Elias Bender Rønnenfelt on Iceage’s New Album and the Band’s Evolution

  • TextTom Connick

Clattering and captivating, Beyondless is Iceage’s best work to date – here, we catch up with the band’s frontman and discuss its creation

Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is nursing a hangover. Just two days after the singer’s 26th birthday, Another Man picks up the phone to the steely-voiced Iceage frontman – and bonafide modern rock icon – for a catch up. How did he celebrate? “We had our show shut down by the police... and then a fair amount of tequila was involved,” he deadpans through an audible smile. That rock star life clearly precedes him.

In many ways though, Rønnenfelt, who fronted the S/S17 issue of Another Man, and his bandmates reject the clichés of modern musicianship. They’re famously press-shy, preferring instead to let their ever-expansive music do the talking. Just released, their latest record Beyondless is their most confident statement to date, bringing their journey from scrappy, hardcore kids to an explosive conclusion. Their hypnotic post-punk and Rønnenfelt’s yelpy drawl fuse with newfound brass and string instrumentation, creating a clattering, captivating soundscape. It’s undoubtedly their best work yet and, as Daniel Stewart of Aussie punks Total Control writes in the record’s accompanying essay: “They have finally caught up with their ambition.”

“The act of creating and writing the records and touring them, it’s a ongoing sort of discovery,” Rønnenfelt says of Beyondless’ drawn-out writing process. “The whole idea of creating something that wasn’t there before is extremely exciting,” he continues. Locked away in the practice room, the four piece – completed by drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen, guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth, and bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless – all brought ideas to the table, hashing them out between them until they “moulded them into something that seemed like it is what it was supposed to be.”

It’s Iceage’s writing process that gives their music its true beauty. Thriving off the contrast between the band’s dedication to their craft, and their reliance on happy creative accidents, Beyondless is further bolstered by the introduction of that new instrumentation. “We have a need to push ourselves into a space that gives us more, and risk-taking is a part of that,” Rønnenfelt shrugs. “We’ve never been interested in repeating ourselves or watering ourselves down – I think we’re just naturally inclined to always try to seek out new territory...  Even though,” he admits after a pause, “I think there’s the same core in the middle of everything… the literal energy that is between us.”

Live, Iceage’s pack mentality is clear. While Rønnenfelt is undoubtedly the ringleader of their rock and roll cabaret, pirouetting and flailing about the stage like a man possessed, he and his bandmates strike imposing figures. Their ranks remain tightly closed off-stage, too – something that worked to their advantage in the beginning, as accusations of flirting with fascist imagery dogged their earliest moves. “It was always fairly obvious that we weren’t that, but people like to sensationalise and ignore evidence that proves the contradictory side,” Rønnenfelt says today. “But I don’t have any regrets – it’s all part of the development. Once you stop speaking freely… I use this line…” he pauses once more. “I’m sad if anyone reads what other people accused us of being and felt upset by that,” he says.

“While we knew what the fuss was about but we didn’t want to comment directly, because we didn’t want to reduce ourselves to that level. But you know, it’s a… storm in a fish tank. Do you have that expression in English?” he breaks off with a laugh, cutting the tension.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that such frustration elicits the longest response of the interview thus far – for one, there’s the aforementioned press-shy nature of the band, but elsewhere it’s clear that Iceage somewhat thrive off discontent. I put it to the frontman that Beyondless sounds less angry than previous releases, instead providing lusher textures and space for freer thought than their more steadfast punk past. “The strings, and the horns and things – this new record, we took it further with sound,” he agrees, “But I don’t think this record is in any way a rejection of punk. Each time you have a go at writing your best song, you learn something.” What did they learn this time? “I think it just pushed us into a new space, and maybe by daring ourselves with new sounds and progressions in our way of playing…” Another pause. “It’s groovy as hell!” he says, cackling with laughter.

“I think as you get older, you don’t grow away from being frustrated about the world,” Rønnenfelt continues. “I don’t think that necessarily goes away. It’s not like we drop an H-bomb on ourselves each time we make a record – it’s a development rather than a recreation… There’s always been a catharsis in impressions and feelings finding each other. I think we’ve always been a very expressive band in that sense.”

Considering the band’s craftsmanship, you might think they’d be snobby; pretentious, even – a word that’s dogged many of their moves. But it’s a notion they reject – Rønnenfelt has been forthcoming in the past about how part of him longs to be a popstar, while Beyondless’ poppiest moment, the soaring Painkiller, features fellow Another Man cover star Sky Ferreira on guest vocals (Rønnenfelt is tight-lipped on the collaboration, likely because the pair are reportedly dating). They’re not the art-school dropouts they’ve been pegged as, Rønnenfelt insists. “Art is always dumbed down, man, but maybe that’s not always a bad thing either. I like disco music, you know? That’s pretty dumb sometimes but it’s got merit. It’s just a different way of doing things.”

In their embrace of different art forms, Rønnenfelt – perhaps unwittingly – seems to sum up Beyondless’ confused mental and creative state. “I don’t want to exclude anything,” he says. “Part of me is always very simple in nature – it think it’s good to be simple and complex at the same time.”

Iceage’s new album Beyondless is out now via Matador Records