DEAD BANDS: HEATMISER

by chuck bell

When it comes to Dead Bands, there are very few that fit their title as appropriately or as literally as Heatmiser. Having met at Hamsphire College in 1991, Elliott Smith and Neil Gust began playing together at local clubs. Following their graduation, they moved back to Portland, OR, and formed a full band, taking their name from a villain in the 70′s claymation movie, The Year Without a Santa Claus. With Brand Peterson on bass and Tony Lash on drums, the band recorded their first album, Dead Air, in 1993, drawing several songs from their debut demo cassette, The Music of Heatmiser. Smith and Gust split vocal and writing duties evenly, with Smith providing the pop-sensibilty and Gust shading the songs in with darker themes. The band was initially labeled as “queercore,” because of the fact that Gust was openly gay. There was even speculation about a gay relationship existing between Gust and Smith, which they denied constantly. In 1994, the band released their sophomore LP, Cop and Speeder, which many consider to be their finest work.

Artist: Heatmiser
Song: Bastard John
Artist: Heatmiser
Song: Get Lucky


During the time when the band were working on Cop and Speeder, Smith had also been working on some solo material that he was recording on a 4-track at home. He was reluctant to share these songs with others, until his girlfriend at the time played them for Cavity Search Records, who were instantly intrigued. The label ended up releasing these 9 songs as Roman Candle in 1994, Elliott Smith’s debut solo LP. The next year, Smith followed up with his self-titled album, which found much more success than Heatmiser ever had. This created tension within the band, particularly between Smith and Gust. By the time they had completed their major label debut, Mic City Sons, in 1996, the band decided to breakup before its release. After their falling out, Smith began to dismiss his work with Heatmiser, saying that he never felt comfortable playing loud guitar rock, and that he did not even enjoy their music.

After the breakup, Neil Gust went on to form the band No. 2, who released two albums that were in the same vein as Heatmiser. Bassist Sam Coomes became one half of Quasi with his wife, Janet Weiss. Tony Lash started working as a producer, most notably working on the first two Dandy Warhols albums, as well as the first two Death Cab For Cutie LPs.  As we all know, Elliott Smith went on to have a remarkable career as a singer/songwriter. His work became increasingly more layered, breaking away from the bare-bones approach of his first two albums. He began scoring films, such as Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, and selling records in the hundreds of thousands. However, despite his growing popularity, Smith was suffering from severe depression, which eventually led to his apparent suicide on October 21, 2003. He suffered from stab wounds to the chest, leaving behind a post-it note that said, “I’m so sorry – love Elliott. God forgive me.”

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