No surrender as the LA duo take of CBS Television… and the world
Dean Allen Spunt: “I feel like we make art instead of ‘rock’. I’m definitely not a musician, I don’t know what a fucking C# is!”
Randy Randall: “Being an artist isn’t reserved for some upper echelon of well-trained dudes with berets and moustaches. If you have to make a creative decision you’re an artist.”
Welcome to the world of No Age, self-defined artists and simultaneous experimental punks, but also one of the most politically aware bands in America right now.
What’s more, they’re a band with morals and sizeable ambition to follow their own rules, splitting their mildly-successful three-piece Wives after the release of their 2004 debut ‘Erect The Youth Problem’ because they didn’t actually like their own music.
“We had to sit back and be like ‘do we like this music we’re playing in Wives?’ and we were both like ‘not really’,” explains Spunt, as we catch up with the band backstage before their show at London’s Electric Ballroom. “I listen to it now and it just sounds bad. No Age is definitely more conceptual. We have to like everything we write, it has to be our favourite. I think originally we wanted to play with other people but we were so comfortable playing with each other that it was hard to play with other people, ’cause we’re not musicians.”
So No Age were born, with Spunt switching from bass to drums and lead vocals, and Randall handling the melody and noise with his guitar and racks of loop pedals and samplers. Getting it together at Los Angeles community hotspot The Smell (which also boasts HEALTH and The Mae Shi among its regulars), No Age released five EPs on the same day in 2007, shortly collected as their debut ‘Weirdo Rippers’, which saw shards of punk thrashings peek out from a scree slope of hiss and ambient noise. This year’s ‘Nouns’ featured a more hi-fi approach and even some, admittedly twisted, alt-rock anthems in the shape of ‘Eraser’ and ‘Teen Creeps’, especially.
There might not be many intelligible political lyrics in any of their releases – or, to be honest, intelligible lyrics full stop – but even in Wives (who sounded “like shit”, according to Spunt) politics was a driving force in the band.
“Our life is political,” explains the singer, eager to expand. “It’s who we are, who we’ve become. We’ve grown up together essentially since we were about 19. What we do as people reflects the band and vice versa. In Wives it was similar, I mean, we practiced what we preached – DIY. That’s just how we work, we’ve never really done anything in a way we don’t want to.”
“You do what you believe in,” adds the flannel-shirted, baseball-capped Randall.
Not only their personal politics were put in the spotlight recently, however, when No Age came up against one of the US’ most powerful traditions – censorship. Rehearsing for a performance on CBS’ The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson in October, Randall was told he had to remove his ‘Obama’ t-shirt because of the ‘equal-time rule’, a little-observed law which basically says all political candidates must be given the same amount of exposure on US TV and radio stations – surely Libertarian candidate Bob Barr or the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney can’t be too pleased with how well it’s working. Whatever the band’s arguments, including Spunt suggesting to the production team that he would wear a McCain t-shirt to even things out, the programme wouldn’t budge on the issue, so Randy decided to make the best of the situation and turn the t-shirt inside out and write ‘Free Health Care’ on it.
Scheduled to be shown on ‘The Late Late Show…’ a few days before the presidential election, the clip was surprisingly brought forward and a two-minute monologue from presenter Craig Ferguson effectively supporting the band in their choice of clothing was tacked on.
“I think they put it out early just to quiet the blogs and the internet chat,” Randall says. “But [Craig Ferguson] talks about it, it’s pretty amazing. I mean, it was never a personal attack against him, we never met the guy.”
“My mom called me and was like ‘it’s on right now!'” laughs Spunt, revealing that the band didn’t even know the performance was due to be screened early.
“I thought it was cool that [Ferguson] at least addressed it,” Randall explains. “He could have just said nothing.”
“Now Obama’s ahead even more, so maybe we did something, hey? We gave Obama a ball-slap, have that as the pull quote!” says Spunt. “Although if McCain wins, there’s gonna be a lot better bands – there’ll be something to rally against, like Ronald Reagan in the 80s.”
Although the duo are firmly committed to the Democrats’ campaign and eager to speak about it (despite Randall stating firmly that Obama “isn’t as far to the left” as he’d like), the guitarist doesn’t think politics is something all bands should have to talk about it.
“I don’t think a band necessarily has a responsibility to say anything, I think it’s a very personal thing. I can’t expect everybody who can play guitar to have a thought about how the world’s run, you know, I don’t think they necessarily go hand in hand, but I think if you do think about politics and the way the world runs it doesn’t matter if you’re a band or a teacher or you work in a pizza store, you’re aware of what you can do to make the world a better place.
“So if I’m in a band I have a stage and I can say things from the stage or at a TV appearance or a blog and people can listen to what I’m saying – I would feel that I wasn’t doing my part to make the world a better place [if I didn’t speak out]. You can’t ask someone to do something but if you show them how easy it is and what kind of reward you get personally in your life from it, you can maybe lead by example.”
Of course, in exploring No Age’s political and social convictions we’re forgetting the amazing music they’re continuing to make. While ‘Weirdo Rippers’ was a lo-fi treasure, ‘Nouns’ seems to get better with every listen, seamlessly mixing up the band’s hardcore and ambient sides. ‘Here Should Be My Home’ might be one of the catchiest things the band have ever done, but its speed and chiselling guitar lines ensure it stays away from pure pop music.
The duo’s gig at the London leg of the pleasantly-monikered Shred Yr Face tour with Times New Viking and Los Campesinos! at the Electric Ballroom is as much of an onslaught as you’d expect from them. While Dean thrashes away on his kit with manic energy, shouting into the microphone like a particularly angry Stephen Malkmus, Randy’s guitar throbs with feedback and bass, creating loops of ebbing noise and jagged stabs that often sounds more like there are five people onstage rather than two. They might only have made two albums but, to paraphrase John Peel’s comments on his favourite band The Fall, No Age seem “always different, always the same”. Not that all their songs sound the same – although they’ve yet to release anything straying close to anything sensitive or ballad-shaped – more like who else would have the gall to mix up Brian Eno, Crass and Royal Trux in so many different combinations?
“I think we’re having fun writing songs, we’re getting better at it,” says Randall on the future.
“We’ve only written one, two new songs,” adds Spunt. “One’s pretty poppy, it sounds like The Kinks. [But] I can see us writing some stuff that’s harsher in noise as a counter-reaction [to ‘Nouns’]. We started the band to write music we wanted to listen to – and we listen to a lot of pop music, a lot of noise music and punk music. I think with our early stuff it’s so simple and straightforward. Like a song like [‘Weirdo Rippers”] ‘Dead Plane’ with all those ambient parts then at the end it’s literally like [sings, a bit] duh duh duh duh duh duh duh, you know, one note? It’s like The Bee Gees, you know? It’s just recorded really lo-fi.”
There are a lot of things most bands, especially British ones, could learn from No Age; how to be a brilliant punk-noise-ambient-pop band for one, but also how to go about changing the world and making a stand. Let The Pigeon Detectives studiously ignore all social issues and let Jon ‘The Reverend’ McClure preach like a devout Baptist, ’cause No Age have found a better way. Never letting polemic get in the way of their art, the band are using interviews like this to spread their social messages and their personal politics to others. There really doesn’t appear to be any careerist ambition, no desperate desire to be popular. They just want to make music they (and, luckily for us, other people) love – and who would deny an artist’s right to do that?
Originally published in issue 1 (vol. 3) of Loud And Quiet. December 2008