After a decade of honing their sound, Iceage returns with their fifth LP, Seek Shelter — out May 7th on Mexican Summer. Recorded in a dilapidated studio in Lisbon, Portugal, alongside Pete Kember (Sonic Boom), days of heavy rainstorms leaking through the roof informed the session’s mood, forging an album rife with themes of searching for shelter amid uncertain times. Below, we catch up with vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt to discuss the album’s creative path, recording in Portugal, working with actor Zlatko Buric, and more.| s goldstein
Aquarium Drunkard: When did your passion for songwriting begin?
Iceage: That’s a good question. Well, I think that music, when you’re young, is a thing that can start speaking to you, and you start hearing sounds that echo something in you and it also becomes a sort of identity. So, before the interest in actually writing songs, like I do now, I think starting a band was a means to put out into the world what you felt like was the identity, and have something to have a community revolve around.
AD: Your creative process consists of a lot of isolation and short bursts of writing. How did you find this process? Do you hold onto lyrics and bits you’ve written over time and then eventually stitch them together?
Iceage: I always keep notes and small ideas–that kind of thing, but for the albums, when I know what date we’re going to the studio, a couple of weeks prior, I’ll find a place and I’ll set off ten days, or whatever time, to write them all in one go. I think that’s because I have a hope to make the mindset from where things are written from into something that weaves throughout all the songs so it’s like little glimpses in life. The songs usually end up taking stuff from various situations or impressions that came throughout the year so to write it all down from one mindset gives it all cohesiveness.
AD: Are you really specific about where you want to write in order to get into the mindset, or is it any open space?
Iceage: I try to get away from home, and if I’m lucky out of the country, because the journey from your bed to the desk next to your bed is just not a long enough journey to bring yourself from just the melody to someplace where you’re receptive for things to come to you. I find that some kind of commute or surrounding that is not too familiar really helps that and also, so much of the time sitting around waiting for something to grasp onto you and make your hand move the pen, so you also want a room that you can sort of source some atmosphere from when you’re just sitting there.
AD: You guys worked with Pete Kember (Sonic Boom) of Spacemen 3 for production work. What did he bring to the table that made you guys want to work with him?
Iceage: We were big fans of his already, you know. Since I was a teenager I loved Spacemen 3 and all that and I think in his work there’s a very unique sense of placing sounds with each other, how he sort of arranges his soundscape, that is completely unique to him, like he’s one of those people that has some kind of touch that is completely his.
AD: Iceage recorded in at Namouche studio in Lisbon. What was the environment like there for recording?
Iceage: It’s a really beautiful studio. I think it’s from the ’50s-60s, and it’s an old radio studio that’s just one big room, no isolated rooms, just these sound isolating walls, and microphones on cranes that stick over them. It’s in a neighborhood that’s kind of filled with 1960’s estate buildings, and little old men smoking and that kind of thing. The studio itself is a bit dilapidated, it’s not very well kept and you feel like the building is crumbling a little bit. Everything wasn’t working, which is great for somebody like us because sometimes when things fail and you can’t take the easy route or the planned route, that makes spaces for unforeseen things to happen. It was raining down, ten of the twelve days we were and the rain was coming through the ceiling and into the studio, so we kind of had to arrange the gear outside of the drops, the raindrop sounds.
AD: Did the sound of the rain make it into any of the songs at all?
Iceage: No. The rain was coming into buckets and then we placed cloth onto the buckets so you wouldn’t have the raindrop sound. But, we should have sampled it, you’re right.
AD: What did you all do in Lisbon when you weren’t recording?
Iceage: One night we went to Peter’s–Sonic Boom’s house. It was his anniversary with his wife, so naturally, he had to be above that day, and she made us fondue and we listened to the record in his room and we went to dinner at some friends place one other night, but that was the only two things we did. Besides that, we were literally just in the studio and then we went back to get a few hours of sleep and then woke up and went back. When recording a record, I find it hard to have too much contact with the outer world like if you were in the process of giving birth and then you stop for coffee and then go back, you don’t do that, you know.
AD: The new record is being released after a full decade since the band started. Do you feel like working together as a band, Iceage has changed a lot?
Iceage: Well, I hope that it’s fairly obvious that things have changed a bit, but yeah I mean it started when we were seventeen and eighteen, touring the world and releasing records and that kind of thing. We’ve been going at it really hard, and it’s been intense, but it’s been life, you know. So, as the band has progressed and developed and continued, so have we as people. It’s just like a continuation of life, and I hope that that shows growth somehow, but I think that’s also why we’ve been going for so long because we haven’t hit some kind of wall where we didn’t think, where we felt that there wasn’t really a next step to go. There’s been something that’s kept presenting itself and unchartered territory that needed to be discovered, so there’s been no real reason to stop.
AD: Does the band reflect on past projects when working on new stuff, or is it more about looking forward and starting over with each new album?
Iceage: Not a whole lot, no. The previous album tends to be the offset, where you take the leap from one thing to the next, but ultimately you are just bound by whatever ideas come to you. Sometimes, I don’t even feel like I have too much say in what comes out, because I can tell myself I want to write a certain kind of thing, but when I try it may not be good. You only get the good ideas that come to you and it feels hard to be in control of that.
AD: I wanted to ask you about the music video for “Vendetta”. It’s really beautiful, really seedy and it focuses on the invisible politics of crime. Did something about the groove of the song suggest criminality to you, or was the theme just swimming in your head before working on the song?
Iceage: The original sketch for the song I made on a keyboard that my little sister got at a toy store once, and it had one of those…one of the rhythms was just called dance free, or something and I just slowed that down and started playing over it, and we actually ended up borrowing that keyboard from my sister again to sample it to go on the actual recording, but it does deal with the theme of crime. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with crime, and somehow drawn to it, and it’s just like here in Copenhagen, or wherever you travel. It doesn’t matter what kind of community or circles that roam in it, it always seems that you don’t have to stretch very far to see that crime is just beneath the surface or sort of like the things that tie a lot of things together, and well, I wanted to write a song called Vendetta and then I kind of worked backward from there.
AD: The video stars Zlatko Buric from the Pusher trilogy, which I have heard you are a fan of. What about those movies did you want to connect to the song?
Iceage: Yeah, I love those movies. They are so instrumental to my whole friend group like if I see them again, I realize how much of the slang that we have from over the years has been lifted from things in the trilogy. It’s a very accurate depiction of crime life in Copenhagen in the early 2000s, and Zlatko’s character is just fucking brilliant. I also saw him in a play, when I was a kid. I saw him play Hamlet once, he was playing the role of the jester. He was hilarious, he was so funny and very expressive and kind of dancing and stuff, so I wrote him and asked if he wanted to be in the video. I knew how menacing and terrifying he could be in Pusher, but he also has a great way of movement and is really good at being, there’s a sense of humor to what he does. So, I wanted to see him kind of combine that and he did it effortlessly.
AD: A lot of the tracks on Gold City, like “Love Kills Slowly” and “Shelter Song” have these intense backup vocals that are really unique. Personally, when I was listening to them, it gave off a sense of unity, as if the subjects and the voices were coming from more than just one single voice, community-oriented in a sense. Did you have a certain mood you wanted to set with the extra vocals in this album?
Iceage: Initially it was just that we wanted a gospel choir, because we start writing the songs, and then when they reach a finishing point, before you go to the studio, you sort of get an idea of what sounds you can hear within the song, just outside of the basic instrumentation. Thematically, I don’t think that was deliberate, but “Shelter Song” for example, is kind of about offering or wanting or needing some kind of shelter and not necessarily a roof, so to have separate voices can give that feeling of community.