Often times, the music that you hear everyday has a huge influence on the person you grow up to be which is the case with this week’s Music Mondays feature. After chopping it up with Santa Cruz native Wax Roof – aka Will Rice – about the legendary music acts that have performed in his hometown, the two of us talked about the debilitating medical condition that forced him to put the guitar down, his musical influences, and his production on my two favorite projects to come out the Bay this year, Elujay’s Jentrify and Caleborate’s 1993.
Roof has always been inspired by the funk and soul of the Bay Area. “Because of where Santa Cruz is geographically, it shares many of the same influences as people who grew up in the Bay,” says the producer on the foundations for the music scene in Santa Cruz. “Many people in Santa Cruz have family from the Bay. Growing up in Santa Cruz, the music was pretty much always Bay Area. There wasn’t a big thriving hip-hop scene in Santa Cruz but I was able to see Hieroglyphics, Zion I, E-40, The Jacka and the Mob Figaz. Growing up…the music was pretty much always Bay Area.”
After graduating from high school, he was able to travel throughout Spain as part of a guitar program, and was able to improve his craft by taking in the local culture and learning from local guitarists. After a year of traveling, Wax Roof began his freshman year at UC Santa Cruz. During the third week of his freshman year, he began to experience a sharp pain in his arms which ended up being misdiagnosed as carpal tunnel. Upon hearing this news he was forced to put down the guitar in order to rest his arms.
“It was debilitating physically but also debasing to my identity because I was really identifying with being a guitarist, and that was my passion and it was something I was going to do,“ he says recalling the life changing experience. The first year of college is taxing both mentally and physically for most, and for someone to have their passion taken away can be traumatic. “College was probably the hardest time of my whole life because it took so long medically to dial in and find out what was going on with me. I have a chronic pain condition called Fibromyalgia, which is actually pretty popular, but it’s rare to hit that young. Now I can play the guitar. I played a guitar set with Siri and there wasn’t any pain.”
There were a couple contributing factors that led Wax Roof into hip-hop production. First, the painful condition that forced him to put the guitar down, and secondly the track “Above the Clouds“ by Gang Starr. While attending a random function at UC Santa Cruz, someone put on the Gang Starr track and he was immediately mesmerized by the musicality of the song. “That song ‘Above the Clouds’ is what really turned me onto the notion that sampling is its own fuckin’ art form, because no band is ever going to make some shit that sounds like this because this shit is up there with some of the most beautiful shit I have ever heard.”
While raised to be a true musician, Wax Roof’s medical condition forced him to look at other ways he could be connected to instrumentation. The process of creating beats and identifying the right sample helped him fill that void because of the sheer amount of learning he needed to go through. “Being put in a role where I really had to sample records, dig for records, chop shit, make beats, program drums, build a drum library, teach myself mixing and mastering, teach myself arrangement and composition, that all was a really forced thing as far as really keeping my relationship with music going.”
“I was coming from a place that would alleviate this physical pain and in the process I developed a style that is designed to heal. It’s not super sad sounding or morose, it’s just motivated by that. That’s where the conviction comes from. This shit is going to be so powerful that it’s going to heal that pain that is less powerful than the music. “
When the conversation changes to discussing music producers that inspire him, he shares how his discovery of J. Dilla in college intensified his urge to understand hip-hop as an art form. “The beats and the music attracted me in a way where I wanted to listen to it all day everyday. Not just when I’m partying or if it’s a social thing.”
Wax also was influenced by individuals that are sometimes looked over when discussing influential contributors to hip-hop. He has a strong appreciation of funk and soul, and the influences of both can be heard in much of his work.
“People that have really been inspiring for me were Roy Ayers, Isaac Hayes, Missy Elliott, Quincy Jones, Bill Evans, Kirk Franklin. Those are the people where I feel like they are able to envision and mobilize a whole universe in each song and really make something that’s way bigger than themselves, because they have all this talent, they know how to harness it in the right way. I want to be able to understand being a producer in the way that they did.”
After initially struggling to find the appropriate words to define his sound, Wax opted to reference a review of Jentrify that he felt accurately described it. “One review described my sound as futuristic BBQ music. I like that term because it’s super open ended and it’s not attaching me to any genre. Every family has their set of jams that they get down to, but there is certain music that will never go away because it’s for that purpose.”
With 15 to 20 collaborative albums in queue that he’s been working on for the last four years, he has a lot of music that will be coming out. But there are a number of projects that are out that he is particularly proud of. For example, he produced or helped produce every song on Siri’s EP GawdBawdy. He has also started to form a connection with a growing number of Chicago-based artists, and was able to work with Squeak PIVOT who is a member of the group Pivot Gang (they worked on a song called Totality that was released a few weeks ago). This song is a sign of the musical direction for Wax Roof, who is particularly fond of the emerging Chicago sound. “That song is really a taste to come of what I’m trying to do, building with the Chicago folks, and building some type of hybrid of what they do and what I do. Chicago has a really intense infusion of musicality and gospel. From the new Chance album, to No I.D., to old Kanye, Chicago has always been like that.
In terms of Bay Area artists, Wax is pretty happy with the artists he’s currently working with, and he has a long list of Bay Area legends who he’d like to collaborate with (everyone from Raphael Saadiq, to Boots Riley, to Sheila E). The building he’s in helps him find new artist to work with. He lives in a music lover’s dream, due to the fact that there are two local DJ’s who live below and next door, and the apartment is shared with an up and coming singer. “At any given moment you can hear a new playlist being created, or the melody of a song being developed. It’s a great space for creativity, and I have developed a great working relationship with my neighbors, allowing me to meet new up and coming artist to work with.”
As far as what he would like to accomplish in the next year, Wax Roof kept it simple. “We just have to stay real good about finishing shit, doing proper quality control and then making sure that the releases are a production within themselves. I just really want to stay involved with the talent that’s moving to me and then just be able to do whatever I want with that inspiration. That’s the success.”