INTERVIEW

Fourth album ‘An Object’ has LA duo No Age trying new things and fucking with the drums.

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When I pick up the phone to call No Age, my information is hazy. I’m not 100% sure as to where they are or who will pick up the band’s shared mobile. As it turns out, I find Dean Allen Spunt on what might just be the Champs-Élysées, given the constant buzz of traffic and background conversation as he relaxes after the Paris leg of No Age’s mammoth 2013 tour. As he discusses the struggle to keep live shows interesting, the evolution of No Age’s sound and a difficult relationship with the music press, he gushes about his band with an effusive energy that’s almost aggressive and always articulate.

“We just played last night,” he buzzes. “It was in this little club called Espace B, behind a café. It’s like 200 capacity, real small. Real sweaty and fun. The ceiling was sweating; it was nice.” His excitement about playing to a live audience is infectious and I ask him if he’s looking forward to a tour that stretches all the way to November, taking in over 50 dates that will see them traverse the US before heading back to Europe. “It comes in waves. I’m ready for it. Definitely, after not touring for a little bit, it’s something that can get exciting. We got creative with the record and the packaging, and the whole time making that I was thinking, ‘OK, we have to tour.’ If you think of it as this experience you get to go have and share with people and get to complete the cycle of art … we made something and we’re going to share it.”

They’re determined, it seems, to share it with as many as people as they possibly can, and a quick look down their upcoming itinerary throws up some interesting stop-offs. As an Irishman, my attention is drawn to Limerick and when I ask if they’ve been there before it sets off an insight into a touring policy that goes much deeper than most bands’ stock slaloms through major cities. “We’ve never been. We try to mix it up. I think, as a band, it’s boring to play big cities all the time. In places like Limerick or small towns in the States, even an hour outside a big city, it seems to have such a different vibe and it’s a different experience for us. To them their towns are awful. They have this small town guilt but in small towns there’s something real going on.”

Watching a live show that is nothing short of incendiary, it’s clear that there is a telepathy between Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall, and he is beguilingly enthusiastic as he waxes lyrical about their mutual understanding. “We communicate by a raise of an eyebrow. You know what the other person’s thinking. It’s funny, because even if we don’t practise for a while or don’t play shows for a while, there’s these kinetic energetic things; muscle movements and muscle memory. I more or less know what Randy’s gonna do and if he doesn’t do something then I more or less know how to come out of it and shape around it. Or if he messes up or if I mess up we know how to make it look like we didn’t.” He laughs, but it’s more than just a case of covering each other’s backs; it’s a crucial part of the band’s live experience. “I tend to like when we mess up. It changes it up. We can get pretty tight by the end of a tour but we like to keep it loose.”

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For anyone who hasn’t seen how the band work on stage, Spunt takes on vocal duties from behind his drum kit, while the other half of No Age, Randy Randall, stands, head bowed, driving the melodies forward with bruising, six-stringed abrasiveness. At least, that’s been the format until now. Upcoming album ‘An Object’ takes their razor sharp neo-punk and blurs the edges. Drums are either treated, buried deep in the mix or eschewed in favour of found objects. Rewarding for the listener who affords the time it deserves, it’s a much sludgier, more difficult record that makes the first track to surface, ‘C’Mon Stimmung’, sound like straightforward indie pop. “It feels a lot tighter and it feels heavier, with the intent of the lyrics,” says Spunt. “There’s not that many drums on the record. There are rhythms but they’re not heavy; they’re kind of like a limp wrist instead of a fist. I think that’s interesting. There’s these really powerful, almost aggressive lyrics but then the songs never really get to that point of macho-ness. To me, drums can be very macho and as a drummer I’ve tried very hard to make them as simple and nimble and as human as possible.”

For a band who have steadily built a dedicated following, it’s been interesting to gauge the reaction to the new sounds. Spunt says: “We have these soundscapey songs and we try to play those live but people don’t really want to hear those. They want us to play the song where I’m pounding the drums so that they can jump on top of their friends and stuff. And I like to play them too, but this is a way to say, ‘These songs that are moving and aggressive, you’re going to have to deal with not having a big loud drum set and we’ll see what you do.’ No Age come to town and you want to jump around, but we’re hitting you with this thing that’s half of the equation. You’re kind of left to fill in the void”

Having contributed music as an accompaniment to the 2012 essay book Collage Culture, there is an earnestness when we discuss the physical production of the new record itself, something which very much turned into a labour of love for the LA pair. “We manufactured 10,000 LPs and CDs by hand. We originally wanted to do an unlimited edition and continue to do them by hand but Sub Pop weren’t really into that because that would mean that they would sell out when we’re on tour and they’d have to wait for us to come home and make them.” I suggest that that might be fair enough, given the business that they’re in and Spunt laughs. “They reminded us that they’re running a record label to sell records, not to have us critique the way that records are sold. But these ideas helped me and it’s kind of funny to see how far we can push it. I’m really proud of it. It’s my favourite thing we’ve done.”

