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|A Chat with Why?'s Yoni Wolf
The front man and lyrical master of anticon-signed band Why? opens up over a bowl of hot soup
October 9, 2005
by Leanda Quinquet
Why? is a Berkley, California based quartet that creates the most stunning electro-pop, folk-hop, indie-rock you will ever have the privilege to hear. No joke! These lads are savage. Their mad eclectic style will knock your socks clean off. Yoni Wolf, his brother Josiah, and childhood friends Matt Meldon and Doug McDiarmid have been creating music as the band Why? for the past few years. Front man Yoni has been known for his work with fellow anticon collective member Adam Drucker (doseone) in the projects Greenthink and cLOUDDEAD. Whilst working on these projects Wolf perfected his gritty-harsh-spaz rhyming style and swiftly moved on to release two solo EPs under the name Why?
With the help of his Berkley bandmates the new record Elephant Eyelash, a twelve track LP, was recently released on anticon (Buck 65, Sage Francis, Sixtoo, Fog). The new disc is full of sharp-witted lyrics, nifty samples and class instrumentation. Why? are now in the midst of a North American tour and I caught up with Yoni for a chat about their new album, touring and the band’s future plans, over a bowl of hot and sour soup in Toronto’s Kensington Market.
Leanda Quinquet: How you doing?
Yoni Wolf: Fine.
LQ: You just played a show here in Toronto, how did that go?
YW: It went okay, it was a little thinly attended but the crowd there was great.
LQ: You had some people drive up from Buffalo and London…they were so excited…really mad!
YW: Yeah, our Toronto crowd consists of 20 people from Buffalo, NY and 20 people from London, Ontario, and maybe two people from Toronto.
LQ: I don’t know….I counted at least seven! So you’re at the beginning of your tour. How’s it going so far?
YW: It’s going well. We did Europe a few weeks ago and that was really good. We’re just starting our US tour and it’s been alright. A couple of thin shows like that, but whatever…you know?
LQ: How do the UK crowds compare to those in North America?
YW: Ummm…it’s about comparable, about the same deal.
LQ: I’ve heard crazy explanations when people try and describe what you do genre wise. For those who haven’t heard Why? how would you describe what you do?
YW: I don’t know….it’s just music to put poetry out on. A pill to swallow the poetry, that’s what I see it as. The music sort of evolves and changes over time depending on what sort of stuff we’re listening to, or what sort of ideas we have as far as how the poetry should be conveyed, like whether the poetry is more rhythmic or maybe slower.
LQ: How long have you been together?
YW: I started doing the Why? stuff myself about six years ago, then the guys started adding in over the past couple of years.
LQ: How did you meet them?
YW: Well Josiah is my brother, he does drums. I met Doug in High school and we started to play together in school whilst I was in college. I met Matt through Josiah, they went to college together. Matt started playing with the band in 2003.
LQ: Your new album is called Elephant Eyelash, what’s the story there?
YW: An elephant’s eyelash is a… (pause)…it’s a… (laughs)…it’s an erect penis!
LQ: (laughs) Are you pulling my leg?!
YW: I wouldn’t pull your leg (smiles)… It’s about anticipation and longing, yeah…
LQ: Would you say that’s the theme or maybe the tone of the record?
YW: I don’t know, I guess so. That was just what I was drawn to call the record. But [the record] also has this elephant thing going on. Elephants have memories, they’re old and sad, and I just wanted to call the record that.
LQ: Where was it recorded?
YW: It was recorded mostly at my house and Josiah’s house; we recorded on 8-tracks and all different types of stuff. All summed together on my computer and then mixed in a studio in San Francisco by Tony Espinoza.
LQ: So you produced it?
YW: Yeah, Josiah and I mostly did the production aspects, in terms of keeping track and making decisions on what to have and what not have on a song.
LQ: Do you do all the lyrics?
YW: Yeah, I write all the words.
LQ: What’s your writing style? I mean how do you write? Do you set aside time to write?
YW: I think that you have to have some time or space mentally for things to be able to come to you. But that’s how it works for me these days. I don’t set aside time and say “Okay, I’m going to write now” but if I have the head space for it, things will start to come to me, and then I sort of put them on file, you know?
LQ: I guess it must be difficult when you’re touring a lot and then come home and only have an allotted amount of time to write and record a record. I wonder how people do it!
YW: It doesn’t work that way for me. I’d like it to and maybe someday it will be like that. But at this point, I have to have the open brain space for things to really marinate.
LQ: So your new record was released on anticon, how did you hook that up?
YW: From the beginning anticon was created to put our records out.
LQ: Do you like touring?
YW: Sometimes. I do enjoy it sometimes. There are aspects that I like of it. I like the idea of, at this time in my life, wandering around the world and meeting tons of different people, and seeing tons of different places. I think it’s good for me in the long run in that way. It’s bad for me in some ways when it comes to maintaining focus artistically and creatively, because there’s so much being thrown at you and I feel like sometimes a million people telling me every night that “Aww...you’re so incredible!” can kind of screw with your brain a little bit. You know? It can mess me up in the ego and stuff like that sometimes.
LQ: Well at least you’re aware of it.
YW: Yeah, I try not to let it happen like that but, I don’t know…I think it’s good to do these things at this time in my life, but I don’t want to do it forever!
LQ: Where else will this tour take you?
YW: Well, we do the whole North America situation and then we go over to Europe for a month.
LQ: You’ve been there a few times before right?
YW: Yeah, we’ve been there a few times, it’s always fun. I like going to Europe because each country has its own feel to it. It lots of fun.
LQ: How’s the record being received back home in California?
YW: Everybody that has gotten it really seems to enjoy it, our friends really like it and different music magazine critics like it.
LQ: Good stuff! Where can people get a copy of Elephant Eyelash?
YW: The anticon website or any local mom and pop music shop.
LQ: Yoni, I’d like to thank you very much for talking to us…
YW: Thank you!
For more information on Why?: www.anticon.com, www.myspace.com/whydontising