Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Interview: Eric Elbogen of Say Hi

Eric Elbogen and his brainchild Say Hi (formerly Say Hi To Your Mom) roll into town this Friday and are bringing their dry humor and electronic beats to the Beat Kitchen in support of their latest album The Wishes and the Glitch. (For you Bloomington readers, they will be hitting the Waldon Arts Center on Sunday.) We shot Eric a few questions over email and he happily entertained us with his thoughts on the current state of the music industry and his ever bloated video game prowess.

nql: Say Hi has played Chicago numerous times in the past, any show or memory (good or bad) stick out? Any particular venue in town you enjoy playing?

Eric Elbogen: Playing the Metro with Nada Surf was my favorite show ever. There something very majestic about that room. And they help you load your gear in and up the stairs. Bless them for that.

nql: You and the rest of the band take off soon for a tour all over North America for the next couple of months. Any cities you always look forward to playing when going out on tour? (When you’re in Cincinnati on the 27th if you have time you should hit up Zip’s CafĂ© for some food. I can’t stress this enough.)

EE: Yeah. New York, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco, among others.

nql: Anything on tour you anticipate the band listening to in the van? Any new bands you are into at the moment?

EE: I’ve been really enjoying new stuff from Hot Chip, MGMT, Black Mountain and The Helio Sequence. We also always listen to a lot of Radiohead and This American Life.

nql: Opening track on the new album “Northwestern Girls” feels like a total hit song. Can I assume the title and song allude to girls in the Seattle region and not those walking around the campus just 11 miles north of me in Evanston? (I ask because I often ride my bike up to that campus and while a few will surprise you, Northwestern University girls as a whole hardly warrant an entire song paying homage to them……in my opinion.)

EE: Heh heh, yes, you assume correctly. A friend of mine, who actually went to Northwestern, thought for weeks that the song was about the latter, but I’ve never met any girls who went / go there.

nql: Did anything in particular prompt the move from Brooklyn to Seattle? And does the move signify any sort of evolution for Say Hi because The Wishes and the Glitch seems to have a different feel than Impeccable Blahs or Ferocious Mopes. And both Brooklyn and Seattle have large music scenes that I would think would embrace a group like Say Hi. Can you give a quick comparison of the two music scenes and how well you feel the respective communities have been supportive? And do you miss Grimaldi’s pizza at all? I mean, even a little?

EE: I do miss New York Pizza in general, yes. I needed a break from New York and all the craziness that goes along with living there. I’m perfectly content now on my quiet street in Seattle, where it’s especially nice not having five roommates anymore. Yeah, I think you can hear some of what I was feeling before and after my move in the record. As for the differences between the two cities: I’ve never particularly felt part of a music scene anywhere. I certainly have lots of musician friends in both cities, but Say Hi has always sort of been more of a touring band than hometown heroes, if you know what I mean.

nql: You’ve toured in the past with a drum machine and other electronics to back yourself up. Does having a band behind you take off some of the pressure of being on stage alone?

EE: Well, I don’t really feel pressure being on stage anymore. I’ve been playing shows for almost fifteen years now, and you sort of build up a tolerance to getting nervous. But, to answer your question, I like both ways of performing, for different reasons.

nql: Some of your earlier albums have been said to have a concept or a theme, anything a first time listener to The Wishes and the Glitch should know or look out for?

EE: It’s not a concept record by any means, like the previous one was. But there are some themes I tried to stick to, that reflected where I was at with things, where I still am, actually.

nql: Say Hi has been compared from everyone to Belle & Sebastian to the Beatles. Who are your influences?

EE: Everything with an electric guitar that has been released since the late 50’s.

nql: I’m trying to do my best to avoid any of the questions that are on the FAQ section of your website. How do you feel I am doing so far?

EE: You’re doing fine, thank you for the consideration.

nql: Say Hi seems to have the ultimate DIY approach to releasing their music. Have you found this to be the most feasible and profitable approach in terms of getting your music out there and heard? And with record sales down for whatever straight year, it seems like a band is lucky to release one album on a label before being dropped. Do you think the record label as a whole is slowly becoming obsolete?

