WHY? // A conversation with Yoni Wolf
WHY? conductor Yoni Wolf has become a central figure within both the current indie-rock and alternative hip-hop scenes. First known for his role within excellent cult figures cLOUDEAD, Yoni went on to forge a successful career of his own as WHY?. It was through this project that Yoni managed to display his excellent lyrical ability best, writing some of my personal favourite lines of all time.
With three years since the last WHY? release, fans have grown increasingly impatient for more worldly wisdoms. Luckily Yoni recently released an excellent EP Sod in the Seed, and has announced details of a new album, MUMPS, Etc. The perfect time then for me to catch up with him and chat about the production of the new album and his attitude to his back catalogue.
So what brings you to England?
Just to do interviews. Promotion!
You've just had the released of the Sod in the Seed EP, can you talk me through the ideas and themes behind the EP?
Ideas and themes? Erm... That's a tough one! What do you think? Have you thought of that?
Erm, I've only had it for a couple of days so I haven't really had time to digest the lyrics yet.
I was hoping you could tell me! Do you feel there's a theme behind it?
I think there is, to an extent but I didn't go about it having a concept for it or anything like that. I think there are some things that tie in. I don't write stuff with the intention of having a central theme. I figure it out later. Yeah, I think there's a feeling of being distant and kinda... trying to think of all the songs.. .the gap between this character and other people. I don't know, hell, you'll have to listen to it some more!
The opening track, and single, seems quite reflective. Do you feel this is something important to your music?
Yeah, I think my music in general tends to be pretty self reflective yeah.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable sharing these quite personal lyrics?
Er, not really. Anything that I have put into a song is something that some part of me has a desire to share. So I've already made that decision when I wrote it down, or sang it on tape, that I wanted to share that. Some things feel like a stretch to share but feel exciting because of that.
Would you describe your lyrics as dark?
Some of them are dark. Some of them are joyess and exuberant! I'd like to think I reach into most emotions within songs and different parts of songs.
In the new EP, do you feel you've progressed musically?
I mean, it's definitely different to the previous ones. It's up to the ear of the beholder whether it's progressed in a negative way or a positive way, or just a different way. It's definitely a newer sound for us.
It seemed to me to feature less guitar?
Yeah, that's kinda deliberate. I was feeling kinda sick of electric guitar, how it eats at the track, eats at the vocals. So I kept that to a minimum. There's a decent amount of acoustic guitar. It's difficult for me to remember the EP songs versus the LP songs. Not too much electric and generally if it is there it's in stabs, with the snares. Like a Beatles style as opposed to My Bloody Valentine.
Would you say the LP is in a similar style to the EP?
Yeah, it's a similar style. They sound slightly different but not in a way that I can sum up.
The opening track and single, I noticed, featured a contrast between your usual 'singing' style and something closer to rapping, was this deliberate?
It's just an intro, I wrote that as a separate thing and juxtaposed them. I thought they'd be kinda cool together.
Do you think of WHY? as a Hip-hop project?
I don't think in terms of genre, that's not really where my head goes. I like to feel creative and be able to change styles in a drop of a hat if it feels right for the song. I feel like at this point, in the state of music, with the world being so small, I don't feel there's a need to section off in styles music. 'Oh, look there's all the punks over there wearing black!', 'There's all the Hip-Hop guys with baggy pants.' You know what I mean? I feel like that there's less and less of that these days and more people listening to just a bunch of different stuff, I mean I do that.
You have done quite a few projects that are definitely quite a bit closer to hip-hop, is this something you're interested in returning to?
I'm sure I'll work on other projects in the future, I don't have anything planned at the moment, but I'm sure I'll get back to something at some point.
Are you ever tempted to return to more experimental stuff like cLOUDDEAD?
Sure, it's hard to say what the future holds. I think everything I do is pretty experimental, even it it turns out pretty mainstream, although I don't know that WHY? are mainstream. I'm always experimenting when I working I'm not at the point where I have a formula by any means.
Your vocal style immediately marks out of music as something quite different. Do you feel you intend to write something quite different, or does it just happen that way?
