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Monica Uszerowicz

Iceage, lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt second from right. Photo by Alberte Karrebaek.

Iceage made landfall in the States as a veritable blitzkrieg—whirling guitars and angst and proto-punk vocals, all wrapped up in an aural haze that was equal parts romantic and gritty. With their first album, New Brigade (2011) composed almost entirely of two-minute songs, the Danish foursome were young, unassuming, and lethal. The blogosphere and fans asserted once again that punk wasn’t dead. It had just been temporarily comatose, only to be revived by four pouty teenagers from Copenhagen.

Now a bit older, Iceage—comprised of Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums), Johan Surrballe Wieth (guitar), Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass), and Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, an unusually enigmatic frontman—have released You’re Nothing. As heavy and unrelenting as New Brigade, the sophomore album is a bigger maelstrom with a softer center: the lyrics are about heartbreak, disillusionment, and change. Ahead of their June 7th show at Churchill’s, we spoke with Rønnenfelt about touring, accusations of fascism, and the beauty in horrid things.

MONICA USZEROWICZ (RAIL): You’re playing in Miami next week. Do you know anything about it?

RØNNENFELT: [Laughs] Well, there is Scarface. Not much, though, besides the beach. I know most of Miami is not like in the movies.

RAIL: It is like in the movies, actually.

RØNNENFELT: That can’t be. That has to depend on where you live.

RAIL: In another interview from a long time ago, you guys said it was strange that within the small but excellent music scene in Copenhagen, you were the band that made it big first. How is it back home—is it weird being the band that got crossover appeal?

RØNNENFELT: At first, it was. We weren’t really expecting it. It was weird; we didn’t really know that the music world existed, and we kind of just got thrown into it. But, that said, now in Austin, we’re here with about four other Danish bands who also got to America. Some bands are obviously not made for a broader appeal, but we’re touring with Lower, who is also from Denmark, and Puce Mary, and some other bands, also from the Copenhagen scene. Other people are starting to tour a lot.

RAIL: Johan once said in another interview that though he was happy to be from Copenhagen, he was not particularly happy living there. Do you feel this way about your hometown?

RØNNENFELT: Well, it’s home. It’s where all my friends and family are. It very much feels like home when I get there. But, when you start touring a lot—I think most people I talk to agree with this—you can never really settle. Touring is just a really easy, problem-less lifestyle, because it’s a routine, you know? Wake up, drive, get drunk, play a show, have more alcohol, go to sleep, and do it all again. All the problems that exist with living at home—you don’t have to think about them. It’s kind of an escape, in a way.

RAIL: Are there problems that come with touring, too, though?

RØNNENFELT: Of course. It’s not fun all of the time. Sometimes it’s fucking depressing and shitty.

RAIL: I wanted to ask if you if it ever felt depressing, actually.

RØNNENFELT: Yeah, definitely. It’s also hard work and hard on the mind, because you’re never alone and sometimes you can’t rest before you have to drive all day, and you get there for the show, sleep, drive all day the next day, and you’re starting to lose your mind.

RAIL: Is there anything that you do to make sure you don’t lose your mind?

RØNNENFELT: Sometimes you just have to get through. You realize that, maybe a week later, you feel better.

RAIL: Did you ever work with other mediums before you started playing in a band? You guys write very personal lyrics, so you’re writers too, in a particular sense.

RØNNENFELT: Initially, I didn’t have that much of an interest in writing or perhaps even doing a band. But it kind of just came. We started writing stuff that was not meant for lyrics and they’re still on the sketch board. I don’t know if it’s anything yet or if anything will come of it.

RAIL: In an interview with NME, you mentioned that if you write about yourself or society, you can become disillusioned, and that disillusionment is what interests you. Can you explain this?

RØNNENFELT: I think, in terms of writing about yourself, it’s more the opposite—trying to put it into words might make you realize how you actually feel.

RAIL: I think, in that other interview, you might’ve been responding to a question about your politics. What is it like to explain things that you never thought twice about before obtaining a reputation? I understand you’ve been accused of racism and fascism. [ed. note: Among other touchy instances: the band is featured wearing Klan-like hoods and setting things aflame in their video for “New Brigade,” and Rønnenfelt posted his controversial drawings of men wearing hoods—emblazoned with an Iron Cross—subduing another man.]

RØNNENFELT: Yeah, it was extremely annoying. By now, there are still a bunch of people out there who think we’re racists and I can’t really care about it anymore. People can think whatever they want, and if they don’t have the mind to look a bit deeper into things, deeper than vague sensationalist situations, then, okay, maybe we don’t need them anyway.

RAIL: I think people were fascinated by you when you first emerged, and when that happens, some of your actions come under the microscope

RØNNENFELT: Yeah, reading the sensationalist stuff about how we are fascists is a bit more exciting than reading the other stuff, so of course that is the one that keeps coming up.

RAIL: Is the amount of attention the band receives in general stressful?

RØNNENFELT: Some of it’s useful, because we can tour and people come to our shows. But some of it’s annoying, because it attracts a lot of douchebags. I don’t complain, though. Being in a band has shaped the last five years of my life.

RAIL: Even though your sound has been described as chaotic, very punk, it feels like the focus is not the noise.

RØNNENFELT: Yeah. What some people don’t really get…We were depicted as fast and loud, and they misread that we are trying to make something ugly. A lot of the time we’re trying form something beautiful or romantic. We’re trying to pass on an emotion.

RAIL: You can use something ugly or noisy to express something beautiful, right?

RØNNENFELT: There is usually beauty to be found in horrid things.