Wax Thematique Records Turns 10



Seattle knows Wax Thematique as the independent label of jazz improvisers Noel Brass Jr. and Afrocop, but the Pacific Northwest-founded label has amassed a global loyal troop of adventurist listeners over its decade run. 

Wax Thematique is the brainchild of founder, vinyl selector and music producer Nathan Womack, based in Kunming, China. Womack has crafted “his knack for detecting interesting music from far-flung zones and releasing funky sonic travelogues” (Dave Segal) in his catalogue boasting a range from Instrumental Hip-Hop, Spaghetti Western Beats, Flamenco and Chinese Funk, Canto Lounge, Japanese Surf, and Puerto Rican Bolero to Synth Pop, Psychedelic, Downtempo, and Modal Jazz.

By 2017, Womack was drawing a regular crowd for his Vinyl Internationale shows (Bastille), had a vinyl monthly (Brass Tacks, 2013-14) and Jazz Brunch (Revolver, 2014-15) underway, and Wax Recording Artist Noel Brass Jr. was slated to join the bill with Taylor McFerrin for Earshot Jazz Festival. Womack would later be featured at the Festival’s Sunday Night DJ Series, accompanied by live visual projections (2019), and make recurring guest appearances as a selector for Global Groove, a monthly series in Seattle (LoFi – The Rendezvous, 2023-2024).

Womack joins Earshot Jazz to talk upcoming releases and what it means to be coming back to celebrate a milestone through a weekend of Wax events, July 27-28, in Ballard at the Tractor Tavern and Olympic Rooftop Pavilion. Tickets at waxthematique.com/pages/events.


NW: Jazz is the first music I remember hearing. I still have the memory perfectly in my brain from when I was a kid, living in Germany, hearing jazz for the first time, and kind of immediately freaking out in a great way. 

Moving around my whole life, jazz always gave me this level of comfort and a humbling feeling because of all the struggles those musicians, artists, and players went through to get their art out; the Civil Rights context working in tandem with this music. 

Starting a label is always something I wanted to do, but we took the long, slow road to putting out a jazz release. There are some art forms that exist in their own space that are so critical to the world and to the human experience that they need their own level of importance or spotlight.

When Feed LA (2023) came to us, I realized, “Finally. This is a jazz record that I will happily put out and put the Wax name on.” The same with [the upcoming LP by] Afrocop. Of course, it’s this level of exploratory jazz that is really high quality. And, we also have the new Funkways release, which is an homage to Ethiopian jazz.


EJ: There’s a strong visual component in the Wax throughline. Does that perspective come from years of digging in crates to uncover gems, sourcing music in languages you often cannot read, where those visual cues are super important?

NW: The cover of our first album, Quick Trigger, is what really set it off because I realized, that’s the key. That’s the piece that has to happen every single time now, no matter what. I have to shoot for that level of art; everything that comes out needs to be as good as, or as better than, the last, visually. I’m always thinking of everything chronologically. The next thing that comes out needs to be the antithesis of [the prior release] and I don’t want [visuals] to collide. I want them to each have their own time in the spotlight.

Engineering, mixing, mastering and the visual aspect are part of the whole complete package. There is a language that we are speaking behind the scenes. The artwork often takes longer, unfortunately. There’s been a few times where the artwork has taken over a year and the music’s already done.

The critical thing with the art is that it has to look like how the music sounds.


NW: We’ve never had this many artists from the label on one bill, but it’s a really crazy milestone, and we have to do something to mark this occasion because it’s only going to happen once.  

In true Wax Thematique format, [you can expect] multi-genres, various styles, a little bit of something for everybody, and a few curveballs. On the bill: Afrocop is psychedelic jazz; Funkways is raw, deep funk, soul; and then Soft Release (Mt Fog and Select Level’s, Andy Sells) is dark goth new wave breaks.  

The bands play one night for a really killer, live show, and [the next day] will be a Maiden Voyage/Wax Thematique Hi-Fi listening session with some killer record selectors. There will be back-to-back dates, not just of bands or DJs, because Wax is so much more than a live performance, and it’s more than a DJ set. 

Afrocop’s [first full-length] record will be out, and this is a perfect opportunity to elevate a level of awareness for them. [Theirs is] a record, years in the making… It’s actually because of [hearing Afrocop in 2010] I realized what the label could be. 

I guess I’m the one that really pushed for [a full LP]. We had recording sessions and sat with questions like “What does this mean?”, “What does this sound like?” because all of their music is improvised. Every single time. They have singles, but they’re not going to play that single live. It’s a really special thing. If you miss it, you miss it forever; you miss that moment. Just like Noel Brass Jr.’s solo, synthesizer keyboard stuff… it’s very abstract, an ever-changing concept. It’s hard to translate that in the studio, but they pulled it off! 


NW:  What I would say is number one is how the artists are being taken care of financially and creatively, in their present day. That’s what I’m super focused on, the impossible task of “How do you take care of these artists that have entrusted you with all their work, their creative compositions?” 

Number two might be leaving as much behind as possible, in terms of digital crumbs and physical artifacts, for the next generation of people coming up. 

I always wanted to do one record a year for a while, so to get to nearly 20 releases and be 10 years later feels strange. It’s still undefined. I just want to keep pushing and keep going and doing as much as I can… I try to rely on the people around me, especially now, there’s a curated pool of completely different personalities, all working towards the same goal which is to put out the best quality art possible.



Posted on

June 27, 2024