Last week we covered Live from Nowhere Near You, a three-disc compilation of street and professional musicians. With profits going to homeless and street youth programs of the Pacific NW, you probably didn't need another reason to buy, but get this: it's going to include an unreleased Elliott Smith track! Apparently Smith wrote the song in high school, and recorded it all by his lonesome back in the days before Either/Or. After the jump, you can read a statement from curator and Smith friend Kevin Moyer about how the song came to be included.
Elliott Smith - "The Real Estate"
Elliott Smith and I went to the same high school in downtown Portland. Sometimes he would skip class and retreat to the music room to practice playing the drums, which always struck me as kind of funny because the drums are not exactly a quiet instrument so it was not too hard for anyone looking for a MIA student to figure out where he might be. Other times we would go downtown, since we had an open campus, and just down the street was a charity called Outside In which provided various community assistances and programs for people in need. This is the charity that the Live From Nowhere Near You effort directly benefits.
Back when I was working on Volume One, I had reached out to Elliott about contributing something— but he was in Los Angeles and out of touch with most of his Portland area friends. I think this was either smack in the middle of his downward spiral or during his subsequent rise and recovery from it. Either way, we never connected and I figured we would just try again for the next one. Sadly, a few months after the charity record was finally released, I got the news that Elliott had tragically and unexpectedly passed away. I was completely and totally devastated, and still am.
Years later, while working on Volume Two of the Live From Nowhere Near You album and with the blessing of Elliott's family, I met up with friend Larry Crane whom owns the Jackpot! Studio here in Portland. Elliott had recorded there often, even helping to put up drywall and paint when Larry was first building it. When I first met up with Larry, he had just finished mixing the posthumous Elliott release New Moon and was hard at work archiving Elliott materials as well as packing up the studio for its move to a new location.
As we sat there listening to various unreleased songs and alternate versions for inclusion consideration, there was one that Larry had found that was a surprise to everyone, and it really jumped out at me... a mystery track with no labeling or notes associated that was found just sitting there between two other known songs on a DAT tape. Neither Larry nor Elliott's family nor I had ever heard this song before finding it, and to our knowledge no one knew that this song even existed... frequent collaborators like Neil Gust and Sam Coomes had no idea what it was either, it was never played live, and even his rabid fan base had no idea!
Because of the instrumentation used and also from the reels that the track was found on, we initially figured that the recording dated from around the time of the Heatmiser House sessions, perhaps in preparation for Either/Or (my favorite album of his, by the way) or maybe even a Heatmiser album... but, we really had no idea and little to no clues at all to speculate from. Elliott plays every instrument on the track, and of course the vocals, but we are unsure of who hit the record button since he would often record alone and, again, there was no record of this song in any log or notebook to be found. It seemed that this song was recorded completely, once, and then completely forgotten.
I will never forget sitting at the mixing board in a place that Elliott used to practically call a second home, listening to his much missed voice beautifully swirling around us, as the studio was packed up into boxes. He was gone now, and the studio that he helped to build was also on its way out the door... but this last session and the circumstances of the mystery track was so surreal and fitting, I half believe that he was there.
This was the song that I decided to include.
So, then it came down to the paperwork and mixes. Larry is a champion for and a good friend to Elliott, so he likes to keep and do things as close to what and how Elliott would have likely intended them to be, so when we had to decide what to call the mystery track he suggested calling it "Untitled" or "No Name", because it was exactly that, but my concern was that the "No Name #" and "Untitled" song titles were something that Elliott had already used on past albums and I didn't think we should confuse it or suggest this track as having any lineage to those other songs. Still, appreciating the sentiments and reasoning of Larry I suggested that we indeed name the track as it was left, Untitled, but include a lyric that he repeated twice reflected after in parenthesis within the name. So, the mystery song was called "Untitled (Mailman Thinks Me Dumb)" for the first few years of our knowing that it existed.
A good while later, Larry Crane contacted me telling me that while doing more archiving, he had run across some of the old cassette tapes that Elliott had made while still in high school with his band at the time called Stranger Than Fiction. I vaguely remembered Stranger Than Fiction playing at a high school talent show and also the tapes that they had made and passed out to our friends. These tapes have since become some of the most sought after and rare of Elliott recordings, with only a song or two having turned up for the public ear. To our surprise, one of the songs on one of the tapes was this song... originally titled "The Real Estate" and co-written with high school friend Garrick Duckler. It seems that Elliott had brought the song back out and recorded it that many years later by himself for reasons unknown.
Really, I thought? Back to high school, are we going full circle here?
Larry had also found the source audio and expressed desire to do a new and better mix of the Elliott version for inclusion on the Live From Nowhere Near You: Volume Two album. This final mix— now correctly titled as "The Real Estate"— is the official version that appears on the benefit concept CD release.