THE S/T INTERVIEW: Yoni Wolf of Why?

[CW from top: Josiah Wolf, Doug McDiarmid, Yoni Wolf]

[Photos by Jacob Hand]

By Arye Dworken

self-titled: Yoni, what’s shaking?
Nothing much. Just got back from a jog. About to have some coffee and relax.

Are you still out in California?

Sure am. No plans to leave just yet. There’s been talk, some talk about moving to New York. I don’t know. The girl that I’m seeing right now is moving out there. My brother is talking about moving out there. We’ll see. Are you in the city or Brooklyn?

I’m in the city. I got married recently.
Wow, you’re all settled down and shit.

[Why? featuring members of Fog, who play on Alopecia]

Another terrific record.
Thanks, man. I appreciate that.

How did the Hollows EP come about with all the covers by Dump, Xiu Xiu, Islands, Boards of Canada and Dntel? That’s quite a roster.
I met Nick from Islands ages ago in 2002. He was a fanboy of all the shitty four-track cLOUDDEAD shit that we did back in the day. Like, hardcore. And when we were in Montreal for touring, we wound up hanging out with them, they were cool kids. We kept in touch since then.

That Unicorns record was terrific. What happened to the non-Islands guys?
I think Jamie is back in Islands now. He quit a while back when he got married to some Australian stripper or something and moved there. But I agree. [That album is] definitely good shit.

How did the Boards of Canada remix come about? Aren’t they pretty recluse?
I met them in Scotland also in 2002 when we were touring as cLOUDDEAD. They came up to us and started chatting. When we found out that they were in Boards of Canada, we like peed in our pants. After that, we kept in contact and they had done a remix of a cLOUDDEAD song a while back. After that, we heard that they never do remixes that much but I figured, what the hell. I’ll ask them to do a WHY? track. It was worth asking. I emailed Mike from Boards about it and said no sweat if you can’t do it.

He was like, “[I’m] not sure if I can get to it.” But a week later, he emailed saying that he had something they were working on and wanted to send it to me. I didn’t expect it to happen but was thrilled when it did. And the reason why this EP was great was because it’s a collaboration with all people that we listen to and really respect.

Who picked the specific songs from your repertoire?
It depends. I picked the ones for Boards and Dntel because I thought they would do good jobs with those specific songs. But Dntel KILLED it. He killed it. It sounds like nothing he has ever done.

Lyrically, Alopecia is an intense album. It may be a heavier and more introspective record. That song “Good Friday” in particular is an awkward song to listen to.
Yeah, I guess it is a darker record. A little more resigned to the hopelessness of what’s going on. But with that being said, it doesn’t take itself as seriously as Elephant Eyelash. It’s a little more disparate but not as desperate. It’s lost and okay with that. The other one was trying really hard to find something. It’s an abstract way of putting it but that’s how I see this new record. I played with the way I could say things without sounding like a sad sack.

There are some people who would listen to the lyrics and would find a preoccupation with mortality. I find references to suicide in your lyrics nearly half-a-dozen times.
I don’t know. I don’t even know how to answer that. It’s kind of an intense question to ask somebody. I guess it’s sub-conscious. I think mortality is a theme that most people our age think about. I don’t consciously put themes in these songs and maybe you’re pointing one out : I guess it’s something that I think about and it doesn’t have to be negative. It could be a positive thing : here I am talking about suicide but not having done it. It’s a conscious choice to stay alive.

Most people got into Elephant Eyelash in a very delayed way.
I expected that to happen. We’re not a big band on a big label. We don’t have a million dollar marketing campaign and we have to rely on word-of-mouth. I expect the delay to happen. In fact, I anticipate it.

Did you want Alopecia to be more accessible or less so? What was the mind frame going into the studio?
The process itself was very different. Our intention in making this record was organic and natural. It just flows without premeditating. Sometimes we have to look back on what we’ve done and then gauge how it’s going to be perceived. I have a vague notion of what I want but I’ve yet to accomplish that idea or expectation with a recording. As far as accessibility is concerned–that wasn’t in our head at all. When it comes to writing lyrics, though, I’ve gotten better at writing syntax and sentence structure. Images and structures that will get my idea across in a concise way with as few words as possible. I get way deeper into rhyme and intricate rhyme schemes.

Now, the recording process was way different. Elephant was recorded in a bunch of different places on 8-tracks and computers and compiled and then mixed in a studio. For this one, I made demos on my 8-track that sounded really similar to what it sounds like on the record. We rehearsed the shit out of those songs and then recorded them live with some overdubs. I’m not sure if that made a true difference in the sound but the process was quite different.

Is this the first record as Why? the band as opposed to the person?
Elephant Eyelash was released as a band as well but it wasn’t a cohesive recording like this record. My brother [Josiah] played a ton of shit on that last record but I guess I’m responsible for the writing and the lyrics so it’s seen as a solo thing.

“Gemini (The Birthday Song)”


Has your popularity changed as far as the amount of people showing up to shows?
Yeah, but we’re stuck in this in-between phase where the big venues are too big and the small venues are too small. We gotta find the middle venues.

Your music works out personal issues often. Last time we spoke we talked about your father, a rabbi, and his passionate involvement in religion. In fact, there’s a sample of him talking on the record [Elephant Eyelash].
He disowned me and we haven’t spoken since.

Really? I’m sorry.
I’m just kidding. [Laughs]

That’s not funny!

My dad is a songwriter also and he digs the records. He was kind of proud that he influenced my lyrics. He asked me if there was a song about him on the new record. But yeah, the lyrics have definitely affected my relationships. It’s a creepy little thrill. A creepy little stalker thrill. Is it healthy? I don’t know. Sometimes the people I write about don’t even know I wrote about them. But when they get it, I have some explaining to do. That’s part of like. That’s what it means to be friends with me.

It sounds like a Larry David kind of existence.
Ha ha. That’s kind of my life, my friend. I relate to that character. I found myself in that situation quite often.

“These Few Presidents” is my favorite track on the record. That one line “even though we haven’t seen you in years, yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere:” Will that person know who you’re talking about?
Uhhh :. I don’t know. We’ll see. [Laughs]

Where did the album titles come?

I had alopecia on my neck and it disappeared when I started writing the record. Awhile back, I stepped in glass and the infection in my foot caused the hair in my neck to stop growing. It’s connected like that. Slug [of Atmosphere] told me what it was. We were in Baton Rouge and he was like, what the fuck is that? Dude, you have alopecia. I looked it up and he was right. But the title is a personal metaphor. The idea of being bare, stripped down and not hiding behind anything. Not coloring the truth, just trying to be as clean as forthright as possible. I guess to be hairless.

That’s quite the metaphor.

Yeah : I don’t know. It works for me.

MP3: “The Hollows”

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