The pop-punk frenzy of Why Not
Picture this: The year is 2015. You’re fourteen and your band is playing a cover of Weezer’s El Scorcho at your school’s talent show. The lights are pink and warm and the amp sucks – you’re canonized in the annals of high school rock. But what if you emerge from the other side, if your punk verve takes you to the main stage at First Ave? This is the case of local indie rock band Why Not. The trio – Henry Breen on bass and vocals, Isaac Dell on guitar and Josh MacGregor on drums – all met when they were college students at St. Paul’s Great River School. Seven years later, they’re staples on the Minneapolis indie music circuit, playing their smart, fast, decadent music on shows with bands like Beach Bunny, Motion City Soundtrack and Miloe, and collaborating with local artists like Lupin and Papa. Mbye.
I met Breen and Dell at Carma Coffee in northeast Minneapolis, where I spilled my orange blossom tea all over the table and quizzed them on exactly what kind of music they made. I had read about Why Not and listened to their album and EP, but couldn’t identify a single genre – their biography mentions a whole constellation of terms. Did they really start as a progressive metal band? “Yeah, I mean, Josh was really into Tool, and so was I back then,” Dell says. “It was very short-lived.” Were they rock math – and what East math rock, anyway? Weird time signatures and moody guitar riffs, turn out – “Like a subgenre of Midwestern emo American football,” Breen explains.
The real answer is Why Not is everything: punk (fast and a little anarchic) and pop (classic verse-verse-chorus framing and catchy melodies) and rock (hard, stinging riffs and head-butts that all make it indelible for years 90). They use the catch-all “indie rockers” but maybe it’s best to avoid the nomenclature and instead say what their music makes you want, i.e. trample someone’s basement by kicking Hamm’s reverse kicks on the back of your calves. And that’s where Why Not got its start as high schoolers – playing house shows at classic Minneapolis venues like the Rowhouse in Como and Paperhouse, with its flooded bathroom and huge burning octopus oven the bare arms of the moshers.
The band attended their very first house show at ages 14 and 15 – a gig in a basement where The Happy Children and fledgling Hippo Campus played. “There is the context of an in-house show, the rebellion. You’re about fourteen and you’re going out and everyone’s drinking and smoking cigarettes,” Breen explains. “That night I came home and started writing. I wrote two songs and sent them to Isaac. That summer, Why Not officially formed. Seven years, an album and a handful of singles later, they have just released a new EP, very why notand have another album coming out in May.
Very why not, Breen told me, is actually a head start on the new album – they wrote all the songs after packing it, on a trip to Dell’s farm in Wisconsin. “It’s like A new hope, the fourth star wars movie,” says Breen. “I don’t know if it applies to quality, but it skips a step of all this change that happened between the two.” It makes sense, because the EP is a sonic departure. The focus is more on production – many vocals are in tune and distorted, the guitar streaming through a buzzing filter. It’s both more pop and more mathematical, layered with unexpected and complex rhythms and hooks. And there’s that contagious audacity that runs through the entire Why Not discography, but the EP revels in dissonance even more than previous songs.
“We tried to lean into the craziest side of things – everything is more extreme,” says Breen. “Bombastic,” Dell adds. “We act quite impulsively as a group. It is our spirit. If anything, even if there’s all that kind of flexing and shit, there’s definitely a Why Not spirit.
The EP also includes singles with Lupin, the solo project of Hippo Campus singer and guitarist Jake Luppen, and Papa Mbye, the local Senegambian artist who was named one of First Avenue’s Best New Bands of 2021. Mbye’s feature, on a single titled ‘Casket’, was a spontaneous collaboration: Mbye came over, says Breen, wrote an out-of-the-box chorus, left for a family reception and returned – during which the band had wrapped the verses.
very why not is an elevated EP, a snapshot of the band as it is today, at the peak of a certain aesthetic wave. But to get the full picture of Why Not, please visit their very lovely YouTube channel. There’s a film of one of their first performances at the Can Can Wonderland mini-golf course, where their demanding rhythms and verve clearly show they’re on the way up.
Maybe it was that red curtain aesthetic that planted this idea in my brain, but there’s something retro about Why Not – not in the hyper-referential way of Gen-Zers who wear iPods like hair clips and resurrect low-rise pants – but in a serious way. Their music video for their song “Ding Dong” is a four-minute screenshot of them clicking Photo Booth effects – that perfect 2007 rush on Macbook fun. Their video for “No Suggestions Here” features a long take of them playing in a cluttered kitchen and running through wintery neighborhood streets — a visual lexicon made for YouTube, not TikTok.
“We started the band when we were fifteen. There’s a lot of growth happening in real time,” says Breen. “It creates this factor of – I would say a hindsight grimace, but it’s not grimace.”
“It’s like thinking back to your teenage years and saying to yourself… oh, there are some weird things,” Dell adds. “But here everything is recorded.” That may be true, but that only adds to the group’s appeal.
very why not is available now on streaming platforms, and Why Not’s new album will be released in May. Until then, the band’s focus is on their release gig at 7th Street Entry on March 7 with Raffaella and Huhroon.