The Danish punk speaks to the White Lung artist about narcissism, bestiality and persona – plus debuts his new project Marching Church’s ‘King of Song’
Back in 2010, the infamous Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, was just a 17-year-old kid lying to his friends. When he was approached to contribute to a compilation titled Grå Fraktion he made up two fibs: yes, he had his own band and yes, he had songs. This is how his solo project Marching Church was born. Named after a lyric in Iceage’s breakout album New Brigade, Marching Church began with just Rønnenfelt performing and recording with his guitar and clanking machines: raw and rough with his signature deaf holler floating through the noise. As the demand for Iceage grew, Marching Church was put on the back burner until November 2013 when he enlisted friends Kristian Emdal, Anton Rothstein (of Lower), Cæcilie Trier (Choir of Young Believers), Bo H. Hansen (Hand of Dust, Sexdrome) and Frederikke Hoffmeier (Puce Mary) to play with Marching Church for a warehouse show in Copenhagen with Pharmakon.
Inspired by a deceased friend’s former project The Pale House as well as James Brown, Sam Cooke and Percy Sledge (the band closes the album with a cover of “The Dark End Of The Street”), Marching Church's album This World Is Not Enough (out 31 March on Sacred Bones/Posh Isolation) was intended to mirror the feeling of being half-asleep, drugged and floating, or as Rønnenfelt described “like (the music) is being dragged across the ground or smoldered in a bonfire.” This World Is Not Enough is an orchestrated medication. A big pill to swallow that leaves you melting into the floor 30 minutes after ingesting. It’s perhaps the most self-aware, vulnerable and intelligent we’ve ever heard Rønnenfelt before – like on the epic, smeary "King of Song", which premieres on Dazed below. I connected with the 22-year-old musician to talk about the writing process, his growing fame and boyhood.
Mr. E. Rønnenfelt, how do you feel now that beastiality has been legalised in Denmark, thus bringing zoophiles from all over Europe to your home country?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: I’m not too involved with this particular scene, so I’m afraid I can not provide a sufficient answer on this matter. Thanks for asking.
I think if there was a fleet of pedophiles you would be in trouble. So, why call the new Marching Church album This World Is Not Enough?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: I don’t remember ever watching the movie which has the same name, but I have a feeling that it’s not quite worthy of such a fantastic title. I used that title for this album because it perfectly coins the feeling of insufficiency that you only feel properly in the mid air leap. When you’ve landed it’s typical to grow impatient looking for the next thing. You start to get the idea that nothing will ever be good enough. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, you just have to jump to the conclusion that constant change is somewhat necessary.
You said that Marching Church acts like a dictatorship. Were you telling your bandmates what to do or were they creatively free to improvise?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: Well, nothing is complete improvisation, but some of it is composed in a way that leaves a lot of space open for improvisation. There’s strict guide lines, but some songs are so loosely structured that they could never be played exactly the same two times. The other (band members) are very much involved in the creative process, but when I said that Marching Church is a dictatorship, I mean it in the sense that it’s a little centered around me. Like if we were the United Nations, I would be one of the countries with veto rights.
From what I can hear on this record, I really like it. It’s arrogant and yet vulnerable, comparing yourself to a God then questioning your own control. Are you speaking from the real you or just telling stories?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: Songs like “Your Fathers Eyes” are complete story telling. Some songs are lyrical picture painting that probably have meanings even I am not fully aware of and some is based in personal matters, where I am completely aware of which feeling or situation sparked the words. Sometimes I like to twist reality. So, as a whole, its not a lyrically cohesive album, but I like the tension these very different approaches give when paired with each other. Like writing an autobiography filled with lies.
When you want to publish your autobiography I’ll help you ghost write it and we can fill it with believable lies.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: Deal.
Have you ever thought about the legacy you are leaving? Does narcissism direct the music you write? Do you think of your own fame?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: I wouldn’t say that it affects the way I write songs. I’m just trying focus on coming up with ideas that I feel invigorated in pursuing, and hopefully those ideas are better than the last ones I came up with. This, I think, has been the case so far. As for fame, I’ve just had to face the fact that a lot of people are aware of who I am and what I’m doing. I don’t mind it per se, and I’ve even played on it, most obviously in “King of Song” (off This World Is Not Enough). It doesn’t hurt that I’ve become some sort of persona, though on some days it kind of freaks me out. That said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a singer to become a persona. It’s very interesting that I’ve managed to become this personality. Idol or clown, sometimes I’m not sure, and the fact that there’s people out there conspiring over me gives me a platform to play with that. But at large I just focus on being myself as I would have been whether Russian teenagers cared about me or not.
Why did you decide to cover “Dark End of The Street”? I like hearing you use your voice with fragility.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: I love Percy Sledge. The lyrics for that songs are so precise in their simplicity, but (our) cover was very spontaneous. We would stay all night at the studio, sometimes working and sometimes just drinking and dancing around to music. We listened to that song, and I asked Bo (H. Hansen) if he could figure out the chords. Later, we went in to try and record the song in a much louder fashion which didn’t really work. I asked them if they could play it pathetically quiet, as if somebody were sleeping in the next room, not trying to wake them up. Then, we had something.
It sounds like this record came together because you combined with the right friends and you guys just had a good time making it. Very little pressure.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: There was pressure. We had a ridiculously short amount of time to make everything come together, let alone write and rehearse the damn thing, but I like pressure of the possibility of failure.
Now, I’m going to dig into your psyche. What is your earliest memory as a young boy?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: Besides some faint memories of being a baby lying in a plastic bathtub, I have quite a few from kindergarten. If one boy would have a fall in with another boy, they would declare ‘war’, then quickly run out to gather as many boys on their team as possible. When the respective groups had been established, we would talk tactics, sometimes for so long, then our parents would come pick us up before the fight actually happened. When we managed to get around to do the actual “war” the two groups would run towards each other from each side of the playground and do whatever a five-year-old boy’s idea of fighting is. One time I pushed a kid to the ground so he started bleeding a little from his hand, which was a big deal. That and getting dressed in gowns and make up by the kindergarten girls. There’s actually a ton from kindergarten… I haven’t thought about that in ages.
When was the last time you cried? Like, really cried.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: I’m not much of a crier. Last time was watching a terrible movie on an airplane.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: I’m embarrassed to tell you which one. Something about high altitude really fucks with my emotions.
We’ll save that reveal for your autobiography.