Raphael Esterhazy, best known as Konoba, is a songwriter and producer based in Belgium. He spent five years in London and Brighton studying music and working on his own compositions before returning to his native Belgium. Konoba’s influences are vast and varied but certainly his work is reminiscent of artists such as Alt-J and Gotye with its hard hitting and quirky use of beats and rhythms, while Radiohead and the Fleet Foxes provide inspiration for the softer and more sensual melody based sections. Konoba blends a clever dosage of machines and instruments, of dream and reality, of melancholic vocals and pop melodies. His union with the musician R.O determined part of his success. Their track “On Our Knees”, released in 2017, has become a real hit, totaling more than 50 million plays on streaming platforms. Their compositions are perfect. Setting them in a genre is difficult and reductive. Elegant, it is perhaps the term that defines their music. The choice of sounds is always calibrated. The sweet melodies and the use of vocal parts, sometimes melancholic, are opposed to the power of synthesizers and drum beats that trace strong and decisive rhythms. In their last album “10”, they confirmed their talent and certainly their determination to climb the highest peak in the electronic music scene.
Konoba – Photography of Lou Elboud.
Hello Raphael, we know it is a very important and busy time of your life. It may seem like a foregone question, but how do you feel? How are you?
At the moment, I’m feeling both ecstatic and exhausted. It has been an intense year, with non stop travels, discoveries, live performances, composing, producing, making our own videos, taking care of day to day organisation, communication and accounting. But we came home our heads filled with wonderful experiences and most importantly with this new album which we are extremely proud of.
Would you like to tell us something about the “10” tour with your mate R.O?
A couple of years ago, we started noticing that the tracks we had released together (On Our Knees / Get Home) were getting huge number of plays all across the world, not only in our native Belgium. We were feeling this urge to travel, discover the world, go meet our fans around the globe. We also wanted to make an album together. That’s how PROJECT 10 is born. We came up with this crazy idea to travel for 10 months, in 10 countries, making 10 news songs. You know, the kind of idea you have at 3am when you’ve clearly had too much to drink, then realise in the morning how unrealistic it was. But we were mad enough to make I happen for real!
Konoba with R.O – Photography of Lou Elboud.
Your song “On our Knees” in collaboration with R.O is the one that has achieved the most success. That song has reached the hearts of many people. Do you want to tell us what how it was born?
This song, the way it was created and released, then the worldwide success it had online, is the perfect exception to every music business rule there is. We made this just the two of us, one evening in a small cabin in the Belgian countryside, hiding from the cold by the fireplace. We were pretty pleased with it and showed it around to music professionals around us, but everyone told us it was too slow, the intro was too long, the track didn’t have a proper chorus, and nobody wanted to play it on radios or promote it in any way. So we just released in online ourselves, with no label, no publishing, no promotion, no playlisting, nothing. At first it was slow but we were still getting maybe 500 streams per day which was nice at the time. Then over the next year, it gradually went up and up until it reached huge numbers per day. Today it reached well over 50M streams across all platform, it’s mind blowing.
Is there a place you’ve never seen, where do you dream to perform?
There is so many! With Project 10 we only scratched the surface, but the world is amazingly rich and diverse. It seems like my music is touching the souls of people in certain countries where access is a little difficult at the moment, such as Syria and Iran for example. But I hope one day the situations there will get better and allow me to go perform in those countries. They have such a rich history and culture and from my experience, wonderful people with a lot of kindness. It’s a shame we only talk about those countries for the wrong reasons and too many people have a negative image about them. I hope I can participate in changing that image in the eyes of world.
What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
I enjoy expressing my creativity. I love that after all those years of learning instruments, vocals, and music production, I can just sit down at my desk with minimal equipment, and create a whole new in just a couple of days. Wherever I travel, when I say I’m a musician, people automatically get friendlier towards me. It helps creating connexion. I also love that music serves as a universal language. You can be with people from vastly different cultures and if you start playing music or singing, everyone will feel be drawn
to it somehow, they will feel something vibrating inside.
