All proceeds from The Last Hour will benefit New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth: newalternativesnyc.org
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Nearly every one of Elliott Smith's songs speaks to me on a personal level, whether lyrically or musically or (usually) both. I've yet to come across another songwriter with that kind of track record.
I knew I wanted to do something to mark the 10th anniversary of his passing, to salute his wonderful music. The thought of playing a tribute concert crossed my mind—I'd organized one before—but why do something that 30 or 40 people would see when I could create something to share with fans around the world?
So I decided to record some of his songs. But selecting the tunes could have been a mind-boggling task: Popular favorites or obscurities? New repertoire or songs I'd already learned and/or performed? Compile a group of songs that would together convey a message or a statement?
Then I looked through some archived set lists and found one that accomplished all of those goals. It was Elliott's last public performance, in Salt Lake City on Sept. 19, 2003, just a month before his death. The 15-song set pulls songs from each of his LPs, but also includes some rarities and Heatmiser tracks—kind of like a dream mix tape as crafted by the music's creator. As a recorded album, this collection of songs is both perfectly strange and strangely perfect.
The Last Hour was recorded and mixed in the first half of October 2013 on my old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, in keeping with the aesthetic of Elliott's early recordings. His versions were used as road maps, though I messed around with tempos and keys in some places. The plan was to keep the arrangements as “live” as possible—vocal and acoustic guitar with some doubled parts—but I began adding additional elements almost immediately after finishing the guitar tracks. So these versions are generally faithful to the originals but with some extra added noise to personalize them. (Also, some of these songs are brutally hard to play, so I may have needed to cover some sour patches.)
The rapid nature of both the learning and recording process—particularly the one-take nature of four-tracking—made for some ragged performances, but it's all in the name of good fun and beautiful music. I think Elliott would have appreciated my butchering his songs for those reasons.
"I'm never gonna know you now / But I'm gonna love you anyhow"