From literature to movies, the subject of vampirism long has been a cornerstone of our popular culture, and it's easy to see why. Thematically, characters who happen to be blood-sucking and undead can offer rich opportunities for metaphor, allegory and symbolism.
Through the use of the vampiric device, the artistic imagination can explore such topics as hunger, addiction, identity issues, seduction, sexual awakening, good vs. evil, the nature of religion, blood-borne diseases, the dynamics of predators and prey, fear of the unknown, attraction to the unknown, the embrace of darkness, the search for immortality, the dichotomy of elegance and vulgarity, among others.
It's a little surprising, then, that more musicians and songwriters haven't tackled the subject. Perhaps few of them could give vampirism the close attention that the group Say Hi to Your Mom does on its recent CD, Impeccable Blahs, on which every song is inspired by vampires.
Not that Eric Elbogen, essentially the sole member of Say Hi to Your Mom, puts too fine a point on it when discussing the songs on Impeccable Blahs over the phone.
"I think my intention with writing that song cycle was to, I guess, leave things vague enough so that when people listen to the songs, those sort of metaphors could function in many different ways, depending on what the listener hears.
"I mean, there's definitely things that are up front, such as when vampires are a metaphor for those people who always are draining the energy from you. But in many ways I would avoid giving more insight into the lyrics, so that some surprises and mysteries remain for the listener."
Elbogen, though, solves one mystery during a discussion of the song "Angels and Darlas," an obvious reference to two of the more tragic characters in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mythos.
He admits he wrote the whole album under the influence of his obsessive affection for that cult-favorite TV show.
"Actually, the whole record is directly inspired by (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). With 'Angels and Darlas,' I wanted to figure out a way to give a little wink to other people who like that show. I basically just named that song after those two characters because I think that, although that television show definitely has a cult following, I like to think it's also sort of a special secret among people who are very into it."
Say Hi to Your Mom, which grows into a three-piece when on the road for concert tours, will perform on Tuesday, April 10, at Plush.
Elbogen sings and plays guitar, bass, synthesizers and computer programs; on the current tour his compatriots are keyboardist Nouella Johnston and drummer Andrew Squire.
Johnston and Squire, by the way, are relatively new to playing with Say Hi. For several years, Elbogen's backup musicians were drummer Chris Egan III and keyboardist Jeff Sheinkopf, who actually helped record parts of Impeccable Blahs.
"They promptly decided they didn't want to tour," Elbogen says of Egan and Sheinkopf. "It's all been very friendly, though."
The group will perform songs from all four Say Hi to Your Mom albums, all wonderfully lo-fi, quasi-laptop affairs recorded at Elbogen's home studio in Brooklyn. (He recently moved to Seattle.)
Beginning with Discosadness in 2002, Say Hi's recordings have won their own cult following for Elbogen's near-perfect sense of pop smarts. Media attention descended in full force on Say Hi's second CD, the remarkably tuneful Numbers and Mumbles in 2004.
"That second record really will always be something that is especially dear to me. The band has certainly come a long way since, but that record certainly sparked the initial whatever it was, that thing where people started paying attention to my music. That's when people who weren't my friends and family started coming out to see shows."
Elbogen promises that album's "Let's Talk About Spaceships," a perennial crowd favorite, is usually on the set list at Say Hi to Your Mom shows.
But much of the show will consist of songs from Impeccable Blahs, which includes such gorgeous, wistful and eminently catchy tunes as "These Fangs," "Sweet Sweet Heartkiller," "Not as Goth as They Say We Are" and the lush, hypnotic seven-minute epic, "She Just Happens to Date the Prince of Darkness."
Not only does Elbogen, who just turned 30, record his music at home, he also releases his CDs through his own label, Euphobia, freeing him from the tyranny and hunger of the corporate vampires who suck the life from once-independent artists while lining their own pockets.
Elbogen, who already has completed the bulk of work on a fifth Say Hi to Your Mom album, doesn't make an issue out of his independence.
But he concedes that artists such as he or Ani DiFranco--or for that matter Prince, who ran his own NPG label for a while--could never have become independently successful 20 or 30 years ago.
"It's weird, but I was talking about this to someone a couple months ago. I am sure every band that exists sort of feels it does (so) at a unique or interesting time in the progression and evolution of the music industry, but I've been especially fortunate to start doing the things that I've done at this time."
He cites running his own label as only one aspect of this evolution.
"With the technology of things coming into its own, everything from iTunes to the Internet, to the fact that I can get an affordable GPS to help me get from city to city on tour, it's amazing. And I definitely wouldn't have been able to make the records I've made without the processing power and programs that are on computers these days. That's very much something I've fallen in love with artistically, and have used as a tool in my writing."