On The Road, For The Record: Iceage
Step into an Iceage live show and you’re immediately captivated: their tracks layered with melodic complexity and their lyrics rolling off the lead singer’s tongue—at times vaguely enunciated in a captivating, poetic rhythm—force a visceral reaction from their fans. Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, Johan Surrballe Wieth, Jakob Tvilling Pless, and Dan Kjær Nielsen formed Iceage while in high school; with some members going so far as to subsequently drop out so that the band could start touring and continue to create a sound they didn’t believe existed anywhere else. So far, it seems the risk has paid off.
Since releasing its fourth studio album, Beyondless, Iceage has been on the move. The penultimate track off this record, “Showtime”, offers a satirical and critical look into the act of reviewing art and music. Painting a Vaudeville narrative, Rønnenfelt serenades the crowd with lyrics that are, at times, almost self-prophetic—”A bright young singer is the lead of the show/He is as handsome as he’s talented/He’s got that certain je ne sais quoi/A potential superstar”—although the song takes an unexpected turn, ending in the lead taking his life on stage.
Rønnenfelt told the The Irish Times that he gravitates towards the idea of an idiotic frontman. In the interview he explained, “Sometimes people are just unshakable. You feel you are putting a knife to your heart and bleeding all over and they might as well be watching a fish tank at a Chinese restaurant. Luckily, that’s not the case very often.” Seeing the band live is a mesmerizing experience; one replete with masterful instrumentation and the groaning voice of “a potential superstar”; the lyrics are grounded in the poetic doubts, fears, and excitement of the young generation which creates an emotive energy that surges through the audience.
Passing through the West Coast on their two-month-long tour, Rønnenfelt spoke to Milk as the band made their way up to Sonoma, California for another performance. For our full conversation, as well as photos from their show at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, scroll down and get a glimpse of what it’s like to be on tour with the Scandinavian quartet and their violinist.
So what’s the biggest misconception about being on tour?
I think maybe people don’t always have an idea of the scale, of sort of transit time, and time spent waiting around, you know. Such a big part of the day, it’s just wasted hours where you’re either sitting in the car waiting for a sound check or waiting for various reasons. There’s a lot of immobile hours that you sort of have to figure out how to feel like they aren’t too wasted.
How do you normally fill those hours? What books do you read or podcasts do you listen to?
I’ve been reading “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann and a collection of plays by Sam Shepard. And countless, countless minutes of just talking absolute nonsense and bullshit with the other guys; where language starts deteriorating more into sounds than actual language.
Because you guys have been on tour for a number of years, what would you say are some of the main differences you’ve noticed from touring in 2011 to now?
In ways, I think we’re all better with coping with it than before. I think through sheer—just relentlessly doing it, we’ve learned how to sort of be in a mind-state that makes it easier to cope with being on tour without hitting all sorts of mental trappings and that kind of thing. Even the playing of concerts has gotten more interesting for us and more worthwhile because our dedication to it is only rising throughout the years. So I mean, I think we’re better suited for it now than we were before.
Besides just constantly doing it are there any ways that you can kind of prepare for the mindset that you need to be in?
No, I was terrified going into this tour—this is a two-month run straight, you know?
There’s a lot of immobile hours [on tour] that you sort of have to figure out how to feel like they aren’t too wasted.
Yeah. No, it’s insane. I was looking at your schedule, you guys are playing in Sonoma tonight, right? And SF yesterday, Felton the day before that, LA the day before that?
Yeah. It’s, it’s crazy to think every single night you’re playing; there’s just something every day.
Yeah. I mean it’s taxing in ways, but it’s also kind of like, right now it’s my—it’s my favorite thing. I’m really enjoying playing these shows. And so I mentioned, I was terrified of going on this tour. I spent three weeks at home leading up to it and I sort of dreaded it, really. And then the moment I just got into the car, everything became fine, you know? It’s such a problem-free existence because you’re just slaves to the schedule, you know? You don’t have to think of a reason to wake up in the morning, it’s already there for you. And so far, everything I feared, like hitting some sort of a bad mental place, it’s not really happened. And I’ve been going for more than a month.
