Since the release of the album Cliquish in 2015, Houston-born trumpeter and singer Leron Thomas has been kicked out by his label in France, fallen out with collaborator Guts, and left to fend for himself back home in New York. Considering this, he has never been in a stronger position.
For his EP Good Kung Fu, Thomas vented his frustrations:
“The contracts for Cliquish were never finalised and I haven't received a cent from the label. Same with ‘Man Funk’, the French hit song I wrote over Guts’s beat. Guts basically runs that label, not Franck Descollonges. So it wasn't surprising after I quit Guts’s band, I was subsequently thrown off the label as well.
“So now I'm back in NYC, broke and toughing it out again. But in good spirits because I did the right thing by leaving that situation. I never told you this but Guts saps Heavenly Sweetness’s budget. I was promised a bunch of days to record Cliquish in the studio. You know how many days with the live band they gave me? One day and a half. Yep, that's the time period I did that in.
“When I got back home to NYC with nothing to show for it – after two years with an egotistical French hip hop producer – I did what anyone would do in my situation. I started reflecting. I went on the internet looking at my so-called achievements until the computer screen felt like a mirror. I ran across an old blog that I used to write in. As truthful as the things I wrote were, I had to laugh at the typos and misspellings. But it reminded me that I needed to always be efficient in expressing myself and keep fighting. Hence, Good Kung Fu!
“During my touring with Guts, we pulled into a pit stop in France near Paris and I felt like junk food, so went into Burger King. I met Baptiste Allard AKA Mr Cue, who worked there. We somehow got into a conversation and he explained to me that he was a producer signed to Universal France. When I asked him why he was working at Burger King, he told me how Universal does nothing for him and that he had bills to pay.
“I immediately became upset at how musicians, even in these days, are still being treated by a desperate industry. He emailed me some of his beats and that's how ‘Lychenstadt’ and ‘Karate Champ’ came about. ‘Dog Wushu’ was originally just a bass and keyboard sketch (Taylor Eigsti and Harish Raghavan) from an earlier jazz session for my album Whatever. I wanted to channel the frustration and disheartening feelings into something musical and that's what you hear on the vocals and trumpet of that.
“As for my love for eastern cultures, that started at a very young age. My dad and I would watch Kung Fu Theatre every Saturday morning in Houston, Texas. Later on, when I was about five or six, my parents would let me go hang out with this Japanese couple across the street. They didn't have children. The mother of one of the couple lived there as well. She was very old. They really liked me for some reason. And one day I saw the old lady practicing her religion. Even then, I knew to be silent. Nowadays, I know that her religion was Shinto.
“Once I was about seven, my mom could tell that I really loved martial arts. But she didn't want me to be like the redneck kids in my neighbourhood asking every Asian person if they knew karate, so she made sure I educated myself on Asian culture, particularly Japanese culture. So that's how it began.
“As a matter of fact the cover art [Japanese ukiyo-e print] and title of Good Kung Fu, clash with each other on purpose. After what happened these two years and the social, political, economical issues effecting the arts, it's a way of expressing my feelings of the ignorance and ass backwards thinking that bothers the shit out of me.”