Interview: WHY?

Confession: coherency isn’t always something I’m blessed with. Especially when I’ve got someone like Yoni Wolf on the line: epiphanic lyricist whose prowess at delivering his neuroses over a fusion of hip hop and indie rock has been lauded from everyone from the major music press to a body building website’s forum (the response to the suggestion he’s the best lyricist currently making music, “u mad he’s a white jewish indie kid [sic]?” an arguably articulate counterpoint, published by a user whose avatar suggests he spends an inordinate amount of time pointing women in the direction of the gun show, that does absolutely nothing to dispel the notion).

So when Wolf tells me he hasn’t read many of the reviews of EP Sod In The Seed… “What are you thinking about it?” Well, there’s a deep breath and then out gush the idiot outpourings of a giant, unstoppable force of puerile blatherings.

“…Wearing a hole in my iPod…

“…Typically acerbically witty meditative explorations…

“…Return to the ethos of Alopecia…”

On and on I babble, like someone’s drunk uncle at a wedding, except without the rampant sexism, racial slurs and obviously undone flies with occasional peeping. Eventually though, the lack of oxygen reaching my brain reaches critical status and I begin to wind down.

“But, um, where were you coming from with this EP?’

Blood flow to my head returns to normal and the interview proper gets underway; honestly, it’s probably a relief to us both.

“I kind of figure out later what things tend to mean or what the underlying themes are so I’m not 100% sure exactly, but each of these songs has a little bit of a different idea to them; I’m not sure honestly yet what the EP adds up to… I finished the album a lot earlier, so I’ve listened to it a lot more, so I have more of an idea what that means altogether; the EP I haven’t quite figured out yet.”

It’s been a quiet few years for WHY? following the respective 2008 and 2009 releases of Alopecia and Eskimo Snow; the time since saw bouts of touring before Wolf retired to his parents home in Cincinnati and took up yoga while working on his new material, recently making it back on to the road or a ‘solo’ tour- actually made with his brother and band mate, Josiah. “I couldn’t do it without him, you know? It’s just so important having someone that I feel that close to, it’s so important… We do occasionally run across some tension but ultimately it’s a really good thing.”

So it was to a particularly expectant audience that EP Sod In The Seed was released, not least because of the largely lukewarm reception faced by Eskimo Snow: a record touted by Wolf as the “least hip hop” yet and disparaged by critics and fans alike as falling flat after Alopecia  ?  the self-aware lyrics, lacking the biting wit, tipping over into morose introspection.  But the time away seems to have served Wolf well, as Sod In The Seed immediately heralds a return to his dry stylings, as he moves from the arrogant ripostes of the semi famous in the title track, to the black humour of the positively pitiable persona in Shag Carpet, who misses his ex girlfriend and will go through the purse of any unwitting woman he beds.

The EP itself comprises the cuttings that didn’t make it onto the LP and precedes the release of the full length Mumps, Etc, due out on October 8th.

“The album is similar to the EP in a way I guess, but has its own unique idea to an extent. I prefer the album; I guess I chose in my mind the better songs for the album.” It’s this typically dark and derisive humour of the EP carries over into the LP and stamps Mumps, Etc, as Wolf addresses everything from death and killers (“His text says not with carcass”- Bitter Thoughts), to confessionals and disease, beginning as he intends to go on with album opener Jonathan’s Hope, in which we’re treated to the imagery of a bloated testicle and the stink of sickness that “still to this day stays with me/ And irked as some dumb tart from Illinois/ In a shirt that says “I Heart Michigan Boys.””

“I think this is what tends to happen when I’m left to my own devices and, you know, that kind of stuff, maybe,” Wolf shrugs.

It’s also  a result of an approach that he describes as more considered than the live recording process that birthed both Alopecia and Eskimo Snow. “We would record maybe a couple of things in the very beginning, then really just layering things… It just had a tighter approach to the arrangement; we were very specific as to what was on tape.”

As is to be expected, with the new releases come the band’s return to the road, where they plan to stay for the next year  ?  something Wolf says he’s looking forward to.

“That’s kind of the final part of the process in that way: first you write stuff, then you record it, then you play it for the people, you know?”

Really, it’s an entirely welcome end to too long a silence.

When his PR later tells me that, “He really enjoyed talking to you,” I shake my head, proffer a self-deprecating grin and gratefully accept it.

I knew Yoni ‘got’ me.