On what would have been Elliot Smith’s 50th birthday, we’re taking a step back into the Far Out Magazine Vault to pick out one of our favourite memories.
Smith, whose distinctive vocal style aided his meteoric rise in the 1990s, focused a lot of his attention on multi-tracking to emphasise his this layering of harmonies. Albeit a sensitive soul, Smith battled with his demons and, after being diagnosed with ADHD and major depressive disorder, Smith began drinking heavily and using drugs regularly.
At the age of 34, the musician was found dead in Los Angeles with two stab wounds to the chest. Inconclusive results gathered from the autopsy meant that investigations were unable to determine if “the wounds were self-inflicted or the result of homicide.”
Smith’s death shook the indie rock scene to its core, his devoted fans left devastated. Given the mysterious circumstances around his death, conspiracy theories around the details became rife and Smith has become the subject of countless films and documentaries exploring his life, career and untimely death.
One film, Heaven Adores You directed by Nickolas Dylan Rossi and released in 2015, focused on Smith’s life in the three different cities that he lived in during his music career. Arguably the most celebrated film exploring Smith’s life, director Rossi was granted permission to use numerous different Smiths’ songs which included rarities and previously unreleased tracks—which leads us nicely to ‘Ocean’, a track Smith recorded when he was just 14-years-old.
The track, which was recorded when Smith was living in Texas, was given a premiere on Portland Radio Project while the station interviewed Smith’s close friend Kevin Moyer: “It’s a song I don’t think anyone has ever heard before,” Moyer said in the interview. “It’s from his Texas days. At the very beginning of the film, we show Texas and his good friend Pickle, Steve Pickering. And it’s basically Elliott when he’s young, before he came to Portland, these guys, they got together and they were playing music for the sake of playing music.
“They were doing Led Zeppelin songs and covers, stuff like that. I think it was a group: Steve Pickering, Steve Smith (who was Elliott before he changed his name), a girl named Kim and another guy named Kevin and a guy named Mark, I think. Different variations of these kids would get together at Steve Pickering’s house and play music and make music.”
Have a listen, below:
Moyer added: “Then Elliott moved and he came to Portland, and he wasn’t coming back. He was not going back to Texas. But he would come back to visit, and when they would visit, they would get together and jam. So what started as kids getting together and making music started to turn into actual songwriting, and I think it’s the very start of Elliott writing his own songs.
“So this song is something from 1984. Elliott was 14 years old. It’s interesting because it’s one of the first songs that as they were writing, Elliott would make lyrics for it. It’s keyboards, guitars, and Elliott singing. They did the keyboards and guitars first, and the Elliott came back and Steve Pickering convinced him, for demo purposes, to sing. I don’t think Elliott was a singer at that point, but they kind of pushed him to sing it, and he did. It’s probably one of the first songs that they did that actually has lyrics.”