Stepping Out To See Within
Elias Rønnenfelt is the lead singer and songwriter of the band Iceage, a Danish punk rock band that formed in 2008. The band has released several albums and has gained a reputation for their intense live performances. Rønnenfelt is known for his raw, emotive lyrics and delivery, and for his use of unconventional song structures.
Hugh Barton caught up with Rønnenfelt to discuss their creative process and personal style, finding a home for “misfit” tracks, the challenges of writing poetry and the future direction of Rønnenfelt’s solo work.
HUGH BARTON So, where are you in the world at the moment?
ELIAS RØNNENFELT I’m in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. I’ve been out here for a month staying in a little guesthouse. I’ve arranged a little studio setup and am trying to get some songwriting done and hopefully return with something worthwhile. Because of the rain recently, there’s been a nice ambient percussive drumming of water throughout the day— it’s been good for the writing. I find even if I’m sitting with a piano or a guitar the rain almost always alters the sound.
HB Did you do the shoot with Jamie Parkhurst in Eagle Rock?
ER Yeah, Jamie is a sweetheart. I think there are some really good shots in there.
HB We really wanted to shoot you in your own clothes to capture your sense of style. What do you think about this?
ER I dress intuitively. I like a good swanky shirt and pants with steel capped boots. I don’t like going shopping so much but if I somehow find a good piece, I’ll take it home and I’ll wear it to shreds (quite literally). If I really love it, I won’t let go easily.
HB I love the shirt you have on now. Where’s it from?
ER It’s from a guy I know in Copenhagen, Silas, who has his own brand: Soulland. He made this insane shirt that’s half medieval and half paratrooper. It’s quite unusual.
HB Is anyone currently influencing your personal style or music?
ER There’s this young designer who wrote to me and said that he wanted to make me a suit. He’s very talented. I want to try install a bunch of secret pockets within the suit—a small pocket where you would lift the collar, and secret pockets within zippers. I sent this idea to him and he’s been working on it. So that’s quite exciting. It will be just for me.
HB When we were planning your shoot, Jamie mentioned you liked travelling to LA around December/January time. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
ER Los Angeles is a dangerous place because it’s filled with distractions. But the rain has helped put a bit of a lid on the city. I’ve always liked LA’s cloudy, greyish-white sky around this time. It becomes a different place without its usual sun.
HB Are there any other places in the world that encourage creativity in your writing?
ER I could really write anywhere where I have a decent amount of privacy and a door to shut. I mostly write on my own unless I’m with Iceage. We all get together in a rehearsal space where everything is secure and just bounce ideas and sounds off each other. At the core of my writing is a solitary pursuit though.
HB Let’s go back to where you were born. What was it like growing up in Copenhagen?
ER I grew up in Nørrebro, which is a traditional working-class neighbourhood. Even though it was home to the squatter scene back then, I had a lot of freedom from a very young age to move around and get lost. There was quite a sprawling community at the foot of my door, so to speak, and numerous worlds to submerge in. At school I was always part of the antisocial misfits. When we started the band, it was almost another excuse to cause ruckus. We barely had any artistic visions or career ambitions, but once we got going and leant into it, it became quite cathartic. It’s been my life ever since.
HB You’ve previously mentioned that your first album developed out of spite. Is that still true?
ER Yeah, spite was a big motivation. When we started out we didn’t actually want to be a punk band. Although we grew up in the punk scene and there was a big punk presence, we wanted to make music that the indie scene and punk underground world would both hate. We’ve always been outside of any pre-existing category, and we feel that’s a good place to be. We just flow with the tide.
HB For your most recent album, Shake The Feeling: Outtakes & Rarities 2015–2021, you dug deep into your archives searching for those ‘misfit’ unheard tracks. How did you decide what would eventually go in?
ER It’s a real compilation. We had a bunch of material that was unused, or, as you said, ‘misfit’, that didn’t suit the records we were trying to make at the time. We just said, “Let’s look at what we have lying around” and discovered a good handful of material that deserved to see the light of day.
HB Was there a song you didn’t like on the album when first recording?
ER I thought Shake the Feeling was weak at the time. I almost refused to learn the song. We only gave it one take in the studio before we shut it down. Only when coming back to it years later I thought it was beautiful— bursting with a whole bunch of life that I couldn’t hear before. Sometimes when you’re inside the fragile process of recording an album, and you come together in the studio, emotions and tensions run high and you’re not always the best judge of your work. Sometimes you have to step out of the bubble to see the song for what it is.
HB A lot of musicians mostly release singles these days. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it’s important to constantly release new material?
ER The record labels are all desperate to adapt to this ‘new world’. They are trying to do everything they can to feed the algorithms, which don’t even have a lot of spine. In the end people listen to music, they identify with it, and they really take songs to heart. That’s what I feel when I play concerts. The music literally impacts people… they lift with the songs. That feeling exists beyond any algorithm. Even the fucking eighteen-year-old kids scream along to the songs from the first record, and they were bloody eight years old when that shit came out. It hasn’t been fed to them by some Spotify algorithm. They are just curious and sought it out for themselves.
HB Would you mind talking about your solo work and the direction it might go in?
ER In 2021 it seemed like Iceage was in for another whole summer of touring. But obviously with Covid it simply was not possible. I’m a musician through and through so I can’t just sit and wait around for another opportunity to play. So, I decided to set up a public email account, share it on Instagram and tell the world that I would come and perform anywhere for anyone—whether it be in a bar or a backyard. I received hundreds of emails and tried to go to as many countries as I could with my acoustic guitar. I ended up travelling all over Europe, performing in people’s homes and local churches.
When I was travelling alone like that, I could basically write a song in a hotel room and then play it the next day at a show without much rehearsal or arrangement. All those songs just organically developed from being out in the world. When I came home, I thought they deserved to be on a record. It was an interesting and unexpected by-product of travelling alone and filling the time. I think it’s going to be really good.
HB What kind of music are you listening to while you’re writing?
ER I’m trying to make space for my own notes so I don’t listen to that much music. If I do, it’s usually instrumental. At the moment I’m listening to the composer Maurice Ravel and his piano work. I also found this Christmas album American Folk Songs for Christmas by
The Seeger Sisters that I listened to during the holidays. I know nothing about it, but I just thought it was the prettiest thing ever. I know Christmas has passed but if anyone is looking for a Christmas 2023 track, I seriously recommend it. It’s very soothing.
HB Can you tell us about your writing and poetry?
ER My first book is coming out this year. It’s a collection of poetry that I’ve been writing and editing. Editing it was a son of a bitch, man. I thought poetry was going to be easy [laughs]. It was so much harder than writing lyrics which have a sort of skeleton, a musical structure that frames the individual words and almost confines or restrains them. Poetry can go anywhere on the other hand. I’m excited to get that shit back from the press, see my name on the spine, and put it on the shelf [laughs]. That’s something I haven’t done before.
HB Printed work is beautiful; it lasts forever. What other big things have you got coming up this year?
ER I always try and stay busy. Hopefully the record and book will be released this year and I’ll be able to figuratively ‘wipe the desk’ and clean the slate. It’s kind of terrifying in the early stages where things can go anywhere.
HB When do you go back to Copenhagen?
ER I was supposed to go back on Monday but I might prolong my stay. We’re not doing any crazy long excessive touring because we want to have the space to birth another record.
HB Sounds great, I might hopefully catch you over there this year. So nice to chat with you, Elias!
ER Nice talking to you too! I’ll see you around! [EXEUNT]
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