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Portland Music Producer Larry Crane Revisits Elliott Smith's 'Either/Or'


April Baer talks with Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon and Jackpot Recording Studio's Larry Crane

April Baer talks with Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon and Jackpot Recording Studio's Larry Crane

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Larry Crane met Elliott Smith at a house party in 1996 where Smith seemed more interested in Crane’s home recording studio than the social festivities. The week after, Smith returned to Crane’s house to record the vocals for “Pictures of Me” because his own equipment was broken. From there, the two became fast friends and collaborators.

Twenty years later, Crane is still running the Portland music landmark he built with Smith’s help, Jackpot! Recording Studios. Crane also publishes “Tape Op” magazine, and serves as the archivist of Elliott Smith’s estate. 

This March, Kill Rock Stars released “Either/Or: Expanded Edition,” a double album including a remastering of Smith’s seminal “Either/Or” album as well as a collection of demos and live recordings provided by Larry Crane.

Last week, OPB celebrated Smith’s 20-year legacy with a live concert event in-studio, featuring performances from musicians like Catherine Feeny and Sean Croghan. Larry Crane spoke with April Baer at the event about his work with Smith and his unique musical perspective. Here are some highlights from our interview.  

On Elliott Smith’s mixture of beauty and grit:

“I think it was just a natural place to exist. As recording engineer, I go back to ‘Either/Or’ and I can make some of these songs sound better, but [that] doesn’t make them emotionally better. There’s a grittiness in the tonal quality of these songs that reflects the lyrics and makes them stronger. That’s one reason we didn’t remix anything on this record.”

On Smith’s intimate live shows:

“On the extended disc, you can hear the Yoyo A GoGo show that summer after this record came out. I left all talking in I could. You hear him shout out to his sister, Ashley, hear him talking to the audience. He was a great show. The masterful guitar playing would stun rooms. There was a show where someone said, ‘We can’t see you,’ at the balcony at [the now-defunct Portland club] La Luna and he goes, ‘If you all sat on the floor you could see me.’ And everyone all sits on the floor.”

On the emotional and lyrical depth of “Either/Or”: 

“I think one of the reasons this record has been successful over time, not out of the gate, is there’s a lot to dig through. When an artist puts out a work with a lot of density to it and a lot of layers, it’s very appealing to keep going back and dig more out of it.”

On the remastering process of “Either/Or”:

“If someone would compare the two versions, you wouldn’t hear a lot of difference. The things we tried to remove are things that sound like electrical clicks and take distractions away. But we’d be very careful if there was a rustling noise, like at beginning of “Pictures of Me”, we’d be careful not to change that. Leave the human in there making the music. We want the sense that there’s someone there.”

“Either/Or: Expanded Edition” is out now on Kill Rock Stars and is available digitally or on double CD or double LP. The second disc features recordings from the Yoyo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Washington, as well as some of Smith’s lost songs like “I Figured You Out” and an alternate version of “Bottle Up and Explode.”

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