EE: My answer to this question would have been different a year ago, but it’s a scary time for musicians and labels alike. In the past, putting out records myself always seemed the sensible thing to do, but less and less people are actually paying for music these days, and I feel it as much as any indie or major. We’re all having to look for different ways to continue doing what we enjoy doing, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so. I think the labels that have already realized that they need to rethink the role of a label will be the ones that last …

nql: You famously record all of your albums on your Windows machine. As Say Hi becomes bigger, which could very well happen with this latest album, any chance you see yourself moving into a more sophisticated studio to record future works?

EE: This isn’t true actually*, and I wish someone would fix the Wiki that says so, but I’ve been on a Mac for three years now. But that’s besides the point. It just has never made sense to go into a big commercial studio, because I spend two, three, four, eight months at a time making a record. There’s no way I could afford hundreds of dollars a day at that rate. Besides, it’s more fun doing it myself.

nql: Did you really break up with a girl for breaking your high score in a video game? And if so, would you end this interview abruptly if you knew in my video game playing prime on any given game I could probably obliterate any score you or your ex-girlfriend could even possibly dream up?

EE: No. That was fiction. I bet I could beat you at Ms. Pacman. Really.#

nql: Do you have a favorite video game of the moment?

EE: Ms. Pacman

nql: The Wishes and the Glitch was released in cd form on February 5th but has been available in vinyl or on the internet for a couple of months. With the advent of things like iTunes have you found cd release dates to be less important than they used to be?

EE: Your facts are slightly off, actually.$ It’s been available on CD, Vinyl and in Digital form, from us, since October. It started being available in stores on February 5th . And no, I think release dates are still very important, I just thought I’d reward people who still pay for records, but offering it to them early. For business reasons though (things like press lead time, etc.) it would be hard to do away with the release date completely.

nql: How much do you pay attention to the reviews when you release an album?

EE: I used to pay a lot of attention. I’ve stopped reading most things though. I’ll read some of the bigger reviews, because I enjoy what an insightful, well spoken writer has to say about the music, good or bad. But, it’s unhealthy for me to read most of the stuff out there, because I’ll obsess on a negative review, when, most of the time, they’re just written by someone spiteful who doesn’t really even listen to the record. It’s also frustrating to see stuff that clearly wasn’t fact-checked^ …

nql: People seem to really appreciate your lyrics and enjoy trying to dissect the meaning in a lot of your songs. What or who do you typically look for as an inspiration or influence when it comes to songwriting? At the same time, most of your songs are incredibly catchy (thinking “A Hit in Sweden” or “Back Before We Were Brittle”), so do you even care if people correctly interpret your lyrics so long as they’re having a good time while listening?

EE: No inspiration really, I just write a lot about whatever pops into my head on any given day, and go back and find the best stuff later. And no, I think however people interpret songs is right.

nql: Waterworld was a critical and commercial failure--one of the worst of all-time. However, with age and further consideration, the film presents a particularly cogent view of our possibly dystopic near-future. If you had to, could you grow gills? That first liquid breath would be tough, but after that I bet it would be gravy.

EE: Yes. I could.

nql: Pitchfork often asks people about their ringtone. My question is, if you ride mass transit, what’s the worst possible ringtone you could imagine hearing while minding your own business and trying to read a book?

EE: I think any ringtone, really. I’m a big fan of vibrate and often wish others were too. That’s kind of why I rarely leave the house though.

nql: Eric, again, thank you very much for the time. Enjoy the tour.

EE: Cheers! Thanks.

*An NQL intern was fired over this fiasco. Note to future interns…do not use Wikipedia for fact checking!
#That’s probably true. Ms. Pacman wasn’t my bag. Now Excitebike on the other hand…
$Another intern….canned!
^Let’s hope he wasn’t referring to the question directly above.


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