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Indie plus rap equals Why?

Photo Courtesy of Anticon
Don't ask Why? why it named its band Why?. For why would anyone do such a thing? Perhaps they will edify everyone at their concert on Tuesday night at Club Congress at 9.
By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005
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Yoni Wolf of Why? seems like the punch line to a bad joke. What do you get when you cross a white, Midwestern kid with a rabbi for a father and with hip-hop and indie rock? Likely, no one could anticipate that the results would be Wolf and his indie-rap group Why?, and that seems to be part of the fun for Wolf. However, the joys of being indefinable have their downsides too.

Critics have a hard time with groups like Why? and its labelmates on Anticon Records (mostly white guys who rap, or at least sing quickly over a variety of tunes and sounds). However, on their most recent album, Elephant Eyelash, Why? sounds less like rap and more like The Microphones' lo-fi beauty and vocals clashing with The Unicorns' incisive lyrical games.

Over the course of a few albums and EPs, Wolf and Why? have been combining sounds and styles in a way that is clever, unique and - most importantly - artistically satisfying.

"I've been pretty satisfied with how things have been going," Wolf said. "It's been pretty neat - it's a wild ride. It's a crazy thing to do with your life so far. You know, I'll probably do something else at some point, but this is very interesting and I enjoy what I'm doing right now."

However, the ride didn't start for Wolf until he skipped Cincinnati in favor of the Berkeley/Oakland area, where a collective of friends and musicians (later known as Anticon Records) were migrating.

"A lot of my friends who were doing music were moving out to the Bay Area from all around the country, and we needed like somewhere to converge on with all the different stuff we were doing," Wolf said. "I sort of started to get really obsessed with recording and everything and thought maybe I'd sort of devote most of my time for that, and I didn't really need to be in Cincinnati anymore for anything. I'd already quit school and had finished another record there, so I figured, 'Might as well move out to California, start working over there.'"

Wolf's formative years with Anticon produced cLOUDEAD, a more-or-less strictly white-boy rap group. From there, Wolf and a group of friends (including his brother Josiah on drums) formed Why?, and the transition from rap to indie with rap tendencies began.

The current culmination of Why?'s transformation is the glossy, strange and consistently enjoyable Elephant Eyelash.

"I think the production style on (Elephant Eyelash) is quite different from anything else I've or we've done," Wolf said. "I guess one of the main reasons (Elephant Eyelash) sounds very different is because there were other people involved who have their own sort of sounds and ways they play and stuff like that. But also, we got more in-depth on this one in terms of, we got pretty serious about layering and arranging. We got deep into it or sort of more premeditated than in the past."

The album also works because as strange and quirky as it is, lyrically it touches on plenty of personal and timeless themes.

"A lot of it is relationship stuff with different people, whether it be a romantic thing or friendship or whatever," Wolf said. "I think most of it relates to that sort of thing. Then there's like death songs and stuff like that. I don't know exactly what the thread is that holds it together, but I can hear it when I listen to it. I can't quite put my finger on it, but maybe that's not for me to do anyway."

What Wolf can put a finger on are great times every time he rolls through the Old Pueblo.

"I really like (Tucson)," Wolf said. "I like playing Club Congress and getting to stay at that nice-ass hotel ... (Hotel) Congress. It's pretty sweet. I like the city in general. It has a sort of laid-back vibe. It's kind of hippy in a way, real artsy."

And this city loves Why?. So, to check out what happens when your favorite genres collide, or just to see a damn great show, head on over to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Tuesday. The all-ages show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 advance, $6 day of, with Aqueduct and Bark Bark Bark opening.

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