A few years ago, Egil Dennerline ’97 wasn’t sure if he’d ever speak again, much less sing.
A creative force with four studio albums, several books of poetry and some film credits under his belt, Dennerline was diagnosed in 2011 with tongue cancer, and the prognosis doctors gave him was mixed.
Since childhood, Dennerline knew he was at risk. He has a rare genetic disorder called Fanconi anemia (FA), which is known to cause different types of cancers. Still, the shock was profound and motivated him to focus even more intensely on creating music. After enduring seven years of hospital visits and cancer treatments, Dennerline, along with his musical collaborator and friend Palle Hjorth, released a new album in late 2018 under the band name Wall to Wall, aptly titled, Waiting.
The deeply personal album, which has been praised by critics in Denmark, where Dennerline lives, is difficult to categorize in a single genre, but it has been compared to the early work of Peter Gabriel, the English singer and musician known for blending experimental sounds with pop and rock music.
“This album took a long time to complete, but I’m very proud of it,” Dennerline said. “It’s a truly existential series of songs, each with a unique perspective on what the important things in life are. It’s not about my cancer—it’s about living life to its fullest.”
Dennerline, who grew up mainly in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is Danish-American, started playing music when he was just 5 years old, studying violin and learning saxophone before finally finding his home behind the drums. At Conn, Dennerline took a jazz history class that gave him a renewed interest in the music his parents had introduced him to when he was younger, and he played drums with a few student bands, including two separate ska groups and a hard-core band called Egofilter. He also served as president for a year of the student-run organization, Musicians Organized for Bands' Rights on Campus (MOBROC), which occupies a unique performance and rehearsal space on campus in a renovated squash court where student bands can practice and play shows.
While Dennerline loves a wide variety of musical styles, he finds he’s drawn to the experimental more than anything.
“I still have a soft spot in my heart for music that brings something new to the table,” he said.
Storytelling is always the core motivation behind Dennerline’s work, regardless of the medium, and that love of storytelling has guided his involvement in film as well. He has produced both feature movies and documentaries for film and TV, although he admits that filmmaking can never quite compete with his passion for music.
His newest album with Hjorth explores some new musical territory, but there’s also a smoothness that hints at a shared familiarity between the musicians.
For 10 years, the two performed together in the band Forgetting Feet, a music and poetry project based in Copenhagen that focused on improvised rock and experimental sounds.Dennerline sang and wrote the poems and lyrics while Hjorth played the keyboard. When Dennerline was diagnosed with cancer, Hjorth vowed to collaborate with him on a new project in which they’d share in the songwriting. That project ultimately became Waiting.
Wall to Wall plans to tour throughout Denmark, and Dennerline hopes to secure some dates in the U.S. as well. But for now, the band is enjoying the positive response the album is getting from critics and listeners alike.
“Something about this album is really resonating with people, and we’re just grateful they’re listening,” Dennerline said.
Waiting can be streamed just about anywhere, walltowall.dk