Last week, I was scheduled for an interview with WHY? mastermind and Anticon-co-founder Yoni Wolf for 4pm, but after giving him a call and leaving a voicemail (hi, this is Jonathan Wolf, please leave a message), I was a bit worried that the interview wasn’t going to happen. Luckily, around thirty-or-so minutes later, I get a call, and everything resumes as planned.
Check out the interview below, and be sure to go see the band as they embark on a pretty massive North American tour.
Hey there, this is Yoni Wolf, I missed a call from you about an interview, yeah? I’m good now if you want to do it, I just was wrapped up in something and missed your call.
So first of all, for anyone who doesn’t know your music, how would you describe WHY?’s sound?
Oh, I try not to. I try to let it be whatever it is, you know?
Your music obviously very unique as it pulls from different aspects of indie rock as well as hip-hop. Keeping that in mind, who are your main influences?
I don’t like to think of it like that. I think that if you’re a true artist and make something that’s truly from your heart, you can’t really pinpoint your influences like that. I know I’m definitely affected by many different, you know, musics and other art forms. But I can’t really pinpoint that I’m influenced by Bob Marley or The Beatles or something – I’m sure those are two influences that we have, but I can’t really quantify it like that.
That’s definitely an interesting way of looking at things. I also find it really interesting to know what musicians that I listen to are listening to. So has there been anything you’ve really been particularly enjoying lately?
Yeah. I’ve been working a lot since I’ve got back from being on tour (this past fall) and haven’t been listening to too much stuff while working, because I don’t feel as though I have enough ear space. In the fall I was listening to the Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan that came out last year. And I’ve been listening to a lot of that Kendrick Lamar album, Good Kid m.A.A.D. City.
Those are two great albums!
Yeah, I like those two a lot. Other than that, I don’t know… I’ll put my music on shuffle or something on a run or something like that. So it’s hard to say what else.
Right. What’s your creative process like? Is there a certain way you go about writing songs?
Well, it seems like it’s always different, you know? I’ve never really developed – like, I know guys who have their space, their computers, their little setup that they’ve had for years with whatever they need. They know that’s what to do, but I’m not that kind of artist. I always kind of have a different space I’m working in, a different way of working, and a different way I think about writing. I kind of wish I had more of a way of working that would make my life simpler, but in a way I think having to reinvent the wheel every time adds a bit of uniqueness to each thing that I create. That way I don’t fall into a rut.
So obviously you guys released an EP (Sod In The Seed) and a full-length (Mumps, Etc.) within a few months of one another. What made you decide to release them as two separate works rather than one full album?
We were focused on the album and were trying to put that together out of the nineteen songs that we had – and that’s what we did, you know? We packaged them up together, which ended up being thirteen songs, and that was Mumps. And then we had maybe a half a dozen or so other songs left over, so we put those together into the EP.
Are there any stylistic, sonic, or topical differences between the two works?
I don’t know – it’s kind of hard to say for me. They sound different, you know, there’s more… Maybe the EP is a bit more hodge-podge, which is maybe why I put it together almost like a mixtape. And the album is a bit more cohesive and sort of round and drier.
Why did you decide to have “Sod In The Seed” featured on both works?
We wanted to make that one like the single. When we decided that the EP was going to come out first, we decided that it would have the single from the album as the first song that people would hear on it, which was initially going to be a song called “Waterlines” – a song on the album – but later we decided and with many people’s opinions that “Sod In The Seed” should replace it.
I know you’ve been putting out music as WHY? for quite some time. Has there been a noticeable progression in your music between the beginning and now?
I don’t know like, an exact progression from A to Z or whatever. I think it’s kind of changed every time we do something, so there’s no linear direction.
So you’ve been on tour a lot and are about to embark once more. Do you have a favorite city in which you’ve played? Any music scenes that have stood out?
I can’t really say: I mean, I like going to certain cities. I mean, I’ve got a lot of friends in the Bay Area, since I’ve lived there for so long. I like being in New York, even though it’s a little stressful. There are some small towns that I like. I don’t know, it really just depends on the day, and the circumstance, and the place, and like the actual venue. Stuff like that. I think any city can be pretty cool depending on your circumstances and the people you’re around. I think when we play where we play we don’t necessarily get really inundated in the community. But there are great people everywhere. It’s hard to say anything about a specific scene, exactly, because it’s hard to get an impression of that.
