Say Hi to Your Mom recently released their fourth album, Impeccable Blahs, a concept album surrounding the idea of vampires. Why? Because lead singer and Say Hi founder Eric Elbogen is a massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Natch.
Say Hi is unequivocal indie rock. They are decidedly lo-fi. They tinker with synthesizer loops but play with grinding guitars, brooding vocals, dark lyrics and sometimes playful, upbeat clap-happy tempo. Elbogen is a prolific songwriter having released three other albums in as many years.
I spoke with Elbogen the day before the band's last tour stop, which brought them back home to play a show at New York's Knitting Factory. They were traveling between North Carolina and Virginia so part of our interview was spotty, but we made it work.
Read the Q&A below or stream the interview.
And check out some MP3s from Impeccable Blahs:
INTERVIEW with ERIC ELBOGEN:
SomethingGlorious: So did you finish your tour last night?
Eric Elbogen: Sort of – today we're off and tomorrow is the New York show. We're driving from North Carolina right now. The tour's been good but long. Exciting and exhausting. The shows have been good for the most part.
SG: What's your favorite thing about the road? Do you enjoy it?
EE: Sometimes. For me, the best payoff in this business is cooping up at home and making records. I enjoy playing live to some extent, but it doesn't ever give me as much joy as getting the songs down onto tape. The nights where 200-300 people show up and everybody is enthusiastic, it reminds you of why you do this sort of work. Of course the nights you're playing Fargo, North Dakota and there's 20 people there and they're barely clapping and you're struggling to get through the set …
SG: Which happens more often – do you see more people coming out now?
EE: The shows over the last year have started to get a lot better. We definitely have our markets that we do really well in and those we do horrible in. It also has to do a lot with the night of the week you're playing and what other shows are going on. But I really can't complain.
SG: Are you happy at this place or do you want to get much bigger?
EE: I do, I was very flattered when the New York Times ran a review of the new record and just having them do that was very exciting for me. It was an interesting review. I totally enjoyed it, but there was one part about how the writer said that I seem content just doing this for a handful of indie rock fans. And that's not really the case. I've done things on my own in terms of putting out the records because at the beginning no one else wanted to put out the records. It's been a slower process of building things. I haven't had all of the resources and money and time that I would if I was on a bigger label. But I definitely want things to get bigger. That's the goal of every musician is to reach as many people as possible. That doesn't mean I want to compromise my artistic ideals just to sell more records. I'm very much a critic mostly of myself and I stand behind every record I make 100 percent. I wouldn't be opposed to playing in front of 1,000 people every night for the next record and 5,000 for the one after that.
SG: Do you find that with this album there's more buzz, are things growing?
EE: Out of the gate, this record has done better than any of the other records. It's charting higher on the radio and we were featured on the home page of MySpace resulting in 4,000 friend requests. The week later more people came out to see us who just heard of us. We're not aiming to sell hundreds of thousands of records in the first week to make the charts. The sort of thing that we do and I do with the label is geared toward a much slower building process and going on the road to support.
SG: Would you want to be on a bigger label?
EE: I would if it makes sense for the right label. I don’t think a major label makes sense for the songs that I write and shows we put on. There are larger indie labels that I respect and would love to be on their roster. Anything smaller than that doesn't really make sense. We're selling more records than a smaller indie can do for us. If we go that route, we're splitting income with the label.
SG: Do you find that writing and recording and marketing and getting on the road – do you have time to do everything you want?
EE: I feel like certain areas suffer sometimes, definitely. I also function like any other record label. I hire the publicist and radio promoter and retail marketer and booking agent. It's not like I'm some punk rock purist. I do have a good team working on things. There were a couple shows on this tour for various reasons that were confirmed for after we got on the road – and finding the time to get them posters in a timely manner was hard. I'm driving 6 hours a day or sound checking.
SG: Are you making money or do you still have a day job?
EE: This has become a full-time thing in the past year. That doesn't mean I don't have any credit card debt, in fact I have a lot of it. To be honest, some months I really wonder if I'm going to be able to pay my rent. It has a way of working itself out.
SG: So, is this it – are you a musicians for life?
