Elliott Smith on his approach to songwriting

Elliott Smith was an American songwriter born in Nebraska, raised in Texas, and lived for much of his life in Portland, Oregon.

Smith released a number of albums under his own name from 1993, until his tragic death in 2003. The autopsy ruled the cause of death as ‘inconclusive’.

In the interview below Smith plays guitar and discusses his approach to songwriting, saying:

“I don’t think about it in terms of language, I think about it in shapes. That’s an interesting thing to talk about, but it’s difficult… you know. I’m really in to chord changes. That was the thing I liked when I was a kid. I don’t make up a riff, it’s usually a sequence that has some implied melody in it.”

He continues with advice to stop overthinking and worrying about what you think other people want to hear:

“I think it’s easy if you just relax and quit thinking about what you *think* other people want to hear. You know? If you can keep finding new things, just things you personally like about music, put it into the blender and see what comes out. If you like it there must be something good about it because you liked it, right? 

“Whereas that’s not necessarily true of a million selling record. There’s some records that sell millions of copies that it’s really unclear if anybody liked it who was making it, you know? 

“I think it’s just hard for people because they get… you just have to give yourself a little confidence to do what you personally like and not get all bogged down with what you *think * people want to hear. If you see someone playing music that they really like it’s really compelling, regardless of what style it is, I think.”

And on not paying attention to the names of chords you play, instead going by ear. Discussing chords from the song Son of Sam, he says:

“I think it’s some kind of D7, but it has an E in it. I don’t know what it’s really called, but I like it!”

Here's the video in full:

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