“I’m happy some of the time, and some of the time I’m not,” said Elliott Smith in a 1998 interview with journalist Barney Hoskyns. The audio recording of the pair’s conversation is the latest interview to get the animation treatment for PBS’ Blank on Blank web series.
Recorded a few weeks after Smith performed “Miss Misery” at the 1998 Oscars, the soft-spoken singer-songwriter candidly talks about freaks, dependents and chaos in the new clip. “There’s a bunch of Elvis Costello records that, when I was in high school, just made all the difference between feeling like a total freak and feeling like only a freak,” Smith said with a laugh. “A freak among other freaks.”
Both Hoskyns and Smith make a point to reference the addicts portrayed in Smith’s music as “dependents.” “It’s good to call them dependents because that was the point, as opposed to them being songs strictly about drugs,” Smith explained. “There’s lots of ways people can be dependent, on another person or drugs.”
Hoskyns spoke with Smith in the middle of his career’s biggest year. Following the Oscar nomination and performance, Smith was signed to DreamWorks and made his major label debut with the album XO, released that August.
Around that record’s release, Smith spoke with Rolling Stone, noting a desire similar to the one he mentions at the end of the Blank on Blank clip to find a place to live that was nicer and less angry. “I don’t want to be around so much anger,” remarked Smith bluntly.
In 2003, at age 34, Smith passed away from a stab wound to the chest that was suspected to be self-inflicted. Ever since, a continuous stream of projects honoring his memory and legacy have occurred, including a recent announcement that Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers and Jessica Lee Mayfield are preparing to release an album of Smith covers this March.
Regarding his own music, Smith noted the balance of “sweetness and pain” he was able to strike in his interview with Hoskyns. “Certain songs just feel a way that’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It’s not happy and it’s also not really sad, but I couldn’t say what it is.”
Smith’s installment follows a series of short episodes highlighting poignant, candid interviews with both living and dead artists. Michael Jackson, Wayne Coyne and Robin Williams are just a few of the many people to get audio clips of their conversations with various journalists animated for the collection.