A Seattle Weekly story portrayed Elbogen as a perfectionist when it came to professionalism—akin to “the Donald Trump of indie rock,” based on how he’s freely fired past tourmates—with an “easygoing aura” in person. He also comes off as slightly awkward and uncertain of how to respond to compliments. Two Pitchfork record reviews of his project from back when it was called Say Hi to Your Mom fill in more colors: He’s a good hook-writer, but also noncommittal, nerdy, careerist, and a haplessly muddled lyricist.
Maybe there’s something about the nature of his music that makes him especially susceptible to discussions of his character. Even if it can get intense, Say Hi’s indie pop carries the delicate, intimate quality of something obsessively constructed at home. His voice accentuates that atmosphere well, being breathy, raw and uneven.
“You know, I agree with 50 percent of [stuff written about me],” he says. “In journalism, a lot of times things are taken out of context. I can definitely be a grumpy person, and a lot of the material on the Say Hi records are heartbreak, sad-bastard stuff, but I am generally a friendly person.” He quickly recalls one of the more ridiculous things he’s read about himself—that he’s a recluse residing in his mom’s attic (“I don’t live in the same city as my mother,” he says)—but has a tougher time identifying something accurate.
“Can someone who doesn’t know you well truly portray you accurately? I don’t think so. I’m just a dude. I’m just a music nerd who loves making and playing music. Sometimes, I can be a shy, quiet person and often that gets misread as me being a mean person.”
Elbogen doesn’t seem particularly fond of how much attention is given to him over the music itself, but it’s awfully difficult to ignore the multi-instrumentalist when the material about his creative process is so good. The Seattle-based musician is a driven songwriter who generally blocks out eight months a year to produce an album, working for 10 to 12 hours a day. He admits that his productivity comes from writing alone. He’s released seven Say Hi LPs since 2002, with the latest being January’s Um, Uh Oh. The result has been a lot of identifiable growth. “The first record sounds like what a 23-year-old kid would write,” he says, with 2008’s The Wishes and the Glitch marking the turning point toward maturity.
A couple of his older tracks tackled romance and vampires, slyly nodding to Buffy (“These Fangs”), and conversations about spaceships to avoid big-picture relationship issues (“Let’s Talk About Spaceships”). It wouldn’t be right to say he’s wholly ditched his quirky geekiness—“Bluetime” from The Wishes champions the voluptuous Ms. Pac-Man—but his subject matter has been upgraded. “There’s a lot of metaphor on [Um, Uh Oh],” he says. “I don’t feel like I’m dancing with the devil literally, like the singer in ‘Devils.’ I’m not driving around the country [looking] for a more interesting city like the protagonist in ‘Dots on Maps.’”
This points to another important aspect of his persona: For as much attention is paid to Elbogen’s character, Say Hi tries to evade the trappings of reality. “It’s inevitable that music will reflect my personality to some extent, but I put quite a bit of effort into making records that are not a reflection.” Ignoring the blatantly heartfelt, his interest lies in “the mysterious and the weird” because it represents a sense of escapism.
He might be right—maybe we shouldn’t be discussing him at all. “People are inherently pretty boring,” he says. “I’m a pretty boring person.”
w/ The Future of the Ghost
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Friday, Feb. 18, 7 p.m.
$8 advance, $10 day of show