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“I’m trying to decide if I should be fully honest here.” Elias Bender Rønnenfelt takes a sip of beer in a dark, windowless corner of The Dove pub on London’s Broadway Market. He seems fragile, so much so that on occasion I’m sure I even catch him visibly shake. I’ve asked him about the origins of one of his band’s names, Marching Church.

“Let’s get it out there.” He clears his throat, as if to release a toxic confession that befits the thick black Jim Morrison-esque hair that drapes across his pale skin. His eyes are so piercingly blue that if you were going to make a Danish vampire movie and needed a lead who would crush the hearts of every eighteen-year-old on the planet, Elias would exude this role as immaculately as David Bowie became an alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth. “There’s this Swedish hardcore punk band called Rudimentary Peni and they have this song Martian Church,” he explains. “I misheard it, thinking ‘marching church’. It started as a good image incorporated into an Iceage song.”

This answer, over a lunchtime pint, demonstrates the Elias Bender Rønnenfelt that appears across the nine songs on the new Marching Church album Telling It Like It Is: lurching with a brittle sense of imminent implosion before somehow falling into a raw gentlemanliness. This is the very same Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, who since arriving into our consciousness in 2009 – when most of the members of his other band Iceage were still only 17 – has journeyed from gloomy punk urgency into the gritty, moth-eaten romanticism he exudes right now.

“It does get weird waking up after a few days in the same bed,” he reflects on the better part of a decade playing in bands and touring – a lifestyle which has perhaps influenced his unkempt, but confidently stylish appearance.” You establish this sailor syndrome. When the sailor comes back, he finds it hard to adjust to staying put with his wife and children and wants to get back to sea.”

This old-fashioned imagery is somewhat fitting due to the rugged melodrama of Telling It Like It Is, on which Elias drunkenly croons over an array of piano, strings and growling guitars. The album further transcends this idea of Elias as simply some kind of bratty punk from Denmark, a label he’s never sat entirely comfortably with. “We wanted to do the complete opposite of what came out of the typical punk scene,” he says of Iceage’s origins in Copenhagen. “We wanted to do everything they didn’t do.” And musically, Marching Church allows Elias to practice the atypical musical habits he’s nurtured from a young age. “When I was four years old, my mother was pushing me round in a stroller and there was an organ grinder that I apparently went nuts about,” he recalls. “He was called Zabrini.”

“All the kids were listening to The Smurf’s Dance Collection and that wasn’t really doing it for me. Later, after I became friends with Dan [Kjaer Nielsen, Iceage drummer] we started obsessing about music together. It started with Bowie, Stooges, Velvet Underground like it does for so many, and it spiralled out into obsessions, it’d be like one day ‘I just discovered this guy James Chance’ and then the next day Dan would have discovered Serge Gainsbourg.”

Now, still only 24, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt has also played in bands such as Vår and Pagan Youth, and he continues to experiment so that, as he once told Pitchfork, his music doesn’t “only cover the emotions that come with a clenched fist”. How does he decide which song is for Iceage and which is for Marching Church?

“I believe there’s a need for both of them to exist in order to realise these ideas. In that sense, I’m a slave to these ideas.” And with the new Marching Church album about to unravel more than a few perceptions, in turn both chaotic and beautiful, I ask him, what is chaos? “You could argue everything is and while there’s not a lot of order or control in my life, I never look at it as chaos, it’s more like this big improvised synchronised dance.”

Words: Paul Hanford
Photography: Steph Wilson
Styling: Charlotte James
Make-Up: Chloe Botting

Telling It Like It Is is out now via Sacred Bones