -- 1997's Either/Or and 1998's XO
-- are heartbreaking gems. As a singer-songwriter, he
conveys enormous amounts of emotion within
three-to-four-minute time-frames. But while his
songs often lay bare his pain, Smith is soft-spoken
and guarded when discussing fame, Dreamworks (the
label he signed to after leaving indie stalwarts Kill
Rock Stars) and his songwriting.
"It's hard to use your mental space to make up songs
when it feels like you're constantly being put under a
microscope," he explains. "It's great if people like
what somebody's doing, but it tends to make the
person feel really weird. I'm not complaining exactly,
but it changes things. Knowing that some people are
going to take apart whatever you do as soon as it
comes out makes it kind of... you have to expend
effort trying to forget about that."
Smith has been on the road without a pause since
XO was released. "My stuff is in storage in New
York," he says. "I've been on tour for so long I
decided to let my apartment go." That didn't have
as big an effect on Smith's life as one might
expect. "Having virtually no time that's not already
organized makes songwriting hard, but I'm not one
of those people who loves being at home. It doesn't
really matter." If he could have a lot of time to
himself, Smith would "probably write a lot of songs.
That's my favorite part. Playing the same songs
over and over and over...," he says with a sigh. "It's
a lot more fun to make up new ones."
To stave off boredom, Smith mixes things up for his
live set. "I don't play all the songs [from XO] all the
time. I play some new songs and I switch out the
old songs when I get really sick of them," he laughs.
"There was a time when I got sick of all of them, but
I just kept playing them. It's just the thing I do almost
every day." Smith spent some of last year working
on new material at Abbey Road studio, and his next
album is almost half-recorded. Unfortunately, it won't
be released until next January because he's spending
so much time "touring for the last one. Plus, it always
takes a long time for the record company to do all the
things they need to do to set it up."
In spite of red tape, though, Smith remains positive
about his deal with Dreamworks. "They've been really
good to me, so I don't have any complaints. I mean, I
was happy being on Kill Rock Stars and I didn't plan
on going on to a major label, but that's the way things
Besides, having the support of a major gave Smith the
opportunity to get out and see the world. As well as his
endless jaunt across North America and back again,
Smith has travelled to Europe, Australia and Japan.
"Japan was really fun!" he says. "It was one of the
best places I've been. People were so polite. It was
kinda weird; I couldn't believe how many people
recognized me when I was walking around. Then it
occurred to me that most of the people that live in
Japan are Japanese, so I'm going to stick out."