The Present Crisis
By Eric Elbogen, as told to Mark Baumgarten
Late last month, Eric Elbogen released his eighth album in almost ten years, Um, Uh Oh, under the moniker Say Hi! Before the album – his second on Barsuk Records – was released, he invited City Arts for a chat at his Ballard apartment, where the thirty-four-year-old records his intricate and emotional electro-pop songs in the same room he sleeps in. A former music critic and all-around smart guy, Elbogen had plenty of thoughts on the state of things.
Illustration by David Pauls for City Arts
I feel my attention span growing shorter. It’s a struggle for me to go to a movie; I feel fidgety halfway through, which is something that never used to happen. I realize that part of it is because I’ll watch movies on demand or on the computer and I’ll stop them halfway through and do something else. The convenience of it all is awesome, but scary at the same time.
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I miss the olden days, decades ago, when there were filters, when there were actual record labels, and there were actual publications. You could go and read Rolling Stone and really find out about records. Now people go to iTunes and read comments about any record being a great record, or maybe a terrible record, and they’ll believe those comments because, well, it must be true. And so we come to this point where the market is saturated with bands that get big for a month or two but can’t keep it up. Pitchfork will run a positive review on the band’s latest album or single, and they will have a really big Brooklyn show, but then seven people will show up at each show throughout the rest of the tour. But everyone else will think that they are incredibly successful.
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Record labels and publications used to be the gatekeepers. Then people like me come along and I’m, like, nobody wants to put out my record, so, all right, I can hire a publicist and I can hire a radio promoter and I can hire a distributor and get an agent, and I can do what a record label does. And there are a lot of people doing that. And there are a number of people who call themselves record labels and are signing bands and putting them out into the world without actually spending money and hiring a proper publicist. And people are finding out about the music, which is great, but it’s also not so great. Because it’s, like, that one Wavves song is pretty good, but you don’t listen to it again because you have to listen to something else that is supposed to be great. There is not much focus.
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I’m a record kind of guy. If there are two or three songs that I don’t like on a record, then I don’t like the record and I don’t listen to it. I’m concerned with records from start to finish, which I know people aren’t, these days. People go on iTunes and listen to thirty seconds of a song, and they decide that they like that song and they buy it. To me that seems like going and randomly picking a scene from a movie and not the entire movie.
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Sometimes I feel even more alienated when I connect directly with people on Twitter because I, in someone’s head, am somehow a greater human being than that person because I am in a band that puts out records. That makes me really uncomfortable. If it were up to me, everyone would be playing music and listening to and participating in that. It’s weird to have someone say, “You’re a genius.” I don’t consider myself a genius. •