Elliott Smith ‘Heaven Adores You’: The Untold Stories & Photos Behind The Songs

4 Whatever Folk Song in C_photo credit to Ashley Welch

“Whatever (Folk Song in C)”
written and performed by Elliott Smith September 1994 // Produced by Elliott Smith

KEVIN MOYER: The fans know this song from the self-titled album sessions and it was included on the posthumous Elliott release New Moon. This version was remixed for Heaven Adores You by Larry Crane in 2014.

NICKOLAS ROSSI: The first thing that came up when trying to pair a song with Elliott and Ashley’s childhood together was the lyric, ” What are you doing, hangin’ out with me…” from this track. The playful light-hearted head bobbing sounds of this guitar piece really felt like a good fit to illustrate Elliott’s childhood.

KEVIN MOYER: Yeah, to me it goes really well with the childhood photos that we show and the line that Ashley says that it was “probably really uncool to have your little sister hanging around so much” – but one thing is really clear that Elliott loved both Ashley and his little brother Darren immensely.

5 Untitled Guitar Picking_photo credit to Steve Pickering

“Untitled Guitar Finger Picking”
written and performed by Elliott Smith in November & December 1983 // Produced by Elliott Smith, Mark Merritt, Steven Pickering

STEVE “PICKLE” PICKERING (Elliott’s childhood friend from Texas): In the summer of 1983, Elliott shifted more and more of his attention to music. He organized several of his friends into a band playing cover tunes – Led Zeppelin, Rush, Pink Floyd. He also started writing original songs, all instrumentals. Some were written and arranged for an entire group, others for guitar and keyboards or just guitar. Most didn’t have names. This particular song was part of the first batch of original material that he wrote. Several of them show the finger-picking style that played a big role on his early solo albums. We recorded five or six of those songs on my dad’s four-track one night when Elliott stayed over at my house in November or December of 1983. Elliott let me add some keyboard noodling for a melody on some of the tracks, but this one sounded just fine on its own. While the song may sound a bit melancholy, we had a blast recording it. We got to stay up late, rock out, AND record. Fun stuff! What I remember most about that night is Elliott’s excitement at getting to record his songs and his determination to get through as many of them as possible.

KEVIN MOYER: For this previously unreleased track, Elliott plugged his electric guitar straight into the four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. Later on the same tape there is a recording of Elliott performing “Soul Cake”, a traditional English folk song recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary which uses the same finger picking style. Speaking of Led Zeppelin, I love that perhaps Elliott’s first live performance ever was with you all at a church function and you did “Stairway to Heaven” and “Tequila!”.

STEVE “PICKLE” PICKERING: Yes, Elliott picked “Stairway” and I picked “Tequila”. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how funny it was for young kids to be playing those songs in church!

6 Unitled Melancholy Song_photo credit to Ashley Welch

“Untitled Melancholy Song”
written and performed by Elliott Smith 1993 // Produced by Elliott Smith

KEVIN MOYER: This unreleased song comes from the same cassette as “Last Call” during the Roman Candle era. I love this one, all the changes throughout. This is one of my favorites. It has so many different parts that we could have used this anywhere in the film really.

NICKOLAS ROSSI: This felt like the right track to follow the previous song in the film. They’re right next to each other in the film, and play after together like a mix tape. It’s great to hear these early instrumentals of Elliott. I also love how he plays a pretty brave solo to his own rhythm track.

LARRY CRANE: This sure sounds like a sketch for a Heatmiser song to me. It’s crazy to hear this much soloing on any Elliott recording. While building his archives it was always interesting to come across sidetracked ideas like this.

7 Outward Bound_photo credit to Steve Pickering

“Outward Bound”
written and performed by Elliott Smith
July 1984 // Produced by Elliott Smith, Mark Merritt, Steven Pickering

KEVIN MOYER: Another unreleased song from the Texas time period, this version was considered the demo with Elliott on vocals, while other versions had Kim singing. Elliott recorded this as part of a session where he sat down at the keyboard and did solo versions of five or six songs he had been working on. This is the only version of “Outward Bound” with Elliott singing and also the only version with keyboards. The second verse really says a lot about his state of mind at the time “to live my life in the northwest…this is the life that I love best”.

