“I feel like we've been haunted by misconceptions about our music throughout our entire career—but maybe that's not such a bad thing,” muses Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, the lead singer in Copenhagen rock band Iceage. Since debuting with New Brigade in 2011, the quartet have moved on from abrasive, rabble-rousing post-punk vibes to a grander, more melodic dimension to their music. Last year’s critically-acclaimed Beyondless album infused live brass and strings into the mix—and Rønnenfelt says they’re already planning to hit the studio in a couple of months to begin plotting what he calls “the next step” in the group’s steady development.
Ahead of Iceage’s appearance at OctFest in New York City—where the band tease they’re going to weave new material into the set list—I chatted to Rønnenfelt about sneaking knives through customs, playing a show in a demilitarized area between North and South Korea, and checking out Serge Gainsbourg’s favorite bar in France.
You’ve just played a gig in Istanbul. How do you like the city?
We've been here a few days now—It’s an incredible city. I went here on a school trip ten years ago and haven't been back since and we've never played here before. It's just incredibly gorgeous with lots of winding streets—a very hectic chaotic street life in the best sense.
What do you remember about that school trip?
Yeah, I remember getting some Italian stiletto knives through customs. I suppose the only reason I didn't end up in prison was because the guy checking the monitor looked up and winked at me. I was incredibly lucky there. I also remember there was all these street cats and street dogs and every night we'd be out in the same neighborhood where we stayed and the same dog would find us. It would just show up where we were. Then we were in some backyard bar and the dog didn't appear to be showing up and we got sad about it. Getting back to the hotel, we walked out into the courtyard and there was a pack of eight or nine dogs, so we were walking back, surrounded by nine dogs, who were just following us. We'd pick up a used coke can or whatever and just throw it down the street and all the dogs would run after it.
Iceage recently played a show in Korea, in a demilitarized area between North and South Korea.
Yeah, I didn't really know what to expect but I was extremely excited to have a chance to play in a place like that. I expected it to be more of a hostile place—I imagined like a red sniper scope in the back of my neck when I was on stage—but it wasn't the case at all. Playing that show was a very positive thing taking place in a politically intense area, like a celebration in the face of something. Unfortunately, there were no North Koreans present at the festival, because that wasn't possible for them. We also ended up drinking with a bunch of fully uniformed South Korean soldiers.
At the end of the day, I like the watery stuff with bubbles in it.”
What’s your favorite bar anywhere in the world?
There's a place in Lyon, in France, called Le Look that was said to be Serge Gainsbourg's favorite bar. It has this round, winding staircase—that’s one of the best.
What's your usual beer of choice?
I like commercial watery piss beer. Any sort of Mexican beer. I'm not the sort that appreciates—well, I'll drink most things—but when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, I like the watery stuff with bubbles in it. Those beers are just drinkable and they don't weigh you down.
Who in the band suffers from the worst hangovers?
I would say Dan [Kjær Nielsen] sometimes has a tendency to resemble a newborn baby chicken when he has a particularly rough one.
The Copenhagen thing is that you don't really go out for just a few beers—if you go drinking, most people will go until they physically can't hold any more beer.”
When you’re playing shows, how do you balance older songs fans really want to hear with the new stuff you want to play?
There's certain songs that remain from the earlier material, but as a general tendency throughout the years the main focus is where the band's at in the moment, combined with whatever we've been working on right now. Our last album's been out for a little bit, so more and more songs from whatever the next step is are starting to mingle into the set.
Are there any old songs that you’re kinda sick of playing at this point?
There's certain songs that I know some people would really want to hear that I can't bring myself to play again, because it feels like resurrecting a certain part of yourself that you can't really bring yourself to do, like they’re not a genuine part of your life any more. You can't perform a song called ‘New Brigade’ when it's eight years old, you know? But then there's other songs that sort of have a timelessness to it that can be reapplied—maybe they gain new meaning or develop in their attitude.
You’re going to be playing at OctFest in New York City. What do you remember about the first time you got to visit New York?
I remember we were around 17, 18 and of course New York is one of the most mystical places when you've never been to America before. But we were also fairly cynical 'cause we came from our own little microcosm of an environment in Copenhagen and suddenly the whole world wanted to see us and we were skeptical—but it was a wild time.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between Danish and American drinking culture?
The Copenhagen thing is that you don't really go out for just a few beers—if you go drinking, most people will go until they physically can't hold any more beer. [Pauses] But I guess New York has places like that, too. I like to drink piss beer and America is full of that. A Danish style bar would be more of a smoky, homely kinda place—American dive bars are I guess the same shit.