The Why? and the wherefore

The ‘Post’ catches up with Why? frontman Yoni Wolf as the band continues its worldwide tour.

Why? 370 (photo credit: Aaron M.Conway)
Why? 370
(photo credit: Aaron M.Conway)
One of the most inventive indie bands on the American alternative landscape, Why? continues to surprise and delight listeners. Celebrating a low-fi, free-form style, the California group led by brothers Yoni and Josiah Wolf have no qualms about mixing folk, hip hop and surreally provocative lyrics within the same song.
Right up through their recently released fifth album Mumps, Etc., it’s basically a more refined version of the homemade tapes combining rap, drum tracks and beat poetry that Yoni Wolf used to create on a four-track tape player he discovered in the basement of a synagogue in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father led a messianic congregation.
Catching up with him via e-mail earlier this month, Wolf reflects on his previous visits to Israel and whether his unorthodox Jewish upbringing has affected his music.
Why has performed in Israel a few times, and you visited as a teenager. Is the country becoming familiar to you?
It gets a little more familiar every time, but I’ve only ever seen a bit of the area. One day I will come and explore the place properly. We’ve been to a smattering of places, but none of the names have stuck with me, unfortunately.
Mostly what sticks out in my mind is the people. We have been treated with a lot of love there and met a lot of great people.
Has visiting Israel stirred any religious of Zionistic feelings in you that had been dormant?
No, I can’t say I have any religious or Zionistic feelings. I don’t think I have a bone for that kind of stuff. The people have definitely made us feel right at home, and that is a real blessing. But I hesitate to call any of my emotions Zionistic or say that I feel at home there because I am a Jew. I think it comes down to the quality individuals we have come into contact with there. I steer clear of overarching affiliations or grandiose ideas of God proximity. I prefer to stick to the intimate.
The band has been streamlined for your latest EP “Sod in the Seed” and the album Mumps, Etc., but your touring band is quite large. Which do you prefer?
I’d say both have their benefits. I think in a way, it’s easier to work with less people in the studio because of the old ‘cooks in the kitchen’ thing... For a live set-up, though, I prefer to have a few more players so as to fill out the sound and add sonic variety. Our live band is a six-piece now. A couple of drum sets, marimba, vibraphone, a couple of lady singers, etc. It’s pretty sweet if I say so myself. My favorite iteration yet, I think.
In the same way that one couldn’t imagine Woody Allen being able to write those scripts without having been informed by his Jewish upbringing, do you feel that being Jewish has informed your outlook and the way you perceive your art?
Absolutely. My Jewish upbringing, specifically my messianic Jewish upbringing, has played a role in what I write. But so has Cincinnati, public school, being a middle child, etc. All these things play a large role in my psyche/personality, and ultimately my writing.Why? will be performing at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv on December 6. For more info visit