Just trying to be truthful and follow that little thing that says 'that's good and that's not good.' A path that seems to be good to me I'll just go down it, whether it's different or sounds like somebody else.
Do you ever feel that at a particular time you'll go a different direction? Is it just based on feeling, rather than planning?
I was telling the guy just before you that we will have a general idea of what we want something to sound like. When you're writing you do have to follow that voice inside you that tells you if something sounds good, or isn't quite you.
On the last record you did you had a much more vibrant and 'live' sound, why did you choose this?
I guess we were trying to make something that sounded more live, it was looser than other stuff we'd ever done. I let the guys play a little more whatever. On 'Against Me' I told everybody the chords, and you know the feeling, and we just sort of went for it. As opposed to something like Sod in the Seed or on Alopecia where it's more 'here's the part.' That was an intentional thing, and I was going for a more 'guys in a room playing stuff' feel I guess.
Are you interested in returning to that, because the new one is quite different.
The new one is quite produced yeah and extremely tightly arranged. Would I go back to something looser? Yeah I would, in some way shape or form, yeah I would.
Would you say WHY? is a very collaborative project or do you take a more central role?
It depends on the album but it's collaborative. Not in the writing necessarily, it has been at times though. I think Eskimo Snow was the most collaborative writing-wise out of all the WHY? albums. Production-wise I'd say Elephant Eyelash was the most collaborative between me and brother, arrangement-wise as well.
With this one the recording was very collaborative, with this one I arranged it mostly myself. It's still collaborative though, I mean everybody helped!
Is the album finished then?
Yeah, it's finished.
Have you got a title?
It's called MUMPS, Etc.
What's the meaning behind that?
You'll have to listen to it, you'll see. I mean you won't see maybe, but I think you will if you listen to it enough!
Is there any music in particular you took extra inspiration from in making this album?
I get asked the inspiration questions a lot and I never know what the answer is. I've been inspired by so many things it's hard to pinpoint.
Do you think you could ever pinpoint from any point in your career a particular influence that was important?
I think with Eskimo Snow I was trying to make something in the drag city world. The Bonny Prince Billy and the Silver Jews. That sort of sound, a bit sloppier and slow. Perhaps that's why I don't like it as much. I think I was trying too hard to be something I'm not? Sometimes I'll hear songs of it and think 'that's kinda cool,' so it's hard to say.
Do you listen to your old music a lot?
Nah, I really don't. I don't have any of my previous albums so no I don't. I sometimes get the urge to. I haven't heard 'Elephant Eyelash' in years, so I'd like to listen to it, but I don't have it. I did have copies but I gave them all away.
That said I've listened to the new album constantly, still, even now. Still trying to wrap my head around it.
So you're planning on touring at the end of August?
Yeah, starting in August then to the fall.
Are you looking forward to it?
I am actually. I think it will be a good one this time.
Do you feel more comfortable performing or in the studio?
Both have their soft spot in my heart. And both are fucking terrible sometimes. I like them both equally. I couldn't perform without the recording stuff, so I have to say that. And when I die that will still be around while I won't be playing shows.
You seem to do quite a few video blogs online, why is this?
I wouldn't say too many, I've done a couple. Each one I've done is for a specific reason or saying a specific thing. Whether it be an announcement or something.
Do you like the movement of bands to twitter and becoming more conversational, or did you enjoy the more mysterious natures of the business before?
It's definitely different. It's a weird thing. I've sort of embraced it to an extent, I'm learning how to do it. I think the goal is to do in a way which is not detrimental to my introverted self.
The Sod In The Seed EP is out now. 'Mumps, etc' will be released on October 8th via City Slang.
Purchase and listen
Why? are over in the UK for the first time since the release of their 2009 album, Eskimo Snow. This tour is going to be a newly expanded line up. It will be the first time Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson from Fog join this vastly talented band. WHY? will be playing tracks from all three of their albums, Yoni Wolf's first solo exploration Elephant Eyelash, the follow up Alopecia, where he was joined by both his brother Josiah Wolf and Doug McDiarmid and the latest Eski... (continued) [read more]
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