Yoni Wolf’s main objective is simple: make good music. But the music of his band, Why?, performing March 5 and March 6 in the Bay Area, is far more complex.
Their latest effort, Mumps, Etc. is riddled with tight rhymes and catchy hooks backed by a live instrumentation. We caught up with Yoni just after the start of a nationwide tour discuss the album and his songwriting process, online interactions with fans and his upcoming visit to the West Coast.
You just started the tour, how is it going?
It’s been good so far, we’ve been filling out the shows.
Is there any spot in particular that you’re really excited about playing?
I’m looking forward to getting to the West Coast because it’s been pretty damn cold where we are.
Where are you?
We’re somewhere in Illinois, I don’t even know the name of it; some college town.
You are classified as an American alternative hip-hop indie rock band, so who’s your current favorite hip-hop group and favorite indie rock band?
According to whom?
Wikipedia… But we all know how credible that site is.
I don’t know; I don’t really like that question. I’d say maybe the Dirty Projectors, but deriving genres isn’t my favorite. I don’t like the separation of music. We just try to make music that sounds good.
What’s one of your favorite lyrics and why?
Different things hit me sometimes; oftentimes I don’t think about what I’m singing. It’s just out of memory. Lots of things affect me though, like a mantra. Last night I was singing this one lyric—“When you say your name, our tongues catch plain and you wonder why we’ve got nothing to say”—and it made me laugh. I don’t think it’s my best lyric but for some reason it made me smile and laugh in that moment.
A fan wrote on a message board to your video “Sod in the Seed” that you guys are “a brilliant satire of modern western society.” Do you agree with this statement?
I don’t think we are a satire. We like to poke fun of stuff, but I definitely wouldn’t call it satire. Occasionally, I might stretch reality within my writing. It’s not satire—it’s not taking something and playing on it—it’s more just coming from reality. I use a lot of irony and a lot of humor and metaphors, but I wouldn’t call it satire. I think the idea of making satire is a little more thought through than how I work anyway. For me it’s all about the process. The idea of setting out to make a satire is more calculated than I set out to be.
What is your process?
I have no idea, really. It’s just mysterious and things come at weird times when I’m not expecting it. It comes very slowly and builds up bit by bit. I do a lot of editing.
How long does it take for you to write a song?
It can take up to five years of just adding things and rewriting things and developing ideas. Not working on the same song, but letting it marinate and let it leave your mind. Only then can you kind of go forward with it. So yeah, it can take a lot of time. I try not to force it.
In the song “The Hollows,” you sing about seeing two people fuck each other on a basketball court and getting ripped off by some gypsies. Was this fact?
Yeah, those were true things when I was on tour.
Do you travel a lot?
I rarely travel not for work. I wish I could. I’ve dabbled here and there, but by and large I travel for work. I think I still get a good feel for the culture. I’ve been to Berlin about 10 times now and have done festivals here and there. You get a feel; you don’t learn a town inside out but you get a general sense.
With your latest effort, Mumps, Etc. it seems like you went back to your hip-hop roots. Why did you deviate from that style on Eskimo Snow?
I don’t think of it cut and dry like that. Living it, you make what comes to you. It’s not like it was a conscious thing and I was like “ok, it’s let’s not do this.” I do feel like with Eskimo Snow, and with every record, I’m aware of where it’s going to go. I was going more for a roomy sound with an open room with five guys playing live, which is what it was. I think on Mumps, Etc. we were going for a tighter sound.
You get ideas of what you want the album to sound like, and it will change from there. When I started writing it, I formed tighter rhythm structures. Over time I’ve gotten tighter and tighter with my lyrics. This is just an extension of that. It just felt like it needed to be rapped because that’s how the lyrics were coming out.
I never want to be pigeonholed. I want people to expect the unexpected. You turn it on and get something new every time, but not in a contrived way. Take someone like Beck, who I love, but sometimes his albums come off premeditated. We may do something similar but way more subtle.
How many outfits did you wear in the “Paper Hearts” video?
Again, it’s what I was saying about process. I had the camera set up for over a month. Every day and every morning before I went to bed I would go through it once and just shoot. It became a ritual I would do for that month. It was whatever I was wearing at the time. I gave all my footage to the editor and he just went wild with it; cut it up real cool. It was about the passage of time: my beard grows and I gained and lost weight within that month. I don’t know how that happened but I must have lost ten pounds, you can physically see it.
You are very interactive with your fans on your website. Has this type of communication ever gone too far? For example, one fan asked for your address so she could direct the details of “all the dirty things” she’d do to you, and you gave her an address.
Haha, yeah it was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; that’s the White House. You have to keep a level of privacy. You don’t want people showing up at your house. With that said, it’s good to interact with fans. Usually I just make up bullshit. What’s twitter and tumbler without humor? It’s cool that you have that quick and painless way of interacting with people. It can be overwhelming after a show, it’s hard to interact and roam around, and I only have so much voice left.
When you’re not touring or making music, what are you doing?
It’s been a while since I’ve not toured or made music. I like watching Netflix and HBO. I get into series, I don’t read anymore. I do crossword puzzles mainly when I’m sitting on the toilet. When it’s nice out I just go and walk around for hours. I like to exercise and to run and hang out with friends and go out to movies.
Do you ever get recognized?
I get recognized occasionally, but I’m not like Brad Pitt or any shit like that. I’m not at the level of stifling celebs.
What’s going on with the documentary?
Every album that comes out we do a series of mockumentaries with our friend Dave. There is a real documentary out there that they’ve been shooting since 2010. I’m not sure what’s going on with it. They have a lot of stuff, some I wish they didn’t have. But I trust the guys a lot. Some of them I’ve become good friends with. So, we will see.
Why? performs March 5 at the New Parish in Oakland and March 6 at Great American Music Hall.