Interview: Iceage's Johan Wieth on the Making of the Brand-New "Beyondless"

Danish punk band Iceage first hit the scene back in 2008, when most of the members (having been school friends) were still in their late teens. Before long, the group was signed and released their debut, New Brigade, to positive reviews praising the band’s powerful and energetic performances and masterful blending of punk subgenres like hardcore and goth.

You’re Nothing was released two years later to more positive reviews and Plowing Into the Field of Love a year after that. With each release, the band continued to evolve their sound, adding alternative instruments to their songs and pushing the boundaries of their chosen genres.

In the years after the last album’s release, Iceage (a band that had been touring incessantly from the first record through to the third) took a bit of breather. Some members started families, others worked on side projects. But through it all, the itch to keep creating new records and evolving as a band has never gone away.

Iceage - Beyondless

We had a chance to catch up with guitarist Johan Wieth and talk about the latest album, how it was made, and some of his favorite pieces of gear. For more information on Iceage and for tour dates and music, you can visit their website here.

It’s been a handful of years since Iceage last put out an album. What was the process of writing and getting back into the studio like?

We were never a band to write material in the studio, so the process of writing this record happened around a year before we went into the studio. A lot of stuff happens in the studio, but the raw material of the song is planned. The blueprints are there for a song, and we know how it should play out.

We never jam either. [Ideas] are taken sometimes from someone just having a riff that you hear that inspires you to go up and say something like, “Hey, I kind of have an idea.” And then we just kind of shoot it around, and everyone kind of molds their part in.

It’s a little different. It’s not a set one way of doing things, but we never sit down—the four of us together—and write a song. It’s usually that someone shows up with an idea and then we build on it from there.

Right. And you’ve worked with the same producer, Nis Bysted, over all four of your albums? What is it like to work with the same producer when you’re going into the studio to do things that are so different every time?

I think that’s exactly why we work with Nis. We’ve always worked with him. He, for us, is the one knows our music the best besides ourselves. It’s kind of like a comforter when he’s there. We’ve just always worked with, him and he’s a very dear friend.

He was there the first time we went [into the studio]. He kind of learned with us, as we all learned together about how to record and how to do certain things. He was always there, and he was taking the same journey as us. Therefore, it feels as if he in some ways is kind of a part of it all.

You can hear a lot of that evolution throughout each of the albums for sure. I’ve read that you guys have been strict about your studio time in the past. Did you keep to the same kind of rigidity this time around?

The way that we approach going to the studio is that we never want to have enough time. We always want to keep ourselves on a knife’s edge and just really push ourselves. I think that shows in the music—that kind of immediacy that comes from not having too much time. The only place that your head can be is in the songs and in the material and in getting this gut feeling in there. That’s how we always worked.

Of course, the time that we’ve spent recording has continued to extend with each record. The first was recorded in two or three days, the second one was in five days. The third one was in eight days, and then this new one was done in 10 days. This also has to do with the length of the songs and the amount of songs, which have also expanded.

But we always keep ourselves very busy when we’re in there, which is also something that can be stressful. The four of us are in it and doing it, but for the other people working in the studio, it can be quite a stressful environment.

Iceage - "The Day the Music Dies"

Yeah, I can imagine. I definitely do agree that the urgency manufactured from that is communicated in your music. Hearing about that rigidity, I’m interested to hear about how you decide on instrumentation and look at that. Do you experiment a lot there as you go, or is that another thing you’re trying to plan out beforehand?

I think that, especially in this studio, there were just so many different things lying around to play around with and to try. When you first play them, you’re like, “I don’t know what this is, but it’s something.”

Then, when you go to the mixing part and you sit down and you listen to it and it’s like, “Oh, should that be there and then? Well, maybe it should.” All of the sudden, you couldn’t imagine the song without the modified verse of piano or campanelli or whatever it is. All of these small pieces become an important and intricate part of the song. Especially on this record, I think that happened quite a lot.

