If you can make a living singing songs about your favorite Star Wars characters, then why not? Eric Elbogen, a.k.a. Say Hi, has parlayed overt nerdiness and seemingly arbitrary pop-culture references (once dropping the Pixies, Bob Vila, and golfer Arnold Palmer in the same song) into a respectable music career. Recently, Elbogen has shed the nerdier aspects of his music, a move that only made the scope of his catalogue all the more intriguing. Prior to Say Hi's performance at The Black Cat tonight, The A.V. Club asked Elbogen to explain the mindset behind five of his songs across his career—and why he eventually ditched the silliness.
Song: “But She Beat My High Score” from Numbers And Mumbles
Topic: Dismissing feelings for a girl after she beats his high score on an arcade game
Eric Elbogen: Most of the Say Hi songs are fiction; obviously a lot of them are informed by the experiences I’ve had. A song like that, it’s just sort of about finding a reason, any reason, to end a relationship because of one’s own insecurities. I didn’t actually break up with a girl because she was better at me at video games. A lot of people may not like that I do this, but sometimes it’s too hard for me to get too personal in my songs, so I’ll remove the protagonist by a few steps from a situation I’ve found myself in. So a song like that was based on finding some minor flaw in a girl that I was dating and ending the relationship because of that, but I thought it’d be funnier, and a better way to present it to the world, to use the video-games theme.
The A.V. Club: Any particular game you were talking about?
EE: When I was writing that song, I guess I was envisioning a super old-school Atari console, which was like the first video game I had back in grade school, and it was all super-pixilated. I remember playing like Dig Dug, or one of those super-early Atari games.
Song: “Yeah, I’m In Love With An Android” from Ferocious Mopes
Topic: Realizing the neighborhood robot is the perfect woman
EE: The imagery/concept of artificial intelligence [fascinates] me. It’s projecting a perfect relationship in which you can program your mate to do exactly what you want your mate to do. Again, I’m sort of a sci-fi geek, and I’ve always been fascinated by dystopias. The image that goes through my head is the '50s concept of the future, with the super boxy robots with the inflated arms. There’s just something weird and quirky about the human race’s conception of the future during that period. For my own personal imagery, or at least what I’m picturing in my head when I’m writing my songs, it’s always weird, retro, with sepia tones. It’s an aesthetic I really appreciate.
Song: “These Fangs” from Impeccable Blahs
Topic: Walking in on your significant other sucking the blood out of another woman
EE: I’m an enormous Joss Whedon and Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, and I always loved how that show wasn’t all goth and gory and serious horror; it pokes fun at itself, and that’s what I was trying to do with the early catalogue records. And aside from that show, I’ve always been obsessed with vampires; the more I got into think about making that record, the more I realized that the concept of vampires is the ultimate beautiful sci-fi being. There’s just something really sensual and emotional about that they can only walk around during the night and need to drink blood. There’s obviously something sexual about their need to exchange fluids in order to survive.
Song: “Northwestern Girls” from The Wishes And The Glitch
Topic: Ditching the geekiness in an effort to charm Pacific Northwestern girls
AVC: This was when you made the name change from Say Hi To Your Mom to Say Hi, and it seemed like with that you ditched the robots, pop references, and silliness. Was it intentional?
EE: It was, and it was sort of where my head was at. I never anticipated turning 30 really meaning anything, and it coincided with the realization that I wasn’t happy about a lot of things in my life that were a result of living in New York City. And so I turned 30 and left New York and moved to Seattle, and also decided that I wanted to take a break from writing with lots of science-fiction references. I hate to say it, but the goal was to write a record that was a little more personal and less science fiction-y, less weird, and more about human conundrums.
AVC: Was this one of the first songs you wrote after you moved from New York to Seattle?
EE: It was. I wrote that when I was still 100 percent excited about being in a new city and paying attention to the subtle differences between the girls in the Pacific Northwest and the girls everywhere else that I lived. That song originally had a bunch of specific Seattle references, talked about meeting a girl at the Crocodile Café, and I ended up paring it down and getting rid of the bunch of the lyrics, and making the vocals a little more sparse.
Song: “November Was White, December Was Grey” from Oohs And Aahs
Topic: Becoming a total recluse for three months
EE: That song is about the process of making records, and, to some extent, making art in general, and about the solitude of cooping myself up for months and months at a time to try and write and record and mix a record. It often feels like I’m snowed in, regardless of what time of the year I’m making the record. That song is about that and looking forward to actually finishing and being able to venture out into the world.
AVC: So you have to keep yourself cooped up to make a record?
EE: Yeah, that’s typically what I do, and even though a lot of it is physically cooping up, it’s more of an emotional thing for me, I tend to shut myself off from the world, and all of my friends and family start hating me because I don’t call anyone. I just wake up and start working and stop working when I’m too tired to work anymore, and that’ll continue for months at a time. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but for some reason I keep doing it to myself.