We chatted with Yoni Wolf of WHY? about recording their new album Moh Lhean, their upcoming tour, and why lo-fi shit sounds more real.

The tour for your new album Moh Lhean starts next week. What are you doing to prepare?

Just a shit ton of rehearsals, pretty much. We’re doing that every day, trying to get my health in order, just the usual shit you do to prepare for a long tour.

This album is the first you’ve recorded at home since 2003’s Oaklandazulasylum

Well Elephant Eyelash was recorded at home as well and that one was mixed in a big studio and this one was mixed at home. So yeah, this was the first one that was A to Z [at home] since Oaklandazulasylum.

Was there any specific reason for that? Did it feel more organic that way?

It was coming off the heels of Mumps, etc. which we recorded in a big studio in Texas. I mixed it in a big studio in Atlanta and just spent so much money on it. The stakes are really high when you spend a lot of money and time. We spent more time on this one [Moh Lhean] but I guess we wanted to bring it back down to earth and say ‘let’s just do this and not feel super anxious about the outcome’, you know what I mean?

Yeah, like placing a lot of emphasis on the results.

Exactly. So I was like, ‘let’s just work like we used to’. We did this album in a lot of ways like we did Elephant Eyelash, other than the mixing, which we did do at home. It felt like something to take away the expectations and go back to the roots of how I used to work anyway.

I always get a lot of feeling from people’s 4-track recordings, like lo-fi shit. Just knowing that there’s no pretentions about someone’s work, knowing it’s something they made in an intimate space for themselves. I like that feeling. This one’s not a 4-track recording but hopefully it still has some of that sensibility.

What made you and the band go back to WHY? after your side projects since Mumps, etc.?

It’s where I put my personal songwriting, so I was always going to make another WHY? album. I started doing this one [Moh Lhean] in 2010, so things overlap a lot. I wrote “Consequence of Nonaction” in 2010 and then sat on that lyric sheet for a while and things just came together. With the WHY? stuff, often things come together very slowly through time.

What was the last song you wrote for this record?

That’s a good question. It probably was actually “The Barely Blur”. That part was in order. I would say the first song [“This Ole King”] and the last song were a little more recent.

When you’re writing a song like “One Mississippi” or “Proactive Evolution” do you have it in mind that those could be singles, or do they start to pop out as you record them?

As far as that goes, the releasing team makes those calls. I can’t really tell with my work. I’ll turn it in and we’ll listen to it and say ‘I’m really feeling this track’ and we come to a consensus as to what we want to put out to represent the album first. I like that we put out “This Ole King” first actually. I never would have chosen that but people seemed to want it. I like that song a lot, I just didn’t think it was catchy or something. But it had the right vibe.

On this tour you’re heading to Europe after the U.S., and then what’s next? Do you have anything on the radar?

It’s a long tour. We do the U.S., we have 5 days off, then we’re recording an album for Third Man Records, which is Jack White’s label. It’s a live album down in Nashville. Then we do a festival, five days later we do some dates in Japan and China, then we go straight to Europe and do about a month there. Then the tour’s sort of done for the moment. Then I imagine we’ll catch our breath after that. I think I’ll take a vacation.

Are you excited to come to San Diego?

Yeah I am actually. I’m kind of a California guy. It’s definitely my favorite place in the country. I don’t know San Diego specifically but California is definitely my favorite state to be in.

Well we’re excited to see you at the show.

Shout out to The Donkeys, our San Diego homies!


Buy Moh Lhean here and be sure to catch WHY? at The Irenic on Thursday March 30th


Interview by: Ned Molder