As he came back home to New York, QRO took the opportunity to Say Hi To Eric Elbogen.The singer/songwriter of Say Hi (previously Say Hi To Your Mom) talked about returning to New York, why he moved to Seattle, making The Wishes and The Glitch (QRO review), what happened ‘To Your Mom’, why the other changes, turning thirty, what’s great about playing for kids and/or Germans, and how Radiohead totally stole his thunder, and more…
QRO: How has this tour been going?
EE: The tour has been really good. Everybody seems to be excited about the new record, which is nice, which is what we want, for sure.
QRO: What does it feel like, returning to New York?
EE: It’s strange; it’s exciting. We’ve played here a good four or five times since I left, but this venue [Bowery Ballroom – QRO venue review] is a venue I’ve always dreamed about headlining, so it’s cool to be finally doing that.
This tour, especially, we get to spend like no time at all in New York. We got in at three for soundcheck, and we’re actually driving out of town, after the show, but in the half-hour that I walked around, I was very nostalgic.
QRO: Why did you move out to Seattle?
EE: I love New York, but I just needed a break from all the hectic stuff that happens here. For the bulk of the time that I lived here, I lived in a big loft in Brooklyn with seven roommates, and just got tired of that. I always really loved the Pacific Northwest when we toured there, so it was time for me to take a break, and move somewhere where the pace was a bit slower, but it was still an interesting enough city that I wouldn’t be bored, and Seattle was that.
QRO: You’re going to be playing South by Southwest next week. Do you do anything differently at ‘industry showcases’ like that?
EE: No, not really. We play the same rock show to whoever wants to listen. It can be weird down there, just because it’s so fast-paced and you don’t really get time for a soundcheck, and your set is shorter.
But I normally forget that that’s the purpose of something like SXSW. I think about how it’s good to have your name in the SXSW literature, but really, when I think about playing our showcase down there, I’m imagining, in advance, that it would be any kind of show.
QRO: You’re also going to be playing the Sasquatch! Festival in your now-native Washington State. Which do you prefer playing, indoor shows like this, or outdoor festivals like Sasquatch!?
EE: We actually haven’t done many outdoor shows yet. The Sasquatch! thing is a big deal for us, it’s the first time we’ve ever done something like that. Obviously, being part of it, with all the bands that are doing it, The Cure, R.E.M…. We’re really excited. We’ll be playing on the small stage, early in the day, but still, it’s exciting.
QRO: This show is 16+, and a lot of the shows on your tour are/will be all ages. Do you prefer to have a lower/no age bar?
EE: No, I do, I find that kids are often more responsive and more excited by music than jaded drinkers. It can be difficult, sometimes, to do it, especially in certain cities, because so much of a venue’s income is based on bar sales. But, yeah, any time we play an all ages show, regardless of how many people there are there, they’ll come up right to the front, whereas, when you’re doing a 21+ show, people are sort of reserved in the back.
QRO: Where did you find your touring band?
EE: Tonight, we’re actually just playing as a duo.
QRO: Well, then, where did you meet [your drummer] Weston?
EE: In Seattle. This band has always been a different touring configuration, almost every time, so obviously, when I moved to Seattle, I found someone else.
QRO: Are you a duo this whole tour?
EE: Yeah. When we do it as this configuration, there’s a bunch of sampled synthesizers we bring along with us.
QRO: Why don’t you do keyboards? Is it just easier to sample?
EE: I’ve always been mostly a guitar player – it was my first instrument. At some point, I’d like to change it up and maybe do a tour, playing some keyboards. But I’m not completely comfortable on them. Like, I am in the studio, but it’s a whole different thing, singing and playing keyboards, just being on a stage, in front of people, everything is ten times harder.
QRO: Last summer, you did your first-ever European tour, in Germany. What was that like?
EE: That was great. I’m hoping to go back there a little more, as often as possible, ‘cause it’s like, the people out there are a lot more… appreciative of music, I guess, than people in the States? A bit of a generalization, like, there certainly are people in the States, but there, it’s like people who’ve never heard of you, who just happen to be there, are really attentive and really respond to on-stage music.
QRO: Do you have any plans to go back to Germany? What about the U.K.?
EE: We’re going to try to do that. We went to Germany because there was a German label to licensed the last record and released it right around the time we went over there to tour, but I’m trying to sort of make it… broader.
QRO: Has Wishes come out in Europe yet?
EE: No, not yet. We’re still discussing that. It makes sense, regardless of where you are, to release around the tour somewhere. So I think we’re trying to go back over there, the end of August, so we might do a release then.
QRO: How did making The Wishes and The Glitch compare with making your prior records?
EE: It was similar and different, all at the same time. A couple of the other records I did, completely by myself, just alone in my room, which I did on this one as well, but Impeccable Blahs, the fourth record, some friends of mine who’d actually been touring with me for a little while played on a bunch of stuff as well, so we actually went to another friend of mine’s small little studio, and did a lot of the tracking there. Wishes was just me at home, doing everything, cooped up for eight months.
QRO: Was it the first you made since moving out to Seattle?
QRO: Why did you ‘break the mold’ and put down eleven tracks on The Wishes, as opposed to the ten each on all your previous records?
EE: Well, for the same reason that I changed the name to ‘Say Hi’.
I moved from New York, and… I don’t know, it’s just like, a lot of things. I didn’t even think of it at the time, and I never foresaw it happening, but turning thirty was somewhat of a threshold, and the other side, I didn’t feel comfortable doing things the way I used to.
QRO: It seemed like the subject matter of the songs have also changed…
EE: Yeah, it’s the same thing. I kind of made a conscious effort to make it a bit less… ‘jokey’ than the songs on the other records?
QRO: Do you feel there was any sort of added pressure with Wishes, because of the changes you made to your music?
