With the world in flux and a constant state of terror, when to be on the outside seems like a curse rather than a joy, there’s art. We have to hold on to it with both hands until it escapes them and flies into a universe that will, one day, be safe. Feel Freeze are a duo from Denmark whose music reflects the times in which we live and, as much as we have the opinion of a liberal Scandinavia, even that has a long way to come.
The duo, consisting of Raymonde Gaunoux and Mathias Vinther Lilholt, have known each other since 2004. Although Ray was born in the United States, he was raised in Aalborg - Denmark’s 4th biggest city. “It’s still rather a small city, though,” he clarifies.
Their meeting story is also one that artists across the board can relate to. “Our first interaction was when Ray asked to borrow a lighter,” Mathias says. “But we didn’t really get to know each other in high school.” In fact, it wasn’t even until 2009 when they actually forged their relationship as they know it today. After they had both moved to Copenhagen, Ray asked Mathias if the two of them should write a song together. And they did.
Despite the fact that Ray moved to New York for a while and the two had to send each other transatlantic demos, and, following his return to Denmark, the unfortunate side effect of living inside each other’s pockets creating a year-long rift; Feel Freeze eventually came to be. And if you listen to their newest album, Feathers & Scars, you’ll be thankful they did.
Feel Freeze define themselves as creating in their words, dreamy, queer, whimsical, vulnerable, original sci-fi electro-pop music, which is something we certainly need more of. We caught up with the band around the release of Feathers & Scars to chat about everything around being queer in Scandinavia… and the utter pain and joy of giving your life to your art.
When did you decide to actually form a band together?
When Ray returned to Denmark in 2011, he moved into my [Mathias’] apartment and we decided to create an album. The musical energy was really good, but the condition of the apartment, as well as the constant togetherness, sled on our relation. After half a year we had a finished album and a worn out friendship. So we split up, didn’t release the music and continued to make music separately.
In the fall of 2012, I got invited to perform a musical piece in a dome-shaped watchtower as part of an art experiment in central Copenhagen, and I called Ray. That concert became a turning point. The audience’s reception of the new, reinvented music was overwhelmingly positive and the concept of Feel Freeze was born.
This rebirth of our musical universe led to us finishing our debut EP⸺Future Emotions in a Digital Heart⸺which was based on both new material combined with elements of the never-released album. The EP was released in May 2014 and we played our first concert at SPOT Festival simultaneously. We also played our first international concerts in the same year. In 2016, we signed with Icons Creating Evil Art and started to work intensively on what was to become Feathers & Scars.
How did you come up with the band’s name?
We found it really hard to find a fitting name for the project. So, we had a bowl in our studio, and every time we came upon a word we liked, we wrote it down and stored it in the bowl. One day, we sat down with one of our friends and put words together in all kinds of combination. One combination said “Emotion Freeze” and there was something about it that we liked. Our music and maybe all music is like freezing or storing feelings. We found out that if we replaced Emotion with Feel, we had a more visually interesting name.
Who and what are the inspirations behind your band?
Our sound on Feathers & Scars draws on musical inspiration from artists such as Anohni, The xx, Bon Iver, SOPHIE, Sigur Rós, Tami T, Michael Jackson, The Flaming Lips, Madonna, and even 90’s Eurodance music.
One thing that also inspires us is sci-fi universes such as Black Mirror and Twin Peaks. We’ve always been occupied with futuristic themes. That theme goes well with the new album; it forges a glimpse into an unknown world and a far away universe.
On Feathers & Scars, we wanted to create a universe where the rules of gender, sexuality, and lived life as we know it, is different. We’ve spoken with our queer friends about this "gender utopia," where you can just be and not think about your gender or your body. Where you don’t have to be molded by society to fit into somewhere you don’t fit.
With the album and the cover, we want to make room for these bodies and create a sci-fi inspired gender utopia.
About the cover. How did you go about making that decision to show your bodies?
It was in the making for some time. During our work with the album, it became clear to us that this was going to be a political album especially trans-political, given that I’m in the band. I’ve always used my body as a political tool.
Before I had surgery, and before Feel Freeze existed, we had a queer glam band and during shows, we would all take off our shirts. I wanted to be on the same terms as the others and have the same privileges, in spite of my body being different. I wanted to perform and do the same things as cis men have done in music for generations. I wanted to take my shirt off at shows, in music videos, and on record covers.
We wanted to do kind of a cliché 80’s pop cover, where the artists are standing in a pose on the front cover with naked upper bodies. And we knew that it would be political and mean something for representation of trans and queer individuals. It places the transgender body up front and claims a space that’s rarely given or taken.
Writing this, the album has been out for a little more than a week and we’ve already received messages and questions from people seeing the cover - present in front of us or online from all over the world. A guy wrote to us a few days ago to thank us for being role models for his son being trans. That touched us both deeply. We feel this cover represents who we are - artistically and personally.
Would you say that the act of creating queer art is political in itself?
As the good old feminist saying goes: The private is political. You can’t have one without the other, and so the album is both. When you have a queer life, everything you do is political. You can’t act freely. You have to invent space and mirrors for yourself and your communities every day. Nothing is a given.
