Interview with David Bazan & Say Hi!
Pedro the Lion leader David Bazan began the tour for his new solo album Curse Your Branches earlier this month. Dave is joined by low-fi, indie pop band Say Hi!, his fellow labelmates on Barsuk Records. The tour kicked off October 1st in San Francisco and ends November 11th in Seattle. We caught an interview with Dave and Say Hi’s Eric Elbogen before their show at the Casbah in San Diego.
Say Hi! started in New York City when Eric Elbogen self-released the band’s debut album Discosadness on his own label, Euphobia Records. “It all started in Brooklyn. I started making the first record when I moved to New York and finished it in 2001 That was the start of things for the band. The goal at the time was to find a label to put it out. It took seven years for that to happen, because I was releasing records myself up until the latest one. Which ended up being a really good thing. I was just trying to do what every kid who has a guitar does, trying to write good songs, figure out how to get on tour and make good records,” said Eric.
For the release of Discosadness, Eric created his own label Euphobia Records to produce and release Say Hi’s material. “[Euphobia Records] was primarily to get my own music out. I did have aspirations to put out other bands, which I actually came very close to doing. But in the end, it ended up not being a feasible thing from a cost and time perspective. It was appropriate at the time, from both an ascetic and financial point of view. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve been able to do thus far if I hadn’t done it myself for a bunch of records new plans There’s nothing going on right now, it’s on hiatus. But who knows, at some point when I’m really too old to keep touring I might revisit that idea.”
This March, Say Hi released their sixth full length album Oohs & Aahs before hitting the road with Dave Bazan. As Eric is creative mind behind the band, his cast of touring musicians has varied through the years. “It’s been a lot of my friends mixed in with the occasional Craig’s List ad. Not so much anymore, which I am thankful for because you never quite know who you’re gonna get when you do it that way. It’s usually musicians who play in other bands or have their own bands and they have a little time to play music with me. Alex, the drummer, has been with me for a few tours now.”
With an originally limited pool of supporting musicians, Eric resourcefully relied upon drum machines for accompaniment in the early days. “There has only been one solo tour where I’ve played along with drums machines and some synths. There have been some tours where we have augmented the live band with some electronic stuff. A lot of that stuff is fake on the records, just me with a little midi controller I am happiest when it’s a completely live band.”
Say Hi!’s members have been accompanying solo Bazan during the tour, stepping in the back him every night on the tour. “It’s just beginning [of the tour] and the first couple days of any tour is a whirlwind. We’re playing two sets a night, which is a lot more exhausting than one would think. By the time we’re getting to Dave’s set every night, we’re just drenched in sweat and achy all over. But it’s fun and a good work out I love Dave’s music.”
Say Hi’s rise to fame was fueled by Elbogen’s initiative and self-motivation, as he wrote, recorded, produced and released the band’s first four albums. He recorded the music on a computer he built himself, and coordinated the album artwork. “ I have done all the design and layout, but its been a different illustrator on every record. I like to have a catalogue that looks good together and has similar thematic layout. There was a PC that I made the first four records on that I put together myself. But since I moved into the mac world, I just buy them premade. I know my way around the OS X operating system and a little bit of HTML. I have been working in Logic for the past couple records. I’m trying to make the switch over to Ableton live, because it has different approaches to workflow that I like.”
In December of 2008, Say Hi signed to Seattle based independent label Barsuk Records. Eric also relocated from New York to Seattle. “[The transition to Barsuk] has been as seamless as possible. Those guys are great. I trust everything that they do. They’re all really passionate about music and fun people to work with. [I moved to Seattle] three years ago. It’s great. I really love it out there. I like Brooklyn and NYC a lot. It’s definitely different. There’s a lot that I love about the Pacific Northwest and Seattle. And right now, it’s definitely more of an appropriate city for me. I can afford to not have seven roommates. Everything in New York is just difficult to do. Which is kind of what makes it such an amazing city to live in. But you get older and your priority becomes a good night sleep and a safe place to park your van and Seattle is a more appropriate place for that sort of thing.”
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The September release of Curse Your Branches marked the solo debut for Dave Bazan. Bazan had formerly been the primarly songwriter for both the Headphones and Pedro the Lion. Pedro the Lion released four full length albums and several EPs.. “ I quit using the Pedro the Lion brand name because it represented a way of doing things that was broken. And so I just needed to kill that brand and figure out what naturally would be leftover. It ended up being my own name and playing solo. It was natural then to put out a record. There are a couple of key changes from Pedro to the Bazan stuff, both the EP and Album. I have put fewer restrictions on myself as far as what I can pull off live. I put fewer restrictions on myself as far as what I allowed to go on the record. With Pedro the Lion Ii definitely tried to put on the record only what I can pull of live, or a little closer to that. With this stuff, I said screw that and I’m going to make it sound cool on the record and we’ll figure out the live thing later,” Dave said.
Before the solo project, Dave worked closely with fellow musician T.W. Walsh in both Pedro the Lion and the Headphones. “We’re buddies, very, very close friends We have similar ideas about things. But, he lives in Boston and I live in Seattle. So it’s not that convenient, but we’re scheming ways to make music together. I always want to have Walsh in the band, but that just won’t work. He’s got a job and he’s gotta do that.”
Dave and tourmates Say Hi are both signed to Barsuk Records. Yet Dave & Eric met prior Say Hi’s signing. “[Eric] wasn’t on Barsuk when I met him. We met because we played a show together in New York in 2006. He moved to Seattle, he was living in NY at the time We just were seeing each other at shows and bars and just hit it off. They’re my band too. Right now, the three guys playing in Say Hi! are in the Bazan band, plus one guy. He understands my criteria might be a little bit more than a guy who isn’t the leader of his own band. He’s very conscientious and responsive This is the first lineup that I’ve put together, the last time was 2005, just two old buddies of mine that’d been playing together forever. It’s worked out well.”
While Elgoben is a recently relocated Seattlelite, Bazan has held roots there for several decades. “I like it there a lot. There are a lot of really smart people making music that really appeals to me. It’s a really fertile ground from whatever reason for music. I like the weather. I don’t know how much of an effect it’s had, because I haven’t made music any other place I like doing my thing there. I like a lot of American cities and European ones. But as far as American cities go, I like Seattle best. Portland is a pretty close second, and San Fran. I like the west coast urban thing. San Fran is probably the best example of that, for my tastes. As far as a place to live, Seattle has a lot of things going for it. The natural beauty of the landscape–the surrounding mountains and waterways–is stunning. I’ve lived there almost twenty years. Whenever the sun comes out and you can see the Olympics across the way and the Cascades the other way, its just astounding.”
Characteristic of Bazan’s music, Curse Your Branches stands on strong lyrical contributions from Bazan ranging from Christianity to alcoholism. “The lyrical references definitely follow my own [stuff]. I grew up believing in hell and now I don’t. Not only do I think that it’s made up by greedy and mean spirited people, I refer to it as the “poison in the well”. I think of all the Christian doctrines that ironically prevent people from treating one another how they wanted to be treated, which was how Jesus apparently sums of the Old Testament Law when asked, I think it is the one that prevents people the most.”
Bazan’s past lyrical endeavors have explored faith, politics and other subjects with wit and introspection. Curse Your Branches follows suit with contemplative, inquiring songs concerning Dave’s personal relationship to Christianity and religion as a whole. “It’s a shift from Christianity. I don’t know what you call it. I have called it agnostic, and maybe that’s accurate. In the end I don’t think another label is necessary. Certainly, I’m not Christian.”
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