Music

20 Questions: Wax

Putting out raps and freestyles for the better part of the past decade, Wax is finally getting his due in the rap game, but not without a stop by PopMatters' 20 Questions first . . .

When folks talk about people who've become stars on YouTube, it's often those flash-in-the-pan viral moments that only occasionally get appearances in Weezer music videos. Rarely do people tend to think about artists who have built up a following one video at a time, being watched while they develop their skills and craft, fine-tuning with each passing posting. For Wax, he has definitely gone the "old school" route to finding fame.

Although Michael Jones has been releasing music since 2002, it was with the advent of a little thing called YouTube that allowed him a new, unique way to get his music heard, and as his inventive freestyles picked up steam, so did the attention that was being drawn to him. Another internet celebrity, Ray William Johnson, asked him to write a song to show at the end of his videos, which became the indelible classic "Stalkin' Your Mom". More mixtapes followed, and before long, Jones--known best under his Wax alias--wound up being signed to Def Jam.

Now, with his major-label full-length due out soon, Wax took some time out of non-stop rhyme-spitting to answer PopMatters' 20 Questions, here revealing how intoxication helped him write, how Amy Winehouse helped him through the tough times, and the professional jealousy he has towards OK Go . . .

* * *

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I cried when Leonardo DiCaprio floated away and died in Titanic . . . cried due to laughter because it was so hilarious! No, in all seriousness, I remember tearing up while reading the book Survival in the Killing Fields. It is unbelievable what that guy went through.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I would go with Paul Bunyan. He does it real big.

3. The greatest album, ever?

I would never claim that any album is the greatest album ever because I haven't heard every album ever made. You will never hear me use the phrase "greatest _____ever". I may say, "This is the best apple pie I ever tasted", but I can't fairly tell you that it's the best ever without sampling a shitload of other apple pies. That being said, the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride 2 the Pharcyde was very influential to me when I was younger. D'angelo's Voodoo is a powerful album. Amy Winehouse's Back to Black helped me through tough times. Lastly, you can't go wrong with anything by the Ohio Players.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

My dad watched mad episodes of Star Trek when I was growing up so I gotta go with that. I never thought Princess Lea was that hot either. Captain Kirk was [having sex with] alien chicks that were way hotter.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Drinking a lot of alcohol by yourself can definitely get you thinking. I have written most of my best stuff when I was intoxicated.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

The accomplishment I am proud of most in my whole life is teaching my nephew Chris how to ride a bike. I have never felt more proud of myself and someone else at the same time. I was overwhelmed with joy that day.

7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?

I want to be remembered for my music. If it affects people today it could definitely affect people once I am dead. People discover the music, art, writing, etc. of dead people all the time. I remember when I really first started discovering music and it was great. I get e-mails all the time from kids who love my stuff and I hope kids discover it in the future even when I am a corpse.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

I think Michael Jordan is a very inspirational person. I know he is still alive, but his prime years of playing basketball are gone. His talent combined with his work ethic and attitude could inspire anybody, athletic or not. Obviously there are a lot of other inspirational people out there, but I will just stick with Mike.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

That music video that OK Go did with the treadmills. I absolutely love shit like that. I am into low budget creativity. Videos like that are why I love the Internet. I really wish I would've thought of that.

10. Your hidden talents . . . ?

I have had a talent since I was a little kid where I can say words backwards. Like if you say a word, I can say it back to you in the way it would be pronounced if it was spelled backwards, and I reply pretty much instantly. I never practice, and every couple years someone reminds me I can do it. I always think I am not gonna be able to do it any more, but I always can.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My mom has definitely said "persistence pays off" to me plenty of times. I have been doing this music thing for a long, long time and now I am making a good living off of it. Almost everything in life I have tried I have finished. I graduated high school and college, and even though I don't need those pieces of paper for this career, just actually taking the time and energy to finish has made me a better person. You can't just quit when shit gets hard. That is, unless it is a job that sucks I have definitely quit many of those.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I have only stolen small things from 7-11 and such and that was when I was a kid. The best thing I ever bought was this laptop I am using right now. At the time I bought it I really couldn't afford it but I bought it anyway. I used it to record mad songs and edit mad videos that have gotten me to where I am today.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?

I feel best chilling on my couch in pajama pants watching The Office.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I would go alone. I don't want some asshole talking to me while I'm trying to enjoy my incredible dinner.

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

Honestly I think I would do NYC in the disco era. Everybody seemed so happy then. It was just dancing, smiling, and cocaine. I wouldn't want to stay long, but it would be a good extended weekend.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

I am not sure what "hit man" means in this question. Honestly I have a difficult time with stress. I guess I deal with it by drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. I am trying to change though. I want to be one of those people that goes running when they are stressed out. I hate running though.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?

I drink coffee every morning, I smoke cigarettes even though I really wanna stop, I drink alcohol every night, and I make music during all of this. As far as food, I love buffalo wings and French onion soup.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I love Southern California. Los Angeles for work, San Diego for fun and/or relaxation. There's nothing like sitting at a Chesapeake Bay-side restaurant eating blue crabs, though. That is paradise to me.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

"Whattup man, you should check out my mixtape. You can download if for free at www.waxdotcom.com."

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I am working on a lot of different songs. In the near future I plan to put out a mixtape, and beyond that I want to put out an official album. I am also working on putting some tour dates together. I am keeping real busy.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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