STEVE “PICKLE” PICKERING: Elliott moved to Portland to live with his dad at the end of 1983/beginning of 1984, but came back to Texas to visit his mom for a few weeks in the summer of 1984. We picked up right where we left off – jamming on cover tunes and recording Elliott’s original material. He had a whole new set of songs, including some that featured lyrics…and they all had names. At this point, he didn’t really like to sing, but would do it if he had to. This version of Outward Bound was part of a set of songs that Elliott recorded as demos for the rest of the group, basically a reference to help us learn his new material. It’s one of the few times he sang the song himself. Elliott had only lived in Portland for about six months when he wrote this song, but it’s obviously a love letter to his new hometown. It’s also got a great melody and a memorable chorus. His very early songs were lyrically direct – they had a clear message, and this song fit that mold perfectly. As he got older, his lyrics got more sophisticated and less obvious. But here, at age 14, you can tell he’s really happy to be living in Portland.

8 I Love My Room_photo credit to Ashley Welch

“I Love My Room”
written and performed by Elliott Smith
1984-85 // Produced by Elliott Smith

NICKOLAS ROSSI: This song. Jaws dropped when Larry Crane played this for us at Jackpot. I could not believe how complex of an arrangement this was for a kid to compose and record at 13 or 14 years old. It really blew me away, and it was the first time I think I got the glimpse of just how incredibly talented he was years before he started playing shows. The fact that it’s like 5 minutes and long with endless changes and incredible proficiency at the piano.

KEVIN MOYER: This was recorded in Spring of 1985 in Portland during a time when Elliott was looking to get his own apartment, recorded partly in the basement of Garrick Duckler’s parent’s house. Garrick was a friend from high school who would write and record with Elliott under the moniker of “Stranger Than Fiction” and other names. We thought it might be from that, but Garrick says it isn’t a Stranger Than Fiction song, so I think it is just a really young Elliott track.

NICKOLAS ROSSI: There was a part of me that thought, would he be really embarrassed if he knew that this song he made when he was 13 years old would become widely circulated? Would he like that? Would all these photos of him as a preteen or a child be embarrassing for him? But I think there is a line where you want to portray somebody in an honest light, and you need to make sure you are always respectful of their life and the stuff they have always put out. So, there is a concern, but we were clear that the music would drive this film. The personal stuff was the personal stuff, but the music was what it was about.

KEVIN MOYER: We used this track early in the film and then also at the end of the movie during the credits, which was great since it is so long and goes on forever kind of like our credits and thanks do. I originally opposed using the track at the end during the credits because I thought it might make more sense to send people out of the theater with a more traditional Elliott track in their heads – Nickolas wanted to use it there but I just wasn’t sure. At the end of the day I think using this song to close the film was the right decision though. I think maybe the intention is also to send the audience away with that aural sense of young innocence and purity? Pointing back to how Elliott began and what he always was – someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s childhood friend. That youthful passion for music and the idea of singing a song in your room, about your room, just for the sake of singing a song in your room, for no other reason other than to do it. And he’s singing about what he sees in his room and out his window… and this is something that he would build his craft around as he evolved as an artist too… his songs were about what he was seeing. As Sean Croghan and Larry Crane and Elliott’s sister Ashley all say in the film, most often Elliott’s songs weren’t even about himself, he was writing songs about the things he saw going on all around him, and here he is as an artist employing this same creative habit and natural extension of that same young kid writing about what he sees out his bedroom window. So, i think the decision to end the movie with that odd song, I think it plays into all of these things, all of those subtexts. Plus if you were hoping to hear a standard Elliott Smith song as the last thing you hear, as you exited the theater, well then this doesn’t give that to you and maybe that makes people go out to their car and pop in their Roman Candle cassette. When we had our screening in Portland, I took a quick peek back at Joanna and Janelle and Rebecca Gates who were sitting near me and they were laughing and smiling and told me after that they loved the song used there, which helped cement that it was a good decision. Joanna actually singled that one out as one that shows a lot of what Elliott would do later, like the ambitious arrangements, and I agree that the song and all of its various parts really show where Elliott was headed. In fact, a few chords in it, I recognize as the same progression as a later song, though I can’t put my finger on it right now, but it seems like it was lifted pretty much directly from that song and used again later. And the fans seem to love this one too.

NICKOLAS ROSSI: The rough cut of the film had a scene where Larry listens to this song uninterrupted for a few minutes and just laughs. The decision to use this song at the very end of the film during the credit roll was made to help remind everyone that it was, from the very beginning, really always about the music.

KEVIN MOYER: And during this song when it plays during the end credits, if you watch and listen to the very very end, even after it seems like the song is over, you hear this haunting part of Elliott singing “See you in a while my baby… see you under the willow tree.” The first time I heard that I didn’t know it was there and I was alone and it just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. There are two versions of this song, both seem to be made around the same time period, and both use the “see you in a while my baby” part at the end, but this is the only version where it sounds whispered and haunting, and I think that last line is the perfect final words from Elliott as the theater is still dark and by now mostly empty.