Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is staring us out. His face is cast into an expression somewhere between steely disinterest and disgusted disdain. Flanked by his friends, guitarist Johan Wieth, bassist Jakob Pless and drummer Dan Nielsen, Iceage’s frontman looks like he hates everything.
Iceage are about to emphatically reinforce their status as the most aggressively exciting band from Denmark’s fertile hub of heaviness with second album and Matador debut ‘You’re Nothing’. But they’re not excited.
Squashed into the bar they’ll noisily decimate later that night, we’re halfway through our interview. Trying to hold Elias’ gaze without trembling, we attempt another question.
You were seen in some quarters as relatively difficult interviewees around the time of your debut album…
Silence. Iceage look down.
Was that fair? Will you change your approach?
Elias thrusts his glass of white wine forwards as if he’s about to chuck it.
Will you do more interviews?
“Whatever happens happens. It’s got to be better. We will try not to do shit interviews. Do interviews with people who actually care,” he says.
Jakob and Dan mutter in Danish to one another.
“I think as well as the music, maybe we don’t have that much restriction anymore,” Johan adds impenetrably.
Their clipped utterances are lent an even more unbothered, angry air by their Danish accents. When Iceage talk, their sentences are well constructed, their points intelligent, their sentiment passionate. But, today, despite all four members agreeing happily to do this interview during sound check, they aren’t keen on speaking for more than four seconds at a time.
Initial exchanges yield little.
How are the shows (a two-week, gig-every-night UK tour) going?
“Good fun, but it makes me like the old songs less,” Elias says.
“You get tired of playing them. It’s simple,” Dan says, disgustedly.
The album title, ‘You’re Nothing’ is bold. It’s taken from the closing track, why did you choose that song?
“We discussed it and this is the one we settled on,” Elias says.
What’s it about?
“You’re nothing. It’s about other people and how at certain times things can feel like nothing, it’s not about a single person.”
Whatever they mean, lyrics are more prevalent than before. After a fear-mongering opening build-up (not dissimilar to their debut’s ‘Intro’) first track ‘Ecstasy’ sees Elias heavy breathing, “I really want to get away,” “Pressure, pressure, oh God no, can’t take this pressure.” Elsewhere Iceage’s familiar anti-everything battering ram is in full force (the GBH-on-barbiturates thrash of ‘Coalition’, in particular, will make your head ache and your face tingle).
Putting this to the band elicits a curt but illuminating response.
“Some of the lyrics are written from a bad place and the others a bit the opposite,” Elias says, “It’s not just anger.”
“It’s heavy with emotion, in any sense of the word,” Johan adds.
His explanation adds texture to the unexpectedly bruised melody of ‘Wounded Hearts’ and the plaintive ‘Morals’ (which features a piano).
‘You’re Nothing’ is bolder, more confident and (even more excitingly) progressive. Recorded in a converted barn in the middle of nowhere (“It was very nice”), it represents an important step forward. Iceage had to get used to studio life, working hard (“We used to be lazy”) but, according to Elias, their methods remained the same.
“We know what we’re doing more. We’ve lost some boundaries. Now we can say ‘it could be nice if this song has a piano,’”
Did ‘You’re Nothing’ affect the band’s personal boundaries too?
Elias: “No. We’ve known each other since we were very young.”
Dan: “It’s good.”
Jakob: “It doesn’t change.”
Elias: “We’re friends; I still like them as much as I ever did, if not more. I look back and think, wow, we’re spending way too much time together and we’re still friends. It’s nice to think about. I don’t think I’d be able to do it good with somebody else.”
The singer laughs.
It’s only for a second, but it happens and we get it on tape. It’d be nice to say that, after this small expulsion of mirth, the mood lightened and Iceage suddenly turned into four Graham Nortons and spent the remainder of the interview nattering gaudily.
But with Iceage, nothing is that nice, really.
Attempting to capitalise on the frontman’s chuckle, we ask about the band’s relationship with Matador. The deal “seemed like the right decision” and Iceage “trust the label.”
“It should be good,” says Johan.
“It doesn’t change much. We’ll see what happens, of course they have interest, but we can also say no,” Elias adds.
Then he laughs again. Don’t worry, it’s a false alarm.
We talk briefly about the reams written about their supposed penchant for racist and fascist imagery, Nordic runes and bloody live shows (example: Vice attacked an article posted on the Magic Muscle Media blog entitled ‘Chic Racism Elevates Hardcore Band Iceage To Hipster Fame’). Unsurprisingly the band don’t want to talk about it. It’s old news and they don’t believe there was anything in it in the first place.
“We didn’t feel like we had to say sorry or give some big explanation, it’s stupid anyway. A smart journalist made a story about us and everybody repeats it, of course, because it’s a good story,” Elias says.
So you never did anything with malicious intent?
“Any what!” Dan shouts.
“Of course not,” Elias says angrily.
“It’s not nice to have things said about you, but hopefully that’s over with the new record,” Jakob concludes.
Iceage drain their drinks and it doesn’t feel like anyone around our table will ever laugh again. Time to talk about pride and parents then.
“Attention doesn’t make me feel proud at all,” Elias says, “Accomplishment is not something you should be proud of. Making something a lot of people appreciate is not a sign of quality.”
“Making something you appreciate is a sign of quality,” Dan adds.
Are your parents proud?
Dan: “Mine think it’s cool.”
Elias: “I’ve only allowed my dad to come to a show once. I think it would be weird to play and suddenly look down and see the face of your dad.”
Johan: “Hey dad.”
Youth, determination, inexperience, talent, emotion and ragged power make Iceage a consistently combustible proposition. We knew they wouldn’t be overly chatty in the same way we anticipated their new LP’s dangerous guile. At times they made our interview feel like having eight teeth extracted without anaesthetic, but they did laugh and smile.
Fittingly, after our last question, they display both sides of their loveably unlovable character.
Is there something no one knows about Iceage that you’d like to tell people?
Deafening silence. For more than a minute. The band leave silently, Elias murmurs “Thanks.” We remain seated. Their press officer comes over to break the silence.
“How did it go?” he asks Johan.
“Not too bad, pretty much without incident.”
‘You’re Nothing’ is released on Matador on 18th February