One tangible byproduct of such illustrious musical cosmos is evident when talking to Elias Rønnenfelt, lead singer of the punk outfit. Elias is clear about what is at the band’s core: "The individuals behind it - anything you do as a group is a system, an amalgamation of the minds involved." Iceage's bond is striking: their music an echo chamber, reflecting the psyche of its members including Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass), Johan Surrballe Wieth (guitar), Casper Morilla (guitar) and Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums), and their ever-shifting realities.
As we meet on a gloomy afternoon in the outskirts of Copenhagen, the brick wall behind the boys reflects Elias' words: "A timeline that reflects how you move through life". Getting too close seems stationed and still, unbreakable, but photographer Emilia Staugaard finds a way to immortalise the band's personalities, as a small weed pushes through the tower of red blocks. The musky light reflects on well-worn leather jackets in which every detail is a note from yesterday. Stylist Ras Bartram has carefully chosen the mixed drink of vintage against suburban scenery that breathes unnerved charm.
Born in response to the surreal void that existed, the band's instinctive approach proved invaluable for their natural beckoning to the global punk scene since their debut New Brigade (2011). Fast-forwarding to this day, their new album Seek Shelter (2021) is a statement of genuine passion for all of its members. Planting resolutely in the present, the album was recorded beneath the leaking ceilings of a 60s radio station in Portugal in collaboration with a man that needs no introduction, English singer and producer Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom.
Honesty is what glues the album together, showcasing introspection. What guides the next steps for the band, no one can define. And that is the epoch of today.
Seek Shelter available now to stream on Spotify.
What is at the core of Iceage?
The individuals behind it. The band hasn't changed from the beginning when we were just teenagers, and you can't separate how we've grown as people with how the band has grown. When we started, it was about creating a vehicle as a means of expression. When you don't really feel like anybody out there is doing what you need to hear, there's a void that you're forced to fill yourself. And I think that's where we still stand.
How was it to grow up in Copenhagen?
I grew up in Nørrebro (a poly-cultural district in Copenhagen) and when you're young and living in the city you start uncovering the mystery of what is waiting out there for you. I was pretty free to just go, get into trouble, get to know the mad people out there and the different communities. In the beginning, we were very much into the punk scene era and there was a lot of fighting, queer scenes, and grassroots activism around that. It was a lot of late nights and ruthless, unapologetic self-expression. It was the young juvenile kids - just such as ourselves - forming little groups, seeking out their journey of self-discovery.
How did you find your 'people' and like-minded groups?
Pretty much just walking out the door. The neighborhood I grew up in was where that autonomous punk and left-wing political shit was going on. In those days, there was a lot of fighting going on. There was a youth house brought up by the Christian sector but once the house itself got demolished, you could pretty much go out anywhere and walk down the street - there were plenty of places to hang out, like little bubbles of like-minded people.
Has the area changed since?
Yeah, definitely. The politicians are quietly vague, waging an ongoing war on anything that's a bit gritty or allows us to exist on its own terms.
How has Iceage itself changed since your debut album New Brigade in 2011?
This is a big question to ask because it almost like asking to briefly summarise the last 15 years of our lives. We started out in Copenhagen and we were fed up with everything around us. We didn't like anything that was going on in the commercial scene, or in the punk scene or in the indie world. At the same time, there was a youthful mentality of young kids gathering together, being antisocial, and not trying to be anybody's friend - doing secretive, even violent, shows. On the other hand, it was kind of sweet because there was a real bond between us down, miserable, adolescent kids. In the beginning, it was very much about getting somebody to book us and then if we didn't like the venue, all of our friends would come and smash all the furniture - it was just a mess. At the time, we didn't really know how to play music or how to play the same song with the same tempo, it was all about the energy. Slowly we started to play the same songs and decided to do an album which became New Brigade. All of a sudden, without us even trying, we had an audience and the whole world and industry wanted to sign us. I'm a high school dropout: I had no plans, I had no aspirations, so it seemed like a good idea as any to just jump on it and just go. To have my life on the road and play. It proved itself to be something that was more than just a blind reaction, being something that we can really grow with, something that provides meaning to our lives.
Maybe that is the reason your sound is authentic, the fact you never put pressure or planned on the success?
When you don't have anything to lose, you are quite free to do exactly what you want. Even when the labels wanted to sign us we were quite protective of ourselves in the corporate world and didn't really care about money. I think it can serve as a good kind of protection because then there's no "make it or break it".
Speaking of your new album Seek Shelter - what does the name signify for you?
When you have finished with an album, and all the ground material is recorded, you hit a point where you've been so much in the process, you don't really know what the record is saying and it feels like an entity within the process. But then you can take a step back and look at it. I was listening to what we just did, trying to think what these songs are really trying to say. I felt like a lot of them were in some kind of commotion - instability in a storm. This idea that they were looking for something that they didn't have, but perhaps wanted to. I just felt like there was a certain feeling and notion of a shelter.
Does the horse on the cover have a deeper meaning?
