The Paw Print

The Paw Print

The Paw Print

Elliott Smith’s Legacy Living on


Elliott Smith was an American singer-songwriter who was self-taught on guitar and piano. Smith is best known for his alternative and indie-rock driven songs with his “whispery” voice and his heavy use of multi-tracking to layer vocals and create harmonies. Despite the very acoustic and stripped-down melodies in the better part of his discography, he was previously part of a melancholic rock band, Heatmiser, before splitting off to make music of his own. Smith released 5 studio albums and was working on his 6th album when he died at age 34, which was then released after his death.

Each album of Elliott Smith’s seemed cleaner than the last as he became more experimental in the studio. Smith began his career in a basement and eventually worked his way up to a major label. The core factor of his music is the vulnerable simplicity of his songs which is evident throughout his entire discography. These core feelings remained even when his music became more produced in the studio, compared to his first albums which were almost entirely stripped down. For example, Smith’s 5th album Figure 8 showcases the way he utilized the studio to take his music to the next level, but you can still almost hear how the songs on this album would’ve sounded if they were less produced, like his early music.

Just like any musician, Elliott Smith had many inspirations that heavily influenced his music. Smith stated that he first realized he wanted to become a musician after hearing The White Album by the Beatles, “It was pretty much my inspiration, that and AC/DC,” said Smith in an interview just before the release of Figure 8. The Beatles’ influences are very evident in Smith’s Figure 8, which was even partly recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. The folk side of his music was heavily influenced by the singer-songwriter poet, Leonard Cohen. Smith was also influenced by Bob Dylan, who was one of his favorite musicians. Smith stated “I love Dylan’s lyrics, but more than that, I love the fact that he loves writing lyrics,” showing the influence that Dylan had on Smith’s lyrics. Elliott Smith’s inspirations shaped his songwriting process and style. 

Although Elliott Smith may be gone physically, his musical legacy lives on through the many artists that he has influenced. Smith has influenced modern artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Frank Ocean, and Clairo. 

When Phoebe Bridgers released her second record, Punisher,  she opened up about the heavy influence that Elliott Smith had on her songwriting and producing process, “It’s like The Beatles to me, and I mean that in every way,” said Bridgers in an interview with NPR in 2020. Smith’s influences are heard through her somber lyrics, as well as the stripped-back instrumentals and vocals present throughout her albums. Bridgers even goes so far as to reference Smith throughout her songs on the record, particularly on the title track “Punisher.” From referencing details of his life and where he lives, “the house where you lived with Snow White,” to referring to specific lyrics of his, “A copycat killer with a chemical cut,” paralleling Smith’s “Son of Sam”. Elliott Smith’s influences are found in every corner of her discography, which makes her songwriting more special than it already is. 

Upon Frank Ocean’s release of his album Blonde, he identified a list of contributors on influences of the album, including Elliott Smith. Although the main genre of Blonde may not align with Smith’s indie-folk feel, Smith’s influences are clear in the lyricism. Smith’s lyrics are very vulnerable and introspective, similar to the lyrics throughout Blonde. Smith’s influences are particularly evident in the 15th track, “Seigfried,” where Frank Ocean takes lyrics directly from Smith’s song “A fond Farewell,” with the lyrics, “This is not my life / It’s just a fond farewell to a friend.”

Another artist influenced by Elliott Smith is the singer-songwriter, Clairo. The influences of Elliott Smith are clear in her sophomore album, Sling. Similar to Smith, Claio multi-tracked her vocals and harmonies with her relaxed voice, particularly on the songs “Bambi” and “Reaper”. Smith’s influences are seen through her album as many of the songs are very stripped-down, with many lyrics that have a very similar feel to Smith. 

Many young artists who drive the music industry today continue to keep Elliott Smith’s legacy alive by using him as a main influence in their music. Elliott Smith deserves to remain a household name in the world of music.

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About the Contributor
Gillian Amrein, Staff Writer
Gillian Amrein is a Senior at Heritage and is very excited for her second year in journalism! Gillian is excited to play her 4th year of softball at Heritage this year. When she’s not writing in her free time, she loves listening to music and crocheting. Gillian is very excited to learn and write this year in journalism.