Premiere Here: Marching Church

Premiere Here: Marching Church



Text: John Norris

In next month's issue of VMAN, we meet up with Danish post-punk foursome Iceage, who took a giant artistic leap forward with their third album, the darkly baroque Plowing Into the Field of Love. Now, Iceage's often glowering, devastatingly attractive lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt continues his mash up of rock, soul, jazz and avant-garde impulses as Marching Church. What began as a solo project in 2010 that yielded two EP's morphed into a band of sorts when Rønnenfelt entered a Copenhagen studio last year with friends and fellow musical progressives from acts like Lower, Sexdrome, Puce Mary and Choir of Young Believers. Marching Church's debut album This World Is Not Enough, due in late March, recalls some familiar touches from Iceage's last release: horns, piano, tracks evoking youth in dire straits or a cocky narrator with a god complex. There are free-form jazz moments, it's nearly somnambulant in places-- "half-asleep" as Rønnenfelt calls it-- and, it should be noted, as sexual a record as he's ever been involved with.

"Nocturnal longing" is the way the singer describes the feel of much of the album, and nowhere is it more sexed-up than in "Hungry For Love," which opens with a spoken-word section in Spanish by Montréal artist Bernadino Femminielli, and continues with a largely improvised lyric by Rønnenfelt, which by the four-minute mark has him panting and growling in horndog pursuit of his object of desire. The video-- dark, urban, sensual-- was co-directed by Rønnenfelt, Kristian Emdal, his frequent collaborator and bassist in Marching Church, and Lujkas Bay Højlund. It's got flashes of Asian night scenery, glimpses of erotic encounters with an androgynous co-star, and much application of makeup. Watch it here, and below, read V's conversation on Monday from Copenhagen with Rønnenfelt about his moody, bold and exploratory new project.

Elias! Congratulations on this record, which is really amazing, especially considering you didn't have a lot of time to make it between Iceage commitments.

ELIAS BENDER Yeah, we recorded the Marching Church record one and a half months after we came home from the studio recording Plowing Into the Field of Love. But because I had to go on tour, I had only a month and a half to write all the lyrics for the album, half of the music, and record the thing.

And you had a lot of players help you shape the songs. It's kind of crazy how Marching Church has grown from a solo thing into seven people on the record.

EB I think I just kept inviting more and more people into the band, and suddenly we were seven or something. And then with only a few rehearsals we did a really powerful concert, and I just knew I had to make a record while we were still high from that show that we did. So it had to be done then, and we just forced ourselves to write the thing in such a short amount of time. But it was one of the biggest bursts of creativity I've ever experienced.

One similarity with this album and the last Iceage record is the presence of horns. Particularly on "King of Song," which almost from the jump has this David Bowie "Young Americans" vibe to the sax and trumpet. It seems you like that mix.

EB For sure, some of my biggest heroes, you might say, have been people like Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg, two people that integrate orchestral elements extremely gracefully into what is basically a rock band. And I like the sound of those two things pairing together, if it's done right. And also I've been listening to a lot of jazz and soul music, which also has these kind of arrangements.

Another carry-over from Plowing is this embrace of a character who's a sort of arrogant, self-obsessed guy. Whether it's in "Living in Doubt,"-- talking about yourself having a "god-like charm"-- or in "King of Song," you sing, "people will rise for me...die for me...fantasize about me." It's very reminiscent of the almost cartoonishly cocky guy who sang "I am the Lord's favorite one"... on the Iceage record.

EB Yeah, I like the idea of the arrogant prick with no sense of reality that can't see himself with other people's eyes, you know? And "King of Song" is kind of taking that persona to a new extreme, you might say. But "Living in Doubt" is different in the sense that it's actually showing that I'm kind of a megalomaniac but with a lot of self-doubt.

You've talked about the 'nocturnal longing' at the heart of a lot of this record. And nowhere is that more apparent than in "Hungry For Love" which is kind of you on the prowl, as sexual a song as you've ever put out.

EB That was one of the less written songs, I mean the words are pretty much improvised. In the studio for that one everybody was playing live and I would kind of do gestures, where if I raised my hand high the whole band would all play with a lot of intensity, and if I raised it low they would go down.

You begin the song with this really lustful Spanish spoken word section that was done by Bernadino Femminielli, who has said he thinks of you as kind of a little brother.

