Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Band Interview: Yoni Wolf of WHY?

This interviewed originally appeared on the Austinist on March 7, 2008.

Lurking in the near, near future is the album Alopecia, the strange, provocative, and incredibly engaging new album from Why?, a Bay Area band that seems to be ticketed for a whole new bunch of notoriety, right quick. While Why? in the past has often incited listeners to, well, invoke the name of the band–mostly because of scattershot verbosity and music that seemed more pieced-together than refined–they’ve pulled all their unbridled talent together into a cohesive and coherent, not to mention very good, whole. And, seeming as they’re going to be tromping all about Austin’s stomping grounds next week for SXSW, we sent out some questions to lead figure and wordsmith Yoni Wolf. You know, just to see what he’s all about.

Alopecia! Your most accessible and genre-confounding record yet, it seems like Why? is poised for a much wider audience. What, to you, makes this album different or more broadly accessible than your earlier work?

Well, I think we got our shit together a bit more this time in most every aspect of process: songwriting, arrangements, pre production, recording, mixing, mastering–the whole shebang. I think we were just somewhat more prepared every step of the way because we’ve been through it all a couple of times now.

You grew up in Cincinnati, but didn’t really find your crowd musically until you moved to San Francisco. Looking back as an adult, what about your Cincinnati experience made you the musician you are today?

I think everything I am today is based on my upbringing somehow, be it Cincinnati, Messianic Judaism, my high school friends, my siblings, my parents…

Okay, here’s academic question #1. In “Song of the Sad Assassin,” you start off by saying “we lifted the body from the water like a gown,” which is a really kick-ass metaphor. How do metaphor and image work for you in your music?

I use metaphors and images like they are gonna go out of style any minute: with frequency and in great abundance. I can’t get enough. Metaphors and images are really great tools.

Here’s academic question #2. You’ve said poetry “takes very broad things in life and breaks them down into their simplest form. It’s like cooking down cocaine into crack. You’re really just taking what’s important and putting it into a very small amount of words.” Critics have called your lyric style everything from “poetry” to “verbal diarrhea.” Where on this spectrum do you think you’d put your work?

I still stand behind the above quote. I try to write with that idea in mind: only the necessary words. I can’t say that I let the words spill out without mulling them over and scrutinizing each one many times. I do have regular diarrhea though. I mean “rectal diarrhea.”

And now for a shift of gears. What album(s) from 2007 stayed on your iPod/turntable all year?

I really like the Dntel record. Doseone’s solo release Skeleton Repellent. The new Fog record, Ditherer. Thee More Shallows, Book of Bad Breaks. I have a bunch of that Li’l Wayne mixtape stuff that I like a lot.

Who are you most excited to see at SXSW?

I’m not really sure who’s playing down there. I’m looking forward to kicking it with some friends I don’t get to see too often though. The guys from Islands, not sure who else. I’m sure, as always, mass fools will be in the place. Will Subtitle be in attendance? I’m sure he will. He’s always a trip. I’m gonna make sure to sleep though. Southby can be really fucking draining if you let it (as I’m sure you know).

But most importantly, when you’re in Austin, what are going to get on your breakfast taco?

Well, I’m vegan, so when I’m in Austin, I always look forward to Mr. Natural. I’m definitely gonna hit that place up. And maybe that Mother’s place too. Do they do tofu scramble breakfast tacos down there? That would be good.

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Why? [MySpace] [Label]

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