Iceage Braves the Necessary Evils of U.S. Festivals
Photo courtesy of Matador Records
The past five years have seen an emerging new scene from Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, specializing in punk, noise and all kinds of abstract experimental work. From the throttling post-punk of Lower & Communions to the Balearic dance music of Lust For Youth and the harsh yet serene sounds of Puce Mary, Croatain Amor & Damien Dubrovnik, this collective of musicians with interconnected projects has been working to craft a style of music as recognizable in the U.S. as it is there.
At the forefront of that movement is Iceage, the four piece post-punk group who made waves in the U.S beginning in 2011 with the blistering New Brigade. Along with their follow-up, 2013’s You’re Nothing, the band played with a ferocity that was always on the edge of collapsing, building a moderately sized but dedicated fanbase across the country. Almost two years ago to the day, Iceage played their last show in Houston to a packed house at Mango's. Featuring contemporaries Lower and hometown favorites Back to Back, Iceage put on an unforgettable show, with singer Eiias Ronnenfelt in combative form, treating the audience as adversaries with the rest of the band joining in the attack.
Since then, the band switched gears in a way on their 2014 album, Plowing In the Field of Love, which contained the most fully realized songwriting of their career. Gone is the flurry of punk; in its place is a grand, romantic post-punk sound that could have been found on Nick Cave’s early records. Throw in some country, cow-punk and, for the first time in the band’s career, piano and horn arrangements, and there’s the record, a stylistic leap forward for the group.
Sunday at FPSF marks the band's first Houston show since the new album was released, and while fans acknowledge that an outdoor festival may not be the ideal space to watch Iceage, everyone is excited to see what they do. Last week, the Press spoke with guitarist Johan Wieth (who was playing shows at SXSW with his arm in a sling) about the new direction, the challenge of playing the new songs live, whether or not the band consciously tried to distance themselves from punk and hardcore, and even newer songs that Iceage is working on.
Houston Press: The last time you played in Texas, you had your arm in a sling. What happened, and have you recovered?
Johan Wieth: It was a dislocated collarbone and it hurt like shit. It’s better now, but it looks really funny. I can’t really sleep on one side. It happened when I fell skating in Austin.
A lot of times you tour sparingly, but now you’re in the midst of a huge world tour, is that normal for you?
It’s not normal, but we’ve been on tour similarly to this. I can do four weeks fine, five becomes a little too much, and six is kind of excruciating. It should be fun. I’m not worried about it.
Do you like playing outdoor festivals or do you see it as a necessary evil?
I think at first for us it was very hot to play stages like that, especially because we have trouble filling it out with sound, but we’ve gotten better at it. I prefer a much smaller stage, and I think a festival is one of the worst forms to watch music at because it’s kind of like going to the mall. It’s not evil but it’s necessary.
Have you considered expanding the live setup beyond the four of you to add additional instrumentation?
We talked about it back and forth, and we were up for doing it, but it also seems that the instrumentation on the record is played by us, and our skills on those instruments are limited. To bring people on who played those instruments, it would have to be different because it’s played in a certain way. I don’t actually know how to play the viola, I just kind of did it, and we’re not great piano players either. It would be weird to hire experienced musicians and have it come out completely different. That was the dilemma, not that we’re not up for doing it at one point.
The recording of the album was done very quickly. Was that different from the earlier albums?
All the songs were recorded in seven days. It’s how we’ve always done it.
Why do you prefer that method?
It works the best, because you don’t have time to overthink things, and it bleeds the music with a certain immediacy. That’s how it works for us. The stress of it gives something to the recording.
How did you come up with the idea for the riff on “The Lord’s Favorite”? Was there any certain country-style punk influencing you?
It was just written; there was no thought that now we should write a country song. We don’t tend to overthink things. Of course, I can say now, here’s a bunch of references, maybe it sounds a little bit like this, but while writing it’s very far away. I don’t think about it. None of us sits down and says now we want to write a rock ballad or now we want to make a country song.
When you first started playing the new songs live, you indicated that people at shows were confused and unsure what to do. Was the new direction a decision to distance yourself from hardcore?
Nothing like that. I think it was the other way around. We’ve never been a hardcore band ever, and it was never our intention to be a hardcore band. It was just that when we started playing the songs, we saw the confusion people had because it was different, and people didn’t know what to do with themselves. People were strange trying to do something during the long songs. We weren’t testing anyone; the reaction was just interesting.
Have people gotten more comfortable with the new direction at live shows?
People are into it, definitely the people that show up. Some people still try to start a mosh pit, but mostly they’ve taken to the new songs for what they are.
Have you started writing new material, or will the tour be focused only on songs from the latest record?
We’ve started writing new material we plan on trying out.
HP: Is the new material in a similar direction or something different?
I don’t really know myself yet, so I’ll have to tell you when I figure it out.
Iceage performs 6:30 p.m. Sunday on FPSF's Jupiter Stage. More info at fpsf.com.
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