PHOTOGRAPHY Sheva Kafai
WORDS Julian de la Celle
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, frontman of Iceage and Marching Church. This time, he came to Los Angeles with the latter band to play a set at The Teragram Ballroom during the Beserktown festival. I have to admit, I didn't know a good 95% of the bands playing the festival but to catch Elias in LA is a rare occasion. Getting to the festival, it had apparently sold out. The festival itself had it's faults (the man in charge of press being one of them) but the door man leading festival goers into the venue was one of the nicest people and was very helpful. Thank you, kind sir, I didn't get your name!
We made our way inside and waited anxiously and excitedly for Elias and his band to come out. Then it began. Elias came out and morphed into his on stage persona (which isn't very different offstage). The sounds of trumpets and heavy drums filled the room while Elias growled into the microphone and threw himself across the stage as if getting the aggression out he'd kept bottled in for weeks. Reverberated guitars echoing off the walls mixed with everything else made the whole set extremely memorable.
We made our way up to the 10th floor of The Mayfair Hotel to a suite down the hall. I knocked on the door to which I found myself face to face with Elias as he smiled, shook our hands and invited us in. He was shy, a bit uncomfortable having us in his cramped hotel room, but the occasional smile hinted that it didn't come from a place of ego or anger. Photographs came first, then into our interview:
We last saw you play with Marching Church at Jewel's Catch One last year, how do you feel about LA?
Elias: I hated it at first - I was kind of disgusted by how the city works and the endless driving and that having two legs isn’t really good enough, you have something that has to run on oil and money and how it’s so spread out and superficial. But then, there’s something very romancing about it all as well. Superficial people can be quite entertaining at the same time and I kind of learned to like it for all the reasons I hated it initially.
I’m sure you get the Nick Cave association a lot, would you say he is an influence on your music?
Elias: I mean, it’s a reference I get a lot, but it’s not really someone that goes through my head when writing songs.
What does go through your head?
Elias: There’s various stages of writing a song. There’s the music, and you get stuck on a melody or a chord progression. Then there’s the lyric writing which is different as well. Music wise you can be inspired by rhythm or tonality, maybe even sometimes by music you don’t like, because there might almost be an idea you can lift off of it and change those things that annoyed you about it at first. Lyric writing is different because for me it doesn’t have a lot to do with music, it tends to be a separate thing that then merges later on.
Do you tend to write music first or lyrics, or is it whatever happens in that moment?
Elias: It’s separate but then you have to tailor the words to the music. I wouldn’t call the lyrics literature, they’re just lyrics and they have to be fitted and have a certain rhythm.
When you do write lyrics do you feel it’s more storytelling in the sense of fictional storytelling or do you take things from personal experience?
Elias: It’s mainly based in personal experience - there are a few songs that stray from that though. There’s one on the new Marching Church record coming out in October and the whole thing is kind of personal but the one song is about somebody dying of thirst in the desert.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
Elias: Not the first record, but the first piece of music I bought was when I was 4 years old. You know those guys, they’re in Europe, they have these mechanical…in the old days they would have the monkeys and stuff. I was with my mother and I was obsessed with that guy so she bought me that. That’s the first thing.
And your first show?
Elias: Hmm, no. [laughs]
What inspires you?
Elias: I think I get inspired by a lot of people doing stuff that I don’t agree with and that no one in Copenhagen was doing what I wanted to do.
Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to be a performer, a singer?
Elias: I never really took that decision, I never planned to be a musician. A friend had bought a drum kit but couldn’t store it in his own place so he had to store it in my friends place who plays in Iceage. Then another friend had a bass amp and he needed to store that somewhere. So we had this gear and you start playing with it and then eventually we made some songs and thought we should try playing shows - life has been pretty much on auto pilot since then! [laughs]
So were you born in Copenhagen? How is the music scene there?
Elias: Yeah. Well… it’s kind of shit at the moment. There isn’t anyone doing anything I particularly care about, but it’s very incestuous too. It’s a metropolitan city, but it’s also very village-like because of it’s size. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I also like living in Copenhagen because I get to leave it once in a while, but it’s a good place to return to.
Do you find it difficult to have two different projects, Iceage and Marching Church simultaneously?
Elias: It’s not difficult, it kind of depends on where your mind is at. I need to have different outputs because I like to stay busy creating. I don’t do well with down periods, but if one is sort of tired out, then you can go do something else.
Your next stop is New York, can you tell us about what that show will be like?
Elias: It’s this place called National Sawdust that is mainly for classical music. Apparently the whole room is on springs because I guess it does something to the sound and we’ll be playing after a string arranged band.
You just recently played with a string orchestra, right?
Elias: Yeah we collaborated with a European orchestra, it felt great! I wish we could do it more often.
PHOTOGRAPHY & WORDS Conrad Bischoff
After arriving to the National Sawdust Theatre and finding our seats, the quote posted on the event’s page came to mind:
“An infinity of passion can be contained in one minute, like a crowd in a small space.”
– Gustave Flaubert from Madame Bovary
The small theatre was completely sold out for the show, presented and curated by Elizabeth Peyton, and intimate displays of passion are just what awaited us. A large screen hung above the stage, and projected onto it was Peyton’s Knights Dreaming (K) after EBJ, 2016, oil on board. The show had no introduction other than a printed flyer on each table. Once the lights were dimmed, two pieces by the American composer Nico Muhly were performed by violinist Jannina Norpoth and pianist Adam Tendler. These pieces introduced the groundwork for a tension that would prevail (And later implode as Marching Church took stage) throughout the rest of the performance. Muhly’s use of dissonance in his score provided a subtle suspense which was accompanied by a beautiful yet jarring delivery of release.
Once Marching Church took stage, this provocation from Muhly’s pieces grew from something of a soft whisper to a beautiful, yet still feral, scream. Lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt commanded a lethargic energy that would either grow simultaneously with the strumming bass or suddenly explode with the crash of cymbals. Rønnenfelt let the music carry him, to his knees as well as across the stage in bolts. It was an infectious display of electric passion that gave the music I’d only ever heard on my iPhone before new life, and led to applause and cheers from all.