Remembering Elliott Smith: Q&A with Kevin Moyer

He’s been gone since 2003, but his gift lives on and continues to strike a chord with legions of music lovers, some of whom are only now discovering the music of Elliott Smith for the very first time. This weekend, KXT is beyond honored to present this weekend’s screenings of the documentary Heaven Adores You at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. Producer and music supervisor Kevin Moyer will be on hand for Friday and Saturday’s 8 p.m. screenings and Q&A’s, and was kind enough to answer an email Q&A with KXT’s Gini Mascorro.

Gini: How long had this project been in the works?

Kevin: Well, our director Nickolas Rossi and one of the other producers named J.T. Gurzi are the guys who started this whole thing, not to mention filmed all of the beautiful shots that you see on screen, and those two launched the Kickstarter campaign back in 2011 – and I know that they were probably working on it at least a year or so before that, too. I came on board after I noticed the Kickstarter campaign and reached out offering my help, and that was probably around early 2012, and then the three of us began to film and put the story together. That was lots of trips for them to Portland, us all down to Los Angeles and Texas, and Nickolas captured the New York stuff because that’s where he calls home. Lots of sleeping on floors and going through the music to see what fits with the story that was forming on screen. That was the fun part of it all. After shooting all of it, Nickolas holed up in his apartment putting it all together into a rough edit that he showed to his friend and mentor Marc Smolowitz, who I think had kind of been giving Nickolas unofficial support all along, too. He saw the stuff we did, said some very nice words, and then officially joined the team and literally put us on his shoulders and carried us across the finish line during post production. So, it’s been about four or five years of work I would say, at least, and if you count the very first time that any footage was actually shot – when Nickolas went down to the solutions wall the day after Elliott’s death and captured the fans leaving notes and their remembrances – then it’s really been in progress for even longer, or at least a long germinating seed of an idea that we’ve all been watering at different times for the past few years, hoping that it would someday blossom. And now it has! And I guess we are trying to give flowers to everyone.

Gini: Were any of Elliott Smith’s friends, fellow players or colleagues hesitant at first to go on camera and talk about him?

Kevin: Yes, of course. It’s a very sensitive subject, for everyone really. Just losing a friend like that, and the media and questions that come with it can often be very callous, and everyone around him has endured it and felt hurt by it. So it’s easy to just lock up and not participate. And not to mention that a lot of people didn’t have or ever get any closure on a lot of things that were going on with their relationship with him, either. Many of us, myself included, were just sick of how the media focused on what we felt like were the wrong things, like his death rather than his life, or just the further propagating and building of the whole Elliott myth. My thought was that we can’t really complain about them doing that if we don’t speak up when we have the opportunity to do so. We can’t add to the conversation with a closed mouth. So it was also an effort to get the people who knew him best to speak about him instead of letting people who didn’t do it for us. So when we approached people to go on camera it was really trying to come from a place of complete understanding and total appreciation and lean on the trust that I already had with many of them, and just being respectful of them and their place and what they felt comfortable with sharing. And kind of just doing it for Elliott too. I mean, it’s a scary thing for people to go on camera in the first place, about anything, just knowing that whatever you say will become permanent record and perhaps be seen by many; and then on top of that it is such a difficult and personal subject, too. It was not a decision that any of them made lightly. So yeah, we had lots of commiserating and lots of conversations leading up to filming them, and at the end of the day they really they just put their trust in us, and that wasn’t something that any of us took lightly and we appreciate them immensely. It often felt like a bit of a therapy session or at least a purging of some bottled up emotions, and I think that comes across on screen. The thing that means the most to me is that almost everyone we spoke to said they were happy they did it afterwards and that felt good to hopefully have added a positive to what was previously a negative.

Gini: The conversations are so intimate, so heartfelt.

Kevin: I agree. Elliott surrounded himself, usually, with really high quality people. Beautiful people, inside and out. Just like he was. And the fact that all of those people said such lovely things about him, some even when they still might’ve been hurting a bit or without closure on some things with him, that not only speaks to Elliott’s own character, but also to the high level of theirs, too. You can tell that everyone really cared, and I know that he felt the same way about them, too.

Gini: How do you feel about the resurgence of love of Elliott Smith, especially for this whole new wave of music lovers?

Kevin: I love it. Everyone should hear his music. If our project helps get his music into more people’s ears, then that’s the most important thing. This film isn’t about us. This film is about Elliott and his music – and hopefully telling people why we all loved him and the art that he left us. Like music critic John Chandler says in the film: go out and buy everything he has ever done, because there’s a place for it on your shelf and in your life.

It’s funny. The other day a package came to our door and it was for my wife – and she had ordered some CD’s from Amazon. They were both Elliott albums! I said to her, you’ve been hearing these songs nonstop for the past three years that I’ve been working on the movie, you’ve heard me going through all of his music including alternate versions while we figured out what songs to include, and then you’ve heard them again countless times as we watched all of the edits and rough cuts and then attended the screenings, and plus you know I have digital files of all of this stuff already, and I can’t believe that you are not just sick of hearing it at least a little bit. And she said “I just really felt like I needed to have the albums.” And I agree with her. It’s like his songs can be love letters, and it’s not the same to just have someone say it to you. You really want to have that torn up tear-stained piece of paper and the envelope it came in to save in a box under your bed, and to pull out and reread whenever you need to feel that emotion. His songs just really have a way of connecting to people, even still.

Gini: You knew Elliott from the Portland days – and Portland, as a city, almost comes off as a character in the film. What was it about Portland that struck such a chord with him?

Kevin: You know, that comes up a lot and I agree with it, but I don’t think it was the intention. In a lot of ways Portland represents Elliott and in the same ways he definitely represented Portland. He started his professional career here, and so many of his songs fit with the city, he name drops so many streets and places around here, and the vibe of it all just feels very Portland. But we wanted to make each city a character in the story that we were showing. Lots of images of trains and planes and cars and buses – visually showing him moving around the country and evolving as his career did, but yeah the Portland stuff just hits really hard. He sounds like Portland, he feels like Portland. But maybe I am biased, of course.

Gini: Did he ever open up much about his Dallas days?

Kevin: He didn’t talk of Texas too much, to be honest. But he did have a tattoo of the state of Texas on his arm to remind himself of where he came from. And, um, I guess you could say that he took lots of Texas with him when he left.

Gini: The reaction to the films at various screenings has been overwhelmingly positive. Is there anything you and the filmmakers wish you’d done differently?

Kevin: I wish that we had been able to have a surprise twist ending instead, where Elliott is still alive and here with us and still making his beautiful music.

Gini: Are plans still underway for a commercial release of the film? How about a soundtrack?

Kevin: We plan to distribute the film worldwide on a variety of formats and we should be able to announce something really, really soon. It is our intention for everyone who wants to see it, to be able to see it, and we are about to be able to make that happen. You know, he’s not around to go on tour anymore, so hopefully this film can help to keep his music top of mind and serve as an introduction to hopefully new fans also instead. His music really does hold up. It’s as relevant and relatable today as it was the day he did it. Regarding the potential for release of an album of the music that is heard in the film, all I can say about that is “maybe” with a wink and my fingers crossed.


For more information on the screenings and Q&A’s with Kevin Moyer, visit the Texas Theatre website. More info on the documentary can be found here.