By: Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – Sometimes light is best seen coming from a place of darkness. For experimental indie-pop group Why?’s songwriter Yoni Wolf, the darkness may have come from an unnamed health scare he had a few years ago. The light, however, can be seen in their latest album, Moh Lhean. Their sixth studio album, and first to be released in four years, takes the sarcastic edge off of their melancholic and hip hop-infused indie sound and replaces it with a more hopeful tone.
“I think there was a lot of cynicism to some of the older stuff, [but] I always said it with a smile,” explains Wolf. “I’ve always had a bit of a darkness and I made light of it all of those years. I’m trying to dig out of it and working on being a little more positive.”
While much of the talk online centers around the album as a return from their four-year hiatus since Mumps, Etc, in fact Why? have been working on the album on and off for even longer. “It does feel like a long time working on this project, I have to be honest about that,” Wolf says. “One of the songs I [actually] wrote in 2010, so technically [the album was] started in 2010, if you want to back that far. But you know, you have to let things marinate and all that.” The hiatus narrative also obscures the fact that he’s released a number of other projects over that time, including a collaborative album with rapper Serengeti called Yoni & Geti.
Why? originally made a name for themselves in the early 2000s as part of experimental indie rap collective Anticon. Their current indie rock sound reveals past influences with touches of rap cadence filtered through an electronic sound collage. The result can be labelled as either ramshackle or precisely meticulous. To Wolf, it’s a little bit of both. “Certain elements are very spur-of-the-moment, and certain things are meticulously laboured over. I think it just depends,” he says. “Everything is pretty scrutinized.” Is he a perfectionist? “I think so. My brother [Josiah Wolf, who is also in the band] is as well, about different things.”
As to the writing process, Wolf says, “It’s a mystery. I’m sure some people know that about themselves. I don’t know [everything] about myself or my process. It’s always different. Sometimes I’ll think I’m dried up and have nothing left in me, then it dawns on me and it’s like, ‘I have something left in me!’ It’s a mysterious process. You just have to follow it when you know it.”
While the prospect of an upcoming tour is dunting psychologically, it’s necessary in today’s music industry. “I used to make a living off selling records, and I can’t do that anymore. I make a living off touring [because] that’s how it is now. It’s hard on my mind and body but I do enjoy it.” This seems part and parcel to the artist’s more optimistic outlook. “I’m pretty good. I’m trying to be more [of a] positive person. Let the light shine in and all that. I’m always working on it — everyone is. If they’re not, they probably should be.”
Catch Why? live at Venue March 25 and pick up their new album, Moh Lhean, out March 3 on Joyful NoiseVenue, Why?