Elliott Smith Archival Interview From Local DJ Shane Kennedy

You may know Shane Kennedy as that guy we write about all the time (read Steve Jansen's excellent feature on him here) for various reasons.

Did you also know that he, himself, is a journalist, and long has been? He's not much of a name-dropper, which may be part of the reason so many New Times staffers heart him, but Shane's rubbed shoulders with some of indie rock's elite in his many years playing, DJing and writing.

Take this amazing interview with the late Elliott Smith from just before Either/Or came out in 1997. "I would not want to give one the impression that he and I were 'buddies,' that's just not the case," Kennedy said. "We were acquaintances, and that's really it."

Also, the photo that's on the cover of Either/Or was shot sometime during this interview, in Tempe, Arizona. Wow, right?

I asked Kennedy about the above video and he was kind enough to write up an amazing essay on his experience with Smith, who was already an indie icon when he killed himself in October 2003, and has only grown in stature since. Kennedy's e-mail to me is presented with minimal editing on the jump. Here's an excerpt. Please, do yourself a favor and check all this out, it's soooo cool.

The next time, and pretty much the last time I saw him was when he came back a few months later, touring to support his second record again, and opening for a favorite of mine, who I had dinner with in Portland, Sebadoh. I showed up to Gibsons (it was in Tempe, off Hayden Square) a bit early and we hung out back stage, again I had a tape recorder with me, actually two, a handheld, and my four-track. As I had worked radio years earlier and still had a few contacts at labels, and had access to some, what I thought to be, up-and-coming artists, it seemed like a good idea to me to start interviewing these people, so when I ended up back stage with Elliott, I turned on the recorder. I was sitting opposite him, next to Sebadohs tour manager, drinking, talking, and laughing, as Sebadoh's tour manager, Debbie, snapped pictures. One of them ended up on the cover for his following record, Either/Or.

In '93, I think, my friend Andre J. Stone had just moved back from Portland, where he had lived for a few years, and we went to see a couple bands that he knew from there who were touring through town, playing at the Mason Jar. It was Pond (then signed to Sub Pop) & openers Heatmieser (touring behind "Cop & Speeder", I think. The guys in the bands knew Andrew fairly well & he introduced me to them all & mentioned to them that I was possibly moving up there. They were all super friendly & cordial & told me that I should "look them up. Elliott was just 'one the guys' and other than me really liking his voice & preferring his songs, I didn't think anything of it. I took some pictures of them outside, under the Mason Jar marquee, of them clowning around..These pics have been lost to time, sadly.

A few months later, after my band broke up, I did indeed move to Portland, with the intention of living with and playing music with my friend Jonathan Richardson, who now plays with the Early Day Miners & formerly worked for Secretly Canadian records, a really great small record label. When I arrived, he had no empty room at his house for me, so I ended up sleeping in a tent in his backyard, until we made a make-shit bedroom/studio in his basement.

I ended up working at a coffee shop & hanging around downtown, spending a lot of time at Ozone records on Burnside, going to shows at La Luna, drinking at Space Room, eating at Dot's, Montage, & Paradox...It was amazing...I saw Gwar, Cracker, Heatmiser, Sebadoh, the Folk Implosion, Pond, Hazel, Giant Sand, Grant Lee Buffalo...

One day at the house I overheard Jonathan playing some CD and it sounded amazing, really beautiful, and I asked him who it was, and he said it was "Elliott Smith, that guy from Heatmiser." The CD, Elliott's first, had just been released that week by a local label. I was blown away, it was really amazing.

A few days later a girl from Ozone, who knew that I was new in town, invited me to a party...It was a great house, some photographer owned it, I think. The first person I recognized was "that guy from Heatmiser," Elliott. He remembered me from Arizona and was very friendly. I mentioned I had heard the solo release and shared my feelings about it, he was very humble and gracious.

I was this super enthusiastic 24-year-old and was just soaking it all in. Everything was amazing! Everyone was really nice, the music was great, the clubs were great, everybody looked cool... everyone dressed like what eventually became the standard "Indie Rock" look that kind of became today's standard fashion. It was subtle, though, not too "fashion-y."

I brought a little hand held cassette recorder with me that night and recorded both Elliott's and Pete's set [at one of the shows I saw]. One of the highlights was Elliott's partial performance of Hank Williams "Crazy Heart," which because of hearing it that night, became my favorite Hank Williams song. I believe that I, or my friend Jim Miles, may have digitized that show, and it may have been uploaded to a share site, I dunno. The master tape was lost a couple years ago. (I ended up listening to, and sharing, that tape with soooo many people -- it was a great performance.)

I continued to see Elliott around town, here and there, and eventually bought a copy of his first CD, Roman Candle. I listened to it religiously. A few months later, after my Phoenix band wrote me a letter stating that they wanted to get back together and that "there is no one else other than you that we would want to play drums", I moved back to Phoenix. Sigh...

I shared Elliotts first CD with everyone, making tape after tape. It didn't have national distribution at the time and you couldn't get it at Stinkweeds...

Eventually I saw that he was coming out with a new record. Again it was amazing. It seemed to be all we listened to those days. It made you feel like it was a rainy day even when it was 115 out.

It was announced the was touring and coming through town to play at this Coffee House/Bar/Club called the Congo, off Scottsdale road, in South Scottsdale. I told everyone. I even called Kimber (she didn't go, as I still don't think his records had made it down to Phoenix, I got mine through mail order, as i did with a lot of music back then).

I arrived early and brought my trusty 4 track recorder and a few mics. Elliott seemed happy to see a familiar face, and although he was feeling a lil' sick, he was silly and friendly. I ended up doing sound for him and recording the show. All my friends who came were blown away... again, he was amazing.

We said our goodbyes and he went on his way...

It was a great night, Elliott was great, and I sat, along with Debbie and my four-track, rolling cigarettes, on the side of the stage.

Years later, I lent the cassette of the interview view to my friend Jim Miles, I don't remember if it was before or after Elliott passed. The other day, I pulled out the old Yamaha MT120 Four Track, a the tape of that performance of that evening was in it...

Elliott was nice, funny, sad, generous with his time, and not one bit pretentious.

I would not want to give one the impression that he and I were "buddies," that's just not the case. We were acquaintances, and that's really it. That night backstage at Gibsons was the last night I really hung out with him in an intimate setting... he kinda blew up after that, and I let it go.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar