It's mid-afternoon on Friday, October 24 when an unidentified member of the Danish underground post-punk/hardcore buzz-band Iceage finally answers the group's mobile phone.
"Oh! You want to talk to my friend Elias, don't you?," he cheerfully says, referring to Elias Bender Ronnenfelt, Iceage's 22-year old singer, who bears a striking resemblance to River Phoenix around the time of the actor's death. When asked how he's doing, Ronnenfelt morosely replies, "I am absolutely mediocre today. We are driving through Omaha."
The members of Iceage -- Ronnenfelt, Johan Wieth (guitar), Jakob Pless (bass) and Dan Nielsen (drums) -- came together as teens in Copenhagen in 2008. By the time You're Nothing (Matador) was released in early 2013, the group had already garnered Pitchfork "Best New Music"-type accolades. This year's Plowing Into the Field of Love, has garnered even more attention for its leap beyond the sound of the Joy Division song the quartet named itself after and that provided the template for most of its music up until the new album. Field of Love is a remarkable album, filled with horns and pianos not dissimilar to the heyday of The Pogues.
Ronnenfelt doesn't feel like talking much about it. This isn't a huge surprise; his handlers warned me via email that he doesn't care for interviews. After some false starts, he opens up, slightly, about how his band wrote their beautiful and bruised new record.
"It was kind of a change about how these songs came together," he says, a little less gloomy than before. "We have a guy who's been the head songwriter for us. He's a 55-year old Spanish guy who's been living in Copenhagen who writes bossa nova stuff and we asked him to be the head songwriter for this album. We just kind of have to go with what he says."
So one of the most talked-about DIY sensations in years has a Max Martin-esque Svengali figure acting as head puppeteer? It seems hard to believe, and Iceage's management state later that they know nothing of what Ronnenfelt was talking about. Okay, then: Misinformation -- I can get with that. Moving along.
Next topic: Given the expanded sound-world of Field of Love, what was Ronnenfelt trying to express that he couldn't before?
"I don't know, really."
Well, what do you think you did express, then?
"I find it hard to answer that question" he says, sounding like he's about to make up his next story. "You're Nothing was more of a straightforward record and more frenetic. The new one has more storytelling going on -- more drama. I spent three months on the beach and became part of the club scene there. My job was to take everyone clubbing and partying, you know. I was just completely destroyed after those three months, just way too much dancing and all that shit. It made me a dumber human being but it was necessary to write this record."
Ronnenfelt rambles a bit about how no one was allowed to speak during the subsequent recording sessions for the album for a psychological experiment to see "what would happen if we remained silent."
"We wanted to convey some kind of immediate feeling of being a baby on his first day on planet Earth," his energy level abruptly rising. "That first day -- cutting the cord and wiping the blood -- that's the sound we wanted on the record."
If he's lying -- which is very possible -- his effort is outstanding, and his enthusiasm for myth-making mirrors his commitment to the soul-flaying artiste he presents himself as on record. But before we can play any more games, the phone goes dead and unanswered upon further attempts to reconnect, though I get the feeling the last thing Iceage wants to do is connect to anyone other than themselves.
Iceage is scheduled to play 51 West in Tempe in Tempe on Tuesday, November 4.
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