fter a decade of California life, the brothers Wolf, collectively doing business as Why?, are finally back in their home state. Josiah relocated to Xenia with his wife and Yoni recently bought a house in Northside, which is undergoing extensive renovations.
In the meantime, the younger Wolf is following the path of so many thirtysomethings — he’s moved in with his parents.
“It was a long-term impulse in a way,” Yoni Wolf says, laughing, concerning his return to Cincinnati. “I got rid of my places in Oakland around two years ago and was basically on the road for a year. Around this time last year, I decided I would come here. I felt like it was time to see what Cincinnati was all about again.”
The other big news in the Why? camp is the band’s progress on new recordings for the follow-up to 2009’s acclaimed Eskimo Snow. They’re at the tipping point of having done a lot of work with much more work to go, but Wolf is hopeful for an early 2012 release date.
“It’s still unfolding,” Wolf says. “That has to do with labels and things like that, so it’s not all up to me. My ideal scenario would be sometime in late winter/early spring.”
While the last couple of Why? albums have veered more toward Indie Rock territory, the newer material sounds like a cross-section of everything that the band has done exceedingly well during the course of its 12-year history.
“They’re driven by percussion and bass — there’s good low end — and there’s some more melodic stuff, there’s some more Rap stuff, maybe more than the last few records,” Wolf says. “I think it’s sounding really good. I just got back from Atlanta from mixing with this guy Graham Marsh, who’s like Cee-Lo (Green)’s main guy. ”
The Wolfs’ evolution and amazingly diverse discography is pretty well documented — Yoni’s collaborations with Adam “Doseone” Drucker as Greenthink and cLOUDDEAD, among others, their ongoing relationship with the Anticon label collective and the dozen-year output of the increasingly popular Why?.
Just as interesting is the Wolfs’ early musical development, with both brothers learning drums and Yoni picking up recording techniques at the synagogue of their father, a Messianic Jewish rabbi. If childhood was less than idyllic, Yoni Wolf doesn’t assign blame.
“It was good,” he says. “I can’t say I was the happiest kid, but I don’t think that had to do with the environment, I was just one of those people like that. We grew up in Pleasant Ridge, which was a good neighborhood; super diverse and it had a good feeling. I went to Pleasant Ridge Elementary, SCPA and Walnut Hills. The more I look back on Walnut Hills, the more I appreciate it. I didn’t realize how unique and good an experience that was. Re-meeting other folks that went to Walnut Hills, every one is just a golden individual. If I stay here into my child-rearing years, I would definitely send my kids there.”
Part of Wolf’s decision to return to Cincinnati was driven by his six-year struggle with Krohn’s Disease, exacerbated by Why?’s constant touring and Wolf’s poor road diet. Taking himself off the road after an extensive Japanese circuit had an oddly counterproductive result.
“I went through waves of depression and anxiety,” Wolf says. “It was a struggle to stop moving and just stay still. But my health was really bad and I needed to figure that out and I was so jumbled with work. I had all these songs that were half written, from in between tours; I would mess around on something and then it would have to go back into the cupboard. I never forced myself to work as a writer.”
To several good ends, Wolf established a regimen that has led him to better physical and emotional health and, in turn, changed his whole creative process.
“I started fucking with my diet and eating considerably different than I had, always cooking, never eating out,” Wolf says. “And on a suggestion from my brother, I started doing demos, basically writing and finishing one song every week, and I did that for 19 weeks. My health improved a great deal and I quit taking the medication I was on. And I learned how to force myself to work, which I had never done before. It was a different way of working for me.”
Why?’s current tour will feature a healthy dose of new songs, featuring just the core trio — the Wolfs and longtime collaborator Doug McDiarmid. Wolf notes the new material is one of the underlying reasons for the tour in the first place.
“The purpose of the tour, in a way, is to debut some of the songs, almost in a songwriter/storytellers kind of forum,” Wolf says. “That’s the vibe of the tour. That’s why Memorial Hall and the seated venues. It’s like, ‘Come, sit, relax, listen to some new stuff you haven’t heard that you can focus on, rather than have people spill beer on you.’ ” ©
WHY? kicks off its U.S. tour Sept. 14 at Memorial Hall (next to Music Hall) with guest Serengeti.