Yoni Wolf's career has taken him many places — from his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Bay Area, his current locale (which is where he and his anticon. labelmates live). In recent years, however, the 30-year-old has packed venues performing selections from his critically acclaimed Why? albums, a catalog full of defiantly wordy, strangely organic amalgamations of hip-hop, pop and indie rock. B-Sides spoke to Wolf about his hip-hop roots and their near absence on the stunning new Why? album, Eskimo Snow.
B-Sides: Why? began as your solo project before morphing into a full band. Has that affected your writing process? Did the other guys have any hand in Eskimo Snow?
Yoni Wolf: Well, it's not written as a band in a room together. I sometimes collaborate with friends in writing, but it's not like we jam things out or anything like that.
It feels more grandiose and orchestrated than Alopecia. Was that intentional?
I would disagree with you; I think this is the least orchestrated, in a way, of all the records. With Alopecia, everything was determined exactly — like, "You're going to play the kick drum on these exact beats, stray ye not," and, "The bass is going to go exactly along with that." Everything was interlocked and fit together in a very specific way, rhythmically and whatnot. And on Eskimo Snow, it's more like, "OK, here are the changes. Here's the general riff, but feel free to indulge a little bit." So I would say that this is more of a player's record, more of a musician's record, for us than an arranger's record or a solo record with a backing band. The songs are definitely arranged, but they're not as anally arranged as Alopecia or, to a greater degree, Elephant Eyelash before that.
Eskimo Snow might be the first album where if somebody didn't know your history with the anticon. label, they might not know you had any involvement with hip-hop.
Yeah, it's not a rap record.
It sort of comes off like an extension of the pop songs from Alopecia, such as "Fatalist Palmistry" and "These Few Presidents."
Well, we recorded the records at the same time and put the songs that sounded like Eskimo Snow together to make Eskimo Snow and put the songs that sounded like Alopecia on Alopecia. So in a way, that was intentional. Not to say that we were necessarily thinking about that during the actual writing process, but that's what happened and that's how they got split up.
So you're not making an active departure from hip-hop?
Oh, no. Not at all. But I mean, this one happens to sound less like hip-hop and that was on purpose, because all of the hip-hop-influenced songs went to Alopecia.
Of course, when we talk about hip-hop, it's in that abstract way that anticon. seems to approach the genre.
Well, I think there's a pretty broad range with anticon. I don't think everybody on the label thinks just one way about rap music, or any other kind of music. Everybody has their own ideas, and I definitely have my own approach just like Doseone has his approach, or anybody else for that matter.
There's a depth and complexity to your lyrics that, whether you're singing them or rapping them, seems to come out of hip-hop.
I think I got that to an extent from growing up around rap music. So even if I'm doing rock music or pop music or anything else, I always have a sensibility to that style.