Elias of Iceage discusses the band’s new LP, ‘Seek Shelter,’ letting go & more
Copenhagen’s Iceage are back this week with their fifth full-length, Seek Shelter, which is their first for Mexican Summer. Recorded primarily during an intense 12-day session in Lisbon with producer Sonic Boom (Pete Kember of Spacemen 3), the album finds the band at their most open, having opted to break free of any past barriers they might’ve set for themselves in favor of sweeping blues-infused melodies, fuzzed-out riffery, angelic choral sequences (supplied by The Lisboa Gospel Collective), and goosebump-inducing piano arrangements.
Though Seek Shelter was made prior to the pandemic, its material still seems to speak to the extremely tumultuous time during which it's being released, and the emotional upheaval that has followed suit. Tracks such as "Love Kills Slowly" and "Drink Rain" offer devastating portrayals of romanticism and perhaps a love gone sour, while "Shelter Song" boasts the importance of togetherness, something that we’ve all craved while enduring months and months of social distancing. Gathering its namesake from the patron saint of music and musicians, "Saint Cecilia" calls to the heavens and offers moments of utter poetry — “Love like an open lemon / Squeezed into the eye / Caged like a canary, mangled up and crucified” — while "High & Hurt" harkens back to classic spiritual "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?," which questions what might lay beyond what we can physically perceive. Later, "Gold City," offers a moment of redemption in the light of day. Context is everything, and despite the lapse between when the tracks were written and now, the themes expressed are just as relevant and crushing today, which is evident of the fact that while time passes, we humans remain ensnared by concepts such as the divine, the pain of personal struggle, the healing nature of love, and, of course, the daunting unknown.
Ahead of Seek Shelter's release, I chatted with frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt over Zoom to discuss the album, the great task of laying all of your cards on the table, lyrical interpretation, and the concept of shelter." You can read the interview below.
Meanwhile, Iceage have also just shared "High & Hurt" via the Adult Swim Singles series and you can listen to that below as well.
Seek Shelter is the first full-length release you guys have come out with in a little bit, were you guys itching to get back into the studio?
I mean, we started recording in December 2019. That's when we went to Lisbon and did all the groundwork, or the base recording, for the record. And a year prior to that, we were writing and, you know, it's always like -- I feel, when you do a record, I usually get the feeling that it won't be executed as a record. It's like you bled yourself dry, figuratively speaking. You feel empty, you feel like you put what you had to put in there, and you're just kind of a shell afterward. Because you use so much of your lived experience to project into that thing that the record is, that you're just left with nothing. So, there's usually a void where you got to do some thinking or some living or something to gather up substance that will lend itself to eventually mutate into [a source of] inspiration. So, that takes a minute. And then, the writing and the slow forming of ideas take a while, and then, suddenly, you sit and you realize that you have a batch of songs that feel like they have to be made into something.
So, the whole thing was slowed down by COVID; this thing would have been out sooner if it hadn't been for that. So, we've been sitting on it for a minute and I'm dying to get it out there. Like, please let it leave the nest before it rots in there.
Speaking on bleeding yourself dry and kind of putting everything into your work, with songs that are more like personal — when you said that, I immediately thought of "Love Kills Slowly" — does that come more naturally now that you're almost used to putting your diary entries out in the world essentially, or is it still kind of a weird process to have such personal material out in a public sphere?
No, it's not weird. I don't want the songwriting to be arbitrary, so you only have so many things to pull from. And, to a large extent, personal life has to be a part of it. So, I mean, you know, there's such sick notions that you can corrupt yourself in order to get to that place where you have a song to write, which is an awful thing to think about.
Like, exploiting your own trauma?
Trauma is a strong word, but, of course, that gets in there, too. But no, I don't think it's exploitive, that depends on how you go about it. I believe in those before me that bled a bit so that I felt recognized. That's something that helped me through the best portions of my life, that somebody put a feeling that was daunting to tape or whatever that I never articulated myself, but I felt it. And when you hear that played back to you, that does something. I'm not saying that I've done that to anybody, but the risk is worth it. I hope.
You spent only 12 days in the studio once it came down to it. What did that process look like? Was it a bit of an intense period of work?
I mean, the songs were written, the lyrics, the whole idea of what we wanted to do. So, you definitely go in with a fully-fledged idea of the kind of record you're trying to create, and the exact songs that you need to execute. But we do try and leave a certain amount of room for failure, for things to go wrong. Because I think if things were to go according to plan, you'd end up with kind of a dull product. And a plan is also just a fleeting thing, ruminating around your mind. It's not really something that you have that much of a grasp of. You're trying to make something quite intangible into something tangible.
