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Monday 9th August, 2010 1:58PM

Yoni Wolf, founder and chief song-writer of the band Why? started his musical career as a teenager on a found four-track recorder on which he recorded his drumming and hip-hop. However, hip-hop is a very loose term to describe his subsequent band, Why?. A mixture of folk, indie pop and hip-hop, Why? make intelligent, articulate music with compelling arrangements. The band gained considerable coverage following their critically acclaimed album Alopecia. Their latest, Eskimo Snow, while recorded at the same time as Alopecia, is much more expansive, and moves further away from Wolf's hip-hop roots. I chat to Wolf in the lead-up to the band's two shows in New Zealand in early December.

B: I thought I'd just ask some general questions first up, What got you into music in the first place?

YW: Well I guess my Dad was into music, he taught us how to play the drums and piano when we were little, and I guess that was the start of things.

B: What got you interested in lyrics and writing words?

YW: I don't know, that came later when I was in my late teens, or early 20s. I was interested in writing earlier, when I was sixteen or so. I always had a knack for it, in terms of figuring things out, and got serious about it later on, and kept doing it from there.

B: You've been lumped with hip-hop, but it always seemed a bit limiting.

YW: Yeah.

B: How important was Anticon Records [an Oakland Collective of hip-hop and other artists]?

YW: It was very important, meeting all those guys, having somewhere that felt like home. That definitely was a factor in moving forward and continuing to record. I knew I had an audience of at least five, six guys who would listen to stuff I do.

B: As a lyricist, does that affect the way you write music? Do you conceive of the two separately, or spend equal time on the two?

YW: I'm interested in both things, and the way they fit together. Both are important, I try to spend good time on both aspects. I would say the lyrics for me are front and centre. That's your immediate meaning, your immediate conversation is happening within the lyrics. The music goes straight to your gut, but the lyrics are what you are hearing. Everybody's different obviously in the way they listen, but for me, that's what I think of first and then I write songs around that.

B: There's always been a lot of focus on your lyrics, and the music gets ignored in critical writing.

YW: I think that's probably true, people tend to focus on the lyrical aspect of things. It's true.

B: Do you find your fans tend to assume they know you, the people who pore over your lyrics?

YW: Yeah, people sometimes have somewhat of a familiar kind of way of talking to me. Which is cool. I don't mind it. I think that's kinda neat in a way. Obviously they don't really know me. If they did, they wouldn't want to.

B: Is it strange that your words are analysed to the minutest detail?

YW: I find it flattering that people take the time to do that. Obviously, it's awesome for me. I spend so much time on them. If someone was to gloss over them, I would feel dissatisfied if people weren't actually listening for real. It's not as if I deserve to have people listening to me for real, but it's very nice that they do.

B: I thought I'd ask a few questions about Eskimo Snow [Why?'s latest album]. I hear it was recorded around the same time as [2008's] Alopecia? How did you differentiate between the two projects?

YW: It happened naturally, because they needed to be separated. When I started listening back to the roughs from the studio sessions, I started to realise that there were two different things happening there, and that maybe it was best to separate it out into two projects.

B: Did the success of Alopecia change the way you approach Eskimo Snow?

YW: I wouldn't say that necessarily. In what terms do you mean success? I think that we were successful in mixing and putting together Alopecia. That in a way led me to wanting to work with the same guy, Eli Crews in mixing Eskimo Snow. I had previously mixed it with a guy called Mark Nevers, and I felt like it wasn't quite right for us. Nevers is brilliant, but I feel like what he did, it didn't necessarily jive with the live sound. Going back and working with Eli again, definitely had to do with my feeling that what we had done for Alopecia really worked out. That being said, what we did for Eskimo Snow - we had a different sound in mind when we were going into the mixing process. It's not as if we tried to repeat what we did with Alopecia, but I did want to work with Eli again.

B: I guess I was talking about the critical praise of Alopecia

YW: Yes that's true.

B: Did the 'sudden' success of Alopecia affect you

YW: No each record that we've done seems to have received a bit more attention before it. It's not like we came out of nowhere and blew up of one record. Each one has seen more attention than the one before it. Including this one, more than Alopecia. It's just been a gradual incline of listenership, and attention. Which is I think the right way to have things, rather than have an all of a sudden explosion.

B: You've been re-mixed by some great artists - how did things Islands, and Boards of Canada come about?

Yw: I just asked them, and they agreed.

B: Were you happy with the end result - putting your work in somebody else's hands?

YW: All of the remixers did a wonderful job. We had some remixed songs from Eskimo Snow as well. I'm excited to hear those as well. I've only heard one so far, but everyone's done a great job.

B: The album sounds much more live, have you noticed it live that it sounds much more open to play?

YW: Yeah, our band is different. Our live band is different to the last live band we've had. That changes things a lot. We have two new members. Austin Brown, who played with us for the last two years of our tour, is not with us anymore. That changes things. I don't know exactly what the difference in sound is, but it is different. I'm not playing the same things. I played drums on the last tour. This tour I'm not, I'm just singing pretty much. But the new songs feel good to play.

Brannavan Gnanalingam

Thursday 17th December, 2009 - Bacco Room, Auckland
Friday 18th December, 2009 - SFBH, Wellington

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