For someone whose band’s music crackles with so much palpable voltage, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sounds like he’d rather be napping—or listening to a Crass LP—when the Georgia Straight reaches him at home in Copenhagen. After a few monosyllabic grunts in response to a series of carefully prepared questions, the Iceage singer announces that he’s going to turn the volume down on Penis Envy.
This he does, but that doesn’t make trying to interview him much easier. Which is kind of a drag, because Iceage and its debut album, New Brigade, are well worth talking about. The young Danish quartet—all its members are either 18 or 19—is raw but inventive, staking out a rough patch of turf somewhere in the badlands between U.K. postpunk (think Wire and Joy Division) and American hardcore (think Minor Threat). New Brigade is a sometimes-assaultive collection of songs that walk the thin line separating youthful ardour from sheer chaos. There aren’t many hooks to be had, but tracks such as “Broken Bone” and “You’re Blessed” display a burgeoning sense of melody, suggesting that Iceage has more in its repertoire than sonic carnage.
“I listen to hardcore and postpunk,” Rønnenfelt acknowledges, “but I also listen to every other kind of music, almost.” Almost, but not quite. The singer has no use for popular Danish exports like Mew (“They suck”) and the Raveonettes (“They suck too”), but he does profess a love for lesser-known acts such as Lower and Sexdrome. Oh, and he’s a Bruce Springsteen fan, curiously enough.
It’s hard to hear the Boss’s influence on New Brigade, which will never be mistaken for an E Street Band record. It was recorded live in the studio, but that doesn’t mean it’s an accurate record of how Iceage sounds on-stage. “Not necessarily,” Rønnenfelt says. “Sometimes it’s more noisy and aggressive live.”
Iceage has, in fact, earned notoriety for incidents of violence at its shows, with fans and musicians alike mixing it up. There are even photos of the bloodied band members on Iceage’s Myspace and Blogger pages, but Rønnenfelt feigns ignorance when the topic comes up.
“What do you mean?” he says when asked about the sanguinary shenanigans, before allowing, “I guess that has happened.”
To what does Rønnenfelt attribute the fisticuffs? “Uh, I guess it’s because of the tension,” he says. But doesn’t aggressive music release tension, thereby obviating the need for physical violence? After a long pause, the singer simply says, “I’m not sure what to say.”
Perhaps it’s an initiation rite into the church of Iceage. There is a whiff of the occult about some of the band’s work, from the runic symbol it has adopted as its logo to the hoods and robes the members wear in the video for “New Brigade”. Certain lines in that number (“This is a blood path/Betrayal is a sin”) bolster that impression, but Rønnenfelt insists that all of Iceage’s songs are personal.
“We’ve all contributed to writing lyrics, but I’d say some common themes are just ourself, our lives, our friends, and what that may involve,” he says with characteristic vagueness, noting that the songs are about “feelings”. That doesn’t mean, however, that Rønnenfelt would ever classify what he does as “emo”.
“I always thought that was a retarded term,” he says, “because, just an example, isn’t jazz emotional? And classical music emotional? Music has to be emotional.”
Indeed it does, and Iceage’s upcoming Vancouver show promises to be cathartic, if not downright transcendent. If you don’t want to lose a little blood, though, you might want to watch from the back of the venue—just in case.
Iceage plays the Waldorf on Saturday (July 30).