EB In the beginning, we actually had a sample of Barry White, of an interview that he did, but we didn't really want to stick with that. And Bernadino is a good friend of mine and he's a kind of a very sexually charged human being that I felt could fill this spot pretty well, so I just called him up and asked if he could write some words in Spanish about being hungry for love.

Are you comfortable doing a song that is so sexual? Because I think most of what people associate you with from Iceage is not what one would call sexed-up, particularly.

EB Yeah but I kind of find it interesting to play with such overt, sexually charged, horny songs to the point where it sort of becomes uncomfortable.

Seriously, mission accomplished. And with the video, you and Kristian and another friend co-directed it? You've got a very beautiful blond co-star in there.

EB Yeah, I was just in China and Taiwan and Thailand. And I brought along a camera and filmed a bunch of street scenery and stuff like that. But it didn't really seem like you could base a video on it, so then [back in Denmark] Kristian told me he had seen this beautiful person. So we just invited Vincent over to Kristian's apartment and just filmed these shots of Vincent putting on makeup and undressing. We even did this really nice waltz scene, but Kristian forgot to press record! So that didn't make it into the video. So it's got these beautiful shots of this person with these shot of Asian street life, which I like the aesthetic of, to give it this sort of metropolitan urban feeling.

You draw on a lot on the record: there's a whispered cover of a soul song, "Dark End of the Street," there's a jazzy elaboration on a Duke Ellington song called "Every Child," but maybe the most harrowing track is "Your Father's Eyes," which has to do with a father abusing his daughter and you wanting to kind of fix that. It's pretty graphic at times.

EB I remember sitting with that song, and I had a hard time with it. And I kind of just zoned out, but my fingers kept writing for a little. And I kind of snapped again and read it again, and realized, "Oh God, is this what the song is about? That's terrible." But also kind of beautiful. It's not sparked by any real story but I think it gives a kind of empathetic view to such a tragedy, because it's written from the point of view of somebody who wishes they could change things, you know? I do like to bring things to that point of where it's really on the verge of being too much, but can you still keep it just before you cross that line where it becomes distasteful. But that one is complete fiction.

You've said the original vision for this record was to make songs that had a "half asleep" feel, and that's definitely present on some tracks. And that mood was inspired by a young musician who passed away in 2013, Jamie Cripps. He was a friend of yours?

EB Yeah, I first met him when I was around 14 and I was in some squat in London. And then later on when I returned to England I would usually stay at this warehouse where him and his friends were staying, and he was in a band called Dogfeet that we usually played with. Then he made these two songs with his project The Pale Horse that I found extremely moving and had a sound that I had never really heard before, and they never left my mind. So it kind of sparked some ideas, because what he did there was doing that half-asleep thing in a really beautiful way, and that brought up some ideas in myself. But yes he passed away last November. He's a kid that could have gotten to do a lot of great things and a lot of original things, but he just didn't get the time on the planet to do many of them.

Had you been in touch with him at the time that he died?

EB Yes, I saw him about a month before it happened, and there's actually a song about it, but it didn't go on the record. It turned out very well, it just didn't fit. I don't know, maybe it will come out some day in one form or another.

What are the live plans for Marching Church?

EB In April we play New York, we play Los Angeles, and some European cities. And then late in the year I think we're gonna try some more thorough touring.

Who's in the live band?

EB This time it's Anton, Kristian, Bo and Cècilie who are on the record, and then we're gonna have Alex who does Dirty Beaches play saxophone, and this girl called Sonja from Denmark also plays saxophone. But I think this will be a band where the lineup can vary from tour to tour. So if we suddenly befriend an amazing flute player we'll invite him into the band for maybe a tour or something like that. We kind of want to keep it loose in terms of who's in and who's out.

Finally, I hear you may be doing some acting in the future?

EB I mean, I've been contacted by a couple of directors and I did auditions, just for the hell of it, but it's not something I am pursuing. I wouldn't rule it out, but it's not something I'm pursuing.

Marching Church's debut LP This World Is Not Enough drops March 31st on Sacred Bones Records.

Record Release Shows:

Apr 3, Brooklyn, NY @ Undisclosed Location (w/ Drew McDowall)

Apr 4, Brooklyn, NY @ The Acheron (w/ Cheena)

Apr 7, Los Angeles, CA @ Jewel's Catch One (w/ Gun Outfit)