Before Schubas, Wax Tailor's music came to attention to me while sitting at a microbrewery café years ago with soulful cuts crafting a smooth trip-hop and hip-hop combination not heard of since Madlib's Blue Note foray. While one is established, the other is rising with his unique blend, evoking a sound reminiscent more of Portishead than any other hip-hop producer. Utilizing jazz instrumentals, strips of film dialogues, and vocalists from around the world, Jean-Christophe Le Saoût has been building upon his firm French foundation with a featured track on the recently limited released film, Paris, from Cédric Klapsich. Hot off the presses of his third album, In the Mood for Life, Wax Tailor recently had his first Chicago show accompanied by a flutist, a cellist, Mattic, and Charlotte Savary.
I've been listening to you for a couple years after hearing "Que Sera". Could you talk about your early influences that led to this unique combination of jazz and hip-hop?
Jean-Christophe Le Saoût: Well I just began to make some music in the early 90s. At this period I had a band called La Formule, it was a French band I'd been working with for ten years. During this period I was also working on side projects like a kind of trip-hop project with a female singer. I had a turntabilist project, breakbeats, some more specific things. I think when I began to work on this project was 2002. That was the moment when I was quite bored about those separate things and wanted to have a blend of all the influences and the things that I really liked to mix. So that was the point when I was thinking about all my influences and thinking I want to make everything in it.
I thought it was great that you brought in the samples from movies and used that as your voice as Wax Tailor. How did that idea come up?
I don't know exactly. I've always been really involved about movies and, as long as I can remember about what I've done, I've been using some sentences and quotes. I think it's because it's a way to communicate differently and I like the way it can be a part of elements too. There are very different ways to use them. It's also because it can create the link between different moods. You can have some very downtempo and melancholic tracks and more energetic tracks, but that creates the link and a kind of story about the album.
I heard that you produced your new album, In the Mood for Life, in 12 months between Paris and New York. What were some of the elements that New York gave your album?
I think it's a long story about New York just because that's the basis for a lot of things that have influenced me; about music, about cinema, about a lot of artists. Also because at the beginning of this album I had a kind of urban mood in mind about the CD. So last autumn I went to New York and recorded a few ambient sounds. I had this in mind and that's the way that the album came and just the way of the sound of a window, the town. It was like a picture for me and I just wanted to open like that. Maybe New York is like the quintessence of the idea that you can have about a town, the energy about a town. I really loved this town for many reasons so that was part of the process.
There were a few songs that were a bit of a departure from your albums like the song "Say Yes", which had a socio-political feel to it. What's the story behind that?
I think that during the year I was working on this album, I was really involved about what was going on especially in my country. We got a big change in the past two years with a new president. So for a long time I've been focusing on the political aspect more and less artistically. Finally I just went back to something with a different distance, but during the process I was talking with the guys from A State of Mind. They kept this idea because we first said we wanted to make something political. So finally they did it. The funny point is that I really found it was a bit naive like saying this, saying that. At the same time, they're young emcees in their 20s and I just said to them I would have never wrote like that, but that your lyrics too and that's not the way I would have said things. But that's the same thing I had in mind and I'll be more involved in the video just to make a balance.
But that was a very big point for me and that's the reason why I've called the album, In the Mood For Life. In The Mood For Life is not like being very happy each morning. It's more about being ready to wake up, to fight and to struggle about what's going on and say, "Whatever happens I'm going on." That's exactly what I had in mind.
I felt that it was reflective of new politics in France. It's been a frequent comment from friends over there. They've been very energized about what's been going on.
That is another point about when I say In The Mood For Life. I think a lot of people are more in the mood saying, "We can't change anything, that's life." I hate that. Or saying that all the politics are the same. No, not at all. It depends on everybody, each morning, just to make the small things that will change the world.
Yeah. It's just about French culture and the way we've. I think we have a different culture. French is a language for literacy. it's very different because when you listen to a UK pop song, the first time you listen to it you listen to the melody. That's the feeling you get about the song. Maybe the second or third time you're gonna listen to the lyrics. It's very rare that you go on about the lyrics first. Yeah, for sure you listen but you don't focus so much. In French songs, that's the first thing you do, you focus on the sounds. And for this reason, we mix differently and the voice is higher. You've got the music under the voice and I hate this way to process. I want to have the voice like the lead instrument, nothing else.
Many French artists focus on Montreal and Quebec when they come to North America to tour. What is your view of touring North America and the United States?
You know what is funny? After 5 years of existence as Wax Tailor, the project is quite big now in France. Someone comes to me after the show and talks to me in English saying, "It's really cool that you came to France." And I say, 'I'm French.' There's still a lot of people who think I live in England, in London or New York and they don't know. It's funny. I like this idea too because I think it's universal. This is maybe the good aspect about worldwide things. Like when I was touring with RJD2, we were talking about a lot of things like that. It's funny to think this guy is coming from a different continent, has the same age, and we've been listening to the same things-the golden years of hip-hop-at the same time. I think this is maybe stronger than someone coming from a very different thing in my own town. Like we're not connected at all, but I'm connected with this guy so that's more important for me.
Since we're talking about Paris, what's one of your favorite place for music in Paris?
It used to be Saint-Michel. The Boulevard [Saint-Michel] was where you got some old records. All the boulevards you have a few shops, but right now Paris is not a very good place for records. I think because you've got some very expensive record shops. I've never been very obsessive about expensive records or things like that. What I really love is the one box shop where you can find something crazy for nothing. The reason why I'm like that is that I began to collect when I was 18 and didn't have a lot of money. This period was the moment where vinyls were just disappearing. So it was quite easy to find crazy things. I remember 15 years ago I found an Eric B and Rakim 12", a very rare one that was between two horrible records. That's the kind of thing I love.
So right now, I went to Chile and you can find records there you can't find anywhere else. I went to Mexico, and it was really cool to find some records too. And in the US, the West Coast is really great. Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles are great cities where you can find some great records too. And I don't know about Chicago. Unfortunately I won't know because we're just coming, playing, going back to the hotel. It's very frustrating because we were supposed to come a day before and we had problems with the flight. So I'll just have to come back!