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Review + Q&A: Nile on WaX – After Heaven (2023, Tonzonen Records)

With a band consisting of professional artists like Nile On WaX, it is hard not to feel a little intimidated at first. These three Belgian musicians fill their lives directing and scoring movies, working with renowned artists like Iggy Pop, and Nick Cave, and designing houses. Their sense of aesthetic is impeccable, and it is one of the strong features shining through on their Tonzonen debut album After Heaven.

The trio builds their instrumental landscapes out of violin, (bass-)guitars, and drums. Stylistically they find themselves somewhere in the exciting spectrum between post rock and jazz, a place where a much applauded band like The Necks also lives. It is a broad country though, and the terrain varies from minimal steppe fields with hardly any movement, to rough terrain with stern rock formations and thundering drums. Nile on WaX’s sense of cinematic is felt throughout thought, and their music demands a careful attention at all times.

I guess the intimidated part of me isn’t as much impressed by the people Nile on WaX met, or the work they did, but by the way they approach their music. Through their skill and background they have created a piece of high art, and while I love and cherish much of the music I receive and listen to on a daily basis, it is hardly ever that. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I think that After Heaven belongs in a museum. It has every right to be marvelled at and studied by art students than any painting or installation. It deserves the same serious attention and status.

However, if you find yourself in a smokey bar somewhere in Brussels sipping a good whiskey while this band is playing their magical tunes, I am sure that is a fine enough setting as well.

I talked to drummer Elie Rabinovitch, who was kind enough to present me to his other fellows in crime; Catherine Graindorge (violin), and David Christophe (bass). The result is a great slice of life these three people are living around the great love for music that ultimately binds them as Nile On WaX

How is Nile On Wax doing at the moment? 
We’re doing fine. We’re very excited about the new album that’s coming out and our showcase on may 25th ! The album sounds and looks great. We worked with the photographer Sebastien Reuzé for the cover. We produced the album and David Minjauw did the mix. So far, the reception seems to be pretty good, so we hope to be able to bring the music to new audiences.

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet, etc?
Elie and David met 30 years ago, on the benches of a cinema school in Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium). In 1999 they started a rock band together with a 3rd member who is no longer with us. The same year, Elie met Catherine and they soon became lovers. Some years later, when Catherine was given a “carte blanche” in a music festival in the center of Brussels, she invited David & Elie. Most of the show, underneath a junction tunnel, was improvised music. We had such fun and pleasure that we decided to become a band. For some time we didn’t even have a name and then we called ourselves Nox. But there were so many NOXs around, from nightclubs to mattresses, from architectural offices to hungarian techno-folk hardcore dance acts…  So we changed to “Nile on wax” in 2017!

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?
When she was a child and teenager, Catherine was trained to classical violin. Elie attended the Antwerp jazz school for one year. David took the autodidactic way to bass.
The three of us listen to very varied musical styles, from electronic music to jazz, and from the minimalists to psychedelia. From new wave to post rock.

What does a regular day in your lives look like?
The 3 of us have rather different regular days – and often quite irregular ones as well ! 
Catherine is a professional musician and actress. Her typical day would feature rehearsals for a new show, involving music, but eventually also choreography, acting… Or creating music for her solo projects, a cinema score or a string arrangement requested by another musician.

Elie is working halftime as a TV director, and sometimes not for TV, the rest of the time is dedicated to music. 

David is an architect and would spend a regular day working on the project for a new building. Arguing with urbanists, politicians and builders is a regular occupation of his. In the evening, to counter these long term projects, he would write some documentary music with his friends abroad : Dom, Serge or James.  

What is the best thing about your new album?
The best thing about our new album is that we managed to record most of the music in its original emergence, as pure improvisations. That is : immediately while it was being created.

What can you tell me about how you ended up with Tonzonen? 
We had been hosted by a small Brussels label, run by a friend of ours. It was very nice and cosy. But Belgium is a fairly small territory, split into 2 rather impermeable cultural landscapes. From which you have to choose where you belong. Our music is mostly instrumental, so we thought we needed to find a wider territory to expand ! And Germany is the biggest European country, right ? So we thought it was a good idea to follow that track…

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
The 3 of us live in Brussels. It’s a good place to meet a lot of great musicians. There’s always a nice concert happening somewhere. Unfortunately, the number of places to play in has narrowed, in the post-covid netflix area. People need to go out. That’s where true emotions reach you !

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours? 
Too many of our musical heroes are gone. But heroes don’t die, do they ? Miles Davis and David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, Mark Hollis and Mark Sandman, Ennio Morricone and Ryuichi Sakamoto,… their music is very much alive. 

Catherine manages to work with musicians she loves, like Hugo Race, Iggy Pop, John Parish, Pascal Humbert or Simon Huw Jones. Catherine features on a record with Nick Cave but he’s definitely a living musical hero with whom she’d love to play. 

David Sylvian is one of Elie and David’s heroes for sure. Beth Gibbons and Portishead are masters in musical expression. We also really love musicians that play music outside of radio standards, like The Necks, whose music is in constant movement and creation.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?
The music comes through improvisations between the 3 of us. We have never worked from a sketch that one of us brought to rehearsal. We just get together and play. And record everything. In the past, we would work this way through composition, and then learn how to recreate the improvisation, step by step. Get to the studio and record. and hope to get the magic back. This time, we actually recorded most of the music during its very first performance, in total improvisation. Of course, not everything was great. But we selected and edited and kept the essence. The quality of our listening to one another is great. Now of course we need to figure out how it happened ! 😉 . Who plays what ? With what effect and in which part ?

What are your immediate and long term future plans?
We’re playing at the Ancienne Belgique for our showcase of the new album, more venues will come, we are working right now on this near future…  

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
They should go to our bandcamp page, listen to our albums, discover our video clips, specially the two last ones (Improbable & Ascension) directed by our friend, the very talented Karim Ouelhaj.

picture by Michel Masquelier

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