Iceage: “You’re always seeking transcendence”


“I would say that I've softened up a bit, rather than just being immensely annoyed with anybody that would want to ask me about what it is that I do,” Elias Rønnenfelt smiles, referring to his reputation as what some publications have defined as "a difficult frontman". His band, Danish force Iceage, are gearing up to release their fifth studio album since their inception over a decade ago. Admittedly, Rønnenfelt is more amenable to discussing his chosen career than he was a few years back.

“We started at the time that we were 17, 18 years old,” he explains. “We were just lashing out blindly. We didn’t have quite a formed idea of what we were doing, and certainly we caught the attention of the world. And all these, to us, wanky music journalists had an interest in grabbing a piece of us, trying to define what we were doing. And we had no idea ourselves. So, given that I’ve done this for quite some time now, I have more of a formed idea, or some experience that I can actually talk about the craft, or whatever it is that we do.”

It would be fair to say that Iceage suffered from the bizarre assumption that if you’re in a reasonably successful band, you’ve achieved a level of maturity that precludes you from poor judgement. They recently confronted the longstanding allegations of aligning with right-wing ideologies that they’ve been plagued with, some of which have disappeared into myth, while others are chalked up to youthful naivety in their responses to questions. Having said that, their actions and quality of work have spoken louder than accusations and antagonistic profiles of their frontman.

“I think that what we were initially presenting was hype,” Rønnenfelt admits. “And I think that that’s a dangerous run of the mill for any artist. It seems like it destroys a lot of people very quickly. So I’m quite happy with how it seems that we managed to transcend that. If there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s that we’ve reared away from becoming stagnant, or the fact that I’ve been doing this shit for 10 years, and it’s more interesting to me now than ever. There’s been a lot of walls to hit. But again, it’s a feeling of transcendence. You’re always seeking transcendence. You’re always trying to move one foot forward. I would hope to do that for a long time. I’m 2[9] years old, so to be able to speak of longevity, I feel kind of fortunate to be able to do that.”

Pursuing your transcendence from album to album is accompanied by a belief that everything that’s come before your current work is a primitive and lesser form of what you’re capable of. On their latest effort Seek Shelter, Rønnenfelt is living more comfortably with that notion, with the caveat that it’s an inevitability that has to be accepted in order for him to pursue his vocation. It manifests on the full-length as a re-examination of the human experience, where Iceage intimate the dirty mess of moving forward in a world tired of crises. Anecdotally or underlying, they appear to be slightly more optimistic than they have been in the past, unless that’s just the uplift of the gospel choir and not the assertion that life is any less ugly.

"If there's anything I'm proud of, it's that we've reared away from becoming stagnant, or the fact that I've been doing this shit for 10 years, and it's more interesting to me now than ever."

He elaborates: “There’s a thing that comes with this kind of artistry that makes it so that you’re in a perpetual state of hating everything that you’ve ever done, and everything that you are. And also, having simultaneously a purpose that it’s, at least in your own world, the most important thing that you can pursue. So, you’re living very much in a ping-pong like duality of extremes: One of a push towards something greater, and then another foot is grounded in a place that says that you’re never able to do it. But in the grand scheme of things, so far it’s paid off in that the hardship is worth it when the gratification comes finally. I just think I realised that it’s never going to be easy…But, I will happily continue down that path. And that’s kind of a good thing to realise, once you’ve been over those cycles a few times.”

That doesn’t make the act of being himself burdensome to Rønnenfelt. It’s not that he’s euphorically happy, although he does add that he’s “more at home” in his head. It’s more so that he sees it as progression, which is all any of us can hope to aspire to. After all, Rønnenfelt couldn’t write songs that meaningfully contemplated what humans go through if he was simply content.

“I don’t know if I’m happier. Well, it’s not that I’m not happy, it’s that I wouldn’t necessarily measure it in happiness. I don’t really think happiness is the thing to measure things by. But, I do find that I feel more grounded on my own two feet…I don’t know if I’m happier, but maybe I would give that I’m more appreciative of certain things.”

The other half of what has informed Rønnenfelt’s perspective going into Seek Shelter has been being restricted to his home country. Being on the road for a decade and then having to stand still violated what he had defined as a “a race towards not being secure.” Confined to the environment where he grew up, he asked the question: “What do I do when the world is no longer a place that I’m able to get lost in?” So accustomed to reminding us of our wildness in a culture of conformity, Rønnenfelt was the last of us to expect his choice to run free to be taken away.

He’s grateful that he was able to find a shelter of his own in being with his new and childhood friends, finding solace in the home that he never thought would be the final leg of what he was pursuing. You’d have to ask yourself if, when you reached that level of satisfaction with the world you’d remade for yourself, you’d even want to leave again. There’s no hesitation from the Iceage frontman about what happens when the doors re-open.

“I think I’ve learned my lesson for now and I’d rather just go get completely fucking lost again.”

Seek Shelter is out on May 7th via Mexican Summer.