The accidental star

Elliott Smith on his new album, the Oscars, and why he needs a new favorite shirt

Unlike his previous records, which he wrote and recorded largely on his own in a variety of basements and friends' houses, the new one he's working on is his first to be recorded in a real recording studio. "It's got more instruments on it, because there's more instruments here. I've never been in a pro place before, and then usually I just play whatever instruments are around. And it's especially fun if I don't know how to play them yet," he laughs. "On the last record, there were a lot of limitations, because I didn't want to have to keep getting up and rewinding the machine, so like the way the drums sound and stuff like that is just a total accident. It's like, put the machine on record, sit on the drums and play them and make sure the meters were moving, and then walk over and turn it on and play it. Unless it sounded really bad, I'd just go with that."

A little more than a year later, he's gone from recording himself on a basement four-track to hiring string quartets for a major-label release. "Well, we'll see how that goes. They're supposed to be tension-creating strings, not like sentimental, let's-warm-this-up type of strings," he says. "It's something to try. I don't plan to make each record get bigger and wider and huger. In fact, the next one might be straight acoustic; I don't know."

What he does know is that, having survived the Oscars, he plans to keep things simple. "I'll go back to playing music and not being an Academy Award nominee," he says. "That'll be"--he pauses--"just fine.

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