If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
The whole music industry is the mirror of society and god knows society is in excruciating need for a serious face lift. In short, all the power and money is concentrated in hands of a few, and everyone else is just struggling to get by. You know, at a private meeting I heard the leading politician in charge of culture in my province say “let’s be honest, an artist, after 3 years if he doesn’t turn a profit, maybe he’s just not good enough”. So yeah, I think we need to change the system, and the music industry will change accordingly. For example, implementing a Universal Basic Income would allow people to create for the love of art, trying to add beauty, colours and depth to the world, regardless of how much profit they’re going to make from it. It would also give more free time to discover new music rather than being force-fed through radio and people magazines, visit museums and galleries, go see local live shows.
What do you think of the creative block that affects many musicians and creatives? Has it ever happened to you or are you afraid that one day it could happen?
It’s actually never happened for me any longer than a few hours I think it’s a completely psychological problem, and that can be prevented by a couple of things:
1 – understanding creativity – it’s the process of finding several original solutions to any problem. So for example, if you’re stuck because you don’t know what to write lyrics about, you could either stare at a blank page for hours, or you could go around that problem by thinking of original solutions. Why not read some poetry and see if that inspires you? Maybe check an rhyme dictionary, write down a bunch of words and see if you can find a connection between them that would make sense in your song. Then check an idiom dictionary, maybe there’s a cool one using the word you were trying to fit. Maybe try a step back, delete what you’ve written so far and change the subject entirely. Maybe change something in the music, a chords, a beat, anything that will give it a different feel and influence you’re melody writing. Maybe with that new melody will come new words too. Anyways, my point is, if you keep confident that there is always a solution to your problem, and you don’t give up too easily, you will always find a way to unlock your writer’s block.
2 – stop worrying so much about what others might think about it. I know this is hard and I am still trying to learn to find that fine balance between trying to make art I love unconditionally, and trying to make art other people and industry professionals will love too. But worrying too much about other people’s opinion will kill your creativity. Just forget about it, just do what feels right. This new song you’re writing might not end up being a radio hit, so what? They shouldn’t all be, that shouldn’t be your top priority goal when creating music. If Freddy Mercury cared about any of that, he would never have composed Bohemian Rhapsody.
What is your relationship with social media?
On the one hand I think it’s a great tool to communicate directly with my fans and promote my music. On the other there is something I hate about it. It participates to this culture of being addicted to instant gratification, of showing only the parts of you and your life that will please and hiding the truth, getting trapped in these fake images of ourselves and our lives. It also participate in unhappiness, cause of course people tend to follow pages of people who are more successful, beautiful or rich than them, and by comparison they will feel like their life is mediocre. So yeah, I use it cause I really have to at this early stage in my career but I hope one day soon I can stop completely.
Our website is focused on analog photography. What’s your relationship with photography?
Well I used to love taking photos as a kid. I remember visiting Paris with my grandma, I had a pretty basic 35mm film camera and I spent my entire days running around trying to take shots of everything. Then overtime I guess I just focused on music and let other people take the photos and overtime completely stopped.
However last year, I got a decent DSLR and started taking photos now and then while on the road, then editing them on Lightroom. I still need much more practice but in time I would really like to give more of my time to photography.
You definitely spend many hours behind a PC, producing music or managing your work. What do you do when you are offline? What’s your passions far from the music and digital world?
I try to look after my body by doing Yoga and running in nature. I love to cook as well, it’s actually a very similar creative process as music. I would really love to spend more time gardening, learning about permaculture and growing my own food. However, being on the road so much, it’s pretty much impossible. So I keep this idea for later, when I’ll be tired of touring and will want to settle down somewhere.
Is there something is cooking in the pot? What are your future goals?
Always. We just released the album 10 with R.O, we are touring and promoting this album. But there is already a new solo album in the pipelines, and also another creative project combining travel, music, photo and videos.
Thank you for your time, enjoy the tour!
Editor: Matteo Papacchioli
Words: Raphael Esterhazy aka Konoba
Photography: Lou Elboud