the accidental rock star
written by joanne huffa

elliott smith
with jr. high. thursday, april 1. opera house, 735 queen e. $15

in the year that has elapsed since elliott smith sang his academy award-nominated "miss misery" to an auditorium bursting with movie stars, he has been featured in almost every magazine. yet he's avoided becoming a household name.

"now there are more people who come to check it out because they heard about it somewhere," says smith, "or somebody told them that they're supposed to like me. it's a little weird, but most of the time it's fine. there's a higher percentage of guys that their girlfriends brought along." he snickers at the thought. "they stand there and look at me like, 'what the fuck is this?' "

his recent albums -- 1997's either/or and 1998's xo -- are heartbreaking gems. as a singer-songwriter, he conveys enormous amounts of emotion within three-to-four-minute time-frames. but while his songs often lay bare his pain, smith is soft-spoken and guarded when discussing fame, dreamworks (the label he signed to after leaving indie stalwarts kill rock stars) and his songwriting.

"it's hard to use your mental space to make up songs when it feels like you're constantly being put under a microscope," he explains. "it's great if people like what somebody's doing, but it tends to make the person feel really weird. i'm not complaining exactly, but it changes things. knowing that some people are going to take apart whatever you do as soon as it comes out makes it kind of... you have to expend effort trying to forget about that."

smith has been on the road without a pause since xo was released. "my stuff is in storage in new york," he says. "i've been on tour for so long i decided to let my apartment go." that didn't have as big an effect on smith's life as one might expect. "having virtually no time that's not already organized makes songwriting hard, but i'm not one of those people who loves being at home. it doesn't really matter." if he could have a lot of time to himself, smith would "probably write a lot of songs. that's my favorite part. playing the same songs over and over and over...," he says with a sigh. "it's a lot more fun to make up new ones."

to stave off boredom, smith mixes things up for his live set. "i don't play all the songs [from xo] all the time. i play some new songs and i switch out the old songs when i get really sick of them," he laughs. "there was a time when i got sick of all of them, but i just kept playing them. it's just the thing I do almost every day." smith spent some of last year working on new material at abbey road studio, and his next album is almost half-recorded. unfortunately, it won't be released until next january because he's spending so much time "touring for the last one. plus, it always takes a long time for the record company to do all the things they need to do to set it up."

in spite of red tape, though, smith remains positive about his deal with dreamworks. "they've been really good to me, so i don't have any complaints. i mean, i was happy being on kill rock stars and i didn't plan on going on to a major label, but that's the way things turned out."

besides, having the support of a major gave smith the opportunity to get out and see the world. as well as his endless jaunt across north america and back again, smith has travelled to europe, australia and japan. "japan was really fun!" he says. "it was one of the best places i've been. people were so polite. it was kinda weird; i couldn't believe how many people recognized me when i was walking around. then it occurred to me that most of the people that live in japan are japanese, so i'm going to stick out."