Johan Wieth of Iceage: “You should be very careful listening to too much music when writing an album. It tends to get a little too explicit “
The members of Iceage were teenagers when their debut album, New brigade, an explosion of post-punk-infused hardcore, was released in 2011. “When I saw an amp, I set it all up,” says guitarist Johan Wieth of his initial approach.
Over the next three albums, the band’s sound developed, softening rough edges and embracing melody without losing their emotional core. New version Find shelter go further.
Find shelter This is the first time that Iceage has worked with a producer in addition to longtime collaborator Nis Bysted. Finding out that Peter Kember was a fan, they went to his base in Portugal to record. Kember, better known as Sonic Boom from British psychedelic rockers Spacemen 3, was “more of a wizard than a producer,” according to frontman Elias Rønnenfelt, and his influence finds Iceage on anthemic and ecstatic grounds.
As Johan recalls: “We found this old public radio studio in Lisbon, where they were doing symphonies and everything. It had this very nice roof, but it was very worn out, so when it rained it literally rained inside the studio.
In just 12 days, the four oldest members of the group recorded the basic tracks, but Find shelter was given another dimension thanks to a new recruit, guitarist Casper Fernandez, who doubled his parts in Copenhagen.
Johan explains, “You can’t tell Casper to play something. Well, you can and he will, but he’s got so much soul and spirit that he’ll make it his own. We quickly realized that this was really part of these new songs. For me, playing with someone you’re comfortable with opens up your own playing. It makes me a better musician to play with him. You give yourself space.
Guitarists listening to the album will immediately notice killing reverb sounds. “This is my Mantic Proverb pedal,” says Johan. “Everyone asks, ‘What reverb is that? He has such a distinct sound. A friend opened it up and it’s weird, it’s the same plates as in any other new reverb pedal. So we couldn’t really explain why it sounded different.
Johan sets the mix at 9 o’clock. The Numb control, which reduces the clarity of the reverb, is at maximum, but the Dwell (decay time) is only at 8 o’clock. “So it’s not really dense, the reverberation long,” he explains, “but it’s very audible. It is never extinguished.
Johan’s favorite amp is somewhat surprising. “We had a two amp setup for this album, a Vox AC30 and a Marshall JCM800 2203. But most of the time I only played the JCM800. What, Zakk Wylde and Slayer’s beloved stage rock amp?
“When we had to play at festivals, I always asked for a Fender Twin, and I always struggled with them. Sometimes they had a JCM800, and I was like, “This is horrible, I hate that sound”. We were at a festival one day and they only had the Marshall. I said, ‘Well, whatever.’ I think I had misused it, or maybe I encountered some that didn’t sound right.
“With the low gain input I couldn’t get enough oomph from it, but I switched to the high input and for some reason it works. I would say that with a Les Paul it becomes that very familiar sound, but with a Jazzmaster it works perfectly. You can get really dense sound and you can get that low end, and you can get that high without it getting out of hand. “
Still, you’d be hard pressed to say that the amp that defined ’80s rock is the same on Find shelter. “I think maybe it has something to do with the attack. I used a Guyatone LG-350T which has these really high pitched single coil pickups. I did most of the clean, rhythmic stuff on it. Peter Kember has a very large collection of guitars.
Among Kember’s guns was a Jack White-style Eastwood airline. “There is a lot of Eastwood for the denser parts. I’ve played a lot of his DiPinto guitars Peter had this Vox Teardrop guitar which is the Spacemen 3 sound, and I played around with that a bit. My friend has a 1974 Goldtop Les Paul which I used for some lead parts. The two guitars of mine are a Jazzmaster and a Jaguar. It was like an equipment nerd’s dream.
From this arsenal Johan ran in his crankset. “I have the gain on the amp halfway up because I have three distortion pedals, and if I start pushing it further it gets a little louder.”
The two main distortions are a Z.Vex Distortron and a Wampler Euphoria, while the third is sometimes a Z.Vex Box of Rock and sometimes a Pro Co Rat: “I like the Rat because it’s particularly extreme. I saw Jason Pierce from Spiritualized. He also plays on a JCM800 and he was using a Rat so I gave it a try.
It never has all three distortions at the same time, but the Distortron and Euphoria often work together, high volume and low gain. Johan’s ever-expanding crankset also houses a Catalinbread Echorec, Fulltone Tremolo and TC Corona Chorus delay. “I have my most precious possession, the Wilson Effects wah. It’s kind of my secret weapon. It’s more like that really weird filter, and it has bass settings to boost the bass. It sounds like no other wah pedal. I don’t bother him too much, I usually keep him in a fixed position.
As for musical influences, Johan tries to avoid having them consciously. “My idea of going to the studio or even writing an album is that you should be very careful listening to too much music while you are doing it. At least for me, it tends to get a little too explicit. I couldn’t really tell you, ‘Oh, I used to listen to that a lot.’
“I think for our records it wasn’t always as much about the type of music you listened to as it was about what was going on in our lives at the time. What books were you reading, what movies were you watching. I think I was reading that of Amos Tutuola My life in the ghost bush. ”
Despite the lack of conscious effort, UK critics have unanimously compared Iceage’s recent production to the work of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Johan is a philosopher.
“It’s good if people think it sounds like Bad Seeds, but you get tired if you hear the same thing over and over again. I think Bad Seeds are a good bunch. I haven’t listened to them for a long time. We don’t write music to make it sound like them. But it’s the first thing you do when you hear something. You don’t say, “Oh, that sounds like a duck crossing the road with a big head,” you say, “Oh, that sounds like another piece of music that I heard. “
Iceage isn’t bothered, however, instead of humming from their recent injection of new blood. The addition of Casper Fernandez gives Iceage something they have long needed. In the studio, singer Rønnenfelt has always played rhythm guitar, and the arrival of Fernandez offers them two live guitars.
Never did a band settle for less, however, all three guitarists ended up playing on the album (“There are at least seven guitar tracks on each song”). Johan takes care of the lead guitar, while Casper takes care of the slide parts. As opener Song of the refuge, you hear these two sounds overlap.
Johan is reveling in the new energy this brings to the group. “It’s invigorating. “
- Find shelter is out now via the Mexican summer.