No Age on Getting Back to Rock Music and Feeling Like Dewey Cox
It’s been over a decade since the release of Weirdo Rippers, the 2007 singles compilation that was the first exposure to No Age for most people outside their tight-knit scene of Los Angeles punks. A lot has happened since then. No Age made three solid-to-great records. They got signed to the titan indie label Sub Pop, and then their contract expired and was not renewed after 2013’s An Object, their most recent album. In the mid-to-late 2000s, indie rock approached what in retrospect looks like a pop-cultural zenith, only to retreat in recent years to the basement venues and diehard fans that raised it, for better or worse. “It was a moment,” drummer-vocalist Dean Spunt told Spin recently. “And now this is another moment.”
Snares Like a Haircut, No Age’s forthcoming fifth album, will arrive via Drag City, a smaller label than Sub Pop, but with a reputation that is at least as venerable among those aforementioned diehards. After An Object, an intensely conceptual effort whose atmospheric songs were mostly written in the studio, Snares is filled with intense rhythms and blazing power chords: “a live rock’n’roll record,” as Spunt calls it. Spin talked with Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall on the phone during a break from practice at No Age’s rehearsal space in L.A. last week. They spoke with candor and dry humor about growing older as a band and staying true to your vision even after the hype machine has passed you by.
We’re also debuting the poignant and very funny video for “Send Me,” the third Snares single, which features Randall and Spunt as “Randy and Dean from HR,” giving a somber presentation about the proper usage of office printers and microwaves. The video is a collaboration between the band and filmmaker Jonn Herschend, and also features the actress Beth Lisick as an office worker who decides to liberate herself from daily drudgery. Watch the video below and read Spin’s Q&A with No Age after that.
SPIN: I was just going through some old interviews, and I noticed a quote from Dean from 2013 about growing up and getting more professional as a band: “It can start to feel like the office every day, when you know what you’re doing, but I like experimenting and feeling vulnerable.” The new video is literally about being in the office every day, and how to free yourself from that. Was that a parallel that crossed your mind when you were making it? Is it still a challenge to break out of your creative routine and avoid falling into boring old patterns?
DEAN SPUNT: The key for us, I’ve noticed, is just to have time. Time to explore different avenues, different parts of the world, parts of the city, parts of anything. Musically, if you don’t have that time to experiment—when we’re touring so much, every night, constantly playing—we don’t have time to space out and jam. It’s always just getting the set tight and making sure it feels right live. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that time helps you to be experimental.
As a musician, there’s these different components to what you do: There’s playing shows and rehearsing for them, versus exploring your boundaries and writing new material. They can feel like completely different disciplines sometimes, and they can even be at odds with each other.
DS: With writing, I always think about it as being loose, allowing things to flow, and trying to find those little moments that come out of your subconscious. Playing live, most of the time it feels like we’re in Spunt and Randall’s Moving Company. We’re just driving around, moving large rectangles and squares from one space to another.
Have the more grueling aspects of tour become even more grueling as you’ve gotten older?
RANDY RANDALL: No, not really. It’s never really that grueling. I enjoy getting out on the road. I’ve always been an explorer. What changed was, when we were in our 20s and single, I had no real reason to come home. Once I was gone for two months, I was like, “Shit, I’ll just stay for six months and keep traveling.” Now with a wife and kid that I love very much, I understand the longing to be home. I get phone calls: “Hey, when are you coming back, I’d love to see you.” I didn’t have that before. But it is a fun, liberating feeling: “Gotta hit the road, babe.” It feels like Walk Hard, like I’m Dewey Cox.
Regarding that time to explore that Dean was just talking about—what were some of the explorations that happened between the last record in 2013 and this one?
RR: We were pretty active in that period, we just weren’t releasing full-length LPs that come with their own associated PR people to tell everybody what we’re doing. One of the first things we did after An Object came out is we went up to this creative collective called The Thing in San Francisco and performed that record in total, but as a reimagined piece. We’d rewritten the record in a live space, and we recorded that to a four-track cassette and duped the cassettes the next day in a small edition.
I have a fun, loose hard rock band called Rat Fist that allowed me to get out a lot of guitar riffage, and that was fun. And I also did a lot of soundtrack and ambient compositions for different projects. Dean has a solo performance art practice. I don’t know if he hired a big PR agency to tell everyone about his art…
DS: Yeah, my PR person must have been sleeping that whole time.
