For months, veteran Washington State indie label Kill Rock Stars has been trickling out tracks from its thirtieth birthday comp Stars Rock Kill, but over the holidays that trickle became a flood. After a bunch more singles dropped in December, the full album landed on New Year’s Eve. It’s 63 tracks long, all new covers of songs by the label’s artists. Leading the pack was Elliott Smith, who got covered thirteen separate times. And in a sign of the depth of his catalog, every single artist picked a different song.
The most recognizable names here are probably singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, who place with Neko Case and k.d. lang in the case/lang/veirs supergroup, and Ruth Radelet, her first solo single after her band Chromatics broke up last year. But those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
As you’d probably guess from the source material, the versions lean towards the acoustic and folky, but there are notable exceptions. Israeli rocker Tamar Aphek brings in strings and synths for a wildly reimagined “Speed Trials.” Newbie Mikaela Davis, who appeared in our Elliott Smith covers spotlight back in 2015, and lifer Mary Lou Lord blend shoegaze and vocal harmonies on “Some Song.” ’90s punk band Team Dresch roars through “St. Ides Heaven. And 16-year-old singer Lucy Lowis does it both ways, a quieter “Say Yes” followed by an amped-up “No Name No. 1.”
The full 63-track album is available to stream or purchase at Bandcamp. To get you started, here are the 13 Elliott Smith covers. All the artists wrote nice notes about what Smith’s music means to them, so I’ve included those too.
Crazy fucker has always been a tune that has really jumped out at me. Elliott’s early work has a beautiful rawness that can’t really be described; you just have to listen to the songs. We recorded this before any studio version was released, so we had to guess what some of the lyrics were. I think because of that, we have put a bit of our own spin on this track. Shane’s production and Mellotron part holds it all together and keeps it true to Elliott’s style. This project meant so much to us to be a part of; Elliott’s music has touched both of our lives dearly.
In my life I have probably really really loved about five things. Elliott Smith is one of them. I go on annual binges (which are generally an indication of a ‘certain’ state of mind ha) and watching one of the documentaries about him once plunged me into a three month depression. ‘Either/or’ was my favourite for a long time and I used to cover 2.45am regularly as a treat granted me by the band Batrider I played in at the time. I have played tribute nights, done fan portraits, and bored hundreds of people senseless about my Elliott Smith related opinions. I’m a huge huge fan and it’s truly an honour and a life long dream to do something with the label that managed to send his music all the way to rural New Zealand, where it broke my heart and put it back together in a more interesting shape.
We can’t imagine a world without this record label. Nothing would be the same if Kill Rock Stars hadn’t sprung up in 1991, in the hands of Slim Moon and Tinuviel Sampson, giving control and license and fair splits to their bands, and releasing groundbreaking raw punk beauty into the world. Political movements spoke through the platform and an entire era of music was spawned into life. That life has kept giving birth again and again to phenomenal-masterpiece-genius artists. We had the good fortune of knowing and playing with Elliott in the Portland Oregon scene of the 90s. We were all as heartbroken as everybody else over his death, and as it always is with a songwriter whose songs have such haunting depth, his music is his spirit living on.
We decided to cover St. Ides Heaven, because it’s one of our favorite songs. The harmonies between Elliott and Rebecca Gates push and pull at your guts and the elegance of the melodies melt you into the musical void. We put our own Team sound to it, while trying to maintain the integrity of the original composition. The song was recorded by the awesome Adam Selzer in Portland Oregon, mixed by longtime collaborator John Goodmanson’s divine ear, and not possible without Rob Jones at the helm. St. Ides Heaven is an absolutely beautiful song, we feel honored to have been asked to record it, and lucky as hell to be part of the celebration of Kill Rock Stars turning 30!
Growing up in Portland, I couldn’t help but be influenced by Elliott Smith – his music was just in the water there. I still feel a sort of homesick nostalgia every time I hear one of his songs, and I’ll forever associate his music with the rainy weather and the gritty, small town feeling Portland had back then.
Elliott was a brilliant songwriter, and I have always been blown away by his ability to craft such lovely, catchy melodies around devastatingly sad lyrics. Twilight is a beautiful example of that, and one of my favorite songs he ever wrote. I first had the idea to cover it many years ago and am grateful for the opportunity to do so for Kill Rock Stars, who have released so much of Elliott’s work and have been such an important force in Northwest music history.
