Wax Tailor

Something rumbles on the shadowy outskirts of Paris; Wax Tailor, a.k.a. JC Le Saout is cooking up another installment to his downtempo, hip-hop œuvre. Like a film producer with his very own take on European rap, he blends unlikely collaborations with snatched dialog, weaving it all into a flow so atmospheric, so slinky, it is easy to see why 2006’s breakout single “Our Dance” was a favorite with Playboy magazine. Think DJ Shadow doing Jean-Luc Godard and you are almost there. But we wanted to get all the way there, so we sought out the influential DJ/producer for a quick chat about the making of his new album Hope & Sorrow.

EQ: You say you work with a very simple setup. . . .

Wax Tailor: I have a Technics SL1200 turntable and a Rane Mixer that I use for vinyl sampling. Sampling is done with an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampling keyboard, and all the vocals are recorded with a Neumann TL103 running into an Avalon 737SP.

EQ: And yet you have quite a polished, full sound, particularly for hip-hop.

WT: I work with my sound engineer Laurent Collat (Laurent Garnier, Snooze, P18) for the final mixes. We both use the Universal Audio UAD-1 Ultra Paks, which allow us to upload the projects from my studio to his studio.

EQ: Which plugs from the Ultra Pak are you using most often? I noticed the nifty pans on Hope & Sorrow.

WT: Mainly the Fairchild 670 and the Pultec EQs; the LA-2A to compress the vocals, and the 1176 for single drums shots. The Cambridge EQ and the Dimension D are also pretty efficient tools for spreading the stereo image.

EQ: You say that you find sources from other albums and then sequence them to make your own loops. A lot of hip-hop producers seem to be doing that lately, moving away from the big recognizable loop to more refined, subtle hooks. How do you get those initial ideas down?

WT: It depends on the tracks. Sometimes I just find a small element but one that I feel is strong enough to be a kind of backbone. I begin to work around that element, writing arrangements with other small samples and textures. Most of the time I don’t use a sound to play a melody, I search for a melody to fit the sound I want to use.

EQ: The song “Ungodly Fruit” sounds really warm and smooth. What went into achieving that sound?

WT: I began the track a long time ago around a loop that was kind of minimal. I built the drums around that, but I didn’t really feel it; it was just too loud. I went back to it later and rebuilt the drums with tabla elements that made it feel smoother, and then worked the arrangement to match that with horns, strings, etc. All the samples were chosen for that texture.

EQ: Dialog samples also seem to play a huge part in creating your own sonic world. Which comes first, fitting the sample to the music or fitting music to the sample?

WT: I usually sample old movies, and then organize them. First I collect the samples and then I note them each time I watch the movie. At the end, I dig though my database and then start from there. Sometimes a part of a single sentence can be strong enough to inspire the whole track.