It's always such a painful process to figure out what an album cover should look like. We were just brainstorming and got fixated on the idea of an eye of an animal. We asked our friend to go around and photograph animal eyes and when we saw this one, without thinking too much about the symbolic significance, we chose it.
How was it to record in Lisbon? Must have been quite a difference to Copenhagen?
We always try to get away from Copenhagen because when you want to get into the headspace of making a record, you don't want to go home to your bed that you usually sleep in. It needs to be a boot camp of some sort; it gets messy if you're too close to home. Usually, we go to the north of Denmark or Sweden but this time we figured it was time to go south. I always had an affinity for Lisbon, ever since I stepped foot in it, I felt there was something that needed to be explored.
Sometimes a city just feels like it has some secrets awaiting and Lisbon was a natural point of gravity that way. Additionally, Peter - Sonic Boom - who we wanted to work with, lived close to Lisbon. But to be honest, we didn't spend much time in the city, we were just bunkering up in the studio from the morning until late at night. We lived in the same suburb as the studio so we weren't really in the beautiful city centre. We were around a consciously artisan area, but there were cute cafes - old men sitting and drinking small beers, watching soccer. The studio itself is kind of a haggard-but-beautiful 60s radio studio. Not maybe the most functional tip-top shape studio, but it has plenty of atmosphere.
Do you have your eye on somewhere where you would like to write your next album?
Oh, man. I feel like I've forgotten that there's a world outside of Copenhagen at this point. Having seen so much of the world and being used to constantly being on the move it is difficult to stay still this long.
The outside world feels quite two-dimensional right now.
I haven't forgotten my friends from other places but you definitely have to focus on the immediate people around you throughout this time. It has been kind of wonderful because you do feel very much at one with your city now that you're stuck together. You have to help each other out and you get grateful for what you have.
Talking about the importance of the people you work with - how was it working with Sonic Boom, a guy you have looked up to since you were young?
It's always kind of strange when the sounds that spoke to you in your teenage bedroom speak back to you. We had heard that he wanted to work with us and I adore his body of work. The good thing is that when you do then come together, they don’t become any less the person you imagined but they actually become a person rather than some ghostly figure coming out of speakers. We got along really great and there was a lot of laughing, a lot of looking eye to eye on the way we wanted to approach getting the sounds right. He was super intuitive and was good at existing in the same plane as us, and understanding our quirks and we understood his quirks. He became another member of the ship.
It sounds like it was an organic process for all of you guys.
He could have been a fucking bastard trying to take control of everything on the whole record. That would have just been one big battle of people wanting to get their own ways. But fortunately, that wasn't the case at all. Perhaps that is also why we never really worked with that many people that we don't know beforehand because these things are high risk, and making a record is sacred to us.
Is it daunting to show yourself in your work and be vulnerable?
It's terrifying, it always is. But what if it wasn't? I think that would be one of the first signs that something was about to go horribly wrong. You're setting yourself up for a possible failure, but that is the only way you can achieve something.
Seek Shelter starts with brighter, fuller sounds. Does this reflect a new shift or a clearing in your own lives in a sense?
I think it reflects a shift that already happened when we gave birth to this record. These records that we do over the years always seem to be a representation of what in our lives was leading up to the time that the record is finished. They become a timeline that reflects how you move through life - you can recognise relationships, impressions, and things one lived through during the whole process. It becomes a capsule.
Who is this album for?
When you make an album you put as much of yourself into it as you can. You try to be as satisfied with it as you possibly can and it's not finished until it feels like you have reached the point you were aiming for. But after that, it's just a matter of letting it out there. What kind of life it's going to have and who is going to have it in their own lives within the world is beyond our control. There's something quite nice about that. I love for anybody to listen to it but I like that these things are beyond your control, and it's going to reach whoever reaches in. And hopefully, it resonates with some people out there.
We live in a society that constantly demands more from us, do you ever feel pressure to do more?
I would say I've been quite productive over the years. But also I don't want to raise my voice too often when I feel like I don't have anything to say. So it just moves at the speed of how you can produce something that you actually feel is mandated to have a life in this world.
What would you like Iceage's legacy to be?
Get a level of respect and parades in the streets, where you are waving to this class of people in a back and forth manner. And I'd love my birthday to be a global holiday. Yeah, that will do haha.
Doesn’t sound like too much to ask. What's the best thing about being in a band and not going through this journey alone?
My whole output has mainly been stuff I've done with other people that preferred collaboration. I never look for the most universally capable musicians, I am more interested in individuality and people who bring their whole selves to whatever they're working at. You enter a project together, trying to sum all the ideas into a finished product. Anything you do as a group is a system, an amalgamation of the minds involved.
What's the biggest challenge to work with people that you're close to?
We're very strong as a unit, so it's just to take the challenges - personal or creative - as a part of it. Ultimately you can't really get to the place you want to without the challenge. But in terms of sticking together for this many years, it's ultimately about caring about each other. We don’t only have a mutual interest in the band and the opportunities that it gives but fundamentally we have a mutual interest in each other. We have a friendship at the root of everything rather than some common goal. If I didn't care about the people that I work with, I wouldn't see the point of working together.