This one’s for you Elliott, thank you for everything.
I went through a phase a few years ago of learning Elliott Smith songs. I recorded this version of “Between the Bars” into my iPhone in 2018. I am blown away by Elliott’s lyricism, singing, guitar playing and songwriting and find him an eternal inspiration in all of those realms. I find deep joy in learning and embodying his music. I had the pleasure of seeing him play solo one time in Seattle at Chop Suey in the late 90s. I know that many people in the PNW still miss him dearly.
KRS was one of the reasons I became a musician, and one with a DIY spirit and set of ethics. I was playing in an all-girl punk band in Minnesota in 1996 when I was turned on to Bikini Kill. I wrote a letter to the band and the drummer Tobi Vail wrote me back a very encouraging note. This was a major shot in the arm. My friends and I listened to Bikini Kill albums on repeat. About ten years later KRS founder Slim Moon became my manager and helped me build my career in substantial ways (and KRS released some of my albums as well). I am grateful for the ethos of the label and for the amazing music that has sprung forth from it for over the past 30 years. The longevity of the label speaks to the spirit and tenacity of the souls involved in it, and I’m glad to have been a part of KRS-related things over time and also now.
Hey! I love this song and so does Josh Roberts, the guitarist you hear on this track. Josh recorded it. When I sang it, I saw my younger self, playing under some big trees with Elliott and Josh. In my imagination, we were around 7. Thanks Slim for your song suggestion! Enjoy!
Elliott Smith’s musical legacy is an enduring inspiration and influence to many people, including Lucy Lowis. Elliott’s timeless songs, combined with his history with the seminal Kill Rock Stars label, makes him a daunting artist to pay tribute to. However, singer/songwriter Lucy Lowis manages to honor the original music while putting their own creative spin and stylings on Elliott’s songs “Say Yes” and “No Name # 1.” We hope you enjoy the new renditions.
I became familiar with Elliot Smith and Kill Rock Stars with this song, that opened the door for me to enjoy music in a different way, maybe a more philosophical one. I felt that this song was a bit different than the songs I usually enjoyed up till then. I felt it had an interactive influence on me. It’s the kind of song that makes you think a bit and ask yourself why am I so interested in it? I felt that I don’t enjoy it automatically but rather philosophically, it enters and reaches the lowest depths of the soul and makes you wonder about life, facing reality, planning the future and so on. I feel this song forces you to stop everything you’re doing and ask yourself why am I doing it? What is the purpose of all my efforts? So in my performance I wanted to give it another interpretation namely to take it easy and just try to enjoy what you get in life and stop being so ambitious for a certain period of time. I asked the animation artist to listen to my interpretation and translate it to his own artistic world. So the outcome is the antithesis of the Disney concept of the price and the princess living happily ever after. This was his own translation to my musical interpretation of the song.
When I was 13 I heard “Stupidity Tries” and it truly changed my life forever. ‘Figure 8’ had recently come out. His changes and lyrics instantly became life-vests to me. I didn’t know anyone who called that particular kind bullshit out, it was… punk. The smartest, most soulful, beautiful, classic pop kind of punk. For me Kill Rockstars is where Elliott exists at his purest and his most alive. I can’t tell you what a milestone it is for me to cover him with Kill Rock Stars.
From Mary Lou:
I first heard “Some Song” among the many early Elliott songs. I am from Salem, MA, and Halloween has always been a big deal in my hometown. I chose “Some Song” because it’s so haunting, and also very human. I love this song because it’s slow-burning and very intense, and I think it describes a certain human condition of madness and normal. A mask, but one that can be removed or put on at any given time.
When Mary Lou asked my band to record a song with her, we were so excited, since we’ve all been massive Elliott Smith and Mary Lou Lord fans for over a decade. I first heard the Needle In The Hay 7” version of “Some Song” from 1995 where Elliott says, “Hello, hello, hello. This is a rock song. Loud, loud, loud” before starting. What a cheeky thing to say before delivering a song that is solo acoustic guitar and vocals, I thought. We decided to reference the alternate electric version released on the deluxe edition of XO in 2019… seems like that’s what Elliott originally intended for the song.