Progress Report: Why?
Progress Report: Yoni Wolf talks about the state of WHY? and the band’s sometime-to-be-released new record.
WHY? is one of those bands that will invariably cause you to sound like an asshole when you try and describe them. Hip-hop-inflected indie rock? Folk-hop? I’m gonna stop trying now. I will say, however, that the band’s last two albums — 2008’s Alopecia and 2009’s Eskimo Snow — are some of the most wonderfully unclassifiable and fantastically witty pop albums of those years. Fans of the band have been waiting nearly three years now for a new record that, according to frontman Yoni Wolf, is finished and ready to go. I had the chance to speak to Wolf a couple of days before the band played shows in NYC last month. As anyone who saw those shows can attest, the new material sounds great, so here’s hoping a release date gets announced sometime soon. Come on, dudes.
STEREOGUM: What have you been up to the last few months?
YW: Well, it’s been a crazy few months. You know, well, we were supposed to tour all fall basically but I broke my hand, and had to get surgery and was laid up for a month and half or something and basically didn’t do anything during that time just sat on the couch drugged up watching TV. I finally got the pin out of my hand and the day after that went to Europe and did about ten shows there. And we did some shows there and got back and I moved into my new house and y’know did a bunch of random work on that, not big work but little work on the house, bought a bunch of furniture and what-not and … that pretty much sums it up.
STEREOGUM: How’s your hand now?
YW: It’s OK. It hurts a little but it is also much better … but still kind of funny.
STEREOGUM: How’d you break it?
YW: I’d rather not talk about that.
STEREOGUM: That’s fine. It’s a weird thing to be laid up with something like that because it’s a potent reminder of how much your physical being is part of your creative being.
YW: Oh yeah. Totally, absolutely, yeah.
STEREOGUM: Recording-wise, what have you been up to?
YW: I haven’t been recording lately at all. We recorded an album a few months ago. We finished recording it in August. And I’ve mixed it down in Atlanta in August and September, and yeah so there’s that.
STEREOGUM: When will it be out?
YW: Absolutely unsure. I’m hoping that it’ll be able to come out as early as possible. We have some meetings tomorrow. So maybe we’ll be able to find that out.
STEREOGUM: I know you’re playing shows here and there. People are very curious to find out what the next record will be like, so what can you say about it? Will be playing the new stuff?
YW: I can say that if you’re in Brooklyn, you should just hop on the N train or whatever the fuck and come on over and listen to the songs. About three quarters of the set is new song so maybe about more than half the album we’re playing.
STEREOGUM: That’s really exciting. I really loved the last record so much. I know a lot of people have a very intense connection to Alopecia but I liked the last one a lot more, actually. Without giving too much away — I know you don’t know when it’s coming out – but does the next record feel like a marked departure from the last one, Eskimo Snow?
YW: It’s real different than Eskimo. Also very different than Alopecia. Probably more similar to Alopecia than Eskimo but not … y’know, it’s its own thing, it really is.
STEREOGUM: Were you working with the same people from the last record?
YW: No. The last two records it was pretty much the five of us and we would play stuff, rehearse stuff together and then play it in the studio. This time it was sort of a lot different. We would rehearse it as well but we’d play it in smaller parts and then we’d overdub a lot of layers and had a lot of guest musicians and what not play on it. So we would bring people in to play parts. And it just was different. I was a lot more hands on in the control room than last time. We had the engineer who tours with us so it was kind of like we were hand in hand in the control room. I felt like last time I felt a bit too distanced from what was going on tape, you know, which ended up being fine. We really honed in on the sound and got it how we wanted it but this time we were able to do that a little more in the recording process.
STEREOGUM: What can you say about the vibe of it? Does it feel more upbeat than the last record?
YW: Yeah, I guess, probably more upbeat than Eskimo in a way. That record was a bit draggy. Eskimo had some good songs on it. It’s more wordy than Eskimo I would say. I don’t know — it’s more percussion heavy, tighter than Eskimo. What you might like about Eskimo I don’t know. It’s a looser record, you might like that, I don’t know. This one’s not like that, it’s pretty tight. It’s different. I’m curious what people will think about it.
STEREOGUM: I’m super curious to hear it. So much of what I do specifically for these progress reports is talking to people about the way they work, and I’ve always been fascinated by that with your band. Has the way you make songs changed a lot over the years? Do you guys write together or do you come at it with your own things and then everybody adds their parts? I’m curious about the way it generally works or if there’s a way that it generally works.
YW: I can’t say there’s a general way that it works but it’s sort of developed … I went from making Oaklandazulasylum, the first WHY? album, by myself and then when it came time to do Elephant Eyelash, the second WHY? record, Josiah and I kind of made that one together, you know, produced it together and then we’d bring in Doug and Matt to play parts on it but it was kind of like the daily routine was Josiah and I working on it together. For Alopecia and Eskimo I did demoing myself with some help from Josiah and Doug but I wrote most of the songs myself. That’s not true — maybe 75% of them I wrote myself and 25% I had help but demo’d them pretty thoroughly myself. And this one I kind of went back to almost the original process … I mean other than the fact that the guys played the other stuff but in terms of writing I wrote everything myself and arranged everything pretty thoroughly and then we went in and recorded it with the three of us, Josiah and Doug playing most everything. I don’t ever play as much as those guys on the record because they’re better than me. But I got tighter with the writing and arranging myself and I think next time we’ll go back to the Elephant Eyelash mode. It’s just we’ll all be living where I’ll be living at, maybe we can work together more every day.
STEREOGUM: That makes it a lot more complicated when nobody’s in the same place. How long did it take to record the record?
YW: We recorded it from the beginning of May into August, so a few months.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a sense of what 2012 is gonna be like for you? Will you be touring a ton?
YW: We’re hoping so. We’re hoping we can get the record out as fast as possible and get on the road with it. What we’d like to do, that’s what our mortgages need, and … yeah.
STEREOGUM: I’m super excited to hear it. I really loved the last two so much.
YW: Cool. I’m glad you liked Eskimo. Everybody’s always talking about Alopecia but it’s nice that somebody likes the other one.
STEREOGUM: Maybe it was just me, but did you have the perception that people though Eskimo was kind of a bummer? That was kind of why I liked it, actually.
YW: It is a darker record in a way … I think I like it … I think I like Alopecia better … maybe, I don’t know. I have trouble listening to either of them at this point but Alopecia gets talked about a lot more than the next thing I did. It’s nice to hear that somebody likes them.