When it comes to bands, the ones that are a bit sheltered often end up coming off as the most genuine. Such is the case with Copenhagen punk band Iceage.
The band have just released their second full-length album You’re Nothing on Matador – an album which does more than just give the finger to authority, it tells a story – a very relatable story. Instead of building a narrative around characters, vocalist Elias Rønnenfelt’s hard pressed lips breathe raspy poems into the microphone with the few audible words that we can make out seeming to be the only words that matter. Guitar progressions spell out the phrases that the record’s listeners so desperately wanted to say, while emotion rips through pensive air, exploring much more ground than just punk rock.
The real beauty of it all lies in the album’s carefully crafted ambiguity. Iceage are a band who leave a lot up to the listener. They make music the way they know how – they don’t ask you to care or understand how they feel, instead they place a very real experience in our hands and let us decide what we want to do with it. It’s probably the most punk rock thing a band can do.
If you’re looking for a revival, or a dawning of a new punk scene, you’ve got Iceage all wrong. Their brilliance lies in their insularity. They embody the ideology more than a style of music made popular in the 80s – they didn’t even know punk was dead, because it never died to them. Best Fit sits down with frontman Elias Rønnenfelt to find out more about the story of the band, as well as how their new album You’re Nothing came to life.
Your first release was in 2009, a 4 song self-titled EP – fast forward to 2013, and you’ve just released your second album, You’re Nothing. What’s changed?
Lots of things have changed. We were four kids playing together, going to school in Copenhagen and hating it. Then we dropped out and started touring and now we are kind of living in our band, if that makes sense.
And going from your 2011 album New Brigade to your latest release – what would you say has marked the biggest change? Do you feel you have grown as a band?
Well it’s not a radical shift or change in style, but more that we expanded on what we had before. The process of writing is pretty much the same, but I guess we have gotten better at what we are trying to do. I don’t even know, I just write songs.
One of the aspects that makes Iceage the band that it is – one that continues to produce great music – is that you don’t overcomplicate the process. You have a system of writing and recording that works and you don’t fuck with it. Speaking of, I read you recorded this album on an island off the coast of Denmark. What was that experience like?
We built a studio in this old farm, and it was pretty cheap, so went there and didn’t really know what to expect, but it was nice because we were just pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing to do but record. Everything became very focused. I think we were done after five days.
You’re Nothing is a mix of woozy, drunk feeling and raw energy. Like you were saying, you’re not trying to make punk music. It feels like there are no rules when it comes to Iceage’s music.
Well the energy is different here because some people expect a hardcore band to think like this too, but it’s about other things.
As much as there are no rules, there is restraint. Can you talk about how you approached the writing and recording of You’re Nothing?
We just try to go with our intuition, we never really say we’re going to write this kind of song, we take a little mix of this and a little mix of that and we just write.
And do you all write together?
We don’t jam together. Mostly we will have a sketch for a song, written by one person, and we all work it out together, what needs to be changed and try to improve it. The lyrics I write mostly, but the music, we all contribute.
How would you describe the music scene that you grew up around in Denmark?
What’s it like? Well us, we have been friends for a long time, even before we started making music. And the scene is based around this warehouse space called Mayhem. Everybody pretty much goes there. I guess it all started when we formed this band, and we met some other guys in bands, and at the time we didn’t really know a lot of other bands making music that we connected with on a personal level. These bands started becoming friends and aware of each other. Then this new warehouse space, Mayhem appeared, which kind of adopted us, because everyone was doing this industrial and punk music at the time, and from there more and more bands have popped up.
Do you ever sing in Danish at your shows?
No. There is one song in Danish on the album, but that’s it.
How would you describe an Iceage live performance? What does it feel like when you’re on stage performing?
Sometimes it’s horrible and the sound is shitty, and other times we play together really well. Then sometimes it’s a big release and I can kind of lose myself and not really know who I am anymore, it’s a kind of feeling of ecstasy. And sometimes it’s in between those two, it can be a lot of things.
Do you have a favourite venue or festival to play when you’re on the road?
I really like Munoz Gym in Bakersfield, California, which is a boxing ring. I’m not sure if I have any particular favourite venues, but I like smaller venues more.
What do you like to listen to when you’re on tour?
We like all sorts of music. We like a lot of punk but also soul music, classical music and soundtracks, everything. We don’t listen to music in particular genres.
Do you think punk is the same today as it was when bands like The Misfits and Black Flag were playing?
Yeah of course it’s changed. You have different people doing different things all over the world, and a lot of punk bands don’t have anything in common with each other. With Iceage, I don’t particularly try to be a punk band, I just write music and people call it punk.
Iceage’s second album You’re Nothing is out now on Matador.