Is there a song that you ever become tired of performing or is there a song that is always your favorite to play?
I mean if there is a song we get tired of performing, we just stop playing it; it’s that simple. So sometimes you hit a wall with a song and you can’t really play it anymore and then it just disappears from the setlists. Sometimes it never returns, sometimes you can pull it back where it sort of feels spiteful again.
I’ve always really admired the merch that you guys have and all the artwork that’s associated with Iceage; from the album artwork to the actual tour posters and everything. What’s the process of creating those pieces? Do you guys all collaborate or how do you all agree on it?
Everybody in the band is sort of involved with every aspect of doing, you know, album covers and flyers and that kind of thing. Sometimes we sit together and do it and sometimes we’ll do it individually. In many cases, we trust ourselves better than anyone else with that kind of thing. And we like to play a part in every part in every representation of the band.
We’ve always been doing it ourselves, and when we started out, we were setting up our own shows, so we had to make flyers and do everything by ourselves. Now we have bookers and record labels and all of that, but every creative aspect we like to play a part of.
Is there a favorite piece that you remember? Like a shirt or a pen or anything that was your personal favorite?
Um, we’ve been looking into doing the dice that you hang in your car mirror, you know those pink fluffy dice? I think that’s gonna turn out real nice.
Kind of just going back to what you were talking about, in regards to being in the right mindset—once you’re on tour, what do you do to take care of yourself mentally, and physically, and spiritually?
I don’t think I’m that good at that. Yeah, I probably don’t have great advice. I think you’re asking the wrong person.
What role does spirituality play in your life, if any? You were raised Catholic, right?
No, I wasn’t raised Catholic. One side of my family is Catholic, but I wasn’t brought up that way.
Are there any musical acts that you haven’t toured with that you want to start playing with?
Yeah. Tom Jones, his audience would probably hate us. I don’t know, all the people that I really want to play with, the audience would probably hate our music. Grace Jones, Tom Jones, all the Jones’s.
Where do you go to be alone when you’re surrounded by so many people?
I mean, you don’t always have the option, you know? You rarely get to sleep in a room where there aren’t at least a couple other band members. Alone time and headspace are a difficult thing on tour. I mean you can go to the store and buy cigarettes or something like that, but that’s actually one of the difficulties of touring—you just don’t really have much alone time.
You were talking to you about the spaces of time and the long drives between cities. Is there anything specific you get when you stop at the gas station? Or is there somewhere you always want to stop?
There is rarely time for stopping at kooky, weird places. But I mean, every now and again, you encounter some really bizarre roadside gas stations. In Lousiana, there is this gas station that has a white tiger. I remember somewhere else in the South, where a truck driver had live goats on it’s roof. And sometimes you just encounter gas stations with sketchy-as-hell atmospheres, you know? But you love them when you stumble upon them. I like it when there is time to hit up some weird little flea markets in the middle of nowhere.
Is there a specific snack or something that you like when you’re in the car for so long? Or is there a favorite restaurant that you guys have in the states?
No, I mean like your highway options are so goddamn terrible. It’s a struggle eat to something that isn’t going to kill you.
Very true in the United States. Once you’re home, what’s something that you miss about being on the road?
Just like the sense of movement and the carefree feeling of just being on the run and not really having to worry about anything. You’re just in this routine that can feel very restrictive at times, but it can also have a great sense of freedom to it. I feel like there’s this kind of assailant syndrome that kicks in when you tour for a certain amount of time. It becomes difficult to stay in one place for too long. I certainly feel that you know, when I’ve been home for a while, I get some nagging feeling that I want to leave.
Images courtesy of Yasmine Diba; Editing: Duc Dinh
Stay tuned to Milk for more from the road.