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For a guy crossing Missouri in a ragged van in the middle of winter, Eric Elbogen sounds fairly chipper. And happy he should be: Elbogen's band, Say Hi, is out on tour supporting their seventh effort, Um, Uh Oh, an album that's garnering some of the best reviews of Elbogen's career.
Yet, despite the recent good times, Elbogen claims the new album sprung from a dark muse.
"I was in a somewhat down place when I wrote this record," he says. "If I wasn't able to write songs and make records, I would be in a much worse place."
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Yet many of the songs on Um, Uh Oh belie Elbogen's dim contentions. Cuts such as "Take Me Dancing" and "Lookin' Good" feature some of the most playful imagery and snappiest beats the guy has ever used.
"Those songs are only 90 percent happy," he says. "I try and put a little gloom into even the happy songs. I actually consider this to be a really sad record."
Whatever the case, at least Elbogen, who plays all of the instruments on all Say Hi's albums and hires mostly new crews for each tour, agrees that the new album is good. Seems this time around, he decided to add new instrumentation to the mix and expand his lyrical boundaries as well. These added features help make Um, Uh Oh the highlight of the Say Hi catalog.
"I try to get better with each record and to learn from my mistakes," Elbogen says. "I sometimes find myself unhappy with the production or lyrical choices or arrangements. I like to make up new rules for each album."
Judging by the quality of the new effort, Elbogen made some first-rate rules—and followed them to the letter. This establishes a trend that started with 2008's The Wishes and the Glitch, the first album released under the shortened Say Hi moniker as opposed to the original band name: Say Hi to Your Mom. Elbogen explains that the change was due to people's mistaken perceptions.
"The original name was always perceived in a very different way than I intended," Elbogen says. "I thought the phrase 'Say hi to your mom' was a nice thing to say, but some people thought it was an insult."
Yet the condensed version also reflects a tightening of sound and a more deliberate style that brings out the best in Elbogen's compositions.
"I like being thought of as the nerd who sits on his bed and writes songs all night long," Elbogen says. "I like being called a nerd. Because I am a nerd."