Feature, Issue 22, Magazine

No Age: Rain Man

Stephen Blackwell :: Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 2:45 pm

In January of 2008, five months before the release of Nouns, I visited No Age in Los Angeles to interview them for the cover of this magazine. I could hear Dean Spunt bashing away on the drums as I rode the freight elevator up to their practice space, a tiny room nestled in the corner of a large warehouse that was built in a part of town epitomizing the other side of the tracks—twenty feet from them, actually. After our introductions the conversation jumped from the salient issue of the day—Heath Ledger had been found dead a few hours before our interview—to punk music, their band, and what exactly these young men made of the buzz circling No Age like a great white.

No Age had signed to Sub Pop in 2007, being the ostensibly committed torchbearers of a lo-fi trend sweeping through indie music after years of big production and inclusion in movie sound tracks, car commercials, and so forth. Could something refreshing happen? The people who thought so were already fans of No Age, and those who didn’t just hadn’t seen the band live or picked up Weirdo Rippers, a collage of dissonance, drones, feedback, and punk rhythms the band had pieced together since their humble beginnings.

Flashing forward to July of 2009, when I’m set to interview them again, No Age is one of the most talked about indie bands in the world. They have the rare gift of connecting with the kids while their act seems otherworldly. They’re performing at the Pool Parties in Brooklyn, a popular indie concert series situated on Williamsburg’s waterfront. Despite the pouring rain that will eventually move the show indoors, the audience politely soaks, waiting in line.

I meet up with guitarist Randy Randall and we agree the day’s schedule has been deep-sixed by the weather, so we’ll catch up over phone sometime next week. A few days later he dislocated his shoulder and performed at Lollapalooza sitting in a chair. I felt bad calling him. But when I did, it was cute. Randall’s cell phone speaker was busted, so he and Spunt had to hand the phone back and forth whenever the other wanted to speak. It reminded me of being a kid on vacation with my dad—whenever I would call my mom she’d always say, “Wait, wait, hold on a second—your grandma wants to talk to you.”

The last time I interviewed you guys, it was shortly after your New Yorker profile in early 2008. Sasha Frere-Jones told you No Age made him want to be in a band again.

Randy Randall: Yeah, he did say that.

Well, it seems a lot of people heard No Age and actually started bands. How do you feel about that? Flattering or weird?

Dean Spunt: [Laughs] It’s flattering, man. You know, I think Randy and me are pretty humble about stuff like that. I’m trying to remember when I was a kid if I ever thought, If I were in a band, it would be cool if we inspired people. I think I’d be stoked. And I am stoked. I think it’s really cool. But, being a humble man, sort of, it’s not really happening.

RR: I think it’s cool. I think that what we do makes sense to us. I’m psyched that people are just out there and making music. I don’t really judge it.

After you guys released Nouns you really exploded. Was that at all anticipated?

RR: It seems like after Nouns came out a lot more people knew about us. A lot more people—way more people. And [sighs] I don’t know. It’s funny and cool and weird and awesome. It’s so many things at the same time—it’s hard to put into words. We didn’t start this band to be rock stars or something. Or do anything. We were just like, Let’s play music and make stuff. The fact that anyone cares is insane.

Do you guys consider yourselves rock stars? In terms of what a rock star is nowadays: trying to be a little bit revolutionary, trying to be underground, but getting music out there in an ethical way.

RR: I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. I think it’s up for a definition. I think there’s enough attention being paid to people online. It seems that with YouTube, like, The Grape Lady’s a rock star, or “Chocolate Rain.” Those are rock stars. So the idea of getting a lot of attention from a lot of people very quickly happens more frequently. To become a rock star, it could be anyone with a website. But I don’t think anyone’s looking for big, posturing rock stars. I don’t think the role of rock star exists anymore.

Your new EP, Losing Feeling, demonstrates a more polished band. Are you guys past the roots of what No Age began as?

RR: I don’t think when we started out that we wanted to necessarily be a lo-fi band, or start a lo-fi revolution or anything. That was probably the furthest thing. I could never have thought of anything like that—we were just working without a lot of money and without access to equipment. So, I think that the end product was something that sounded lo-fi and people defined it as such. We were never lo-fi for the sake of lo-fi. It was the material at hand. And we’re not trying to be hi-fi just to do the feedback-lash against the ears. We’re just trying to sound good.

DS: I want to add that I think some things have to sound like lo-fi, you know? Each song kind of says what it should sound like when we’re writing it.

No Age is a big touring band. Earlier today I was watching video footage of the Lollapalooza set. Has becoming a festival staple that draws large audiences affected the way you make music?

DS: We’re still writing songs just for us. I haven’t really noticed us changing how we write song—like this song will sound great to a million people, or this song will only sound great to ten people—I think we’re still writing songs that just sound good to us.

Losing Feeling’s last song, “You’re a Target” is really pop, with a verse-chorus-verse feel—Randy even breaks out a Smashing Pumpkins guitar lick in there. Not that you guys are becoming arena rock…

RR: Well, Dean wants me to add that he hates Smashing Pumpkins. He’s mouthing, “I hate Smashing Pumpkins!” So, I’ll say that first and foremost. I think of songs now, like “Teen Creeps” or “Here Should Be My Home,” that have a similar vibe. I think they’re related to “You’re a Target.” I don’t know—it doesn’t seem like quite such a departure for us. There are a lot of songs that are out now that are pop-structured songs. I think what’s somewhat of a challenge for us is just to see how tweaked we can get a pop song to be. And tweaked means how far we can push the sound, the frequencies—adding layers of sound to it we don’t necessarily think would go into a pop song. “Things I Did When I Was Dead”—that’s a pop song that’s all been based on recordings of feedback, drones, and things. It was kind of a challenge for us.

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3 Responses to “No Age: Rain Man”
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