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Ice Cream Cathedral

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Jun 17, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Ice Cream Cathedral (Anja T. Lahrmann, Kristian Paulsen, and Anders Bach) call their music “space pop.” It’s a good place to start, since very little about the Danish trio’s music feels terrestrial. But the former music students’ (all of them have degrees from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory of Copenhagen) work can hardly be contained by one genre any more than it can be contained by terrestrial limitations. Eerie but sweet, perky but darktheirs is a world of contrasts.

We caught up with Bach for a quick look into the trio’s sophomore album, Sudden Anatomy. He told us about going against the grain in school, the quest for timelessness, and perhaps the most important topic for anyone who makes space popaliens.

Sudden Anatomy is out now in Europe. It will receive a North American release later this year.

Laura Studarus (Under the Radar): Congratulations, you seem to be the band with the hardest possible sound to describe. I feel like I’m constantly coming up short when I try to tell someone about you.

Anders Bach: It is pretty hard to define, right? We’ve always used the term space pop to direct people in some way. We started to define our music as space pop in relation to our first album Drowsy Kingdom, which was more or less a reference to soft ‘80s dream pop. That was for the first album. Space pop has a different meaning now than it had a year ago. Now it’s more of a mixture between ‘70s space rock references, like Kraut-rock, and also like ‘90s IDM. You have more spacey stuff but also these galactic sound verses.

Do you believe in aliens?

[Laughs] What I usually say is that biggest event of my life would be the day that we receive word from an alien civilization. That would be the high point of my life. I could die right there.

Do you have any favorite film representations of aliens or space?

We have a lot, actually. I just saw the movie Dark Star by John Carpenter. It’s a 1974 science fiction movie. We actually just talked about this, Kristian told me that it was actually intended to be John Carpenter’s comedy. But the humor is weird and really bad. So it’s actually much more of a beautiful sci-fi movie than anything else.

We’re also fond of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both visually and musically. Movies in general have a big influence on how we write music. A movie like Aliens, the Ridley Scott movie, is the most amazing, feministic sci-fi movie you could possibly imagine. The first War of the Worlds, the one from the 1950s, the one that was made just after Orson Wells gave that version of it, is completely over-the-top amazing. I think in general we’re pretty fantastic about old-school sci-fi movies. It reflects back on the “Swans” music video. It has this Hollywood vibe to it.

Where did your band name come from?

We had all these words that we associated with the music, and ended up with some really weird names. Ice Cream Cathedral was the more symbolic and accessible one of them. Ice Cream Cathedral holds the childish and naïve approach to music, and Cathedral is more ethereal and transcendent kind of vibe. It’s a huge, serious type of vibe that you get from the word “cathedral.” It has the ominous feeling to it as well. So it’s a mixture of words and associations that are in contrast to one another.

I think that sense of innocence really does come through.

Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of a sense of innocence which at the same time gets in the mix of this otherworldly, alien feeling. That something is wrong. That something’s not how it’s supposed to be. Something childish is being put into something really serious.

Were you inspired to go even further in that direction on this new album?

Yeah. We released The Drowsy Kingdom in March of 2013. We had had that album finished and the master had been finished for maybe a half a year before we released it. We had already been working on new songs for this next album. It’s ironic because we were releasing this album and came out as new artists. We already wanted to expand the stuff that we had worked on with the first album, because we started to play a lot of shows around Denmark and around Scandinavia in general. And when playing these songs from the debut album live in concert, when we played these songs live, there was this new energy that arose from that. When we felt that’s what we had going on, we immediately wanted to transfer that to the songwriting, which we hadn’t done with The Drowsy Kingdom. That was recorded more like a layer cake. We started to write music in the more traditional rock band way, where somebody comes to the rehearsal space with an idea, and then you start playing.

If you’re that willing to go out on a limb musically, do you find that you’re that daring when you’re not making music?

