Say Hi To Your Mom with Nada Surf at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (October 12). $15. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Brooklyn's Say Hi To Your Mom is actually one guy doing most of everything. Eric Elbogen is what you might call an indie rock multi-instrumentalist.
"I taught myself how to play guitar in junior high," he says, taking a break from rehearsal with his new band members. "I played guitar and bass pretty much exclusively through college, and when I decided I wanted to make a record by myself, I started teaching myself keyboard and drums. I can make anything make noise. Whether I'm any good is up to the listener."
On all his records (including his latest, Ferocious Mopes, where a guest drummer's thrown in for good measure) he plays all these things, but when it comes to the live show he needs a little more help. Otherwise, he'd have to either pre-record or play everything all at once, which is a mildly amusing idea in theory but would probably get pretty tired after about 20 minutes.
Elbogen says there's a different dynamic onstage than on the recordings. "The live show is a lot more rock 'n' roll than the records."
Finding people to play live shows hasn't always been the easiest task. "Chris, the drummer, has been with me for nine months, but the bass and keyboard/guitar players are new."
I was amused by a posting on his website asking for people who won't audition, join the band, then drop out because they refuse to go on tour.
"You'd be surprised how many times that has happened. At least four or five people did that to me in the last few months. I understand there's not huge money in indie rock, but I wish people wouldn't waste my time."
Elbogen puts out all his records himself on his very own record label, Euphobia. He records them in his bedroom on a computer he built himself. (He says he's never considered recording in the bathroom or kitchen. It would bug his roommates.)
We chat for a bit about what a money pit this kind of venture can be, and I suggest he go the route of Electric Frankenstein and get some corporate sponsorship in the form of ads on his CD.
"You know, I'm not opposed to whoring myself out, but I think that might be too far for me, only because my records are really the only sacred things in my life."
So it must be doubly frustrating that a Pitchfork review of the record accuses Elbogen of opting for style over substance and mistaking "quirkiness for originality."
I can see this point. Elbogen has one of those stupid annoying bios on his website that's all "ooh, look how whimsical and cryptic I can be," involving references to fish, squirrels and physics but telling you fuck all about the musician. Since Elbogen is a rock writer himself (though he writes under a pseudonym), you'd think he'd be a bit more helpful.
The record is enjoyable in a lo-fi, fuzzy, indie rock kind of way. Nice melodies, oh-so-clever lyrics - college charts material, methinks. Obvious comparisons to Death Cab and Pedro the Lion abound in reviews.
"Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big nerd and not that stylish at all. I spent eight months of 12-hour days making that record. I wouldn't agree with the statement that I choose style over substance."
Still, the style over substance question seems to be the disease of indie rock. It can be pretty hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. "Yes, that is true. I'll hear about a buzz band and I'll give them a shot because everyone's talking about them, and more times than not I'll be disappointed. But I spend all of my time writing songs and making records.
"We don't have a professional stylist yet."