Danish punk rockers Iceage are notorious for their directness. Their songs are hard-charging and to the point; their lyrics are stoic and elemental, and their faces are deadpan as they incite near riots in the overcrowded punk clubs they typically play. They’re also infamous for their reticence when it comes to giving interviews, and when you think about it, it’d be kind of weird if Iceage’s members violated their straight-faced mystique and poured their hearts out when talking with the media. The fact that they are unwilling to reveal much about themselves or their process lends authenticity to all those press photos in which they look like they’re about to kill the photographer.
So I guess now would be the time when I would mention how my particular interview with Iceage drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen was different, how I was lucky enough to catch him in a rare moment of vulnerability during which he divulged unheard truths about what makes the band tick and how their sophomore album, You’re Nothing, released on new label Matador, was composed. This was not the case, of course. When I caught up with Nielsen over the phone following a band practice in Denmark he was just as brief as the Internet warned me he’d be. Read what transpired below, including how he shot me down for misinterpreting one of a particular song’s placement on their new album.
The songs on You’re Nothing are in many ways just as intense and aggressive as those on [2011’s] New Brigade, but they’re also far more dynamic, melodic and see you guys taking your sound to some new places. Was it difficult for you to evolve musically—putting in the piano on “Morals,” for instance—while still staying true to your roots as a more hardcore punk band?
Dan Kjær Nielsen: I don’t think we could have done it any differently. We just made some new songs that were good like the old songs and recorded them. It’s new stuff.
I read that when you write songs there’s very little jamming, which surprised me…
Nielsen: Yeah, I don’t think that’s a very good way to write music.
What is the process like for you guys, then, in terms of putting songs together?
Nielsen: We just bring in…if someone’s got an idea or something we just try to play it and tie it to our own instruments, and it just evolves into a song at some point.
Your records are very raw and chaotic, and after listening to them its not hard to imagine what one of your live shows might be like. When you record do you try to spontaneously capture this live energy, or is there a lot of trial and error and piecing things together?
Nielsen: Not necessarily. I think we just try to record it as well as we can. Usually it’s not that many tries. If it goes well the first few times there’s no need to think too much on each song.
How long did it take you to record the album?
Nielsen: I think three or four weeks. We finished recording the songs in the fall [of 2012].
Your lives have certainly changed quite a bit since releasing New Brigade. Do you feel like any of the lyrics on You’re Nothing reflect a broader worldview?
Nielsen: They’ve changed, of course, but I don’t think it’s about the success. I think it’s just about what’s going on in things both related to the band and not.
I felt like it was important that the title track was the last song on You’re Nothing. The entire album deals with a lot of struggle, sacrifice and emotional conflict, then at the end there’s this proclamation that from a certain perspective, none of it really matters: you’re nothing.
Nielsen: No, I think it would have been weird to just cancel the whole thing. When we were putting together the tracklist we found out it would be last and then later found out that it would be the title.
I’ve read that an album can become annoying a little while after you record it because it doesn’t feel like it represents where you are as a band. Have you started to feel that way at all with You’re Nothing? Are you already writing new songs and thinking about new ways to evolve?
Nielsen: I think it represents us pretty well, but we recorded it seven months ago or something, so I think we’ve developed even more and we’ve written a few songs and it’s even more different. We started writing new songs right after coming home from tour.
How are the new songs you’ve been writing different?
Nielsen: It’s hard to say right now. They’re not all finished. If you could say we developed in a good way since the first record, we’ve developed even more now. I’m at the practice space right now. We just practiced.
I’m curious about the punk scene in Copenhagen. In America it’s very hard for punk music to have any real cultural impact because there are so many other forms of entertainment that are a lot more popular. In Denmark does the punk scene play a larger role in the culture?
Nielsen: I guess Denmark is a much smaller country and I don’t know how big of an impact we have on culture in general, but I guess we have an impact on what’s going on and shows to go to are in the newspapers.
Have you noticed the punk scene change at all since your first album came out and received a lot of praise internationally?
Nielsen: People have found out about it through us, but I don’t think it would have changed in a different way.
Your band is made for playing smaller punk clubs where you and your audience are able to exchange energy on a more intimate level. What has it been like playing festivals and larger open-air stages?
Nielsen: I think we prefer much more to play the small places. We’ve always been doing that and it can be really weird to play the huge places where you are meters apart from each other. It feels impersonal in a way.
A lot of your music and the press surrounding your band has focused on both how young you are and the idea of youth. Can you see yourselves playing similar music in, say, five years?
Nielsen: I think we’ll be maybe not be playing the same kind of music at all. But, you know, it’s very hard to say. It’s a long time, and five years ago we were doing something completely different. Only time can tell.