Fresh faced with British manicures, acquired from the seaside wind and on-stage sweat at their Brighton show the night before, Why? hit London to launch their new album, Mumps, etc, with a gig at the Electric Ballroom, Camden. I caught up with Doug, Josiah and Yoni beforehand for a nice chat.
I suppose we should start with Mumps, etc. Could you tell me a little about how it came about?
Yoni: "Maybe one of these guys can answer that."
Josiah: "Well, I guess in the winter of 2010, Yoni had written a lot of the songs and we got together and he showed me all the stuff he had been working on. We organised it, made a list of things and put him on a one demo per week regiment. And he did that; he recorded one song a week for a few months."
Yoni: "19 weeks."
Josiah: "19 weeks, and then we went in the studio a few months later, and we all had the demos and learned the parts, and thought about how we could make anything different or change the sounds. Then we went in and recorded it, and then we put the record together! Mixed it of course, and then the left over songs: we made an E.P out of the songs that didn't really fit onto the record. The E.P was supposed to come out later, but because of the way things went, with the release dates and all the logistics stuff, we had to put the E.P out first."
Was it difficult to choose which songs went where? Were there any contentious decisions to be made?
Doug: "Not contentious"
Josiah: "Yeah, it was pretty clear. Maybe there were a couple things"
Doug: "There was some grey area, but we listened to them all and we chose the songs that didn't quite fit on the record. It's definitely something we do after the fact."
Yoni: "We listened in different orders, you know, originally we had 'Twenty Seven' on the record, and then we couldn't fit it in, and we had to end up putting it on the E.P."
And how were those 19 weeks, Yoni, hard work?
Yoni: "Yeah, well I mean it's not like I wrote everything in that time; I just put it all together. Things were written since 2007, so like, just after we finished Alopecia. That's when I started writing, so I had a lot of stuff already collected but I just didn't know what to do with it, so that 19 weeks was like the process of putting everything together.
Working on your own, was self-motivation ever an issue?
Yoni: "Nah, not really. Once I get in a routine I'm pretty good."
Previous work has been more anecdotal, with more forays into the abstract. Mumps seems more specific, both topically and tonally. Is that just me?
Yoni: "Yeah. Well, I wouldn't say any of the WHY? stuff has really been abstract, other than maybe like the Oaklandazulasylum album; some of that stuff, you know, some of the earlier stuff I did like cLOUDED stuff had an abstract kind of vibe. It was more about the sound of the words - stuff like that. But the WHY? stuff has all been pretty anecdotal/metaphoric stuff, all very imagistic stuff, meant to elicit an emotion of one kind or another. And usually pretty concrete, though it may be concrete metaphors, but I would say it's along the lines of, and in tradition of, the WHY? songs.
Josiah: "I mean Eskimo Snow had pretty straightforward songs"
Maybe I didn't mean abstract.
Yoni: "Yeah, I don't like that word: abstract."
Josiah: "You could be right, you have fresh perspective; we've heard it so many times."
You're often asked about your influences, and you've never really looked like it's a question you enjoy answering. But was there anything other than bands or music that influenced you?
Doug: "(Laughs) Teenage depression, I don't know."
Yoni: "I've always been into movies, you know? I've always liked movies, but as far as music. yeah"
Josiah: "Our Dad played. He played music. He started teaching us how to play the drums, and, you know, when you're little, you do something that you're pretty good at, and we liked it."
Yoni: "Just takes a little spark and it slowly grows over time."
Another question you're often posed regards your music and where it lies in terms of genre. But do you actually care about that? And have you ever faced pressure from anyone financially involved in your music to make it go in one direction or another?
Doug: "Phew! I don't think so."
Josiah: "Not at this point. It's not a bad question; I think a lot of people do face that kind of pressure, but our label's owned by the artists, and we haven't got into a situation like that, I don't think, unless you [Yoni] can think of one?"
Yoni: "No. I mean, they decided to put Alopecia out first, before Eskimo. That was a decision based on what they sounded like."
Yoni: "But, I mean, we did the records we wanted to do, you know, they just decided when they went out."
You've spoken before on this: Alopecia sounds tight; it's a hip-hop album. Eskimo Snow sounds looser, like a live album.
