Elliott Smith’s most prominent achievement as a songwriter, 1997 album Either/Or turns 20 years old in 2017.
The album laid down instrumental foundations which he would follow, moving onto a major label, such as using full baroque instrumentation, warm double track guitars, and softer, Beatles-esque melodies. The album is considered a staple in American indie folk music, and Smith’s depression and anxiety echoed through his songwriting remains relatable to many, even today.
The album has been reissued by his old label Kill Rock Stars records, who have released an expanded edition of the album, featuring rarities, live tapes, and alternate takes of Smith classics with different lyrics.
Although fraught with personal problems at the time, including the abuse of anti-depressants and alcohol – leading to an intervention staged by his friends in Chicago, Elliott Smith had secured with Either/Or a move to a major label. Elliott’s career rise could in part be attributed to the use of his music in the Gus Van Sant film Good Will Hunting, for which Van Sant chose three songs to be featured in the film. Smith also made an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and eventually the Oscars, backed by an orchestra, both times playing Miss Misery, a song he had written specifically for Good Will Hunting
Elliott’s personal life and addiction to drugs worsened into the new millennium, with increasingly erratic behaviour was complete with paranoia, sleep deprivation, and fear of increased input from his label into his personal life. He would often go through periods where he would record almost an album full of tracks then something would happen in his personal life which made him hate the songs he’d recorded. He was also involved in a brawl in Los Angeles where the Flaming Lips (well chronicled friends of Smith’s) and Beck were performing. Assuming he was homeless, the police beat and arrested Smith and his then girlfriend, Chiba.
Smith eventually died in mysterious circumstances whereby he received two stab wounds to the chest. What made the situation even stranger was the fact that at the time of his death, he seemed to be recovering from his previous problems.
Elliott Smith’s legacy however remains in tact, and his music is still celebrated worldwide, with the memorial outside Solutions Audio in Los Angeles, California, constantly being restored by fans due to writing, graffiti and farewell messages left where he took the photo for the cover of his “Figure 8” album.