If it takes a righteous man to admit when he flat-out sucks at something, then Jean-Christophe “JC” Le Saout is one righteous dude.
The Paris-based DJ / producer / composer can recognize a professional nadir and has no problem pulling the plug.
Starting out as a radio host, he was turned off by the French government's heavy pressure to promote and play only homegrown artists. A staunch fan of American hip-hop, he quit radio and spent most of the '90s as a rapping DJ in La Formule and creating his own Lab'Oratoire label. Dissatisfied with his group's output, he decided to again reinvent himself and focus on what he does best—creating musical tapestries.
Known as Wax Tailor since 2001, his soon-to-be-released third album, In the Mood for Life, seriously ups production values; seamlessly blends hip-hop, funk and soul; and proves that Le Saout's latest career choice is most likely his best yet. Just don't expect him to rap again.
“There's no chance,” Le Saout says from New York, where he's doing the first of 18 American dates. “I think the voice is a very specific instrument. And I don't think mine is very brilliant. Also, I don't think the French language is the best for music. It's a good language for literature. And to read it is cool. But hearing it, I don't think so. I'll never go back to being an MC.”
His new album, along with 2005's Tales of the Forgotten Melodies and 2007's Hope & Sorrow, fuses sample-laden tracks with varied performers and comes off like a textured, beat-heavy mixtape. And while strings, orchestral arrangements and moody chanteuses populate the new album, Le Saout never strays far from his B-boy upbringing. He again showcases MCs—including long-time collaborator Mattic from The Others—on some of the tracks, and his turntables are always front and center.
While a loosely linked sonic hodge-podge is exactly what he's going for, it's sometimes hard for peers to reconcile the mixture.
“It's a strange relationship that I have with hip-hop,” Le Saout says. “Most of the time when I'm with people who are not from this culture, they always try to disconnect me with it. They're always telling me what I do is more than hip-hop, like it was nothing. When I'm with these kinds of people, I'm always telling them that their vision of that culture is small and what I'm doing is definitely coming from there. At the same time, unfortunately, sometimes when I'm with rap artists, I feel like it's not the kind of music I want to defend. I feel torn between those two kinds of feelings.”
Le Saout's uncertainty is the audience's gain. Without confining himself to any specific genre, there's freedom to simply make music he thinks sounds good.
And he doesn't stop there.
In addition to bringing one rapper, one singer, a cellist and a flutist with him on tour to faithfully re-create the sounds of his records, he wants fans to be visually engaged, as well. While he's playing keys and manning the turntables, he also controls a video part of his live performances from his laptop. And he took it even one step further this time by releasing a deluxe version of his latest record in a new CD / LP format. The bonus disc plays both in a CD player and on a turntable.
“I'm my own producer, so I'm involved with format and pressing,” Le Saout says. “I immediately thought it was a good idea. I've always fought for vinyl because I think it's the noblest format. With all that's happening right now in the record industry and the fear that everyone has, I feel that vinyl is particularly important. I don't believe for a second it's the format of the future, but it is symbolic. There are so many ways to listen to music these days, it's important to keep things like that going. Music is about connections and I want to connect in every way possible.”
Wax Tailor plays with Abstract Rude on Sunday, Oct. 18, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/waxtailor.
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