The nature of us and the nature of the studio and then the whole process and work environment, it's something that is bound to have mistakes and is bound to have something where hasty decisions and damage control is necessary. And that's where these little instances of the unforeseen come in. You come in with a plan, and then things go wrong, and then it feels alive.
Were there any moments that were kind of spontaneous, where you guys were like, 'Whoa, how did we not think about this before?'
I think every time we have gone into the studio, there are all these moments of half an afternoon, you're banging your head into a wall and everything is impossible, you don't see how you ever going to finish this record and wasn't what you set it out to be anyway, and the whole thing looks like a completely lost course. And then there are other moments where that spark just exploded a minute ago, and you feel like you're invincible, and you can do anything. And that's sort of like a back and forth until those two dualities sort of battle each other into something that looks like a real thing.
Speaking on sound, I feel like this record kind of plays with ideas you guys have touched on in the past, but there are a lot of new sonic influences in there that are pretty interesting. Where do you think this record fits into your sonic history?
The stuff that came before, it's just kind of a jumping board to leap from and where you leap into. I think it's just important for us that it doesn't seem too familiar, that it actually feels like it's true to the life that has been surrounding us prior to making that record, or the experiences, or just a moment. But, I'm very vigilant when it comes to self-awareness; I don't like it at all. I don't want to be too smart or knowledgeable around what I'm doing. But if you can get to a space where you feel like you're just guided by your gut feeling or certain intuity, that's usually a sign that you're on some kind of right track.
But, in terms of what I was talking about before as well, it's almost weird talking about that record now. Because I feel like, once you've done something, it becomes the past, and the past starts chasing you. And now I'm onto new ideas, so to go back there, that seems like posting a certain thread already. Just because life is short, and you have to go upwards and onwards, and I don't like to dwell on anything.
How much would you say this record speaks to your growth as a group and as musicians? Do you think this release speaks to how much you've changed as people while you've been creating all this time?
I think it's extremely difficult to separate life and our recorded career. So, these records, what they really do is encapsulate moments, that time span. And I think that's what a record does, really, like the rest of them. But it's more about the people behind that record than the record itself, you know? I would like to think that growth occurs as the years go by, and, sometimes, hopefully rapidly. So, yeah, I don't think I'm at the same point in my life that I was four years ago.
Things come in from left field or right field and bust open what you had planned, or your happy or miserable existence will just kind of throw things out of the way and you get smarter. You've sat in your mind for a bit longer, you've interacted with the world for a bit longer. So, yeah, I would hope that some kind of growth is in there, but I would hope that it's sort of just self-evident. I don't know.
In terms of lyric-writing, do you find you're inspired by those curveball moments where you're given a life lesson, or is it mostly based on what's going on in the world, or does it really kind of depend?
I always do put a set period of time where I go in and write the lyrics from. I start writing the lyrics when I know when I go into the studio, and then I set 10 days, 14 days off to do that. I have notebooks and material that I draw from, but I do work on all the songs simultaneously, just to try to weave some sort of -- not a narrative, but just to make sure that it is all written out of the same state of mind, and so it doesn't become too eclectic from where things come from.
I like that limit, that the race against time where things are just allowed to be what they do then become. If I gave myself a year to write the lyrics for one album, I think that would prompt me into some kind of psych ward, you know? I think with any creative endeavor, opportunities and choices are at least endless and it's hard to tell when something's finished, so if you do create these sort of deadlines and a bit of stress around yourself, you're guided by that and, usually, it seems to pay off. But to allow myself to just sit and ponder and just wait until something's finished when it's finished, that would absolutely make me get lost in the worst possible way.
Would you say that there's a cohesive thread that runs through Seek Shelter? Or do the tracks have their own separate lives?
I think the whole record describes the world, and some people being in it, that are under a set of circumstances. We didn't really strive to create a story that is totally the whole thing, but there are probably a lot of things between the lines that make these songs possible to exist next to each other.
When I was listening through, it felt as though the content kept returning to different connections, like with "Shelter Song" which seems to be centered around togetherness in a time of trouble. Would you want to speak on that track at all, and perhaps its video?
