New York-based singer-songwriter Andrew Alarcon has released his latest EP, “Confusion,” a heartfelt tribute to the late Elliott Smith, marking the 20th anniversary of Smith’s passing. Alarcon, inspired by artists like Radiohead, Thrice, and Fleet Foxes, pays homage with three covers of Smith’s songs, including one never recorded in the studio.
Alarcon’s journey in music, significantly influenced by Elliott Smith, led him to re-imagine three of Smith’s tracks. The EP is a result of Alarcon’s admiration for Smith’s guitar playing and vocal prowess, elements that initially inspired him to sing and write songs.
The title track, “Confusion,” is a unique take on an unreleased Smith song, requiring Alarcon to interpret and piece together varying live recordings. The goal was to stay true to Smith’s spirit, with Alarcon taking creative liberties in certain parts to maintain the song’s essence. “LA” and “Amity,” the other two covers, showcase Alarcon’s desire to add a slightly more aggressive and rougher edge to Smith’s original works, echoing the Beatles’ influence on Smith.
The recording process, involving Alarcon’s brother Alexis and collaborators Raphael Carleton and Christian Billard of Defiant Audio, was a labor of love, aiming to present these songs in a way that Smith might have envisioned. The EP stands as a testament to Alarcon’s deep connection with Smith’s music and his own evolution as a musician influenced by Smith’s legacy.
“Confusion” is not just a collection of covers; it’s a narrative of musical influence, artistic interpretation, and tribute to an artist who profoundly impacted the indie rock scene and Andrew Alarcon’s musical path.
“I probably wouldn’t have started singing had I not discovered Elliott Smith. Prior to his music, I would make small attempts at singing my favorite City & Colour or Radiohead songs, with pretty bad results, so I just stuck to guitar for the time being. But when I first heard the song Alameda by Elliott Smith, I was floored.” – comments Andrew.
“I was blown away at his guitar playing and how his vocal lines would match with whatever he was picking. Learning how to play and sing that song was the first step in becoming the musician I am today.
Fast forward to 11 years later, I have one acoustic DIY album under my belt, Mute at Midnight, and a more ambitious studio record in the making (with a 2024 release window).
Discovering Elliott’s music back in 2012 lit the torch for me to start writing my own songs, and I haven’t looked back since. This last October marked the 20th anniversary of his passing, so I wanted to make a tribute to him for how much his music means to me, and to so many other of his fans and musicians as well.
So, these are the three songs of his I chose to record in the studio with some friends and family (Raphael Carleton and Christian Billard of Defiant Audio, and my brother Alexis Alarcon).”
Sometime in July I had the thought of finding an unreleased song of his and recording my own version of it. I downloaded this huge folder that had countless live tracks and studio recordings that were never officially released, some of which you can find on YouTube channels.
There were some other contender tracks that caught my eye, like No Life, Flowers for Charlie, and No Confidence Man. But then I found Confusion. I loved the guitar intro (actually pretty difficult to nail down, but so are many of his other songs).
I also loved how piano centric the song was, and of course the melody was beautiful. It was pretty difficult trying to figure out the lyrics for some portions of the song though. To my knowledge, there are only live recordings that exist, with varying lyrics amongst them.
There were also parts in these recordings where its pretty tough to make out what Elliott is singing, so I had to take some creative liberties in finding the right words to sing, and which ones that fit best within the context of the rest of the lyrics. Similar obstacles came with learning the exact chords and bass parts for this song.
But my main goal was to stay true to the spirit of the song as much as possible, and not change things too dramatically. I think the end product is a pretty good idea of how it would have sounded had Elliott gotten around to it in the studio.
LA is one of Elliott’s more upbeat tunes. Honestly what attracted me the most to this song were all of the guitars and vocal harmonies throughout the track.
I love the kickass main riff on the guitars, and the lead guitar in the chorus was just so fun to play. Layering all the vocals for the final chorus in the song really gave me huge Beatles vibes, which is no surprise considering how much Elliott loved them. For my take on the song, I wanted it to be a bit more aggressive and a little faster.
I was pretty obsessed with getting the right guitar and bass tones, especially the lead guitar in the chorus. I really wanted that bass to sound super thick and present.
I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.
I remember a few years ago when I was learning a ton of Elliott Smith songs, I would listen to Amity and say to myself “Yea there is absolutely no way I can play that song, there’s so much going on and way too difficult.”
But sometime this summer I realized that the 25th Anniversary of XO was around the corner, and I really wanted to challenge myself to not only learn how to play this song, but to make my own studio version from the ground up.
I always loved how this song has so many ideas jam packed into it in just under 2 and a half minutes. I wanted my version to sound a bit rougher and more aggressive, much like how I did LA a few months prior. My brother and I got to the studio around 11 in the morning, and we finished the entire track about 5 hours later.
We were in a rush because we had tickets to see Queens of the Stone Age in Forest Hills that night lol. I think being in a rush really did the recording justice though, giving us little room for error but also to just go with the flow of things and not be in a perfectionist mindset.
I just finished reading a biography called Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing, and there’s a part (I’m paraphrasing) that mentions how Elliott didn’t really like how polished XO and Figure 8 were.
So I think these versions of Amity and LA might give us a closer listen to how Elliott wanted them to originally sound.