written for the September edition of the Stool Pigeon
Yoni Wolf, the thoughts, words and voice of Oakland’s Why? and a founding member of the Anticon collective, is pissed. Tonight’s show at Brighton Audio has been given a early curfew, and the band have less than ninety minutes between soundcheck and show in which to eat, regroup, prepare and be interviewed. “We gotta not play shows before clubnights,” he mutters, as they navigate the seafront to a restaurant recommended by the promoter. The interview will have to wait. Perhaps it could be done after the show?
No, that’s a weird time to do it.
Tomorrow morning before they leave?
Yoni will be sleeping tomorrow morning.
Next week at London’s Wireless Festival?
Let’s just see what happens later.
You get the feeling that, scenery aside, this isn’t an altogether unfamiliar situation for Yoni. Not the interview so much, but the treadmill-like routine of playing shows, filling your time before and after. Why? is a hard working band, Yoni is a lyricist who seeps you in realism until it becomes magical. Having listened to the band’s most recent album, Alopecia, with its landscapes of gas station toilets and European basketball courts, it’s not hard to imagine the songs taking root on a day like today.
“Um,” says Yoni, finally caught up with, “the lyrics are not always based on my life, the main character is based on me, but it’s not always directly from that. Sometimes it’s a, um, metaphor…” He has the look of a caged animal about to be experimented on, or someone who is being asked to hand over an internal organ. “I don’t write on tour at all,” he adds, “I do run out of things to write about.”
Yoni seems tired and defensive. He explains at the beginning of the conversation that he ‘really loses his shit on tour’. When asked about his life away from the band, he says, “I am fairly separate from most people at this point. I have some people I see in Oakland and I’ll develop friendships but they never, really, I mean, when I’m gone, I’m gone.”
This isolation is clearly something that has exacerbated from the first record to the next. Darkness has always been a component of Why? Records, but there was a buoyancy in the first that has now disappeared. Where Elephant Eyelash seemed like a celebration, Alopecia is sucked dry of optimism, bleak and self-destructive, as seen in songs about jerking off in a museum toilet to the handwriting of a distant lover, carving his new girlfriend’s age into the palm of his hand for her birthday, and sleeping on his back for ‘coffin rehearsal’. Through it all, however it has a grim humour that is nowhere to be seen in Brighton until he burps on stage two hours later. Halfway into a year of touring, who can blame the guy, but hey Yoni, the only question left to ask is – if you didn’t want to do the interview – Why? did you say yes?