By the time ‘An Object’ sees the light of day in August, it will be almost three years since they released third album ‘Everything In Between’. “I definitely needed some time to be inspired to make music,” says Spunt, who’s self-effacing when it comes to the manner in which he contributes to No Age’s sound. “Making music, for me, isn’t as easy as it is for Randy. He can write songs and he plays guitar so he can come up with riffs. I play drums and I don’t usually come up with drumbeats on my own. If I do, I come up with loops and samples and noise stuff but that usually doesn’t fill a whole song.”

Indeed, it becomes obvious that the recording process itself was a difficult one and was, in fact, aborted on at least one occasion. “We went to Texas in 2012 to try to record a record and it didn’t really work. We had two songs that are on the record now but one of them’s ‘C’mon Stimmung’, which we recorded and that was just the way it is, but when we recorded ‘An Impression’ it was just a totally different song.” The time off, then, allowed Spunt in particular to regroup and focus on what it was that he wanted to create music about. “I need to be inspired and I need to take some time off to write because I’m not generally inspired by jamming. I need to go out and relax and see things and look at art and check in with friends. I need to take a look at the outside world and see where I want to point my gun.”

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One thing that emerges is that Sub Pop have remained a benevolent force in the birth of the new album, affording time for the creative juices to flow. I ask if they were as understanding back when they had just signed, but Dean snaps back, asserting the self-conferred freedom himself and Randy felt from day one. “In the beginning there wasn’t any pressure. That’s why I believe ‘Weirdo Rippers’ and ‘Nouns’ were super easy, because there wasn’t any pressure for us. It was kind of a joke. Like, ‘We made it on Sub Pop, that’s a joke because our band is weird.’ At that point we were a very odd band.”

Spunt’s more bullish as he reflects on the band’s early dealings with the industry, saying, “That they cared and wanted to give us money, or that other labels wanted to give us money to make us money was completely serene. There was no pressure because we were going to make a record we liked and either way we would lock ourselves in for three records.”

The mention of those early days, however, also ignites a rant at the music press and how the real burden, particularly after 2008’s critically acclaimed ‘Nouns’, grew out of the hype that surrounded them and the need to pigeonhole their work. “Articles would just say that you sound like this or you have this kind of thing, that you’re a lo-fi garage rock or noise rock or rock band or whatever the fuck they were talking about and then they would compare it to these other bands who would have, maybe not a similar sound, but the vocals were distorted or something. And then instantly people would put stuff together. At the end of the day I don’t read reviews or anything like that so it doesn’t really matter.”

I ask where No Age fit in in today’s musical landscape.

“There are bands that I do feel aligned with,” says Spunt, “but they’re usually bands from home. We’ve been friends with a band like Deerhunter for a long time and I respect them musically. To be honest with you, I didn’t really care about that world. It was just odd – there were moments when I’d wake up in a hotel at a festival and be surrounded by similarly hyped bands and be like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’”

Playing devil’s advocate, I ask how I should describe No Age when I come to write this piece. Spunt sniggers. “On this record I’ve been really accepting being a rock’n’roll band, making rock’n’roll songs and touring. And shaking my butt in front of the camera.”

As our conversation draws to a close, I make sure to congratulate Spunt on their anti-Walmart and anti-Converse protests, the latter of which saw them take part in a concert sponsored by the footwear brand in order to execute what they described as a, “Planned Contradictory Action.” Projecting moving images of the conditions of Converse factories as their backdrop, the most impressive part was that they managed to persuade the engineer to let it play for almost 15 minutes. “Yeah, well I was staring at the guy and yelling at him not to turn it off. I looked very angry. They played some of it. The kids in the audience were very excited by it. I think they felt what was wrong with the show. And then we didn’t have to say anything – we just showed them and I think they understood why a shoe company shouldn’t be trying to sell back rebellion to a bunch of kids.”

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