The way I work isn’t some romantic situation with a guy hacking away at a typewriter. It’s more just like, I think of lines. I try to really let it come from my gut and unconscious mind and put things together over time.
BY IAN JONES
WHY? frontman Yoni Wolf’s songwriting and lyrical style is unforgettable at first listen as psychedelic imagery and wordplay of repressed memories hover over the wildest of mind-altering dreams. The ever-prolific and chameleonic Wolf has released hip-hop and trip-hop albums collaborating with Doseone in groups like cLOUDDEAD, Hymie’s Basement, Reaching Quiet, and Greenthink among other sonic collaborations and side projects while helping to co-found the L.A.-based experimental hip-hop label Anticon.
Self-described as “pop-inflected psychedelic folk-hop”, the music of WHY? is as difficult to describe as the answer to mankind’s eternal question, but it largely teeters between the band’s rap-centric roots and recent forays into more indie-oriented material. As one of the Anticon label’s most revered and accomplished acts, WHY? is helping to make indie hip-hop hip again.
Chicago Innerview had some time to speak with Wolf about his life and how he’s kept his sanity over the past decade of touring.
Chicago Innerview: Have you ever really hurt someone’s feelings with a song?
Yoni Wolf: Most of the songs I write are highly complex because they are about things that can’t be easily expressed. The process of writing a song for me is also a process of figuring out how I feel, so it tends to be intentional. If I’m gonna break someone down in a song, it’s because I love them. I probably won’t end up writing about them unless we have a certain connection and history and they understand where I’m coming from, because they know me pretty well.
Chicago Innerview: Do you have any instruments you hate playing now after years and years? Have you given up on one?
Yoni Wolf: I tend to treat instruments somewhat different than they are supposed to be played. I’m not a virtuoso on any instrument. I tend to play them for recording and arranging and tend to do some things differently and cheat. If I want a certain kind of guitar chord or note played, I’ll do it little by little and punch it in as I go. The instruments I feel I can make a pass with all the way through would be a keyboard or piano instrument or the drums and percussion, but any instrument is fair game if I feel the character for what it sounds like and use it for certain applications.
CI: Which song did you bleed the most for while writing?
YW: The way I work isn’t some romantic situation with a guy hacking away at a typewriter. It’s more just like, I think of lines. I try to really let it come from my gut and unconscious mind and put things together over time. It’s not like I’m sitting there bleeding over something. There are certain songs that are gut wrenching and tend to be kind of a struggle emotionally. ‘Good Friday’ was a hard one. I was in a terrible state and you can hear the immediacy.
CI: You’ve created so much material over the years. Do you release everything you create?
YW: There are a few things that have never made it out there as well as things that never made it ‘onto tape’ so to speak that I wrote and threw out. There’s definitely a good 10 to 20 songs that never made it out there into the world or anywhere.
CI: Will we ever see those songs?
YW: Probably not, there’s a reason why some aren’t out there. There are some things that feel a little bit flat or icky that won’t go out.
CI: Do you know anyone that’s joined a cult?
YW: I don’t think so. What’s a cult, man? What’s the definition of a cult? Different people have different opinions of that.
CI: Have you ever had a stalker?
YW: Again, definitions. I’ve had some phone calls and situations where the same person kept popping up in different places. It was like stalking, but I never feared for my life or anything like that.
CI: What’s the worst question you’ve ever been asked?
YW: Why, WHY? European reporters ask that a lot.
FEBRUARY 21 @ LINCOLN HALL
WITH ASTRONAUTALIS + DREAM TIGER
7 PM LISTEN