[Laughs] I think it definitely reflects on the way we are, personally. I think the three of us are in general, and in our personal lives, pretty willing to explore. It’s always been the three of us wanting to stand our own ground. Personally, I’ve been traveling a lot in my life, and wanted to do something different with the way that I approach musical education, but also my education in life and general. Without sounding too corny. So I think we would categorize ourselves as explorers, both in sound and in person.

How did getting a music degree play into that exploration?

I think the latter. I think definitely Ice Cream Cathedral came out of a protest of the boundaries in the school. First off, Ice Cream Cathedral was founded as a listeners club, way back in 2010. We just started in school, first semester. I remember we got together a lot of people and showed each other music. None of us knew each other beforehand. Everyone was a complete stranger. I guess we were a group of 15 people who wanted to show each other different types of music. Then Anja, and Kristian, and me, found out that the music that we showed each other and these listener club meetings were pretty interesting. We wanted to meet even more than just in these nerdy clubs.

So it kind of started like that. From that it grew as a compositional workshop. We met after school and wanted to do all the things that we weren’t allowed to do in classes, and wanted to break the boundaries of what we were taught, what was supposed to be the right thing. So I guess that going to music school has been the main motivator for making the kind of music that we do. We wanted to do something completely different. I don’t think the outcome would have been the same if we hadn’t been presented with tradition. Tradition for our case was extremely important. Not just in the sense that we wanted to follow it. We wanted to do something else.

Tell me about the title of the new album, Sudden Anatomy.

We were extremely overdue with finding the title. Our label was calling us day and night and wanting us to come up with something because the vinyl had to be pressed. It was totally up in the air. This was back in March, actually, when we were touring the U.S. for 10 days. In the van, driving to Austin for SXSW, we suddenly began to talk about how our writing process was, and what images would come to mind when we talked about how we wrote things. Sudden Anatomy came out of that. The way we write things is that the three of us are a collective of writers. So there is no lead player in the group. It is a band in the most traditional way. The unity of the three of us is the body of the music. What happens when we write is someone comes in with a foot or a leg. Then we start to assemble what will become the anatomy of the composition or the anatomy of the song.

This image is much more vivid and much more of an analogy consistent with the way that we wrote this new album, especially. Because the songs are far more organic in their sound than our debut album was. It was recorded live and written like a traditional rock band would write the songs. Stuff comes out of nothing, and a lot of the songs are in their essence, improvised from their origin and the assembled afterwards. Sudden Anatomy is a picture of how improvisation reflects on composition. This is exactly how we write the music.

How important is storytelling to you?

I think it’s important in the lyrics for this albumAnja has been experimenting with story-writing much more than on The Drowsy Kingdom. The Drowsy Kingdom was much more about personifications of images and certain specific parings and stuff like that. The new one is a lot more narrative in its language and has these pretty concrete subjects. For instance, “The Spine of Lisa Ben” is an ode to a 1950s pioneering homosexual published writer. It was a huge revolution for sexual freedom in general. It’s about historical events of political situations. Stuff like that. Which reflects on the music, because a lot of the songs are pretty narrative in their form and aesthetics in general. There’s a lot of passages that evolve from nothing to something new. Which has this alien vibe to it, which reflects back on the space pop genre.

Having retro touchstones in both film and music, do you think about how your own music will age over time?

I think it’s also a question of how you define timelessness when talking about whether or not it will be stuff that people respond to in the future. It’s a subject that’s pretty interesting to musicians as well as the music business in general. How will people regard music that’s popular now in 10 or 20 years? I think it’s always a question of the definition of timelessness. I think what we’ve come to find is that the most important thing for us is that when people listen to music, they transcend the social norms that are associated with music that’s popular right now. I saw an interview with John Maus, who spoke about how the music that’s popular in a certain period of time is always connected to the political situation that’s governing the western world. He spoke about music in the Romantic era was always godly music because the king was the person closest to God. Now, we have music that is associated with capitalism. That’s the primary political ideology of the western world. What more of a perfect match for capitalism than pop music? With that in mind, I would hope when people listen to our music in the future, they would transcend the time and regard it as music that’s happening in their room though their speakers at this very moment.




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