Sometimes conversations suck. Typically this isn’t a big deal because most conversations are not recorded to be later transcribed and posted on the World Wide Web. Sometimes they are. Sometimes there’s no chance to walk away, no leaving the situation or clacking it up to some external factor like bad reception. Like most painfully awful and awkward conversations, I repeated it over and over in my head, attempting to pinpoint the exact moment everything turned to shit, wondering if the misunderstanding could’ve been prevented. Rather than just replay the dialogue in my head, I had a digital recording of the conversation. A recording I’d have to type out word-for-word so that others might enjoy me getting mocked and cussed at in Danish. I thought maybe I could edit it, but there wasn’t any one specific moment when things fell apart, my entire conversation with guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth of the Danish punk band Iceage had been a mockery. There was, however, an apex, a point of no return. This moment came when I asked Johan to comment on a song lyric I’d misquote, despite the fact that the PR man had sent me a lyric sheet:
Me: In the song “Against the Moon” there’s the line: “whatever I do/I do not repeat” was your decision to include this slower, more ballad-like song a testament itself to that desire not to repeat one’s self?
Johan: “It’s repent. The word is repent not repeat. (Cussing at me in Danish).
Me: “Sorry, I’m the worst.”
Johan: “You are the worst… Nah, I don’t mean that. I’m sure you’re a lovely guy.”
For the third or fourth time, Johan was asking me to return to my question sheet: “Would you just look at the sheet and just read the next question you wrote down.” But I couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to walk away, to recognize this as the last of my troubled communications with the band. A very sad end to a month long game of international phone tag, which included a 42-message email chain with Sam, the PR guy.
In retrospect, I should’ve known things would go poorly. In a previous interview with Iceage, the video interview appeared extremely tedious affair for both interviewee and interviewer.
My girlfriend even tried to warn me, informing me that Mercury was in retrograde. But I’m a fervent believer that the universe does not produce signs. Astrology is, at best, a party trick. So after a month of calling and getting nothing or static or a muffled voice asking if we might try again another time, the band had finally reach the U.S. tail of their tour, and so thought we should give it one last go. I was given the number of the tour manager, Jamie, and told to call Sunday at 1:30 p.m. There really is no need to replay the conversation to find the initial error, things went bad. Quick.
When I called Jamie, no one answered, which I sort of expected after all our previously failed connections, but then I got a call back. On the other end of the line was a heavily accented voice. A voice I assumed to be Jamie’s. I was wrong, as I would be wrong again and again. I asked if it was Jamie I was speaking to and got a response I couldn’t quite make out. I asked the voice to repeat itself, and if I might be able to speak with the band. This time I understood the voice was Johan’s. Things were not going smoothly.
Me: Mind if I record the conversation. I need a second to set it up the recorder.
Johan: Don’t you have too? It’s an interview.
I decided it’d be wise to skip pleasantries and get straight at the more in-depth questions.
Me: I thought I’d start by asking a couple questions about the new album. The big question concerning this album, at least to me, has to do with the band’s decision to include new instrumentation—the viola, the mandolin, the horns—and the open space of these songs that allow for that.
Johan: The songs were asking for them. We didn’t decide to do it until we became aware that the songs had to have those things….
Me: Right. So with a song like “Stay” was the addition of horns to the chorus something decided on early in song-writing process or decided on in the studio?
Johan: There are no horns in that song “Stay.”
Me: Which one has horns?
Johan: There are many.
Me: But which one has the horns that brighten up the chorus?
(another long pause)
Johan: What’s your question?
Me: So you guys just wanted to have those instruments in those songs; it was a natural decision.
Johan: Yeah, very good.
He was mocking me. Did I deserve this? Here’s where I started questioning the validity of my own questions, thinking perhaps they really are stupid. That lead me to the foolish choice of return to more general questions, as I tried to get back my bearings. But have you ever noticed how when you say something stupid everything after that seems only to compound your stupidity?
Me: How was touring the world? That has to be awesome.
Johan: It’s not as good as you think.
Me: Why not?
Johan: Waiting around all day. Driving. It’s okay. It’s heaven and hell and everything in between.
Me: I just thought it’d be interesting. Guess I’ve been hanging around D.C. for too long.
Johan: Just get to the questions.
This is where I should have ended it. This is the point in a normal conversation where I’d walk away. When its still in ‘no harm, no foul’ territory. But I had a goddamn job to do, and I still had some questions to ask, though at this point I’d pretty much lost any hope that one of them might a elicit a response that might trigger an engaging dialogue.
Me: The bright, jangly guitar work of “The Lord’s Favorite” and the quasi-country walking bass line for me as a real rockabilly quality to it. Where was your inspiration coming from for that song?
Johan: I never know what inspires them.
Me: You don’t know where any of it comes from? So when you start to write a song where do you begin?
Me: How about with a song like “Against the Moon?” Also, how do you fit a slower song like that into the live set.
Johan: We don’t play it in your live set. It’s based on the organ and we can’t bring an organ for one song.
Me: Why did you decide to include a slower ballad on the album?
(another long pause)
Johan: Because it’s a good song. Why wouldn’t it be there?
Though I’m not sure this last question was intended to taunt me, I was ready to give up. I might also have been sweating. It felt something like a disastrous first date. A date that took a month of set up, and where I thoroughly, though clearly not thoroughly enough, researched my date and studied their past achievements. I wondered who was going to pick up the check for this clusterfuck, how it might be salvaged. After all the time taken to set this up, I feel as if I was letting someone down, though I was not sure who that was.
Me: What is next for Iceage? What are you excited about?
Johan: Whatever pays (he mumbles, not really to me). I’ll figure it out. Working on it.
The worst thing is I get it. I understand why he gave me the answers he did. I understand why he wouldn’t want to answer my stupid questions, and that the music should speak for itself; that he didn’t owe me anything. I get it. I mean he’s a young dude, probably close to me in age, we just didn’t jive. We spoke for less than ten minutes, at least two minutes of which were pure silence.
Me: I’ve got no questions.
Johan: You’ve no more questions.
Me: Is there anything you’d like to say.
Johan: No. No way, man.
Also, I’m somewhat obligated to inform you that Iceage will be playing live at DC9 tonight, June 15th.