Caravaggio, Eroticism and Disney | An Interview With Elias Rønnenfelt
The Iceage frontman talks about the books that have changed his life
Photo: Mads Teglers
Elias Rønnenfelt is the enigmatic lead singer of Danish punk band Iceage. Famously evasive and slurringly salacious, he flirts with sexual ambiguity and existentialism through his lyrics. Elias was born and raised in Copenhagen, and he joined Iceage back in 2008 at the tender age of 17. He doesn’t have a phone—to get a hold of him you have to stand on the street and yell up to his apartment window.
He started his solo project under the moniker Marching Church in 2010, which has since become a fully-fledged band. When he released their latest LP “The World is Not Enough” Elias gave the audience “eight songs of nocturnal longing, preposterous self-obsession and cockeyed etiquette.”
Born out of the hardcore punk scene, the band took a poetic curve. Jazz influences aplenty, the singer developed an almost Machiavellian like stage persona, drenched in arrogance and contempt but don’t be fooled–beneath the façade and the raunchy, primal, animalistic slurs lies a more gentle, poetic figure, teetering on the literary brink of sex and death.
The singer carries stacks of philosophy books on the road and has recently acquired a penchant for Billie Holiday’s music after he picked up her biography from the bargain bin of a bookstore in America’s Midwest. Amuse caught up with Elias about immortality, eroticism and the books that inspired the music.
So, your bookshelf…
It’s a bit ridiculous; most of my favourite books are missing on that bookshelf. I have a terrible habit of forgetting them on the road, and a terrible habit of forgetting to buy people birthday presents and such, so I usually end up picking one up before I leave for the party.
I see you have a Caravaggio book, he’s my favourite painter, did you know it was his birthday the other day?
Oh really? I didn’t. Yes, I love how he had low-class people, drunkards, hookers and thieves pose in his depictions of saints and holy men. He was also one of the first to paint lesser stoic mannerisms, like a boy at the verge of yelling out in pain before getting bit by a lizard in a fruit bowl and such. Sound before it airs.
And he toyed with eroticism, death and religion – all themes I see throughout your books?
One book, well, play that perfectly marries the three are Peter Shaffer’s Equus. It’s written from the perspective of a psychoanalyst, who is dealing with a young kid that stabbed out the eyes of six horses.
And it turns out that his state and way of thinking was molded by having a religious mother and an atheist father. The kid turned his religious way of thinking to horses, and the psychoanalyst slowly starts doubting whether the kid is actually right and the school of psychology is wrong.
Repression can be a dangerous thing. I see you’ve got The Story of O and The Story of the Eye, which do you prefer?
The most exciting parts of The Story of O are in the first pages, where O is sitting on the leather seat of a taxi with no knickers on. From there on there’s too many long descriptions of devices and sex-machinery. I can understand why the book was eye-opening in its day but everyone and their grandma knows the mindset behind that kind of sex now, I didn’t find it exciting. So I pick the latter.
How did you feel after reading The Story of the Eye for the first time?
I have to say, reading it rebirthed my whole interest in reading. I had never before had a reading experience so visceral and arousing. The whole story is drenched in this unexplainable and immediate ecstasy, and I felt spellbound by the surrealness of the whole thing. It also led me onto types of writers of which I hadn’t looked into before.
Georges Bataille is incredible, that bit where Simone is masturbating in the mud… with the mud…
My favourite part is right after they capture Marcelle from her home and they’re lying in the grass. There’s something beautiful about white sheets, I can’t recall as of right now.
What’s your earliest memory of a book?
My earliest memories are books by Swedish children’s writer Astrid Lindgren like “Ronja Røverdatter” and especially “Brødrene Løvehjerte”. It’s fantastic. It’s about two brothers, the younger one has tuberculosis and the bigger brother tells him stories about a land, Nangijala he will ascend to once he is dead to comfort him, and after a fire breaks out in their apartment the bigger brother heroically jumps out the window with his kid brother on his back, therefore killing himself to save his brother.
Shortly after, the kid brother dies of his illness, but awakes in Nangijala welcomed by his brother, whose stories turned out to be true. But that’s only where the story begins.
That’s so heavy for a children’s book, martyrdom just being the beginning – it’s such a gentle embrace of death
Most people can tell you about their first time seeing Bambi as a kid, and the vast shock they were left with after the mother dies.
I don’t think children’s stories should sugar coat them, that’s really just undermining the child’s mind. Part of our formative years is also about facing and understanding the harsher realities of life. I recall my mother reading me Cinderella at a very early age, and that story broke the news to me that even a mother could die.
Fuck, there’s so much tragedy in these Disney films
Walt Disney had some weird thing for killing off parents.
He probably would’ve done Salo had Pasolini not got to it first
I’m surprised Disney didn’t do James Agee’s A Death in the Family
Which books inspire your music?
I find that inspiration is a hard subject to tackle, as I most often find it impossible to trace my own influences, even though they are obviously there. I think each book I read, piece of music I hear or situation I’ve lived, manifests itself in the same orbit in my mind, where it gets obscured and tore apart.
However, as a lyric writer I gain from language, whether it’s a certain way to construct a sentence for example. With certain books it can be a thorough window into the thought-process and soul of a mind or another living being, dead or alive, real or fictional. I find this experience potentially broadening of my own inner and outer vision, and therefore invaluable.
I had that with Henry Miller on Writing earlier this summer, where I was given words on feelings I had always carried myself, as well as words that extended even further than my own understanding.
Lastly, what’s the rope on your shelf for?
Lassoing–my grandfather sometimes needs a hand capturing runaway livestock.
What are your lassoing skills like?