Lauded singer-songwriter Elliott Smith returned to record stores this week with "Figure 8," his first album since his 1998 major-label debut, "XO."
A quick glance at the title of the LP's first single, "Son Of Sam," would appear to suggest that the track was inspired by notorious serial killer David Berkowitz, who earned that nickname during a 1977 murder spree in New York City that left six dead. Yet, as is the case with many of Smith's songs, the subject matter of "Son Of Sam" isn't so easy to tie down.
"I didn't know what, if anything in particular, I was going on about by [using the name] 'Son Of Sam,'" Smith said in a recent interview with MTV News. "My friend Sam Coomes from Quasi was on tour with me for most of last year. But then there's also Uncle Sam, and then there's the serial killer Son Of Sam. It's certainly not about him.
a] pretty impressionistic song about destruction and creativity," he explained. "Shiva is in it -- the Hindu deity of destruction and creativity -- as sort of a positive symbol of destruction. But past that point, I really couldn't say what it's about." [RealVideo]
An equally enigmatic video for "Son Of Sam" debuted on "120 Minutes" last week, and the clip finds Smith following a red balloon though an urban landscape distinguished by roadside murals, freeways, and median strips.
While the clip most explicitly calls to mind the 1956 film "Le Ballon Rouge" by Albert Lamorisse, its use of black and white still photographs to convey movement suggests another classic French short, the 1962 landmark "La Jetée" by Chris Marker.
Marker's atmospheric film helped inspire the concept of "Son Of Sam," which was helmed by visual artist and first-time director Autumn DeWilde, a friend of Smith's who also took
the photographs found on the "Figure 8" album package.
"[DeWilde] was talking a lot about that movie, 'La Jetée,' which I think is really cool," Smith said. "It's all stills, except for one little moment where someone's eyes open, and that's the only moving part of it.
"There was some of that, and some... not trying to cop 'The Red Balloon,' but there was something kind of interesting about following around an inflated thing," he continued. "It could represent many things; definitely something that you have some desire for in some way or another. [RealVideo]
"I don't really care if I fully understand [the video
concept], as long as it kind of feels a
certain way, and then it gives my imagination room to walk around in it," Smith explained. "I kind of like it for that."
A less abstract aspect of the shoot was Smith's co-star, the red balloon. The methods of keeping the balloon in check made for a few unexpected experiences during the filming.
"Some of it was pretty funny to make, because it's pretty hard to control a balloon," Smith recalled. "So there [were] a couple of, like, 'balloon wranglers,' and various devices to try and manipulate the course a balloon would take through the air -- it's a combination of big poles with monofilaments -- and at other times, it would just be free-floating, and I would just go where it went. [RealVideo]
"It could have been pretty frustrating, if it wasn't so comical," he said.
to his new video,
which is currently a "Hand Picked" selection on MTV2, Smith can be seen on the airwaves during Friday night's installment of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Smith plans to perform "Son Of Sam" on the show, which airs at 12:30 a.m. (ET) on NBC.
The singer-songwriter will next turn his attention to a North American outing with a full band, including drummer Scott McPherson of Sense Field, keyboardist Aaron Embry (brother of actor Ethan Embry), and Quasi's Sam Coomes on bass.
To check out Elliott Smith on the road, here's where to find him:
- 5/5 - Dallas, TX @ Trees
- 5/6 - Austin, TX @ La Zona Rosa
- 5/8 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
- 5/9 - Nashville, TN @ 328 Performance Hall
- 5/10 - Raleigh, NC @ The Ritz
- 5/12 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 5/13 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
- 5/15 - Boston, MA @ The Roxy
- 5/16 - Providence, RI @ Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel
- 5/17 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 5/18 - New York, NY @ Irving
- 5/19 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 5/20 - Winooski, VT @ Higher Ground
- 5/22 - Montreal, QC @ Le Spectrum
- 5/23 - Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
- 5/24 - Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
- 5/25 - Chicago, IL @ Metro / Smart Bar
- 5/26 - Chicago, IL @ Metro / Smart Bar
- 5/27 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
- 5/29 - Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
- 5/31 - Seattle, WA @ Show Box
- 6/1 - Seattle, WA @ Show Box
- 6/2 - Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
- 6/5 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
- 6/6 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
- 6/7 - Hollywood, CA @ The Palace
- 6/8 - Hollywood, CA @ The Palace