Photo by Elizabeth Peyton
Marching Church: Elias Bender Rønnenfelt (far left)
It only takes about 30 seconds of listening to “Lion’s Den,” the second single from Marching Church’s new album, to understand what the Denmark-based post-punk band is all about. It takes shape slowly, emerging from a hazy layer of feedback like Travis Bickle’s yellow-cab headlights through billowing sewer vapors. Shortly thereafter, a dub-influenced, Public Image Ltd-like bassline starts up against ethereal, delay-heavy guitars. It feels surreal and disorienting, slightly drunk and darkly sexy. It sounds like 2 a.m.
For Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, the vocalist and founder of Marching Church, that time of night can be a fertile influence for his creative process.
“I feel like a lot of my life revolves around late nights,” he says over a Skype call from a friend’s apartment in Copenhagen. “Aesthetically, it’s also an inspiring time of night.”
Marching Church is a proper band with a firm lineup and a clearly defined aesthetic, which the band refined on their second album, Telling It Like It Is, which was released in October via Sacred Bones. Yet it took all of five years for all of the elements to properly fall into place. In fact, Rønnenfelt very nearly abandoned the name Marching Church altogether after establishing it in 2010.
It began as a solo project of Rønnenfelt’s with the noisy At Night cassette, released when he was only 18. Yet in the intervening years, it was mostly relegated to the back burner, and his attention became focused on his more popular post-punk band Iceage. Yet when the opportunity came to translate Marching Church into a proper live band, it led to a question of what the future of the band actually looked like—or if it was better to throw out the blueprint altogether.
“It basically doesn’t really have much to do with what it was when it was just me,” he says. “It just ended up sharing a name with what I did by myself back then. The whole thing started when I hadn’t been doing anything with the moniker for a long time. Then I was asked if I wanted to play a show, without really thinking about it. And it hadn’t dawned on me that I wasn’t really interested in the project. So, feeling uninspired… I ended up just inviting some friends into the band and we started all over.”
Those friends—including members of fellow Danish bands Lower, Contour and Choir of Young Believers—ended up recording a debut album, This World Is Not Enough, out of some loose, improvisational sessions. The result feels relaxed and fun, though the songwriting itself sometimes comes across like a series of rough drafts. In just one year, however, the sound of the band ended up changing considerably.
Telling It Like It Is is a tighter, more cohesive set of songs than its predecessor, influenced heavily by the likes of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Roxy Music. Where standout “Lion’s Den” has a sinister, laid-back groove to it, the manic “2016” stomps and seethes like vintage Iggy Pop. And while “Up for Days” is a slow burner, taking its time to get off the ground, its climax is one of the most dramatic on the record.
The differences between the two albums are stark, but as Rønnenfelt explains, the second album couldn’t have existed were it not for the experimentation of the first.
“The new one is sort of an immediate reaction to the first one,” he says. “The first record was the product of asking all these musicians from Copenhagen, that I liked and admired for various reasons, to come together in a room. So you put all of us in a room and just await the results of what explosion of sound might come out of these people feeding off of each other...a very uncontrolled, wild product of placing these minds together and placing them against each other. The inspiration for doing it immediately afterwards created a whole new periodic system of elements that you can build on, so what happened is, you have these musicians that build this chemistry together. What happens if you try and pack it into a more fixed format? Telling It Like Is is a reaction to this collective of musicians and trying to do something more strictly written with it.”
Marching Church has been in a state of transformation every step of the way, evolving into something new with each release. The same goes for Rønnenfelt’s other projects, including synth-pop project Vår and his full-time band Iceage, which went from being a blistering punk band to a more elegant, darkly sophisticated punk-blues outfit. That’s likely just the result of a creatively restless mind. Rønnenfelt, now 24, has been remarkably prolific in his young career, but for how much he’s done already, he’s not interested in repeating any of those ideas-—not deliberately, anyhow.
“To a certain extent, you could argue that I do visit the same idea, and take them into different scenarios,” he says. “Ultimately you’re writing out of your own mind and you have some kind of entity or personality. So, I’m not interested in repeating myself ever, but it’s not something I have to think about. Every time I do something, it becomes a motivation for doing something else.”
Marching Church plays January 20 at The Hideout