Yoni Wolf comes across as a pretty inimitable character on his records. Neurotic, sarcastic and cynical, loving, sweet and innocent, sometimes all in the one song. Wolf began making records under the name of WHY? way back at the beginning of the decade, with his first LP proper Oaklandazulasylum appearing in 2003, and the development of his own unique style has been one of the most interesting musical character arcs of that time. Now on album number four, Eskimo Snow, WHY? are an established five-piece band and a well worn touring unit. After spending most of last year on the road in support of their last record Alopecia, the band have just set out on another two month run across Europe that will see them take in locations as disparate as Leeds and Tel Aviv before heading back Stateside to finish up with a slightly more easy going schedule for May. State caught up with Yoni before their recent show in London.
Engaging in two cups of tea in the nearest Starbucks, the first question is an inevitable ‘Why no Irish show this time around?’
‘I don’t know why we’re not coming over there this time, I guess its an extra flight and maybe we couldn’t get the deal we needed for the flights or something.’
‘We really like playing Ireland though, I don’t know, its the crowd there or something, they just seem to get it better. Its a very kind of lyrical crowd, you know? I mean, there’s like something more there, I don’t know what the word is…’
Like a heritage?
‘Yeah, thats it exactly, there’s a heritage. I mean, you got Yeats and all that stuff.’
You’re playing in Tel-Aviv, have you played there before?
‘Yeah, we played there once before. Well, I’ve played there twice but once with WHY? It was off the chain, a really big audience. They really seem to like us over there.’
It’s quite an unexpected market, not one you hear a lot about.
‘Yeah, I mean, I don’t think we even sell records there. People just bootleg shit, you know?’
Do you think that file-sharing and all that has had an effect on you guys?
‘I think it has impacted us. Probably for touring its made it easier. It’s just the way of the world man, you got to go with it, you can’t try and fight that shit.’
State ventures that our vinyl copy of Eskimo Snow is currently winging its way from their mail-order shop and the talk turns to touring in support of the new record and the fact that many of the songs being played are several years old.
Are you getting sick of the songs yet?
‘I wouldn’t say sick of them, I mean, when you play live and you got a band you’re playing with, they come alive every night pretty much, you know? They change, however slightly, sometimes drastically, depending on, you know, how much people have had to drink and stuff. Which isn’t always the greatest thing!’
How do you find touring now? Do you find it easier now to keep yourself interested and entertained over long periods?
‘I didn’t used to like it at all. You’re always tired and crabby. Just in this last little while I’ve started to take a step back and be like, alright, I’ve got a really cool job and like, let me not get that stressed out. If I don’t sleep that much it’s OK, I’ll live. You really only make money if you stay on the road, which we’ve been doing a lot. We tour quite a bit so its ok. At the expense of, you know, I don’t have a girlfriend. The other guys do, I don’t know how, but it cuts into your home life, your availability for that sort of thing. But that’s alright, I’ve gotten used to touring, I’m ok with it now, I kind of like it.
Has touring with this band changed things for you?
‘This is a new band since this past September. The band we’re playing with now has two new members, which are actually the guys who played on the records (Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson). But transitioning into playing into playing with those two guys live was a huge change from playing with Austin.’
Have you developed much as musicians over that time?
‘Yeah, this same band playing in September and playing tonight would sound a lot different, a lot better I think now. You have to get used to playing with each other you know.’
Finally, any plans for after the tour? A bit of relaxation?
‘I just want to work on some shit because it’s been so long since I’ve been able to do that. In May I’m going to get a place, I don’t have a house anywhere so I’ll probably get a place and just try to get to work.’
Anything we should be expecting?
‘I’ve got a lot of stuff written, its just a matter of putting things together. I’ve got some you know, vague ideas about how I want another record to sound. I’m working on a covers record, a collected covers that I’ve done. I’ve got this other band which I’m working on with a friend, she writes the lyrics and sings and I write the music.
After this talk turns to the relative merits of one Zooey Deschanel before Starbucks closes and Yoni heads back to get ready for the show. WHY? Are touring Europe throughout March and April, their latest record, Eskimo Snow, is out now through Anticon. Josiah Wolf’s debut solo record, Jet Lag, is also available through Anticon now.