With last year's Alopecia, the Bay Area crew WHY? moved further away from the art-rap of frontman Yoni Wolf's past, cultivating the twisty, word-heavy art-pop they've been playing for the past few years. During the Alopecia sessions, WHY? also recorded another full album, one they've been tinkering with ever since. This fall, that album, entitled Eskimo Snow, will see release on Anticon. As Wolf was working on the Eskimo Snow packaging last week, Pitchfork spoke with him about the new album, the state of Anticon, and his personal relationship with hip-hop.
Pitchfork: So I understand you are working on a new album?
YW: Yeah! Just finished it up, actually. It's called Eskimo Snow.
Pitchfork: Is there a story behind the title?
YW: It's the title from a song, one of the songs on the record. It's part of the lyrics from that song. There's ten songs total. I don't have everything mapped out right now. I'm working on the art now; that's my current burden to carry. So I'm up at the photocopy place, about to get into doing some mockups.
Pitchfork: How long have you been working on the album?
YW: Basically, we recorded two albums at once when we recorded our last record, Alopecia. [Eskimo Snow] was supposed to come out first, actually, at first. Later, we decided to put out Alopecia first, and then we went back and worked more on this one and mixed it some more. But it's been in the works for a long time; it's been recorded for a couple of years. It was recorded in February of 2007, so it's been in the ether quite a while. It is going to be a grand pleasure to have this thing out in the world.
Pitchfork: Is there any reason in particular you decided to release Alopecia first?
YW: Well, upon thinking about it a bunch, it seemed like the correct progression for the development of the character in the songs. That's all I can say, really. I mean, after a while just thinking about the sequence of albums, this made the most sense. This seems like the next step from Alopecia in some kind of thought-life of the character.
We did both albums in Minneapolis in February 2007, and we had 20 songs we decided to record out of all the ones that were in the ether. It started to feel like it was two records. We didn't know, at first. We thought, "Well, maybe it'll be a record and an EP," or whatever. But there started to be some kind of distinction between two different types of songs, I guess-- ones that fit on Alopecia and ones that fit on Eskimo Snow. So that's how we started to cut it up. But I wouldn't say that it necessarily had to come after Alopecia. It just seems correct to me, you know?
Pitchfork: How did you decide whether a song was meant for Alopecia or for Eskimo Snow?
YW: There's a few different things. For one, lyrical content. I would say that Alopecia had more of a biting tone, more of somewhat of an angry sarcasm. And this one is a little more resigned, maybe a little more introverted in a way. It's a little more solemn, maybe. That's in terms of lyrical tone. With sound, there were also distinctions. With Alopecia, the drum mics were tighter in on the drums, and the drumming was generally simple and repetitive. Bass a lot of times played with the kick drum. The arrangements were super methodical and intentional and raw. And these songs are raw, too, but the Eskimo Snow songs are a bit more wild, and the drums have more room mics. They're more open. The sound is more open, more live.
They're both recorded live, for the most part, but Alopecia was so segmented. All the songs were like, "No, you do exactly that on this or that instrument." And it's the interaction between instruments, what they're not playing, a lot of ghost notes. This album is a little more free in terms of that. People were given a little more freedom to play. So yeah, it sounds a little bit more like players in a room, I think.
Pitchfork: When do you think the album is going to come out?
YW: Sometime in the fall.
Pitchfork: Are you going to tour hard on it again?
YW: Oh, of course. We always do. We'll be out all fall, pretty much, in the States.
Pitchfork: And is this going to be on Anticon again?
Pitchfork: I'm curious: how much creative interaction do you have with the other dudes on Anticon? You used to hear a lot about "the Anticon collective." It doesn't seem, musically at least, necessarily like a collective movement anymore. You all went off in so many different directions.
YW: I think there was this idea, initially, about what Anticon was, that it never actually really was. I mean, we even had an idea of what it was or what it could be, like everybody making these posse records. That never really happened. Eventually, everybody started developing their own thing, and everybody hooked up with their own bands and stuff like that. Since the past four or five years, we've been seeking out a lot of other acts to sign to the label, and have done so. At this point, it really is just a label. It's owned by a lot of the artists on the label, so that's a little different, I guess. It's more like a co-op, I would say, in that way.
But I mean, I do interact with other artists on the label. I'll be more apt to do a free remix for somebody if they're on our label than I would for somebody else, just because it's family or whatever. And I've done a couple guest spots on people's records, and people have done some guest spots on our records. I don't know what organizations work that way. Maybe Broken Social Scene or somebody like that. I don't really know what they do, but it seems like they're something like that, some kind of huge horde of people working on a record but everybody has their own thing going.
Pitchfork: You're on the new Themselves mixtape. Has there been any talk of dusting off cLOUDDEAD again?
YW: I don't think so. I mean, there's been talk. People talk. But I don't really have any plans to do that anytime soon. I wouldn't rule it out.
Pitchfork: You haven't rapped much in a long time, at least not regularly. Do you miss it at all?
YW: Well, I don't set up that line, necessarily, between rapping and singing. I think that there's so much gray area there. I mean, I'm influenced by lots of rap music and lots of other music. Even on a song where I might be using melodies and whatnot, I still might borrow a lot of phrasing from hip-hop styles. It's not like it's rap-rock or whatever, but it's just kind of having that kind of sensibility as vocalist. I feel like I'll always carry [hip-hop] with me because that was sort of the formative years of listening for me, my teenage years.
I don't know. The stuff that I've been writing recently has been a little more intricate in rhyme scheme. Out of a couplet, being two lines, every word rhymes with a word in the next couplet, stuff like that. It's just games I play with myself. Instead of doing crosswords or whatever, recently I'll do stuff like that. So the next stuff may be more rap because it's going to be hard to try to sing that stuff. But we'll see. That being said, this record, Eskimo Snow, is really the least hip-hop out of anything I've ever been involved with. I mean, they feel like song-songs with-- I don't want to say a typical verse-chorus structure, but they're song-songs.
Pitchfork: Are you working on anything other than the new album?
YW: I'm writing words here and there. But this album has been taking up a lot of my time, just finishing it up and everything, all aspects. The art takes a lot of time. So does just setting up photo shoots or whatever. There's always a lot of stuff that goes into finishing a record up. I don't know if major labels do all that stuff for you, but we're homegrown, so we do everything ourselves.
Posted by Tom Breihan on May 29, 2009 at 7 a.m.
Tags: Interview, Why?, Yoni Wolf