Punk duo No Age don’t question their ambitions. They roll up their sleeves and do it all themselves.
Punk duo No Age don’t question their ambitions. They roll up their sleeves and do it all themselves.
Across the pond, over the hills and far away, in the heart of LA, a phone rings. A busy voice answers from within the din of snuffed-out instruments to yelp, “What’s up!” And so we meet Randy Randall, guitarist of experimental punk duo No Age. Though three songs into rehearsal with bandmate, drummer and vocalist Dean Spunt, Randy takes a break to spill some knowledge about the creative process behind progressive new record An Object. Buzz around the album is both tangible and real, which is apt considering that An Object is precisely that – a physical ‘thing’ that Dean and Randy made by hand, printing and assembling the first-run themselves (using Dean’s own printing press, no less) and slipping personalised notes inside most sleeves. Keeping things DIY comes naturally to the pair who filmed and directed the album’s first video and count hands-on artists like Ray Pettibon, Chris Johansen and Thomas Campbell as major influences. Randy and Dean may only have four hands at their disposal, but they seldom stop to question whether they can do everything themselves.
Where did the idea to hand-make An Object stem from?
Before we’d even written anything, Dean wanted to answer the question,‘When are you going to actually make a record?’ Obviously, people meant, ‘When are you going to write another album?’ because it’s been three years since our last release. But Dean got it in his brain to physically make a record – to make every element from the ground up. That’s what really set his brain on fire.
What sets An Object apart from your previous albums in terms of your writing style and approach?
To be honest, we never really thought about how we wrote – we just sat in a room and played. If you become too self-aware, that is the death of creativity, because you start to feed on your own process and you have to get out of your own way to keep from stumbling on your own feet. So we started writing songs in a way that was more intuitive and less of an intellectual songwriting pursuit. We were trying to get to a more primitive id, to the dark recesses of your subconscious. We really had to challenge our preconceived notions [of writing]. Like, I’m a big fan of loud rock ‘n’ roll, so instead I started playing a small Silvertone guitar through a tiny amp. For Dean, he abandoned the drum kit completely at first and started hitting these small contact microphones on his legs with wood and metal. In the end it still sounds like us, but it came from a very different place.
What steps did you first take towards realising your new writing process?
Because it was both of us, we really had to challenge our preconceived notions [of writing]. For me, for example, I’m a big fan of loud rock n’ roll guitar sounds. So, instead I started playing a small Silvertone guitar through a tiny practice amp. The guitar was slightly out of tune and the riff sounded kind of weak in a way because it was so naked. I kept experimenting with these kinds of sounds and deconstructing the guitar sound that I really liked, which can tend to be thick, rich layered things. So, I started writing songs really stripped down and with things I consider to be the more appealing elements of lush, noise wave guitars. For Dean, he abandoned the drum kit completely at first and started using these contact mics on his legs, hitting these small microphones on his legs, hitting wood and metal, and in so doing kind of creating a different instrument and a different way of creating percussion. In the end, it still sounds like us, but it came from a very different place.
Is this deconstructed, experimental, raw approach mirrored lyrically as well?
Yeah. Lyrically Dean is quite diverse. There are elements throughout the record that talk about construction, deconstruction and about when is something finished. What is this form that you create, with its intended purpose, really getting used for? That similarly was an idea for the album. You can intend something to be a certain way, you can intend to construct an album, but it can evolve into something else. What it is, is really up for debate. Just like the title, ‘An Object’. It means a lot of different things to different people. It could be something seen as banal, or throwaway. Or it could be a spaceship. Either way, at the end of the day, it’s just an object. Like a book of matches is an object. The Mona Lisa is an object in some ways and that levels the playing field.
Perception and relativity seem to be a new layer you’re not only playing with in writing and playing your songs but also considering and manipulating in how the songs themselves are heard.