EE: I didn’t, I felt the same pressure you always feel when you finish a record, where you don’t really know if it’s good or not, and you’re wondering how it will be received, whether or not this will be the record that will make your career skyrocket.
But so far, the response has actually far exceeded my expectations. Like I said, people have been responding to it well. I mean, this band still has a long way to go, but…
QRO: I saw that it had a review in The New York Times…
EE: You’d be surprised how many people read that, especially The Sunday Times, they ran a little blurb in The Sunday Times, I guess a month ago, people all over the country that I haven’t heard from in years called me up, “Hey, I guess you’re doing it now. I was reading The Sunday Times, and I saw your name!”
QRO: Did you worry that people who liked your previous material wouldn’t like this sort of ‘new direction’?
EE: No, the way I intended it, at least, there are definitely some differences, but I think there are still some similarities to what was going on before. And really, at the end of the day, especially at this point, I just try to make the best record I can.
Any time you’re doing something artistic that’s available to the public, there are going to be people who like it, and people who don’t like it. More and more so, I’ve just started to have the attitude of, “It is what it is. You don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. If you don’t like this one, stick around, because the next one, you might like. If not, I’m sorry if I’ve failed you, but good luck with whatever else you want to listen to.”
QRO: Wishes was available on the website in October, months before its recent release date. Why did you set it up that way?
EE: It was just a response to the times, to the fact that, in the past, I would finish a record, and it would go to the pressing plant, and we would get promos, and we would send it out to writers, and two days later, it would be on file-sharing sites, and everybody who wanted it would get it.
I just sort of wanted to give people the option to buy it at that point, instead of having to wait six months, while people who don’t believe in supporting bands just go downloaded it. I was pleasantly surprised to how many people responded to it.
QRO: Were you influenced by Radiohead’s In Rainbows (QRO review) similar release strategy?
EE: It’s funny because, I’d been planning on doing this for a very, very long time, and four days before I sent out my e-mail and posted it live to the site, they did theirs. So naturally, everybody is asking me if Radiohead inspired me, but, as crafty as I am, this is not something I could have put together in four days.
But, they definitely stole my thunder. I love that band; they’re actually, probably my favorite band. I respect them even more so for doing it that way.
QRO: You participated in an online auction for Seattle’s The Stranger, offering to cover a song [winning bid: $710.00]. What song did you end up covering?
EE: You’re not going to be happy with this answer but the person who won, it was sort of a very personal thing, like, I did it just for him. It’s not for personal consumption.
QRO: How do you translate your material, from being recorded at home, on a computer, to a live, full band setting?
EE: Well, that’s the trick. Like I said, the configuration changes, every tour, and I’m constantly trying to figure out the best way to do it. Sort of also, changing it up – I’ve toured just me, as a duo, as a trio, and as a four-piece. And sometimes, it’s more of a rock ‘n’ roll show, sometimes it’s more of a trip-hoppy dance show, sometimes it’s just me and a guitar.
The songs will never translate 100% accurately. The end up just sort of sounding different – that’s just the nature of playing live. There are some songs on the new record where there are ninety tracks of stuff going on, and without having ninety musicians on stage with you, it’s impossible to replicate. But I’ve sort of always been fascinated by bands who sound a little bit different live. It kind of bums me out, sometimes, when you go see a band, and they sound exactly how they sound on their record.
QRO: Do you have any new, post-Wishes material?
EE: I’ve started to sketch some stuff out. I haven’t had much time to work on it. I’m sort of always writing and always jotting down ideas. When we finish this tour, we won’t be on tour for a while; I’ll be working on the next record.
QRO: Do you play any of it live, or is it still sketches?
EE: This band has actually never played a song live before it was released. It’s just the nature of how I work – I end up doing most of the writing and arranging during the recording process, which I know is the exact opposite of how most bands work. Most bands write a song together, go out on tour and refine it that way, and then record it. I sort of work the opposite.
QRO: Are there any songs you particularly like playing live?
EE: It changes from tour to tour, from night to night. Really, my favorite song to play live is whatever song I can hear the instruments best on stage.
But every time there’s a new record, I sort of have these ‘grand ambitions’ of introducing every song on the record into the set. We’ll try and rehearse a bunch of those songs, and some of them won’t make the cut, ‘cause they just don’t work, and of the ones that do make the cut, we’ll play them for the first couple of shows on the tour, and then I’ll decide they just aren’t working and I’ll cut ‘em and just never play them again.
So what ends up happening is the set, at any given moment, are the fourteen, fifteen songs that are my favorite songs to play live at the moment.
QRO: Are there any that you can’t play live, because of how it’s arranged or something?
EE: There’s usually a couple of songs on each record that I don’t even attempt, but a lot of times, we’ll just end up rearranging them.
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
EE: New York is always great, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, I don’t know… I like a lot of cities. There are some cities I hate, too.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
EE: Not really. Me, especially, I’m just always tired all of the time. When we’re on tour, I work constantly. I do most, if not all of the driving, most tours I work the merch table, though not this one, fortunately. Plus, it’s just the nature of touring; we have our agent book it with as few days off as possible. I really don’t have any fun tour stories.
QRO: Do you have any horrible tour stories?
EE: Yeah, the van broke down once. On the very first full band Say Hi tour, my drummer at the time somehow talked me into buying this ’87 Ford van for like five hundred bucks or something like that. He was a mechanic, so he was like, “Don’t worry – I’ll fix it up good.” He ended up buying it down in Virginia, where he grew up, so I didn’t actually end up seeing the van until the day that we left. And when we got it, I was like, “Oh man…”
We had it for like five hours and then, I was in the fast lane, and it just stopped working. We had it towed – this was the middle of the night, too – and had to rent a van for the rest of the tour.