“I don’t remember us ever really thinking that we were going to America, touring the land, living the dream. That wasn’t really our mind-set,” says 26-year-old Iceage singer/guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. “We were fairly arrogant, so when suddenly we could go to Kansas City and there would be some kid that related to what we were doing, it was just like, ‘Yeah, of course, why shouldn’t he?’”
We’ll never know the relationship of Iceage’s brash assurance to their critical success (contributor? byproduct? both?), but 10 years in, the Dutch post-punk quartet still possess an indomitable confidence and equal sense of adventure. Their first three albums received nominations for IMPALAs (Independent Album of the Year Awards) in Europe, and judging by the reception for their latest, Beyondless, they’ll extend that streak.
Beyondless’s release in May 2018 ended a four-year recording hiatus—more time than it took to make the band’s first three albums—but it repays fans’ patience with grimy guitars searing in succulent hooks, ladled over with Rønnenfelt’s sneering vocal insouciance. Initially fueled by punk fury, Iceage’s instrumentation and tone widened significantly over the years.
Rønnenfelt, guitarist Johan Suurballe Wieth and drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen were outsiders at the same school in Copenhagen before forming a fast bond. “Before we even met each other, we eyed each other out and could sense there was some belonging there,” Rønnenfelt says. “Eventually, we got the courage to speak to each other, and we’ve never really been separate since.”
Bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless was a friend of a friend. When they first met, Pless followed Rønnenfelt to a soccer cage for a game involving a BB gun and a bicycle. “We would take turns,” Rønnenfelt offers, not quite sheepishly. “One had to take the bicycle and ride around the course, and the other one had to shoot at them.”
Pless lived in the basement of a church, where they’d often hang. It was home to a drum set the family didn’t want their son playing in their house, and later a guitar and amplifier.
“Just by chance we had a bunch of gear lying around,” Rønnenfelt recalls. “Out of boredom, we started playing around with it without ever having any deliberate plans to start a band, and suddenly we had one.”
Pless recalls how baked they used to get before shows in those early years in their late teens. “I saw a review of a show we played,” he says, “possibly the first review of an Iceage show ever written. This English journalist wrote something like, ‘I saw the drummer and bassist in an alley next to the venue smoking a large pipe-like object and I’ve never seen such stoned faces on a stage.’ That was the review.”
Their more dynamic sound is an outgrowth of broad tastes and increased studio comfort, but they’ve always liked rich soundscapes. “The marriage between drums, guitar, bass and more orchestral elements is something we’ve always been attracted [to], whether it’s been Serge Gainsborough or Isaac Hayes, Scott Walker or all those ’70s singer/songwriters,” Rønnenfelt says.
“We’re a rough band. We have the kind of sound that we have, and we’re not trying to find a generic angle to attack things,” he continues. “We don’t strive for perfection. We strive for soul or a take that has some sort of gravity or brokenness in it. I don’t think that’s what everyone goes for.”
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue. Click here to get a subscription!