With the video, our old friend Katherine -- that we've basically grown up with who already did previous videos of our's way back, "Forever" and "Ecstasy" -- we just came to her like, 'Do you want to do the video?,' and it was her idea to create this sort of intimate portrait of just us and our immediate friends and families and that kind of thing. And, to be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first because it's a song that is quite laden with emotions, but I think there's only one person that knows how to navigate a camera and tell that story while also knowing everyone involved so well that she could really be intimate with a portrait like that.
And it didn't really occur to me, and I didn't think too much about it until that video and having to talk about this record, that 'shelter' is not necessarily a roof. It's people, it's whatever you longed for that you don't have. It's such a wide thing. And I do think that the song is about that now, that it is kind of like an embrace, a welcome. Like, you can find peace at least for like a short while.
When people listen to what you write, they can interpret it however they want to, which is I guess the beauty of art, but it can also be kind of interesting if their interpretation is totally separate from what the intention was. Throughout Seek Shelter, did you guys have any set intentions regarding what you wanted people to take away? Or do you prefer to leave it up to the listener?
Sometimes, you've stumbled upon some interpretation of a lyric and it's just like, 'How the fuck did you arrive with that?' [laughs]. It's really beyond me how they came to that conclusion. But that kind of amazes me, as well. Like, in a way, once you put it out there, it's not really yours to say [anymore]. And I do think, for at least myself in the writing, there are spaces left for me to wonder about what the fuck it means, as well. Like, there's definitely an intent but...I don't know if you ever keep notes and stuff, but sometimes, you've been in a moment and you try to put words on to some kind of thing that wants to get out there; you feel something, and you try for a little bit, and while writing, you can only really sort of chase a faint idea of that feeling, but you can't really get into the core of the matter. And it actually feels insufficient and you give up and you crumple the paper and you throw it somewhere. But then, two months later, you might go back to that bin and the crumpled paper and then you read it again and you're like, 'Oh shit, that's what I was feeling.' Like, there was actually some kind of subconscious thing communicating something that was much truer to my own skewed narrative of what I was thinking at the time in there. And then, sometimes, if you're lucky, these little things reveal themselves.
Like, maybe you can uncover new ideas based on what you've written with having time away from it?
Yeah, like maybe you felt sad and you couldn't write the sadness, but there was aggression in there that you didn't realize you had. Or you felt aggressive, but you didn't realize that there was a sadness in there that you were writing, or joy, or vice versa. All kinds of symbols, you know?
Speaking on the topic of interpretation, "Gold City," at least to me, seemed to express that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if that's not necessarily what the song is related to, do you feel like there's been something guiding you towards the end of this past year? Or has this album served that role?
The core record and the lyrics were written before anything was called corona, so, to me, it feels very much like a record that could never have been written in the post-corona world. It takes place in a world that you could still get lost in a bit more. But then, you know, because we all have these minds that grasp towards the meaning of things, you know, given this monumental historic year that we just been living through and we're still sitting in this shit to a certain extent, a lot of sentiments ring kinda like Nostradamus, like true [laughs] given the new context. And, you know, nobody did see this coming, but, even to me, some of these songs change meaning. I keep getting these new perspectives on things, I guess.
I suppose it can be kind of interpreted as like a "lockdown album," even though it was written way before that.
Yeah, it very much isn't.
Of everything, is there anything off the record that you're most excited to have out in the world, especially since it's probably been a while since you really spent time with it?
Yeah, I deleted it from my computer, just so that, when it comes out, I can maybe enjoy it a little bit longer, you know? I deleted it from my computer a long time ago, just because it was like, 'I can't sit with this' [laughs]. I don't want it to be mine, you know? So, I'm just happy to let go of it and just spread it wings to do whatever it wants, you know. Maybe it will resonate with some people, maybe not. Who the fuck knows? I would love to fucking go out and play it for people some time, whenever I can. And I'm still extremely proud of it — I think we all are. But, yeah, I'm happy to let go.
I think that it'll definitely be cool once you can see the album's reception in front of your face when you do get to perform it, too. Because it's one thing to read reviews on the Internet or see fan engagement on social media, but it's another to see people singing along.
Yeah, that's also so strange because it's gonna come out. Usually, when we release records, we head straight on to endless touring, but that's not happening. Yeah, we just have labels and media pushing us to end this content, but that's not really an immediate response. You don't really get to see people's faces or how the songs actually do read. Like, fucking comments and stuff like that — I try and stay away from that because it's not an exact representation of what you actually can go out and see. So, I don't know. I hope that, sometime this year, that I'm just out in the world and feeling free and the whole thing is just alive.