The latest album from French DJ Wax Tailor, entitled By Any Beats Necessary, was designed in the style of an American road-movie soundtrack, and blends influences from jazz, rap, hip hop, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. The album was recorded in New York with a panoply of artists including Lee Fields, Tricky and Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan, and portrays a country caught between picture-postcard images and racial tensions. Wax Tailor, A.K.A. Jean-Christophe Le Saoût, is on tour in the United States until February 8, and took some time out to talk to France-Amérique.
France-Amérique: American culture is a defining feature of your new album. Where did you discover this influence?
Wax Tailor: I draw my inspiration from American cinema. Stanley Kubrick is one of my all-time references. I also feel a deep connection with movies by Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. I often describe myself as an “album director.” In the same way as an archaeologist, I like going back in time and tapping into different cinematic and old musical genres. I made this album in the style of a soundtrack to a trip across the United States, with stops in New York and the jazz of the 1920s, Detroit and the techno of the 1990s, the Mississippi Delta and the blues of the 1940s, and San Francisco and the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1960s.
Don’t you think this is a rather narrow vision of the U.S. musical landscape?
I see two Americas: the fantasy, slightly clichéd America we see in films, T.V. series and adverts, and the real America that I discovered during my travels. I think you have to know how to make them work together, enjoying the glossy, idyllic image of picture-postcard America, while staying aware of its violence, history and culture. The album cover illustrates this duality, with the desert, the road, the rusty billboard and the water pump – which could all have been taken from a modern western – and the barbed wire fence which serves as a reminder of the country’s problems linked to immigration.
Does the track “The Road Is Ruff” portray this duality?
I recorded that track in April 2016 with Lee Fields [who was an early member of the funk band Kool & The Gang, and is nicknamed “Little JB” after James Brown]. From the very first verse, the lyrics are filled with meaning. “Hey to all of you newcomers […], get up off your knees, and be the star you want to be.” Lee Fields is singing about young immigrants arriving in the United States, and offers them a message of support. After a career spanning 43 years, he is passing the torch and encouraging a new generation of artists to make their voices heard. He goes on to say that “With a lot of hard work and a lot of tenacity, you can do it. But the road is rough.”
You mentioned racial tensions in the United States, and the title of your album is a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre, but also to Malcolm X. Are you trying to convey a political message?
We’re now leaving the fantasized America behind and discovering the real America. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech 54 years ago during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. When you see that movements such as Black Lives Matter are more relevant than ever in 2017, you have to ask yourself if anything has changed in the United States.