NEW YORK (Billboard) - Releasing "new" music after an
artist has died is always a tricky proposition, especially when
that artist has a fiercely protective fan base.
Olympia, Wash.-based indie label Kill Rock Stars will try
to satisfy devotees of the late singer/songwriter Elliott Smith
with the May 8 release of "New Moon," a two-disc set of
primarily unreleased material. It comprises tracks recorded
during the three years Smith was with the label, from 1994 to
Smith was found dead in his Los Angeles home in October
2003. Although widely reported in the media as a suicide, the
coroner never established a cause of death, and the case
remains under investigation by the Los Angeles Police
Larry Crane, a personal friend of Smith's and the engineer
who mixed most of "New Moon," admits "there's a real careful
line to ride" with a release of this nature, but adds that so
much depends on intent and timing. "If you put this out five
months after he passed, that would be disgusting, but it's been
more than three years now, and it feels like the right time."
Crane, whose Jackpot Studios Smith often used for
recording, is also the archivist for Smith's estate. He was
given the task of tracking down all the tapes Smith made during
the Kill Rock Stars period, bringing them back to Portland,
Ore., and listening to everything from start to finish.
"I seriously believe," he says, "that if Elliott was still
around, this sort of project would have come along at this
point, because there's quite a bit of great material from this
Kill Rock Stars VP Maggie Vail says the project arose from
an initial plan to release an expanded edition of Smith's
second and final album for Kill Rock Stars, "Either/Or." It was
Smith's most successful release to that point and remains the
label's biggest seller. The album has sold 306,000 copies,
according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"But the more we started digging in, and the more the
estate and I were looking at things," Vail says, "the more we
agreed, 'Let's not repackage something people already have.
Let's give them all new material."'
Vail adds, "It was pretty shocking how much there was.
There were songs neither the estate nor Larry nor I had ever
"New Moon" consists of 24 tracks, only three of which have
been previously released, two in limited editions. Smith plays
all the instruments and recorded most of the material himself.
"One of the primary concerns was being faithful to his
vision," Crane says. "Because I had worked with him before, I
knew his working method, so that helped. I also listened a lot
on headphones and tried to think about how he was placing
everything. We also didn't want to modernize it too much."
Many of the tracks, which range from more rocking numbers
like "New Monkey" to sparser, bruising voice-and-guitar items
like "High Times," were strong contenders for Smith's two Kill
Rock Stars albums and therefore make a nice complement to his
LIFE IN PICTURES
As a sort of visual complement to "New Moon," Chronicle
Books plans a November release for "Elliott Smith," a photo
book compiled by Autumn De Wilde.
The 200-plus-page volume features De Wilde's numerous live
and promotional snapshots of the musician, such memorabilia as
handwritten lyrics and interviews with family, friends and
admirers like Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), Sam Coomes
(Quasi), Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Jon Brion and Ashley Welch
The book also includes a five-song, solo acoustic live CD,
recorded over several nights at Los Angeles' Largo. The
previously unreleased set consists of "Between the Bars,"
"Angeles," "Clementine," a cover of Quasi's "Clouds" and Hank
Williams Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down."
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Sims
Foundation and the homeless nonprofit organization Outside In.