I’m ready to be angry with Yoni Wolf. Our 1 o’clock interview time has come and gone. After calling five times to two different cell phones, the Why? front man picks up, explaining before fading out that reception is really terrible at the beach. I think about mentioning that not everybody does interviews at the sea shore, but Wolf fades away. Before the line went dead, there was vague talk of a house where reception is better. If this were a lot of other people, I would have politely declined to carry on. Wolf and his band mates– after prepping an EP, Sod in the Seed, an album, Mumps, Etc., to follow it, and then putting together a tour that will run through the end of the year–get little slack and really deserve the vacation. When a secure line is finally obtained at Wolf’s lair, he, after offering apologies, talked about the EP vs. the album, his upcoming tour, and his respect for Poison.
Why did you decide to release an EP this time around?
It’s all label stuff, really. Initially the EP was supposed to come out next year and the album was going to be out in August. It’s just logistics, really, figuring out how to coordinate all the different moving parts or something like that.
There’s quite a lot more rapping on Sod in the Seed. Was that something you decided on?
I think it has more to do just with how I’ve been writing. I can’t really say why that was happening, but I started writing more in rhyme than I had, in a lot of couplets. When I put everything together, that’s just what came out, you know?
So you didn’t sit down and say that you wanted to write some hip-hop songs?
It’s definitely not that. My writing happens in a very natural, as I go sort of way. Over the course of the five or so years that I’ve been working on the album, those are the sorts of things that came into my head. Maybe it’s because I was listening to more rap or something, but wherever it came from it is what definitely came out.
How do the songs on the EP relate to the songs on the album? Were they all written in a single batch?
All of these songs come from the same time period, but the songs on the EP were the ones that didn’t really fit on the album, so I took them off.
What made them not fit?
Depending on the song, it was both content and sound. When we’re putting the album together, something that we focus on a lot is how the songs flow. Why? is still living in the past, in the album era, but that’s how I think. And these ones just wouldn’t fit in there somehow; I would try to make them work, and they just would not go. The solution was to put them on the EP. I don’t know what it means to the EP that it’s made of all the songs that didn’t fit- I’m not trying to say that these are all the bad songs; these are just the ones that didn’t make sense in the order of the record.
One song that did make the album was the EP’s title track, the audacious “Sod in the Seed.”
That one actually wasn’t going to be on the album, but I put it on late. I just kept listening to it and there were other people who were listening to it and just kept telling me that it should be on the album. I finally found a place that it would fit.
“Sod in the Seed” mentions having a “first world curse”. What led you to come up with that particular combination of words?
I came up with that chorus after writing the verses of the song, and it just seemed right to me. We’re all living these okay lives, we have our little issues here and there, but for the most part we’re all good. Even so we’re all dissatisfied and depressed and looking for something more. That’s the first world curse- a steady hurt with a sturdy purse. There’s just not as much struggle for a great many people; we’re not called upon to band together as a larger group of people. It’s so easy to feel isolated and out of touch and disappointed, but the reason this happens is that we have it way too easy in the first place.
You also drop some pretty confessional information in the song. How much of that is you, and how much is your persona for the band?
I can’t put something like a percentage on that. I write from my life and things that I know about and hear about, but some of it comes from my friends. I don’t really want to go through and pick out what actually refers to me and what doesn’t- there’s no real reason to do that. It’s all fair game to me.
Is there a line that you won’t cross? Is there something that you won’t write about?
It’s all very subtle distinctions. A lot of being an artist is making that decision about whether you need to add that extra blue line there or not. Each word and rhyme has its own reason for being in a song. Even if it’s something that I can’t consciously put a finger on, I’ll get it out and write about it. There are some things that I edit out, but that’s more of an artistic decision. That’s what has to come first.
Do you ever feel pushed further when you’re giving a live performance?
By the time I’m out on tour, the songs are down on paper, and I try not to deviate too much from what I have written. But performance, by its nature, adds a new life to the songs beyond what exists on paper or what occurred in the studio. You get out there and you see how people are affected by what you created, and there is a tendency to react to that. I try mostly to stay with what I have though- I might change a lyric or two off the cuff. It’s a night by night thing on tour.
Is it taxing for you to be on the road, or do you find it energizing?
I’m not really the best guy to talk to about this, because it’s hard for me to think ahead with a clear reality. I’ve always subscribed to the “I’ll see when I get there.” mindset that we have out in Cali. On the other hand, I know it’s a lot. I feel good about it right now, and hopefully I’ll still feel good about it December 6, or whenever it is that I’m done with this tour.
Did you choose your supporting acts, or is that more of a label decision?
No, I was involved in that. Basically, I’m good friends with Adam Drucker (Doseone) and Serengeti. Each of them talked to me separately about doing some shows together while we were hanging out. Then you just meet some people, like Kitty Pryde, who’s going to do some shows in Florida with us. We agreed to do something together, and then I just handed it over to the label and the booking agent to make things happen.
You say you don’t think ahead, but how much thought did you put into constructing the concert experience for your fans?
That’s the whole point. It’s got to make sense to me. Somebody that comes to see Why? but hasn’t heard of Serengeti is probably going to like him, and we have a different DJ every night to curate the rest of the night’s entertainment so that it’s not the house sound guy playing Poison all night.
Shut up, man. Poison is great.
I’m not saying anything about Poison; I just don’t want whatever is lying around to be played before our shows. I think of myself as an audience member. I know what I like and I try to curate the evening from there.
How are you going to divide up the set list between old stuff, the EP, and the new album? Are you going to stick to a set list, or are you going to change night to night?
We’ve just learned a shitload of songs, and we’ll change it up night to night. Before the album’s out we’ll probably only play a couple of those. We’ll play some older stuff and then a little off the EP. When the album does come out, we’ll probably play more off of it, you know. We’ll be changing it up.
This is a lot of activity over the last part of 2012 for your band. When it gets to be December, what would make you happy about this period of time?
I don’t know that I can say anything definite, but I think that I’ll probably be ready for a full-release massage and maybe a beach vacation.