I see for this tour you’ve got Astronautalis as a supporting act. How do you decide on support?
Well, there’s different ways that come about. Sometimes, you know, a friend of mine who I contacted or that contacts me, or sometimes our booking agent who does our tours. Sometimes people will come through our manager.
What should we be expecting as far as the tour?
We change it up every night. We’ll learn about thirty-three songs probably, or thirty-five maybe, and of those every night we’ll play about fourteen or fifteen – something like that. So we change it up enough, and of those, a bunch of them are off the new material, and definitely a lot of it is older stuff. We learn a good mix of stuff.
As someone’s who’s been in this game for a while, I was wondering what your thoughts were regarding file-sharing, digital piracy, and the like. It seems like an issue that’s really come up a lot lately, and I’m curious of your opinion.
Well, I think it’s just the way things are; you can try to fight technology all you want, but it’s going forward. I mean, yeah, it’s concerning for some people as we no longer make money on records anymore, really, and I think that goes for all artists, other than maybe Usher or something. Most of us don’t make money on albums anymore. It’s really about touring a hell of a lot, and I think some artists make money off of publishing, but I haven’t really gotten that shit together yet. I make most of my money off of touring, and yeah, it’s a little tough; especially with health problems, it’s hard to stay on the road all the time. So yeah, it could be a little tough, but it’s just the way the world works, and it’s up to us to figure out ways of supporting ourselves. Or a lot of artists are going to have to quit and get jobs, which obviously sucks, but I’m hopeful that artists will find modern ways to make money. I’m always hopeful: that’s how I started. And all my friends, too, we all figured it out, and learned to take our tapes to the record stores. You always figure out a way.
How did Anticon begin and how much of a hand do you have in this music industry side of things now?
I got started with the label from meeting people. First I met a guy named Adam Drucker, and we started working together on music and collaborating, and we met a whole lot of other guys. I wasn’t really the driving force behind it; I was just one of the artists, but we started a label to release our own stuff, because it didn’t seem like any other labels were fucking with us. And then as far as my input today, I’m just one of the owners of the label, but I don’t run it – my friend Sean runs it. I vote on new artists that we’re gonna sign or new albums that we’re gonna put out. I’m supposed to be A&R if I find anything I want to put out, which happens sometimes.
Do you think that having a hand in the music industry side of things has effected your perception of the music industry’s future?
I mean, I’m not sure, but it seems like it’ll go probably one of two ways. In one way, you know, you have all the major labels really, really, really hurting, because people are only buying a little bit of music, you know, and they spend so much money. In a way, you could have a shaving off of that peak, sort of, on sales, where you go into a situation where it’s leveled the playing field, so that no one’s making as much money as the majors used to. Majors are sort of coming down to the point of where the indies are, as they’re trying to pluck the same artists and trying to sell 100,000 instead of a million or whatever. And I think you have some indies that are probably benefiting from that fact and are happy to settle this way. Or maybe all together the whole idea of labels will die out, and people will just be putting out their own records on the internet: if you don’t use a distributor, really all you need is a publicist – or not even, or you can just do that yourself or have a manager that does that, and you just put your stuff on the internet for free for people to download. And then you go out and do shows and make money, or you more likely sell your songs to commercials and whatnot. But I really can’t know, one way or the other. Otherwise I would probably rule the stock market.
Back to Anticon – are there any up-and-comers on Anticon – actually, anyone in general – that we should be looking out for?
It’s hard to say, as I’m not so deeply tapped in. I lived in Cincinnati kind of in my own… not my own world, but I don’t live in New York or LA where you have your little scene or are out seeing music every night. I don’t go out and see music too often. We have an artist on our label, Baths, who’s already broken out with his first album, and I think his second is gonna be really good, even though I haven’t heard it yet. Another artist on our label who I think is really awesome and brand new and just had their debut released is a band called Young Fathers, they’re from Scotland, and they’re fantastic. They toured with us in the fall and are super, super nice guys with super, super interesting music.
I’ll definitely have to check them out. Thank you so much for catching up, and I’m looking forward to catching your upcoming Rochester date!