It’s only been a couple of weeks since the Cincinnati-based folk-rap-pop usurpers in WHY? released their playfully deranged Sod in the Seed EP, but they’ve got a new full-length coming October 9 and a song from it that you can hear now. “Jonathan’s Hope” features lead man Yoni Wolf (the titular Jonathan) dropping verses about his real-life bout with the mumps, not to mention tragicomic struggles with various neuroses and a toxically fatalist attitude. The loping track features an impressive array of instruments — harp, clarinet, bells, whistles — played by the band and students from the music school at the University of North Texas. The virtuosic youngsters appear throughout the upcoming Mumps, etc. LP, which was recorded in Denton, Texas at the studio owned by Matt Pence of slowcore champs Centro-Matic. We took the opportunity to dig into the new song (streaming below) with Wolf.
The song is called “Jonathan’s Hope,” but it sounds pretty bleak. Is there hope for Jonathan?
Oh, most definitely. Jonathan is back in the driver’s seat of the proverbial, and literal, ’98 Volvo station wagon of his life. The song is ultimately about seeing this glimmer of hope — the white dove — despite what all other signs seem to point towards. It’s like, no matter how much physical or mental illness I’m faced with, something bigger than me has placed this fight in me, this will to live and struggle. Hope.
You actually got mumps, which is pretty rare. What was that like? Did it leave you changed?
It was terrible. I wanted to die. I was stuck in bed in a hotel in Stockholm, sweating profusely at all times with my face swelled up looking like a John Lovitz balloon. I was unable to get out of bed, unable to eat, just wallowing in my own filth like a zombie. And just when I thought it could get no worse, I woke up to find my left nut the size of a baseball and feeling like it was about to burst. Luckily my brother [bandmate Josiah Wolf] was there to take care of me and read me Dostoyevsky, which always put me to sleep. Then, a week later, he came down with the mumps and we got stuck in Berlin while he recovered.
This song had a ton of instruments, but an easy swagger. What can you tell us about the music?
Well, we were going for, like, a jerky walk. It’s supposed to feel like someone limping on a hurt leg, but walking nonetheless — hope! We actually collected a ton of rocks from the woods near the studio and Josiah and Doug [McDiarmid] alternated dropping them on beat. It was pretty fantastic. There is footage.
You talk about waking up with hope, but ending the day defeated. Is that your usual cycle?
I’m really working on breaking it, and doing quite well, but yeah, that is something I can fall into. I’ll have all these ambitions for the day and then by the end of it realize I have achieved nothing and have nothing to show for it except a stomach ache from eating too many potato chips or some shit.
This is kind of a terrible question, but do you feel cursed? Destined for early demise or disease?
I have that feeling in me, but I’m fighting it so hard. And right now, I’m fucking winning.