I should start by admitting something; I did not know who Yoni Wolf was till one year ago when I met my partner Arta. She hipped me to the music of Hymie’s Basements, which I fell in love with, and also showed me the music of WHY?. I guess you could say she is a bit of a super-fan and has been listening to his music for a couple decades. She’s not some young thing that gets all clammy over many of her favorite artists, and can openly say that she is a fan girl for only two artists in this world—Blonde Redhead and Yoni Wolf. Through my extensive listening of Yoni’s music in the past year, and research into his cult following, I have learned that there are copious amounts of these “super-fans” and from a plethora of recesses. I have now fallen in love with his music, am a total sucker for him as a wordsmith, and am slowly learning on a personal level what a good guy he is, which might be my greatest attraction to him.
So when I sit down for an interview with Yoni before a soundcheck at a recent WHY? show in Portland, Oregon, Arta and I are high as fuck. We smoked pretty steadily for a few hours while driving to the venue. She took some notes down on things we should talk about with Yoni and possible questions we could ask. We were very excited and had been looking forward to this interview since we interviewed him last over the phone where we discussed his new pilot television show The Wandering Wolf. This time we would get a chance to speak more on him and his music as opposed to just gushing over the pilot, which is what we did last time. Now I must disclaim that I am not a star struck individual, nor is Arta. I have shared a stage with Willie Nelson at High Times private parties, been courted by Perry Farrell on the playa at Burning Man (and rejected him), traded records and set lists with DJ Z-Trip, and have collaborated with ex-members of Psychic TV; this is all beans compared to places Arta has been and the connections she holds. This evidence is not meant to loft ourselves and our accomplishments, but to explain just how high we were when we get face-to-face with Yoni Wolf. His presence is beautifully warm and pedestrian.
Upon meeting Yoni and shaking hands he opens by telling us how “cool” we look and shows genuine surprise and impression on our style and latency. This probably didn’t help our already transitory focus as it took us aback in a way, especially coming from someone we both admired so much. My next steps were a series of fumbling for the proper seat in a boardroom setting and attempts at getting our phones to record the interview. However this was Arta’s man, I was just an elegant observer and assisting side-piece, so I allowed her to take the lead on asking questions and began to settle myself in. The questions roll from her in an introductory and superficial manner, but we are able to dive into deep thoughts and issues fairly quickly. Perhaps it was our state that rubbed off on him or the seemingly perplexing questions that he had to deal with, but we were able to get him to a place of introspection that even he appeared aroused by.
Arta asked him to speak on his cult following of people from an array of backgrounds and musical genres. He appeared to almost not understand that he was liked and wanted by so many, that the “cult following” might not even exist in the way we thought it did, and that the disparate fandom was not disparate at all, and just made sense. She wanted him to elaborate on the importance that many find in his words, or how the music means so much to people and has a way of comforting sensitive souls. This, again brought him to a standstill and point of great contemplation—you could see it on his face, almost not understanding that his words, his music had actually reached people in a way so deep that it could have even saved their lives. Perhaps it was these existential questions that created such an abysmal yet profound air in the room, keeping all of us quiet and staring nervously at each other. It was at this moment that Arta went blank. Completely losing her focus on the moment at hand, ; her frozen, smiling face dazzled in Yoni’s direction like a little girl encountering her favorite place for the first time. Upon noticing this in my periphery I dashed in to take over asking if he ever considered how his words land in the ears and hearts of the consumers. Almost pissed off that I would ask such a fucked up and personal question, you could see that he was willing to work through himself for an answer, and began to discuss his relationship with his fans. He talked about how actually having a connection and an understanding of his fans was a very new thing. In years past, he had not put much energy into meeting them or having one-on-one time, and wasn’t really interested in discovering whom he was performing for and what they thought of him. Struggling with Crones Disease most of his life, chronic pain can keep him back, especially post performance. Now, within the past year or two as least, he’s made great efforts to meet fans, hang out with some people after the show as opposed to crawling into his hotel room, and through this new practice has seen the importance of the connections he has made by simply saying some things on a recording. It is just his life and his beliefs that he preaches while making music, he is not trying to make a difference or help anyone in any way;?that has all just become a byproduct. At least now he was starting to grasp that byproduct as a reality.
Yoni credited the creation of the pilot for his television show as a driving force behind his newfound ability to put himself in front of people to talk about life in a real world way. He explained that having a camera and a purpose made it easier to reach out to people on the streets and get something real from them; this now translated on tour as he could go out into the public before and after the shows and have conversations, where that may have not happened much in the past.
Arta, still stuck in her stuper of blank and amazement, was done asking questions and I needed a way to descend this hot air balloon with some ease. I asked him about his connection to old school hip-hop, something I was sure he had had to discuss in other interviews, but I felt would be a way to pull us out of our super conscious cloud we were floating in. It worked, we both livened up to talk about growing up with real hip-hop, how it influenced our lives, and for him how it was a springboard for creating the lyrics and tone for which his music is based.
Thank you Yoni for putting up with our shit. I hope we didn’t make you feel too uncomfortable. And next time we won’t have to get so deep, we’ll just all get high instead.
For more from Yoni Wolf head to his website here.