You said that when you go into the studio, you already have a blueprint laid out with the bones of the song. Are these auxiliary instruments part of that blueprint, something you already have an idea about, or is that something that you fill in later?

Iceage (Photos by Steve Gullick)

Some of it is laid out, definitely. When we have a song that we all play on, it’s played and recorded live—just the four of us in a room. And then we usually do three to five more takes of a song before stopping and moving on to the next song.

Then, you sit around and listen and you think “Maybe this would sound nice,” or “Maybe that would elevate this,” so we experiment. A lot of the extra instrumentation—as in the tambourines and a lot of the percussion that’s present on this record—was kind of spur of the moment. Trial and error.

Absolutely. Do you have any pedals that never leave your board?

Definitely. A thing I’ve learned is that live, something always breaks. Something always cuts out or burns down or switches off. I mean, I’ve played music live since I was 16, and it’s never not happened.

I’ll start thinking that I’m on a solid path and nothing will break and everything is unbreakable, and then it happens again. I’ve changed a lot of pedals on my board over time because they’ll break, and I can’t find new ones or fix them.

As far as go-tos, I’ve always played ZVex pedals for distortion—the Box of Rock Vexter. That’s always turned on on this record. Then, my secret weapon that’s also always on, is a Mantic Proverb.

Why do you like about the Proverb specifically?

It’s just that I’ve never heard a reverb sound like it. I haven’t been able to find anything like it.

The funny thing is, the pedal has broken a lot, and I freak out every time because I don’t think I can find it again. My friend who fixes my stuff for me opened it up once and said, “You know, the algorithm inside of this pedal is just like all of the other reverb pedals that you can get nowadays.”

I was just like, “Yeah, I don’t know man. It just sounds different.”

Iceage - "Catch It"

Yeah, certain circuits definitely have that feeling. Do you have any go-tos when it comes to guitars?

I have a Fender Jaguar Thinline from Japan that I bought in the States a long time ago, and I love it. I tended to play that when we recorded the last two records. Then I have another Jaguar that has modified pickups—I put in some other pickups. It has a substantially louder output.

Then, the guy who records with us, he has a gold top from ‘74 that I also play a lot. I’ve been doing that for the last three records. I wish it was my guitar, but that’s unfortunately not the case. And then I play a bunch of others, too. A Les Paul Junior as well.

I’m definitely partial to Jaguars myself. What do you like about them?

It’s weird, because live I’ve only ever played Jaguars, and someone asked me the other day why that is. The answer is that I don’t really know. I think it’s because I’ve struggled with it, especially with taming the highs. But there’s something about the balance in it, the way that it kind of hangs on live. I always just kind of miss playing the Jag. Maybe I like it because it’s sometimes it’s a struggle to play it—like I’m kind of having a fight with it, which is kind of nice.

Speaking of touring, you guys are setting out on tour through the States for a couple of months. How are you feeling about that after this time apart?

I mean, we toured pretty much nonstop from the first record until the third. That was a lot of touring and a lot of being a away just totally exhausting ourselves. It had taken a toll physically and mentally.

But as we’ve been apart and are just coming together again, playing from the first time we got back together in rehearsal space until we were in the studio now that we’ve been playing quite a bit—it just feels really natural. Personally, I’m very excited. It’s scary, but we’re up to the challenge, definitely.

Iceage (Photos by Steve Gullick)

Do you think that part of that natural feeling of comfortability comes from having known each other for so long?

We knew each other before we played in a band together and got together because what was happening around us wasn’t really speaking to us—we have a very specific idea of how we want things to sound collectively.

The way we got into music and view music is something that we all kind of experienced and learned together. Even playing music as individual musicians is something that we learned together, and I think that’s very much a part of our sound.

We only kind of become more close and intimate in the way that we create together as time goes on. I think now even more than before, we don’t really have to say things, we can simply just do them.

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