Academy Fight Song

Mr. Smith goes to Hollywood and jumps to the majors

In a world where Hanson outsells Fugazi and "girl power" conjures images of the Spice Girls rather than Bikini Kill, there's a smug sense of satisfaction when entertainment institutions unwittingly recognize anyone from the indie-ground.

Nearly a year ago, Elliott Smith was on the front porch of Revolver HQ, playing Hank Williams and Neil Young covers and taking requests from the five or so people gathered there. On March 23, Smith will play his Oscar-nominated "Miss Misery," from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, for a television audience of millions at the Academy Award ceremonies.

It's been a short and unexpected path from the relative oblivion of Kill Rock Stars artist to Oscar nominee, "an odd twist of fate," Mr. Smith calls it. When Revolver last saw Smith, he was riding the crest of the critical acclaim being heaped on Either/Or, his third solo album and second recording for Kill Rock Stars. Not much has changed since then, excepting the Oscar nomination for best soundtrack song.

Smith doesn't sell millions of records, he never gets played on the radio, he doesn't have any videos on MTV, at least not yet.

Since Either/Or, Smith has recorded one new song for Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, which also used songs from Either/Or and Smith's first LP, Roman Candle. Other than that, Smith's only recorded output has been the "Division Day" seven-inch on Suicide Squeeze records. He's currently working on his major-label debut (for Dreamworks), tentatively titled Grand Mal; yeah, you heard right, Smith's leaving the ranks of ultrahip indie-dom for greener corporate pastures.

Revolver recently interrupted the soft-spoken Elliott Smith at a recording session to quiz him about the metamorphosis from KRS sweetheart to Oscar darling. This is what transpired:

Revolver: Last time we talked, you seemed very happy with Kill Rock Stars. Why did you sign with Dreamworks?

Elliott Smith: Well, I had this other band [Heatmiser] that was signed to Virgin Records and we kind of broke up before our record came out. So that label had a claim to me, I didn't really have the option of staying on Kill Rock Stars in the first place. Virgin might have let me, I don't know. Things had gotten to a point where my choices were between major labels.

R: What was your reaction when you found out you got an Oscar nomination?
ES: My manager Margaret [Mittleman] called me up at like 8 in the morning. I was like, oh, boy, something really good or bad has happened. I didn't know that was the day they announced the nominations or anything. I was shocked, it was really weird. It was happy, it seems to make my friends really happy. I'm excited, I don't think of it really seriously. It's a big awards show about movies, and I happen to be involved in a movie. That in itself was kind of a happy accident, this is even more bizarre.

R: How did you get involved with the Good Will Hunting soundtrack?
ES: I knew Gus Van Sant from Portland; he used to come see me play and he had a couple of my records. He'd hang out and talk about his next movie sometimes, he was always interested in me writing a song specifically for the movie.

R: With all the attention from the nomination, are you starting to feel like a commodity?

ES: I guess, I don't really think about it. I do interviews every morning, but that'll pass. I'm trying to make this record and I'm sorta thinking more about that. There's this unexpected little flurry of attention about it, but in a month the Academy Awards will be done and this whole thing will be over.

R: Any worries about Celine Dion [whose song from Titanic is competing with "Miss Misery"] pulling a Tonya Harding on you before you play at the Oscars?

ES: I hadn't thought of that, maybe I should. Yeah, some big thug guy that's abusive to her beats me in the hall with a monkey wrench to the throat and then breaks my fingers. You never know.

Star Killaz: Seven years ago, Kill Rock Stars was a fledgling record label devoted to releasing "wordcore" seven-inches by spoken-word artists. Shortly into KRS' existence, its owner, Slim Moon, came across two bands that would change the face of punk rock in the '90s--Unwound and Bikini Kill--and decided maybe Kill Rock Stars should put out music as well as words.

In 1998, KRS stands among a handful of labels that define premillennial punk rock. The label is responsible for introducing riot-grrl, Sleater-Kinney and Elliott Smith, as well as the aforementioned Bikini Kill and Unwound, to legions of slicked-back, wired-up boy/girl revolutionary kids. But it's not stopping there; there's new ground to be broken as we near the next millennium, and Slim Moon is well aware of that.

Kill Rock Stars recently introduced its sister label, 5 Rue Christine, to the world via the release of LPs by experimental purveyors of noise Deerhoof and the Replikants. A rock critic once said of KRS that "they could release a record of whales' mating calls and no one would bat an eye," so we were curious why a sister label was deemed necessary. A phone call to KRS' headmaster cleared things up:

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