Creativity forced through limitation is nothing new. Artists work within boundaries all the time, due to necessity, self-challenge, maybe even both. Eric Elbogen of Say Hi To Your Mom has gone through some changes in recent years—he relocated from New York to Seattle, for one, and also, probably more importantly, reduced his moniker to simply Say Hi—and for his newest record, his first on Barsuk, titled “Oohs & Aahs,” he insisted on staying away from his typical indie-pop synths and focused more on guitars. Essentially, Elbogen wanted to make a rock record.
“Every time I want to make a record, I set little technical rules for myself,” he says. “The intention for this was to sort of make something that was much more guitar and rock, less like the synth stuff in the past. If anything, it keeps it interesting for me, and [also] it sort of keeps me from making the same record over and over again.”
To those not well acquainted with Elbogen’s work, the difference between records might seem negligible. All of them are rather simple pop records, strong on melody if weak on pointed “meaning,” whatever the hell that implies these days. His ability to create lasting, catchy vocal melodies over basic power-chord progressions—creativity through limitation, whether intentional or not—makes his work delightfully charming and weirdly intelligent, even if he’s crooning about vampires, as he did on his 2006 concept record “Impeccable Blahs.” “Oohs & Aahs” doesn’t stray from the method in that sense; ten songs, ten strong melodies, with Elbogen’s whispery, low-key voice splattered all about. Whether the new songs best the older material is of course, up for debate—I sort of miss the synths, to tell you the truth—Elbogen does seem to have more confidence these days.
“The press keeps throwing around the word ‘mature,'” he says. “They started doing that with the last record. It makes sense—I turned 30 and moved out of New York and stopped writing about robots and vampires and changed the band name.”
And what about that change? Has there been any fallout? “There are still a lot of very confused people, people who haven’t realized that the two bands are the same,” he says. “What I found is that, there are 18- and 19-year-olds and everyone below that that are really upset with the change. Everybody above that is like, ‘Oh, cool, I can listen to this band now because it’s good and doesn’t have a stupid band name.’ I had considered just retiring the band completely and starting from scratch, but I chickened out at the last minute. It’s the hardest thing to build up touring where you can sustain yourself. But I don’t have any regrets.”
Home is Where the Heart Is
The singer-songwriter genre has become so watered down and common it takes a Bon Iver to hole up in a Wisconsin cabin and record multiple vocal tracks to get anyone excited anymore. Similarly, Peter Broderick’s work on last year’s “Home” barely qualifies in the medium, with his versatile use of multi-layered vocals, percussion, organs, field recordings and, of course, acoustic guitars. Previously, not counting his work with several other bands, including Efterklang and She & Him, Broderick had released work that was all-instrumental, piano-based compositions. Who knew he had a voice for folk? “Home” is an excessively pretty, unassuming record, breezily tame and sweetly comforting. There’s probably a reason it’s called “Home.”
“I was really trying to use voice as an instrument, so for a lot of vocal parts, I’m not singing any lyrics at all,” Broderick says. “There are some songs where the lyrics are five words, and my focus was to use my voice as an instrument and have a kind of loose theme with the lyrics, just about finding home in different places and stuff like that.”
After spending so long as an instrumentalist and background musician, putting your voice in the spotlight, one would imagine, would be a startling experience. “Yeah, definitely,” he says. “It’s taken me a while to get used to hearing my own voice like that. On the record I did a lot of multi-tracking, so my voice is almost never one voice by itself, and of course when I play live I’m only one person…that’s something that’s taking me a while to get comfortable with.”
And, of course, being out in front of the music in the first place could make one apprehensive. “It’s a whole different experience to be in the spotlight,” Broderick says. “I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult, but definitely a different experience. I don’t think I would ever want to only play my own music. I like to play in bands, to blend in, to not be the one in the spotlight. It’s been nice having both, if I can keep it up.”
Say Hi plays April 3 at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, (773)281-4444, at 9:30pm, $10-$12. Peter Broderick plays April 4 Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, (773)525-2508, at 10pm. $12.