It’s songs about our lives, our feelings, and our experiences. So, the personal and the political become very mixed up and intertwined. We would both say that yes, creating queer art is a political act in itself. So is going to the doctor, the grocery store, traveling, picking a gendered toilet.
Especially for me - all that I do and all my choices in everyday life are political. Except for when I’m in my house.
Has the process of transitioning and coming out as nonbinary changed your artistic process at all?
“Trans people need to be represented as much as cisgendered people. It’s not a competition as to who has the most. It’s about equality. Simple as that.”
I’ve been making music and playing shows in various constellations for as long as I can remember, but I still felt out of place. I never knew how to act, what to look like, how to sound. No matter what I did, I felt like people didn’t really understand me. Especially in the Danish music scene.
It’s only just now become more open in regards to gender diversity but it’s still extremely narrow. There are certain norms for how men and women are expected to present themselves as musicians. I never fit into those norms. Nobody could really place me. I did girl “wrong” and now I’m doing boy “wrong”.
Before I came out as trans, I was a tomboy; an androgynous woman - at least that’s the box I was put in, I never felt like that. I was never overly macho or masculine in that sense, and I’m still not. My process of coming closer to myself personally had a parallel artistic development. The more I fell into place with myself, the more I fell into place artistically.
Right at the beginning of transitioning, I had a strong feeling that I felt better with myself than ever before. My music also started coming together in a more focused way and people were telling me that they felt it and could hear it - that my music had found its path. Like I said before, my personal life and my music are strongly combined so it makes sense, that when I became less confused, my music became less confusing. For the first time, I had a clear idea of where I was going, personally and musically.
You mentioned the Denmark music scene. Now, we always hear really liberal things about Scandinavia, but can you tell us about the landscape for LGBTQ+ people there from your perspectives?
The queer landscape in Denmark is torn and ambivalent. There’s a pretty big queer community in Denmark, particularly in Copenhagen. But there’s still a long way to go in order for the queer feminist community and the established to meet each other.
Homosexuals have come a long way in order to have more rights, there’s a big international Pride celebration every year, and parts of the government are very supportive of the LGBTQ+ communities. However, it’s often all talk and no action. What is often forgotten is that people need more than one Pride a year. For LGBTQ+ people, the struggle is real and it’s every day. Every day, you’re confronted with the struggles of not having certain rights and possibilities.
The government in Denmark is very open about having done a lot for the queer community, but in reality, nothing much has changed. It’s mostly written on forms and on paper, rather than practiced in society - the treatment of transgender people in hospitals, having access to hormone treatment and surgeries for example. It’s getting better slowly, but it’s still hard. Most societies are simply not made for people who don’t fit the norms. The focus on a queer agenda has been increased in recent years, but there’s still a ways to go. We hope we’ll get there.
More and more artists have been coming out as visibly queer, making visibly queer art, and just being themselves. What would you like to see more of in the musicworld, queerness-wise?
It’s so very great that more trans and queer people are slowly making their way into the music scene and claiming that space and visibility. It’s always been there in subcultures, but to have trans and queer people actually be expressing their own narrative, instead of someone speaking for them in the mainstream music scene, is amazing.
I feel like it started with ANOHNI, when she came out with her album “I Am A Bird Now”. It was the first album that I heard by a trans-identified artist that went so internationall on a mainstream level. She really put down some ground stones there. Since then, trans visibility has increased on the music scene and more trans people are being represented. For example, with SOPHIE, who is also showing off her upper chest in the music video for ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ and putting trans on the agenda.
We also want queer artists to receive attention. Furthermore, we want music to stray away from the male domination and sexism of the music business. We want more queers and women in all positions in the music business. It’s wonderful to see more and more queer artists, but queer is still not very representative in mainstream pop music and culture. We want more of that, but we also dream of reaching a point where you don’t have to point out who’s queer and who’s not.
How important is queer and trans visibility for you?
Trans visibility is crucial. The more the better. If you’re a trans person, you need representation and there’s just way too little of it. We don’t know if it will ever happen, but it needs to go to a place where it’s not called “visibility” anymore. Trans people need to be represented as much as cisgendered people. It’s not a competition as to who has the most. It’s about equality. Simple as that.
How would you sum up the new album, Feathers & Scars?
Feathers & Scars ranges from hard-hitting pop bangers to slow, poetic ballads. It’s a tour de force in whimsical, touching, and originally detailed electronic pop music that will blast you into a futuristic world of new dimensions. The album marries personal emotion with political sincerity. It wants to show the world how you can bend norms for gender identity, sexuality and the life of queer existence. It tells about pain and struggle while firmly remaining an uplifting celebration of diversity in sexuality and gender identity.
And finally, are you planning on touring the album in the States or Europe?
We’ll be touring Europe in November 2018 visiting Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen and other Danish cities. In 2019, we’ll expand the tour to other parts of the world. If you or anybody wanna host a show with us in your city, fx. at your Pride or queer-related event, or if you know the right booking partner for us in your country, reach out!
Feathers & Scars is out now via Icons Creating Evil Art.
Em Burfitt is a queer music journalist whose transient heart is always in Paris. She's a regular contributor to The Line of Best Fit, NarC. Magazine + Get in her Ears. http://emburfitt.com