Elliott Smith's second posthumous release, New Moon, is set for release this month. Tape Op Founder and Recording Guru Larry Crane was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the making of this rarities collection from Elliott's early solo material.
Weekly Geek: First off, tell our readers a little bit about how you met Elliott Smith and your involvement in his past projects.
Larry Crane: Elliott and I met through mutual friends in 1996. I recorded vocals on "Pictures of Me" then, as his console was broken, and then interviewed him for Tape Op. In late 1996, Rebecca Gates from The Spinanes made us talk to each other when we both had decided to open studio spaces. Jackpot! is/was my studio, but Elliott helped build it and was gonna work out of there at a special rate. We tracked many songs there when we got it running. A few showed up on XO and "Miss Misery" was done then too. We continued to record off and on for the next few years, even though he had moved to Brooklyn. We remained friends, though I didn't hear much from him for a few years. Elliott asked me to come to LA and help finish From a Basement on the Hill, and bought me a plane ticket, but passed away 10 days before I was to fly down to begin work with him.
WG: How did you come to be the archivist for Elliott's estate?
LC: I was asked to help collect and mix/master the New Moon album. I suggested that someone should back up and catalog his work, and his father, Gary, asked if I would like to do that. I said yes.
WG: And what level of association, if any, did Elliott's family have in the making of this collection?
LC: They have final say on releasing or authorizing his music pre January, 1998.
WG: How did you approach the mixing of New Moon?
LC: I listened to Elliott Smith and Either/Or a lot, thinking about how Elliott had mixed tracks and such. I knew the gear he had used, and [I] had used most of it as well, so I had an idea of what gear limitations he had. I tried to keep the music in line with how he had mixed stuff, and used the tracks Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock had mixed for Either/Or as the benchmark for good sound.
WG: Given that it's a posthumous release, maybe it's just an illusion, but a great many of the songs have an enhanced "closeness" (for lack of a better term), especially in the vocal tracks. Did you play that up at all?
LC: I didn't use much reverb or delay on stuff, and if so, usually not digital effects. [It] keeps the vocal up front. I did have access to better outboard gear (Compressors, EQ) than Elliott did when he mixed alone.
WG: What drew you to this particular era of Elliott's material (most of the rarities being from around 1995-1997)?
LC: Contract reasons. Interscope owns all his "outtakes" post 1997.
WG: One of the standout tracks on New Moon is the early version of "Miss Misery," featuring vastly different lyrics. Do you think it's important that people get a glimpse into the machinations of his songwriting and are there very many preliminary takes in the archives as worthwhile to display as that one?
LC: There are some, though this one seemed very special. Most times songs stay in the same form, but some get changed along the way.
WG: Do you have a personal favorite from New Moon? Any one cut that screamed out to you while working on it?
LC: I like "Going Nowhere" and "Go By" a lot. Sort of a different style for him I guess.
WG: During the making of From a Basement on the Hill, Joanna Bolme talked about how it was easy to imagine (from the rough mixes) parts of songs that Elliott would've focused on and wanted to have spotlighted. Was it that same sort of intuitive production process for you on New Moon?
LC: Having both worked with him, as well as Rob Schnapf having done so, I think we picked up certain ways he thought and worked. Most of the songs I mixed were 8 or less tracks to work with, so many choices were spelled out. Drums were usually on one track.
WG: Presumably there are more rarities from the later years of his catalogue. Will these see release soon and would you like to work on those in the future?
LC: There are. The estate does not have control over this, though I will try to figure out what is available, advise the estate, and see if they can have any pull if they wish to. I am an archivist, and not able to decide what gets released or not, though I do get to present what is there and make suggestions that can be accepted or not. It's an interesting job and I am honored to get to do it.