Prior to being asked to contribute the bulk of the songs to Good Will Hunting by fellow Portland resident Gus Van Sant (who also directed Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho), Smith had recorded three albums for local labels Cavity Search and Kill Rock Stars.
He also cut three albums with Heatmiser, but by the time that band broke up two years ago, there was already more of a buzz circulating about his solo output. His current effort, Either/Or brought him to national attention through college radio and alternative press. The next album, due out at the end of summer, is on the major DreamWorks label.
For someone who delivers haunting tales of truncated, druggy relationships set to a mostly acoustic soundscape and delivered in fragile whispering tones, Smith's rave notices in the US press have often harked on about Nick Drake or other folk or singer-songwriter legends. It's not something he seems to cherish.
"I'm neither folk nor singer-songwriter. It's definitely a drag to be lumped in with either of those two things. I'm just trying to do the same thing that everyone else is trying and that's to play music that I like. Most of my favourite bands were pop bands or punk bands. I really like the Beatles, the Saints, the Clash and Elvis Costello. I'm not really into that whole singer-songwriter thing. I always thought that I'd be in a band but it happened that the band I was in didn't work out, so here I'm playing alone."
In any case, Smith's music is undeniably late-Nineties in tone. Helping him out on the recording side are Tom Rothrock and Rob Schaapf who worked with Beck, Mary Lou Lord and many other artists on their own Bongload label. "Their ears work well," states Smith, who says of his next album, "it's got more instruments on it and more things around the playing, as it's the first time I've recorded in a real studio. Lots of piano on it, more drums and just more things to try out."
Meanwhile, for his UK dates it's just one man and his guitar, but all reports point out that this is more than enough to captivate the crowd. In any case the cosy quarters of Upstairs at the Garage will be a much more intimate affair than the Oscars.
Elliott Smith: Upstairs at the Garage, N5 (0171-607 1818) 3 JuneReuse content