Interview: No Age on Their DIY Punk Roots and Tour Habits

Earlier this year, Los Angel-ish duo No Age released a new album titled Snares Like a Haircut.

Astute reviewers who gave the album’s one sheet several passes noted that it was the band’s first album in five years and that both Randy Randall and Dean Spunt had become fathers. Children are fairly common things that occur as life progresses, so yeah, there’s that, but more importantly, No Age made a great album that has the teeth of their younger selves, with just enough polish and wisdom to not be considered annoying.

This fall No Age will continue to promote Snares Like a Haircut with a string of international dates, including the two-day Octfest in Brooklyn, supporting The Flaming Lips, Nile Rodgers and Yo La Tengo, among others. There’s a lot of bedroom hopefuls and garage bands who will be mentally headlining Octfest’s Mega Dome come September, but while they plug away in their respective ‘burbs, No Age have managed to make it to international main stages whilst still retaining their DIY punk roots. I caught up with Randy Randall—currently nursing a broken wing—in an attempt to cajole him into acknowledging No Age’s evolution and success. That kind of happened.

What was the biggest transition for you and Dean, from starting off in DIY venues to the larger stages you play now?

Oh dang. That was crazy. We never really planned on playing big stages. How can you? We were very naive. Playing at The Smell was the biggest venue we could imagine. The room there is really echoey and I got used to playing the guitar with really loud amps because that was what sounded good there. Needless to say, no one liked how loud my amps were on any other stage other than The Smell. I had to get used to turning down on bigger stages. We brought our friend Scott Cornish to do sound for us—he also got his start at The Smell. He was incredibly helpful for us and made us sound way better once we played bigger stages.

Sometimes punk bands just don’t translate well in a festival setting. Other than The Stooges, can you think of any that really ‘worked’?

I never thought I would get to see My Bloody Valentine, that was incredible getting to see them perform. Same with the Pixies. Negative Approach was pretty awesome live, I remember crowd surfing. The Jesus Lizard are incredible, I just saw their last LA show and it was huge, they sound better than ever and it was awesome to hear Mac [McNeilly] on the drums again.

I saw a clip of Trash Talk destroying a drone at a show, which had to be the weirdest shit ever. Would you ever own one?

Ha! That is crazy. I have never seen a drone at a concert… what the fuck!? I don’t own a drone. My brother does. Why would someone bring a drone to a show?

I think a lot of people assume that touring bands get the 1980s Van Halen treatment on the road, but I’m sure you’ve had your share of ‘TOUR FOOD®’ especially when you have diet restrictions. What’s that like for you?

Dean and I are both vegan so eating on the road is like another hobby, like record shopping or searching for old gear. Dean loves to use Happy Cow to find good spots. He likes to eat pretty healthily so he will find something good. I like more junk food vegan spots. It’s funny because we come through most big cities once a year or once every couple years, so we keep going back to old school vegan spots so much that our homies who live in the towns are like, ‘Why do you guys want to eat there? No one eats there anymore. There are so many new, better vegan spots’. There was a rad vegan diner Cornbread Cafe in Eugene, Orlando. Oh man! If I lived near there I would eat there every day. Wow! So good.

While we’re on the topic of being on tour and downtime, do you have a favourite music documentary?

I love the Classic Album series on Lou Reed’s Transformer. They can be kind of hit or miss but that Transformer one is awesome. They bring up the original reel to reel master tapes and ride the faders to show different tracks that are either buried in the mix or not used at all. There are some cool Bowie backing tracks that I had never noticed before and a cool story from the session bass player who arranged the ironing bass part for “Walk on the Wild Side.” He doubled up his part with this sliding harmonic technique because he got paid per track and he wanted to get paid twice. That Journey documentary is pretty awesome, and the story of the new singer, Arnel Pineda, from the Philippines is incredible.

I know you’ve both mentioned going to shows at DIY spaces such as Pickle Patch, PCH and then later playing The Smell. I always thought the PCH smelled worse than The Smell, but whatever. What did you like about seeing shows there early on?

I never got to go to PCH, I became friends with Alex after PCH. I played in a band that played in his backyard. I was blown away by going to DIY shows when I was younger because it felt raw and free. It seemed liked anything could happen. It wasn’t a sanctioned show at a big venue with bouncers and barricades. It felt more democratic and the audience was part of the show. I saw Mike Watt play a solo show at The Smell in North Hollywood and I felt like this was something I could do. There was no difference between the audience and the performer.

I know journalists like to group bands together to make them a “thing,” but you have to admit that it’s cool that No Age emerged from a recognisable scene and are still going, right?

I think it’s cool. I don’t really feel nostalgic, time moves fast I guess. I am stoked we played a bunch of shows with our friends and their bands, it didn’t seem like a “thing” it was just the only place we could play. Big bars and clubs wouldn’t let us play there and we didn’t really want to.

I always thought it was cool that Murph from Dinosaur Jr. had such a cool snare sound, but they claim it’s just a shitty head with tape on it. Favourite snare sound?

That sounds about right. A wallet also works well for a snappy Motown snare sound. I like a snare sound that cuts but doesn’t have a ton of bottom end or ring on it. I like the snare on Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”.

I come from a visual arts background and I always thought it was strange that we don’t process visual artists in the way we do musicians. For example, some periods of Picasso don’t appeal to me but others are amazing. Sure, I wasn’t around for Picasso’s ‘demo’ and major label LP, but you can dip in and out of his work and extract what you like. In music, it’s like this linear journey that is judged as the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ periods. Why do you think that’s so?

It’s the same reason music is different than movies—music is personal. When you love an album or an artist, you say things like,’That is my record’. Music makes such a personal, lasting impression that you can instantly remember where you were when you fell in love with it. Music can trigger so many personal memories or emotions that you make a one-to-one correlation with a song, record or artist. When they do something you don’t like, you feel offended because it’s like your best friend, boyfriend or girlfriend breaking your heart. You don’t want them to change, you will always remember them in that deeply personal way when they first imprinted on you.

When they inevitably get old, change or write another song or record that doesn’t sound exactly like the one you fell in love with, it’s like they are cheating on you. You hate them for changing and resent them for not always being the same as when you fell in love. It is hard to process music clinically, you can do it but it is not as deeply meaningful as the songs you and your friends loved when you were 12 years old.

Music can be part of forming your new peer group or extended family that you carry on with, outside of your immediate family. Music can be the soundtrack of that new exciting friend group and your feeling of acceptance into a new tribe or family. So when you hear that music, you will forever feel that sense of belonging that you first felt when you were accepted into a new group. Nothing is better than that. Knowing all the words and drum breaks or solos and transitions to your favorite record is so enjoyable. Breaking down a beautiful piece of music to appreciate the composition and arrangement is valuable as a writer, but it won’t give you the same level of enjoyment as listening to your favourite song from when you were a teenager.

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