Yeah, there are so many elements to the songs, to the lyrics, to the rhythms, to how we recorded it and how we actually performed it. They all have multiple meanings in themselves and together it’s a record you want to put on to feel something. It really breaks down to that. Despite your best intentions, and however interesting the backstory may be, can you put it on and just enjoy the song? When we were mixing the record, I was putting these songs on in the car, around the house, then I’d go into the other room or go outside and basically had these songs living around the house as I lived. And a song doesn’t work if I can’t live with it, if I can’t move with it, if it doesn’t sound good in the car or fit in and be interesting no matter what I’m doing. People don’t really sit down and turn up the record player with hi-def headphones and study the record the way most bands do. You have to listen to it the way that you can hear it, either in ear buds, or in the car with the windows rolled down and your friends talking. That’s how you need to make a record. It’s meant to sound good no matter where you’re at. We didn’t expect anyone to come to us. We were looking for something that really goes with you.
Was there anything in particular that prompted this need to experiment?
We’re really our own worst critics. We always challenge ourselves. And we didn’t want to put something out because we were ‘supposed to’. We wanted it to feel real, like it was coming from us, not just to fulfill a schedule. The music industry is a weird place and I never really felt part of it. But at some point, with putting out the record and touring, you sort of see that we have all the trappings of the music industry. And that can sometimes weigh you down as someone [ fiercely] independent. So we had to balance that out and make something honest that made sense to us.
No Age is deeply embedded in LA’s skate and punk scene. You guys started out playing at all-age venue The Smell. Mika Miko is often cited as your ‘sister band’. And you’ve collaborated with LA staples like pro skater Andrew Reynolds, curator Aaron Rose and filmmaker Todd Cole. What affect did LA, the place, have on this album?
LA is such a multifaceted place. People here tend to have some kind of attention deficit disorder, you know? It’s just the pace and lifestyle. Like, you wake up, go surfing and have Mexican food in the morning, then eat Italian food on top of a mountain for dinner. It’s that dichotomy and strangeness of LA – snowboarding on sand, eating a Korean burrito. It’s a comical stereotype of cultural blending, but there’s so much interesting stuff going on, it feels like everything has options. Somebody once said to me, ‘LA is the place where things get made.’ And it’s true. If you have an idea, you can rent a warehouse, get some friends in, get the raw materials and make it happen. And if you want to build something, there are enough master craftsmen around – you’ve got your surfboard shaper, for example. There’s inventiveness here. It’s still the end of ‘manifest destiny’, as the myth goes… But I don’t think it has any one character. From the beginning, our band has always been a different kind of band from top to bottom. To us it makes sense. Nothing has to be only one thing. Every opportunity is an option, in that everything has options.
Is there anyone you admire, for their hands-on approach to life?
Well, bands like Crass, considering things like their open-house, where they lived and worked and set up their recording studios themselves, putting on shows and putting out bands on their label. Crass was a huge inspiration for that. SST Records, as well. Black Flag and Dischord Records and Ian Mackaye, regarding how they put records out and personally handled production. For Dean and I, there are bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat, Black Flag and Sonic Youth that stand as unspoken influences, buried in our DNA – which has a lot to do with when and where we grew up. Things are different now, though, with the online world. When we were growing up, it wasn’t unusual for us to go to a show and buy a T-shirt that the band printed themselves, buy a 7-inch from the band and buy a sticker. And all those things were created by the guys selling them to you. The guys on stage were playing it, making it and selling it. Being on a label like Sub Pop, obviously they have people that can do that. And since we’re dealing with higher numbers it was a bit crazy putting it all together and really working hands-on to create all these pieces. But we realised pretty quickly that we could really do this. So we did.
You guys put together 10,000 copies by hand. Why was it important to be so hands-on?
There is something special about the physical aspect of it, especially now that everything is going online. I recently moved and I have boxes of magazines that meant a lot to me growing up. Seeing Ed Templeton do his own layout in Transworld – drawing all these crazy pictures, talking about being vegan and displaying his artwork in a section he designed himself – that was huge. I kept that kind of stuff. Now, someone can hold our record in their hand and know that someone actually made that. It took us four days to put together 10,000 pieces. It was a bit of a challenge, but it’s not that much work when you consider we spent six months writing, recording and mixing all these songs. What’s another four days to make it exactly what you want? We worked so hard to create this thing, so why not see it through?