Catching Up With WHY?

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Since the release of their 2003 debut album Oaklandazulasylum, WHY? have been fixtures of the Bay Area hip hop scene. In addition to releasing their own albums at a prolific clip, frontman Yoni Wolf co-founded Anticon Records, which has been a force in West Coast alternative hip hop over the course of the past decade.

WHY? haven’t made their impact felt in recent years, however. Yoni and his brother and bandmate, Josiah, have moved back to their hometown of Cincinnati, and the band hasn’t released an album since 2009’s Eskimo Snow. This fall, however, marks the return of WHY? Not only are they releasing a six-track EP, Sod in the Seed today, they will be releasing their fifth full-length album, Mumps, etc. on Oct. 9.

We caught up with Yoni Wolf from his home in Cincinnati to discuss the EP, the forthcoming album and how he pieces together his songs.

Paste: The EP and LP are going to be released only a few months apart. Did all the material come from the same recording session?
Yoni Wolf: For sure, yeah. They were all recorded in the same time span. As we were putting together the album it started to shape up and have threads, thematically, and with the sound and stuff like that. Certain songs seemed to really fit within that. I don’t want to say that [the songs on the EP] are like b-sides. “Twenty Seven” is one of my favorites out of all the songs but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me where I was supposed to put it on the album, so it got left off.

Paste: Mumps, etc. will be your first full-length release since 2009. What do you think are the biggest differences between the new album and Eskimo Snow?
Wolf: It’s a hell of a lot different. There are so many differences, it’s hard to quantify. It’s just very different sounding. Some of it is in line with what the EP sounds like.

Paste: Of the songs on Sod in the Seed, the title track stands out, in particular. Where did the inspiration for that song come from? Particularly the lyrics?
Wolf: Well, I just wrote it over the course of time. I had a bunch of lines and stanzas and stuff like that and just put them together over time and turned them into the verses. It all seemed to fit together and the chorus just called out to me as something that related to the other stuff. It all just comes over time though. I don’t set out with a concept. I don’t say, okay, the song’s going to be about this. Over time I just sort of figure out what I’m thinking about.

Paste: A lot of your lyrics do use a lot of clever wordplay and imagery. Are you saying you just kind of come up with a lot of these ideas separately then work to fit them all together later?
Wolf: Yeah, but I make sure that there’s an overall theme and that things are fitting together in a way that doesn’t sound disjointed. Just making sure each verse flows from beginning to end and has a thread, and that the verses all fit together within the song in that same manner. So that’s a task. It’s like puzzle-making, really, just making sure everything fits together. It does come together in parts and in pieces, though, yeah.

Paste: You guys are going on a big tour starting in August. What parts of the country do you like stopping through the most? What are your favorite places to visit?
Wolf: Like anybody else I love the West Coast. I lived there for a long time. I’m a big fan of that. I like small towns sometimes. College towns. I like walking around and being able to digest it all in one day. I love being in New York, but it’s a lot. I know the city well enough now that I can go to one area and be there for the day, but you can’t really get it all in one day, obviously. I like both kinds of places though.

Paste: So are you guys operating out of Cincinnati now?
Wolf: We’re in Cincinnati now. I’m in Cincinnati. My brother and his wife live up in this town called Xenia, which is about an hour away. They’re trying to move down here soon though. The other guy in the band lives in Seattle and he comes in when we need to do something.

Paste: How has Anticon been doing? Is there anything on the way from other bands you’re excited about?
Wolf: Yeah, it’s going well. I’m not super abreast on what’s coming out when. Young Fathers, but their album isn’t going to out for a while. Scottish guys. Rap group sort of thing. I’m a big fan of Serengeti. We’re bringing him on tour. Doseone. We’re bringing him on tour. We stay close to the folks we know.