Interview WHY?: ‘I Use Humour & The Poetry Of It All’

Peter Bloxham speaks to vocalist and songwriter Yoni Wolf about folk, hip-hop and live-performance laptop use.

Currently doing the rounds on the Internet share-o-sphere is the upbeat and lyrically amusing track ‘Sod In The Seed’ by indie-rap-something’s WHY? It’s the title track from the EP of the same name, which was released last month prior to their fifth studio album ‘Mumps etc’. Peter Bloxham speaks to vocalist and songwriter Yoni Wolf about folk, hip-hop and live-performance laptop use.

Do you like folk music?
Yeah, I do actually, yeah. I like hearing all kinds of folk music, I think it’s this weird back catalogue of influences and you can hear it in popular music that followed so much later.

I was Googling you earlier.
You and me both, dude!

And someone had used the phrase folk-hop in reference to WHY?
I didn’t make that up! I don’t know…

What does it mean, do you think?
A mix between folk music and hip hop, I guess. If that’s what we do, I don’t think we make folk music though, really. I think we make hip-hop in some way but I don’t wanna, y’know, profess to make hip hop, throw myself into that whole arena, because it’s a cultural thing, hip-hop. I do make rap music, you can’t deny that, but hip-hop is this whole… The five elements of hip-hop, the religion of hip-hop, you know? Growing up in the 90’s. Now it’s not even like that so… whatever.

Folk music, folk-hop, hip-hop, whatever, it’s all maybe a way of describing something that straddles spoken word traditions?
Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I think at my most honest and unegoed, I write songs in a similar way to how those old folk people used to write songs, you know, taking your own shit that you’re thinking of. Maybe in folk they might take from a traditional rhythm or melody, there’s a lot more of just adding to things.

What about politics in music? Have you ever thought about using your lyrics to deliver a political message? Looking around at some of the political and cultural upheavals of the decade, Occupy and so on?
I think I do that in my own way, but I’m not a preacher. I think ‘Sod In The Seed’ has a lot of that in it, but it’s a subtle way and it’s through the bounds of my own horizons, what I can see, I’m not someone who’s going to tell people how they should live. I use humour and the poetry of it all.

So it’s more observations through the prism of your own life experiences?
Yeah, very true.

So let’s talk about this EP. Is it this like a taster of what the album is going to be or is this something that splintered off to become it’s own thing?
These are the songs that didn’t fit somehow onto the album. I put the album together first, so I don’t know what the EP makes up as a whole, know what I’m saying? I like these songs and they’re some of my favourites in a way. ‘Twenty Seven’ is one of my favourite songs out of all of them in a way and I like ‘Shag Carpet’ a whole lot but y’know, they just didn’t seem to fit with the other songs on the album.

This is a stupid question but how do you know when that happens?
It’s just a gut feeling. You can try analysing afterwards; “That one was too hopeful, the songs have a relationship and it’s weird for that one to just pop up.” But it something you can feel.

Touring is hard work, right?

How are you feeling about it this time around? Excitement and trepidation there?
A little bit of both, y’know. Nervous in a way, I want to make sure that I stay healthy, I’ve had all of these health problems in the past, I just want to make sure that I can do it and stay healthy and all that. But by and large I’m looking forward to it.

You did an a capella performance of some ‘Sod In The Seed’ material last month, can you tell me a bit about that?
Yeah, I mean I was asked if I would do a little performance and I was like, ‘Well my band isn’t here and these aren’t really the kind of songs that I would like to perform just piano and singing.’ So I said I’ll just do them a capella.

So it’s going to be a sort of beat poetry thing?

Are you into of any of that kind of stuff?
When I was a teenager I was into that sort of stuff more. Those aren’t my favourite poets I would say now, but certain things I liked a lot. I mean I haven’t really been to poetry at all for a while now but there was a time when I was around nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, when I was listening to poetry a lot. And that’s also when I was really starting to write a lot y’know I think it was very helpful to me to see what really good, thoughtful writers were doing and then I could have something to look up to.

Do you have literary influences?
I dunno, I don’t really read that much to be honest! The music is aural, that’s why I do it out loud and not in a book. I love listening to people read. I can read a bit. I mean, I can read! It’s hard for me to get deeply into a book without becoming distracted.

Do you get methodical about rhyme structures and things?
Yeah, I mean the rhyme structures come together in an organic way but I get pretty wrapped up in them once it’s all happening… There’s a lot of editing that goes on. General ideas come to me at random times; out walking, in the shower or something like that and then I fill things in and change and work around stuff.

You started WHY? using a basic four track, now it’s all software and midi-controllers and iPads and stuff. How do you feel about using laptops and tech like that live?
Oh, I don’t mess with that shit. I mean, I have a laptop that I use for ProTools, but not live. It’s all 2” tape. On the album it’s all organs, like old and warm sounds, we like that and then live we’ll have like Korg or something. We don’t use any samples or anything or drum machines everything’s played out there, I mean, we’re a band!

‘Sod In The Seed’ is available now.

Tags: Why?, Features

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