The Sun talked on the phone with Josiah Wolf, drummer and multi-instrumentalist for indie-rock-hip-hop group, WHY?, on the benefits of solo work, swearing and piracy.
The Sun: Josiah Wolf, thanks for speaking with us. Your band, WHY?, just released a new EP, Sod in the Seed, and you just started touring for your upcoming album, Mumps, etc.
Josiah Wolf: Yes, right now we’re in Columbia, Missouri. Tonight’s the first show of the tour, so it’s all kicking off right now. I’m just really excited about this band, I think it’s the best WHY? outfit yet. We’ve got six of us on stage, with two drummers, and it’s just gonna be a lot of fun.
Sun: So it’s been three years since WHY?’s most recent album, Eskimo Snow. Has that been a period of hibernation, or have you guys been playing together and working on this record all that time?
J.W.: You know, we recorded this record over a year ago now. I was also touring without WHY? — just me and my wife Liz.
Sun: You also recorded your solo album, Jet Lag, during that period. How do you feel your solo work relates to your work with WHY? Is there a lot of shared creative energy between those two projects, or are they very separate musical worlds for you?
J.W.: It’s pretty separate. Sometimes something I come up with could work for either one, but most of the WHY? stuff is written by Yoni [WHY? frontman and Josiah’s younger brother Yoni Wolf]. That stuff is all his. I do have a base of different ideas that I’ve used with WHY?, but mostly use for my own stuff.
Sun: Listening to WHY?, what often strikes me are the really vile lyrics. Stuff like, “Sucking dick for drink tickets at the free bar at my cousin’s bat mitzvah,” etc. On some level I really love it, but on some level it’s really aggressively grotesque. Do you ever have any reservations about putting that sort of energy into the world?
J.W.: Gosh, Tom. I don’t have reservations about putting that out there. I don’t think it’s negative or harmful. That’s Yoni, and those are the songs he’s written, and that’s where he is. I find generally people come up after the shows to talk to us, and they say they really relate, and that it’s helped them through hard times. He’s not inciting violence or anything like that.
Sun: How much of those lyrics are grounded in reality, and how much is fiction? Take “Probable Cause,” one of the tracks on your new EP, where Yoni talks about an encounter you and he had with a state trooper in Pennsylvania. True story?
J.W.: Most of the stuff is partially true, and that would fit into that category, I guess. Yoni writes all the lyrics, so when it comes to that stuff, he would be better to tell you. For that particular song, though, I was actually there, and I’d say it’s partial truth. I think it’s maybe more about how Yoni feels in other ways. I think it relates to other things about me, about our relationships, and about other stuff, too. I don’t want to analyze his lyrics too much, but yeah — a lot of partial truths.
Sun: How do you feel about music pirating? I, for example, may have pirated most of WHY?’s discography. How guilty I should feel?
J.W.: I see the Internet as more helpful to us than hurtful, in terms of increasing access to music. I’m not a hater about that stuff. It definitely makes some things difficult, and makes trouble with the label, but the amount of people that have heard us that would never have heard us before makes up for it. And, you know, we make our money playing shows, we don’t really make much money selling records.
Sun: That’s definitely an argument I hear a lot — that musicians make their money touring anyways — and they’re happy to get their music out there any way they can. Does that ring true with you, or is that just some BS people use to justify stealing music?
J.W.: I think it’s true. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with downloading stuff and checking stuff out for free. I think if it’s something you like, you should go to the show and buy something. Many people who are big fans of [WHY?’s 2008 album] Alopecia and got it for free many years ago come to the shows now, and are like, this is my favorite record, I’m gonna buy the record. But no, I’m not a hater about the whole thing.
WHY? will play at The Haunt on Sept. 11. Their new EP, Sod in the Seed, was released on Aug. 14, and their new album, Mumps, etc., will be released on Oct. 9.