Marching Church main man Elias Bender Rønnenfelt tells me he wont be long, clutching a toothbrush he turns dipping into the toilets of the venue for tonight’s show, to brush his teeth over the sink. Teeth successfully cleaned we head to a quiet spot in the bloody freezing Berlin club, sitting across from each other on battered sofas. The Danish musician looks a little road weary and there’s a huge housefly breaking the silence, buzzing against the window.
What originally began as a Rønnenfelt side project has flourished into the fully fledged Marching Church ensemble including Iceage bandmate Johan S. Weith. The band have been touring Europe in support of their latest offering, Telling It Like It Is – out now via Sacred Bones. It’s a slower, more melodic offering than Rønnenfelt‘s previous output – either from Marching Church or Iceage – that see’s him blossoming from his earlier incarnation as gloom punk to gothic Nick Cave channeling romantic.
Just before the final European date of the current Marching Church world tour, we talked to Rønnenfelt about magick, Leonard Cohen and what a shitty year 2016 has been…
I thought we’d kick things off by talking about Leonard Cohen since he just recently passed away and you’re a big fan.
To me there’s no other song writer where… listening through a song the lyrics has larger gravity to it and the way that the lyrics really carry the song has always been very inspiring to me. I wasn’t really saddened by his death, of course he was 83, it’s not exactly a sad event but I’ve found some comfort in knowing he was out there somewhere thinking and breathing.
To me the sadness is in knowing that these voices from that generation and now disappearing.
But they all left their mark that’s the most important thing.
There’s a track on the new album called ‘2016’ and there seems to be a general consensus that 2016 has been a pretty shitty year. Do you feel the same?
Yeah, how can I not? That’s why I feel like the year had to lend its name for a song. Where I’ve always been mostly involved in personal issues and focusing on the inner aspects of my mind, this year it just became simply impossible not to address how many atrocities go on around us.
But you wrote the song before the year has actually ended. Has it and is it just getting worse since you wrote it?
Since writing this song it’s been all down hill from here. Parts of it were inspired by our tour and driving through France in Normandy to take the ferry to England and just seeing these vast fields of barbed wire fences with tents on the other side. When you see these problems move so close to you, it almost seems arrogant not to address it in the music, even though it hasn’t been quite my style to do that in the past. It’s necessary now.
You have strong presence as a performer and as a person. Do you remember when you first realised you had that and felt the power that comes with it?
I’m not very good at remembering first times. No, I guess you grow into that skin gradually by working like that and the nature of our work demands that sort of presentation, so it’s been sort of a natural thing.
Making music and playing music live channels a specific kind of energy, if you weren’t doing that where would that energy get directed?
Whether or not I could project that energy into doing garden work or something like that I can’t tell you. I don’t know.
I read some where that you said each album you make is like totem pole of where you are in your life at that time. Where are you at now?
Maybe I’ll know by the time I make another album. A lot of my general thinking revolves around how to process experiences and how to project it into song. So now that I’ve made quite a few records it becomes a way of mapping out the time frame of your life.
There’s a strong sense of romanticism in your work, do you aspire to live your life life like a really great biography?
I wouldn’t go that far, but times when you lack inspiration can lead to desperate measures and a sort of panic that might cause you to do make some not that wise decisions.
What are you reading at the moment?
I was reading The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers and then half way through tour my mind turned a bit too much into mash potatoes to be able to process it so I switched to some shitty pop novel.
Do you remember your dreams and what do you dream about?
I hardly ever remember my dreams at night and when I do it’s often kind of disturbing. I wake up a bit shaking thinking how does my subconscious go there. Sorry to disappoint you there.
Half way through tour my mind turned a bit too much into mash potatoes
Do you have a favourite line on the record? “Fist fucked by destiny” is a pretty standout moment!
No I don’t really look at it like that. There’s lines that stand out more than others but it doesn’t really matter what my favourite is either.
I feels like you’ve really pushed you melody writing on this record.
For each record and the pursuit into writing another batch of songs you have a little more baggage, you’re constantly opening up your own idea of what it means to write songs and your capabilities stretch a little further for each time you try. We talked a lot about groove and how to get it. I didn’t consciously try to make it more melodic – consciously I can hardly try anything I just kind of have to work with ideas that present themselves. I’m not really good at sitting down and being like I have to write this sort of song now, you can dress it up stylistically in some ways but I’m pretty much working for the ideas that present themselves.
Do you think in that way you’re reliant on having the right people around you to facilitate that and instigate ideas and songs?
It’s vastly important to have these people because this thing happens when you present a sort of blueprint and these five other minds, in the case of Marching Church, all process that idea or misunderstand it or hear another vision for it in their heads because nobody thinks alike and then collectively it will mould into this final thing that always ends up seeming like the thing it always should have meant to be.
I guess you must work well with others, you’ve worked with a bunch of differne tpeople on different projects…
Yeah but every musician I’ve ever worked with is somebody close to me that I’ve known for a large span of years. I don’t think I can work with anybody.
Do you believe in magic/magick?
No. There’s multiple meanings of that word, I do believe that things can seem magical. As far as magick with a ‘k’ at the end, as a teenager I had quite a bit of an interest in it but it didn’t really last it was pretty short. There was a time when I was a teenager I kind of believed that putting my fingers together and then slowly taking them apart, I could see these strings of energy connecting them and I still can right now but that’s not really the point of magick anyway, but it might just be some kind of thing like how the eye works.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Christian our bass player I called him when we had a similar question the other day that I thought was great. We present the aesthetic so we don’t have to explain it.
I guess if you do it well you shouldn’t have to! You’ve described your face on the Telling It Like It Is album cover as having an “obnoxious unlike-ability.”
There’s also a sense of ‘whose that idiot?’ That’s partially why we went with that title because when we were setting up the album cover graphics we hadn’t settled on a title yet and I had that title sketched down somewhere kind of as a joke. Then when I saw the album cover it almost seemed too stupid not to do it. It seems like the kind of title a singer-songwriter would have once they don’t have anything to say any more. I don’t want the title to be confused with the political content of the album because it’s not meant like that at all, it’s more of a slightly delusional way of saying telling it like it is because nobody can.
Do you think there’s lots of humour in Marching Church and Iceage that people don’t really pick up on?
Yeah definitely, we don’t take this as a joke whatsoever but there’s definitely a sense of humour within and we deal a lot with taking things out of proportion and blowing feelings up for the sense of drama and I think within that over dramatisation, there’s a great deal of humour.