EE: For now, for the immediate future. I'm sure I'll reach a point where if you're approaching 40 and you're still playing rooms of 200 people – that kind of gets sad. You might want to choose a different career path. For now, I'm totally content. If at some point I decide I don't want to tour anymore, I don't see myself ever stopping writing and recording.
SG: You said earlier that you are your own biggest critic. It was
interesting that you have an open letter to Pitchfork on your website
about the album review. Do you look at negative reviews and take it to
EE: With Pitchfork, it's is frustrating on a number of levels. I think I said in the letter that I would be lying if I said it didn't hurt a little bit when someone attacks what you're doing. Everybody talks about this – but they're so influential. It's not their fault, but when the review for the last record ran and people came up to me after shows after our set and were like "I really enjoyed yoru set, but I read on Pitchfork that you try too hard, and during the bridge of that one song, you tried too hard." It's fascinating and frustrating to me that people take to heart what one site says. I happen to really enjoy the site and look at it frequently. I did mean what I said in that letter to Brian [Howe] who reviewed. I thought it was a fair review, but the last one wasn't the case. It would be great to get an 8 or 9 because I'd be selling more records. But what are you going to do. You take it and accept it and move on. Ninety-five percent of the rest of the press has been really positive.
SG: Do you ever want to say to those people who come up to you and tell them to get a life and their own opinion?
EE: On one hand, who am I to complain about that? They're someone who paid $8 to see my band play and maybe bought a T-shirt or record and I'm so thankful for that. The thing is, everyone has an opinion. Everybody thinks they know exactly how the music industry works. They'll come up to me sometimes and say that we should really get some people marketing us. Part of me thinks that's cute and funny and part of me wants to strangle the person.
SG: So let's talk about the music a little now. I personally really
like it. My friend, Matt DuFour from Tripwire turned me on. Some of you
music is a little dark while others have a synth poppiness while others
sound downright indie – where does the diversity come from?
EE: Probably coming from all of my influences. I listen to a lot of music. I'm sort of proactive about buying lots of new indie rock and pop and electronic music. A lot of times I'll buy stuff without knowing too much about the band because I'm interested in the direction music is going in general. When I listen to my records, I hear my love for Radiohead, U2, Pavement – even for smaller electro pop bands like Barcelona. I think just having all of that stuff and seeking it out and whether realizing it or not, it makes its way into the production and melodies.
SG: What's the deal with the vampires?
EE: [laughs] I guess initially it came from me being a huge fan Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But part of it was me just me having made a record a year a for many years now. This is the 4th Say Hi record, but there were five full lengths I made before that. Then I thought that even though it's kind of lame to do the concept album thing, I wanted one more challenging factor to be involved in the writing process. I was like "fuck it let me write a vampire album," but it could've been anything.
SG: Do you consider yourself a vampire or a victim?
EE: Probably a little bit of both. There are definitely many draining elements in my life. I'm not angel myself. Having spent 5 weeks in the van with my band, I know that I've probably sucked a lot out of them the last month.
SG: Any good tour stories?
EE: We've been doing this a lot over the lat few years. This is our fourth tour this year. We've gotten it down to a science. We know each other boundaries for the most part and where to step to avoid people's toes.
SG: So you say on your website in a bio that fish don't talk but squirrels do? Are you sure fish don't talk?
EE: [laughs] No I'm not sure.
SG: Where'd that come from?
EE: I don't really know. I was feeling nutty one day and wrote that bio.
SG: What other bands are you listening to? What new music do you like?
EE: I was listening to the new Ratatat record before you called. I like that. I like the new Thom Yorke a lot. I can never remember what I'm listening to. I got introduced to Regina Spektor on this tour and I think her songs are pretty cool. I'm a big Broken Social Scene fan. I like the new James Figurine record. We did a big part of this tour with Dirty On Purpose, they're friends of ours.
SG: Do you find the community in Brooklyn is pretty collaborative or do you do your own thing?
EE: Like any other big city there are so many musicians and so many bands. I've tended to gravitate toward people who are doing things that are at last the same aesthetic sensibility. That's the case with Dirty on Purpose – and Jeff who plays keyboards in the band used to be in Sea Ray – we ended up doing a bunch of shows with them. There's the hipster dance rock element of Brooklyn bands that we never necessarily run into. I guess we sort of surround ourselves with the indie pop sensibilities. But it definitely feels like there's a community.
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