Josiah: "Most people felt like Alopecia would be received better, and I think they were right, it was received better."
But how do you feel about the differences between the styles of the two?
Yoni: "Erm, they're different. They're different records. They're just two different sounds."
Doug: "Two different sounds, two different feels, two different moods."
Josiah: "I go back and forth: for a while I really liked Eskimo snow, maybe better, but I think overall I like Alopecia better."
You had three years to create both Alopecia and Mumps, etc. With more time to work, do you gravitate to what you actually love to do, with hip-hop?
Yoni: "I'm drawn towards rap music"
Josiah: "Yeah, that stuff is exciting because it's so rhythmic and it's good for live performance. I think it lends itself well toward the live stage even though, other kinds of music I like maybe listening to in headphones, sometimes more myself. But rap is very lyrical music, and WHY? is very focused on the lyrics. Being a drummer I think it's fun to play with that stuff because it's so rhythmic."
And how is it, as a band, playing to those lyrics that seem so personal to Yoni?
Josiah: "On stage, I'm thinking about if everyone's feeling the time in the same way, and if the rhythm feels good and if everyone's in the 'groove' or whatever, you know? If it feels good, I'm not so much analysing the lyrics when I'm playing a show."
I had a question here for Liz, but she's not here, perhaps you could answer it from your perspective. How has a new addition to the band helped WHY?
Josiah: "It's good. Actually we have two more members, besides Liz, who are even newer. One of them is also female: Sarah Winters. And Ben Sloane, he's another drummer. It's good, having two females; it's just a good sound, and I think it's another dynamic.
So, two drummers for this tour then? Does that create a more frenetic live show?
Doug: "Not 'frenetic'"
Yoni: "It's pretty tight"
Doug: "It's arranged pretty specifically, and it's not like a wall of sound, but there are more rhythmic interplays possible."
Josiah: "It is a bigger sound though"
Josiah: "But it's controlled"
Have you guys, Josiah and Doug, ever not understood some of Yoni's Lyrics? And maybe had to ask?
Josiah: "Not understood it?"
Doug: (laughing) "Yeah. There's less obtuse stuff, even, that I haven't understood that's simple after the fact, but, somewhat retarded when it comes to the perception of spoken words and lyrics sometimes."
Josiah: "There's plenty of lines I haven't understood. Sometimes it takes me years to finally get it, and I'm like 'oh yeah'."
And have your candid lyrics ever landed you in an awkward situation, Yoni?
Yoni: "Not really."
You open up Sod in The Seed with a reference to your minor fame. How does that affect your day-to-day life? Or has it at all?
Yoni: "It has to an extent, I guess, just in relationships and things like that; new relationships, but it's not stunting like Tom Cruise or something like that. I can walk around Camden without getting recognized, you know?"
Is it maybe a bit fun sometimes, getting recognized?
Yoni: "Eh, It's just part of life now. Just the occasional 'Yoni Wolf'"
And Yoni, your health issues are the catalyst for many of your lyrics, but do they have the opposite affect on your music sometimes?
Yoni: "Health issues? Yeah of course yeah. This album was really really hard to make, mostly because of health issues I would say. Holding things up, and all that confusion, and not knowing how to put the songs together and all that stuff, taking place with physical stuff. But I'm doing great now. I feel great, which is great."
That's good to hear. You ponder your own future a lot, and that's a relatable issue for a lot of people. How do you see the future for Why? Is this going on into your forties?
Yoni: "That's a good question"
Josiah: "Not too far away for me. Four years"
Doug: "I think we're all interested in having careers in music well into our lives."
Yoni: "Yeah. I don't know how things will evolve. I don't think any of us are really keen on getting random desk jobs, or something like that. We'll probably carry on in the arts, but who knows how things will evolve.
You've dabbled in the visual arts, haven't you Yoni?
Yoni: "I like doing it for WHY? I like doing the look of WHY? or whatever, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to come with images that will relate to the audio. I don't know if I'll necessarily get deep into doing art shows or anything like that, but maybe, maybe I could grow old and have a little quiet studio somewhere and make paintings or something."
Yoni: "Sounds kinda nice, you know?"
Jack De Augilar
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