Interview with Elias Bender Rønnenfelt and Jakob Tvilling Pless | By Tim Anderl | Photo by Jacki Vitetta
A particularly astute critic recently compared Beyondless—the fourth album from Iceage, released via Matador Records on May 4—to The Rolling Stones’ historic Exile on Main St. At the time, The Rolling Stones already had a solid foothold in the rock music realm but an amalgam of influences was leaching into their sound, from soul to jazz, honkey-tonk to country, and even gospel. They were also coming to terms with being young men crossing the threshold into their 30s, uncertain of what their futures held and restless for what was yet to come.
At first glance, this perfect storm of catalysts bares similarities to the evolution of Copenhagen, Denmark, quartet Iceage, who were once considered disciples of post-punk and devotees of Joy Division. “We always were [restless]. That’s not something that has changed,” vocalist and guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt says defiantly. “The restless urge to create something and push yourself into unknown territory has always been the basis of what we did. We didn’t think about Exile on Main St. in the studio, but some friends have mentioned it. I think maybe we can see that,” he ultimately concedes.
Comparisons to The Rolling Stones aside, the record is one that is clearly wrought with emotion, conflict, playfulness, and, at times, humor. “I think there are a lot of conflicting emotions going on [with Beyondless],” Rønnenfelt reflects. “Some negative, some hopeful, some ecstasy, some desperation—a lot of things that clash together. There isn’t one straightforward message. There are a lot of dualities. What we thrive on is pushing ourselves into risky territory in order to keep things alive for ourselves. We are risking failure for the sake of exploration.”
The band’s recent exploration has led them to undertake a series of international “Opening Nights” residencies in New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, which precede a run of tour dates that stretch to November and across multiple continents. “We all sort of put this together ourselves with help from some of our Danish associates. It’s been way less of a clusterfuck than we expected so far,” Rønnenfelt says.
Additionally, Iceage have invited new musicians to the fold who’ve incorporated saxophone, piano, and other instrumentation into their performance. “All of the artists that we picked out were people that we admired. It has been interesting to see all of it,” bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless says.
“Lately, it has been a transformative experience getting to know these songs in a live setting,” Rønnenfelt shares. “Each night, I think we get a better understanding of where these songs can take us and what sort of space it’s leading us into. It’s an interesting period for us, because it feels so alive, and right now is the process where we’re developing each night and beginning to feel more and more at home.”
“It’s definitely a new energy,” Pless agrees.
“I feel like we have a groove like we’ve never had before,” Rønnenfelt continues. “[Adding additional instrumentation] allows us to push it into another space, and these guys playing with us are really talented musicians. We feed off of each other.”
When asked where they predict this journey will lead, Iceage are hesitant to commit to much. “That’s a pretty loaded existential question,” Rønnenfelt objects before settling on a simple answer. “We’ve come to learn that we have a big interest in writing songs and pursuing this musical journey, but we’re taking this one step at a time.”
“We stay open to new possibilities all the time,” Pless offers.
“We make records, and then, we go play,” Rønnenfelt jokes. “If we felt like we’d done our magnum opus, we wouldn’t have anything else to do but stop. Every record becomes an encapsulated, compressed version of what life was like at the time of the writing. We have faint ideas about where we want to take things next.”
It is suggested that, perhaps, the absence of over-planning follows Hunter S. Thompson’s idea that “life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”
Rønnenfelt and Pless agree, “That sounds pretty good to us.”