29.09.2015

Bae's Got Blue Eyes

Nicolaas van Reenen looks good, sounds great and dresses chill

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

Nicolaas van Reenen has piercing eyes that look through you, not at you, which makes maintaining eye contact difficult and not falling in love even harder.

They’re just too blue, like the after pic in a chlorine advert, and in the same way that Medusa would turn whoever looked directly at her into stone, staring into Nic’s eyes forces you to put a palm to your cheek, tilt your head to the side and sigh deeply.

Nicolaas van Reenen is dreamy, and several times through our interview I find myself doodling his name over and over again in my notepad instead of taking shorthand. And it’s not just the fact that he has wolfish eyes and a lustrous beard, I’m not superficial; a large part of the appeal is the fact that he’s a boy who plays in a band.

“I used to play in a band in high school called The Founders. Straight up indie rock. Very angsty. The lyrics never really made sense. That’s kind of why I’ve stopped singing. It was just complete nonsense. Stream of conscious stuff, like:

‘It’s not Tourette’s, I want cigarettes, and some M&Ms to make me a different shade of blue.’ It would be irresponsible of me to write lyrics again. Which is why I have an instrumental band and am a producer.”

Right now Nic’s busy making me a cup of coffee as adroitly as a barista.  

“Recently I attended a two hour talk facilitated by the guys at Origin,” says Nic, grinding beans. “They taught us how to taste coffee, appreciate the aroma and the texture and all that. Pretty basic but it’s now something I’m more into than I was before.”

We drink our creamy drip-fed coffees as he walks us around the apartment that he shares with his flat-mate Johan. There are bicycles on the wall and surfboards leaning in between them, and in Nic’s bedroom there’s a piano, clarinet, violin, guitar and accordion.

“This used to be my great-grandfather’s. It’s 120 years old,” says Nic pointing out the accordion. “This piano is from 1880 and this is an AC 30 Vox tube amp. I do most of my composing on the piano. Everything is laid out quite neatly where all of these other instruments their systems are more abstract. I generally use clarinet or guitar or violin to make mistakes, which I end up liking, but with the piano it’s more predictable.”

The multi-instrumentalist and producer is known for his work with a host of acclaimed and emerging acts. Namely: avant-garde, post/prog-rock band Bateleur; the eclectic and ethereal sounds he produces as Fever Trails; and then Nic even toured internationally with Spoek Mathambo and contributed to his album Father Creeper.

“That was a two year stint that ended end of 2012. Being around those guys, Jake Lipman, Richard Rumney and Nthato, they were much more into the electronic side of things than I was at the time, and really pushed me to start Fever Trails.”

Or maybe the seed had been planted years before and it was these guys who helped Nic to bloom into the beautiful flower he is today…

“I’ve been playing with music software for a long time. Since I was 13. Started with E-jay. Don’t know if you remember that but you basically had this big library of sample loops, with everything in the same key, and built songs using these premade building blocks. It was a bit of a farce, but it got me started, and then I started playing with Frooty Loops and Reason. I actually had a really great drum teacher in high who tried very hard to get me into Aphex Twin.”

Now many a true word has been said in jest, and while I had my tongue firmly in cheek while writing those intro paragraphs, Nic really is handsome, so handsome in fact that he’s made money off of his looks.

His booker at Boss Models, Byron Keulemans, believes that Nic epitomizes the modern male model.

“Always elusive, keeping modeling a distant second to the music he creates. He has shot for Puma, Aigle and GQ. Turned down Hermes for music. When a person focuses on their passion they automatically become more attractive to the industries outside their sphere…”

Nic is more cynical, though.

“I was lucky with the beard trend surfacing at the same time I finished high school and could grow my first beard. I didn’t really like modeling though. I did all the cool shit. Went to some parties. Went travelling. But I didn’t feel happy. I don’t  know? I didn’t like the whole casting process. Spending a lot of time worrying about what you look like. Hahaha. This guy shouting, “Suck it in! Suck it in!” hahaha and standing on the beach feeling humiliated. Hahaha. Uh-uh. So I haven’t done that for about two years. But then every now and again, when shit gets tight…”

Having put his z-card away for now, but not necessarily hung it up for good, Nic has found another way to fund his lifestyle, because, like he says,

“None of my creative pursuits are very profitable.”

Field Music Composition specializes in commercial compositions that Nic writes for television commercials and films. After our coffee we leave for his studio, which is a great-looking space that has Kelly Berold busy tapping away at a MacBook and Jaco Haasbroek absent from his wonderful menagerie of desk ornaments.

Nic’s little studio is off to the side and has a roller door that he built himself and can only be operated by him, “It’s tricky”, as well as mezzanine storage. There’s mixing desks and screens and guitars and a desk with a David Shrigley book on top of it and then a bathroom complete with slipper bath and views of Royale and The Waiting Room.

“Sometimes it’s hard to identify with what a client wants, but I’ll take the brief confident that I can execute it on a technical level. It’s not always something that I’d necessarily make of my own volition, but I always try to give them something they can be proud of.”

What Nic’s proud of is that he’s finally knuckled down to put out Bateleur’s first full length album.

“We’ve been writing for the last three years, and have been planning on finishing the album for a while now. Problem is that we’ve been writing new stuff and thinking, ‘Well that’s not quite what we want on the album, that’s not coherent with this,’ and then we have to write a lot more so that we can whittle it all down. It’s just taking a lot longer than we anticipated. We’ve given ourselves until October.”

So that’s something to look forward to. What about DJing as Fever Trails?

“I wouldn’t consider myself a DJ there. Johan and I just started DJing as House & Leisure, which is more serious than my Fever Trails DJing, hahah, career, hahah. Fever Trails is more producing and my output is really scattered and diverse. What I make is very much linked to when I’m making it, and so it changes a lot where I move through genres a lot. So I’m making something with acoustic drums and guitars and two months later I’m making this minimal techno sound, which is frustrating to some degree when trying to put something out as a unified body of work.”

 But then this is supposed to be about Nic’s fashion sense and so far we’ve discussed nothing about the outfits he chose to be photographed in.

“I’m kinda colour blind. So I tend not to go too wild. Apparently I see something that’s kind of unique to me when it comes to green, browns and reds.

I’m pretty chilled though. T-shirt and jeans. Sneakers and T-shirts. Simple. Dig it.”