Wolf of All Streets: Cincinnati's Yoni Wolf takes a break from shopping a new TV project to take Why? back on the road

U.S. tour is timed to a special edition of the group's 'Moh Lhean' album, featuring remixes by Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and Islands’ Nick Diamonds

Jan 29, 2018 at 1:36 pm

click to enlarge Why's Yoni Wolf
Why's Yoni Wolf
For most musicians, having a band and the attendant writing, recording and touring it entails would be more than enough to occupy the bulk of their time. Cincinnati’s Yoni Wolf is not most musicians.

For decades, besides his globally beloved and acclaimed Art-Rap-solo-project-turned-Art-Pop-band Why?, Wolf has been nearly sociopathic in his pursuit of musical adventures, recording and performing with various collaborators under a plethora of identities, including Greenthink (with Doseone), Clouddead (with Doseone and Odd Nosdam), Hymie’s Basement (with Andrew Broder) and Apogee (Doseone, Mr. Dibbs and his brother Josiah, also a member of Why?), among others.

Wolf has always done production work and that’s remained a part of his arsenal — he’s currently helming the board for a new album from Cincinnati band The Ophelias. But he’s also been busy in recent years on projects outside of the music realm, including his popular and long-running interview/commentary podcast, The Wandering Wolf, although he’s dialing back on that slightly.

“I started the podcast at the beginning of 2013,” Wolf says. “I did 100 episodes, every single Wednesday, without missing a week. I realized I wasn’t making any music and I don’t get paid for the podcast, so it was a problem. I want to say I have that kind of self-discipline, but it’s more like self-flagellation. I enjoyed it, but at some point I had to relax a little bit. I love asking people about themselves. I always learn something new from every conversation that I can integrate into my life or my work, and I’ve met a ton of new people doing this. It’s forced me to be extroverted where I tend to be introverted naturally. It’s been really good for me.”

The most recent Wandering Wolf pod features Bridget Battle of Cincinnati's Tweens:

Wolf recently worked up a television version of The Wandering Wolf with videographer/director (and Culture Queer singer/guitarist) Scott Fredette, which received funding from the People's Liberty philanthropic lab. The pair is shopping around the idea of turning these segments, filmed in the Cincinnati area, into a series for an independent network. The idea is to take the template of talking to people involved in music, the visual arts, food, local politics and activism and apply it to other cities around the country. (Watch the amazing pilot episode focused on Cincinnati here.)

“It’s a sped-up, drugged-out version of the podcast,” Wolf says with a laugh. “I did like 18 hour/hour-and-a-half-long interviews, but we only use like a minute of each one, so it’s fast-paced. We’re going to pitch it to Netflix and Vice and Amazon, whatever. The content gatekeepers of the world. We’ll see what happens.”

Outside of multimedia endeavors, Why? remains a primary focus of Wolf’s. He and the band are prepping for another round of coast-to-coast touring behind Why?’s 2017 release, Moh Lhean. The twist is that the occasion for this particular run around the country is the imminent release of a remixed version of Moh Lhean. The tracks have been retooled by the likes of Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and Islands’ Nick Diamonds and packaged in a box set of eight 7-inch vinyl singles, with Why?’s original track on one side of each platter and the remix on the flip. The package is limited to 350 copies and will be released on Feb. 5.

“It’s a shtick, of course, but it’s a throwback; it comes in its nice little carrying case,” Wolf says of the project. “It’s a way to extend the whole journey for us, and involve friends of ours.”

There was not quite that level of journey extension for Why? after the release of 2012’s Mumps, Etc., which was followed by two EPs, 2012’s Sod in the Seed and 2013’s Golden Tickets. In the subsequent four years, Wolf started The Wandering Wolf — he’s now done over 125 episodes — and collaborated with old friend Serengeti (as Yoni & Geti) on a concept piece about the difficulty of balancing real life with band life titled Testarossa, which was released in 2016. There wasn’t any particular reason for the lack of a Why? album and there wasn’t any particular reason for the band to start working on one.

“I think it just took time to marinate and it came out the way it needed to,” Wolf says. “Things just started to rev up, I think. I found myself sitting on songs, and eventually it’s like, ‘Oh, wait, it’s an album.’ I found myself not wanting to force it. If I did have deadlines, things might be a little different, and the output and timelines would be different. For whatever reason, I don’t have deadlines. Obviously, I’ve got to make a living, so there’s that aspect, but other than that, I’m pretty free to finish things when I finish them.”

Wolf isn’t being cagey when he’s vague about the nature of the upcoming Why? tour, simply because that aspect doesn’t gel until rehearsals progress. He admits that they’ll likely work with a ratio of one-third Moh Lhean songs and two-thirds back catalog for the set list (“We like to throw in a couple of old treats from back in the day, that half of the audience is like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ and a couple of ultrafans are into,” he says). And Wolf notes that once he gets his current packed schedule cleared, he’ll get back to working on new material, some of which are tracks that didn’t work for Moh Lhean, for an album he’s tentatively considering for an early 2019 release. The only thing for sure is that the next Why? album won’t sound like the last Why? album. Or any Why? album, for that matter.

“It gets stagnant. I enjoy changing it up,” Wolf says. “We’re not making car axles that have to work the same way every time. I think the next one will be different. By the nature of what it is, it should express something new and fresh and real every time. It doesn’t happen with magic; there should be magic in it, but that’s not quantifiable. I didn’t love the process of Moh Lhean the whole time, it was arduous — the perils of home recording but wanting high fidelity. In retrospect, it sounds great because it adds an organic quality you don’t get otherwise, but it’s a lot of work.

“We’ll see what the future brings. Robots. Or interns. Or intern robots. Even better.”

Why? plays Friday at Woodward Theater with Open Mike Eagle. Tickets/more info: woodwardtheater.com.