After An Object, our contract at Sub Pop was up. The tour was done, the record was out. So we were just floating around in the ether. We have lives outside of the band, and creative lives too. And again, having that time to stretch out and be creative and come back and offer something to each other was important. Rather than just being like, I’ve been staring at your face for eight months–should we try to make music about that?
Were there particular musical, lyrical, or conceptual threads you were chasing while putting Snares Like a Haircut together?
DS: We mostly wrote An Object in the studio, and this one was very much written to be played live on a tour. We wrote a couple songs, then we booked a tour, and when we came back we were going to record them. The record was a tool. It became a way to carve out these songs, a way to start.
To me, that was it: to make rock music, which I feel like I’ve avoided for a long time. Rock music is so vile and depressing. So to try to make it interesting is a challenge. Because, as you know, most of it is god-awful. There’s nothing wrong with rock music, but there’s so many bad intentions, and so many bad producers. It’s just tainted. A live rock’n’roll record: that was my big concept for myself.
When your first couple of records came out, they coincided with this flare-up of popular interest in quote-unquote lo-fi music. I think the kind of thing you guys do was probably more popularly and commercially viable for those first few years than it is now. Does that feel true to you?
DS: Well, I think we sold more records, and more people came to shows then. So yeah, probably.
RR: But there was no real commercial intent. It was kind of right place, right time.
That’s what intrigued me about it. You guys were very obviously just doing your own thing, making this weird and spacey punk music, which happened into a moment when it could become a larger cultural phenomenon. I’m glad it worked out that way.
DS: We jumped in the fire. We always thought of the Sub Pop signing as an experiment that would last for a few years, and then we’d put out our own records and go on with life. So we were fortunate. We had no idea that anyone beyond the core people would ever hear it. Our aspirations before all that were to play to a room of 250 people consistently. Just to make art and music and challenge ourselves and our friends.
That’s the dream.
DS: That’s basically it, and that’s still it really. But then people start telling you, well, you could play bigger places, and maybe there’s more waiting for you on the other side.
RR: I was shocked. I had friends from high school who I hadn’t talked to in years, and around Nouns, when we did all the touring, they would be like, “Wow, I really like your band!” And I was like, “Wow, fuck off! That’s bullshit. You never liked any of my bands and I’ve been doing the same thing for so long.” I didn’t know how to hear that. Part of it is just not knowing how to take a compliment. No one had ever said they liked anything I did, really.
DS: It’s also funny to think of the reality of that period as a moment that has passed. We did our thing then, and we’re still doing what we do. It’s sort of fucked up and sad, in a way. “Hey, remember when we were culturally relevant? That was really wild, right?” So now what are we trying to do? Are we trying to get back to that point? When we were touring so much in that time, it felt like that was our reality, and that it would continue to be like that. That was just what was happening. I don’t think I even thought about it. Now, we have so much time, and a different label situation–you’re more mature, you’ve seen bands come and go. It was a moment, and now this is another moment.
RR: I remember having a dinner early on with our booking agent, right after the Nouns tour, and I straight-up asked him: “Is this over now? Should I start looking for a job? That was really fun, but how long does this thing last? What is this?” He was like, “No, you probably have another five years.” And I was like “OK, cool, thanks.” I think we stretched that five out for a couple more years.
The profitability of art: what types of art are profitable at what times? It’s almost as if people plan these cultural commercial trends, and we’re all pawns in a larger game out there that somehow makes large corporations money. It’s almost as if that’s true—I’m not saying that’s true—but one could almost see such a thing. But then you’d sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist.
DS: They’re putting fluoride in our water. Making our brains shrink with chemtrails.
RR: But we’re not saying that. You didn’t hear any of that from us.
RR: Hold on, the CIA is texting me. They’re asking us to stay right where we are.
Aside from tour, is there anything on the horizon you guys are particularly excited about?
RR: We’ve been talking about making more music for another record. We sat down and recorded a few things, sketching out ideas for that. I think that will probably be the next thing to happen this year.
I keep working on this vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. I think I’m gonna get it right this year. I have conflicts, because I go from the heart. I throw in whatever’s there. But my wife, and other people who taste it, say “Maybe you should follow a recipe.” So I’m trying to find the right recipe. Hopefully, fingers crossed, this year.