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Wax Tailor finds the common thread between collaborators Tricky and Ghostface Killah 

click to enlarge A journey into sound: French recording artist Wax Tailor's future was first set in motion when he heard GrandMixer DXT's turntable manipulations at the age of 8.
  • A journey into sound: French recording artist Wax Tailor's future was first set in motion when he heard GrandMixer DXT's turntable manipulations at the age of 8.
P

eople are known by the company they keep, and that's especially the case with musicians.

For last year's By Any Beats Necessary, French electronica artist Wax Tailor brought on board an eclectic array of guest vocalists, including Wu Tang Clan emcee Ghostface Killah, singer-songwriter Charlotte Savary, retro-soul godfather Lee Fields, New York City songstress Sara Genn, and trip-hop pioneer Tricky.

Tailor's past collaborators have included soul legend Sharon Jones, the singer and poet Ursula Rucker, the composer and cellist Marina Quaisse, dance producer RJD2, British rock band The Others, and... well, you get the idea.

Born Jean-Christophe Le Saoût, the musician says he was just 8 years old when he first had his "mind blown" by Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," the 1983 jazz-funk single that was produced by Material's Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn and showcased the turntable wizardry of GrandMixer DXT. That early grade-school fascination planted the seeds for the combination of tripped-out hip-hop, downtempo beats, crate-dug samples, and old-school scratching that's worked its way into his music over the course of five albums.

Earlier this month, Tailor released By Any Remixes Necessary, which, as its title implies, is the result of him calling upon outside producers — 11 of them — to have a go at the album's original tracks. The most surprising, he says, was The Du-Rites' take on "Worldwide," which finds the NYC duo placing Ghostface's vocals in a funk-rock context that recalls the sample-laden approach of Eric B & Rakim's "Paid in Full" and the bass-heavy sound of early Material albums.

By Any Remixes Necessary is also being promoted as the world's first "connected vinyl" album, bridging the analog-digital divide through an embedded NFC chip that lets fans stream the album and watch videos simply by placing a smartphone on the album cover.

We caught up with Tailor last week to talk about the art of remixing, the role of women in rap, and the devolution of trip-hop into something far removed from its early-'90s origins.

Indy: Dance and trip-hop music tend to feature more female vocalists compared to hip-hop. Why do you think that is?

Wax Tailor: That's a good question. Hip Hop is clearly not so open to women. I think there's probably something in the DNA of the culture. But it's a bit weird in 2017, especially after legendary female emcees like Lauryn Hill and others. I personally like the vibe when working with female emcees.

So when you're making an album like By Any Beats Necessary, how do you approach a track knowing that Lee Fields is going to be featured on it, versus, say, Ghostface Killah or others? What elements could they have in common?

For me, they're all characters in my scenario, that's really the way I'm approaching this. It's really important to keep this in mind, or you do some fake name-dropping albums. For me, music come first, and then I think about who could be the best actor for that. For "The Road Is Ruff," for example, that could be only Lee Fields or Charles Bradley, rest in peace. So I simply contacted him, explaining about the album and the concept, and then I came to New York to record with him. The same for Ghostface: I explained the album concept, I had the chorus in mind with scratches, etcetera, and I wanted him to give his input about the worldwide feeling for an artist who's been traveling for more than 20 years now.

Those vintage sampled voices on early tracks like "Que Sera" remind me, in a good way, of my all-time favorite remix, which is Coldcut's version of Eric B & Rakim's "Paid in Full." Were you into that record at all growing up?

Coldcut are very underrated artists. Those two guys were a big influence 30 years ago when they did this, but also later with creating [the label] Ninja Tune and this independent vision.

I once did a story on the band Pere Ubu, where we drove around listening to remixes the label had commissioned for them. And they were laughing hysterically, because the tracks were 99.9 percent unrecognizable. Where do you draw the line when it comes to re-envisioning another artist's work?

First of all, I don't do it so much, but there's no rule. I think it's more about injecting your vision into a work. I remember one remix I did for a singer: Everything I could hear was really good, but it was like good ingredients with the wrong cook. I mean, in my opinion. So in this case it was more about cooking it again. Sometimes you've got a vision and want to inject something different, but I like when you can still feel the original track. I don't like remixes that go too far from the original track.

What's your approach to performance situations, what parameters do you control live?

For me, the live show must be a kind of experience for the crowd. I do work a lot on the visual aspect, because I want to give the audience a kind of musical trip. About the control, I try to keep as many elements live as I can, using different tools, including mainly turntables but also some pad controls.

So why an NFC chip as opposed to a QRC code?

Actually we've got both on this new album release. The NFC is great because it doesn't need anything to connect; you don't need an application. So with the NFC, you can listen to the album just by the contact of your smartphone on the artwork.

Just one more question: Do you like the term trip-hop?

I don't like it. I think it doesn't mean anything. It came in the mid '90s with the Bristol scene. For me, when we talk about Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky or Goldfrapp, it's more a kind of melancholic music produced by hip-hop heads that open their mind to enlarge their music field. Then during the '90s and later, a lot of stupid lounge music for elevators was stamped as trip-hop too, so it doesn't make so much sense. Anyway, I don't care so much. A stamp is a stamp.

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