To celebrate and congratulate No Age's appearance in the venerable New Yorker, we are reprinting our feature on the boys from waaaaayy back in FADER 48 (in all it's expanded content beauty) because we are competitive and because we still listen to Weirdo Rippers once a week and because ultimately it is a big fucking deal. Next stop: No Age: Live at Budokan!
Story Eric Ducker
Photography Robert Yager
Seventy degrees and sunny on this Sunday morning in deserted downtown Los Angeles, but inside the Smell it feels like a preheating toaster oven. The reason the all ages club has opened its doors during daylight hours is a brunch show by No Age and Mika Miko. These two locally beloved groups will spend most of June and July touring Europe together, so this is a community farewell show as well.
The crowd is heavy with the Smell’s cast of young regulars, but also in attendance are kids whose parents don’t let them go see bands after dark and sober adults who know from experience that the nightlife holds too many temptations. Chino’s tropicali punks Abe Vigoda had the first set of the day, but now they are serving vegan pancakes to hungry bodies who smear on the syrup with their bare hands. Trash thrashers Party Fowl just finished and the teens who minutes ago were up in their face are now crashed out like casualties on the floor. Most of the audience that can legally rent a car is out in the alley getting fresh air. There are at least two strollers on the premises.
Randy Randall and Dean Spunt have played the Smell dozens of times, with their old trio Wives and now with their two-man operation No Age. Still, as Spunt puts together his drum kit and Randall pulls off the duct tape that holds his guitar case together, they look almost giddy. This is the first brunch show that they’ve set up at the Smell, and it’s a brunch show with free orange juice and Spunt’s cousin Marie giving five dollar haircuts.
Soon No Age’s sampler starts spitting out noise, Spunt begins pounding and Randall’s guitar creates feedback that rings high and sharp like tinnitus. Or maybe it’s just my tinnitus. Back in March, No Age played three shows in Austin during the South By Southwest music conference with such overwhelming volume that it seemed like they wouldn’t leave the state until officially declared Loudest Band of the Festival. In a combination of a dare and an act of solidarity, a co-worker and I stood in the front row for two of those shows. My hearing hasn’t been the same since.
When playing live, Spunt’s lyrics are basically inaudible, and on record they are buried in the fuzz, like how My Bloody Valentine used to do it. When deciphered, they are full of abstract allusions to betrayal and emotional burnout. On “Everybody’s Down,” the closest thing No Age has to an anthem, Spunt moans before the frenzy, I’m exhausted too Roy, body’s burned to bits/ Makes me feel like I can’t, makes me feel like I can’t do it/ Everybody's down, everybody's down/ In every soul and every town, everybody’s got me goin’ oooh ahhh oooh ahh oooh ahh oooh.
But the dominant sensation when seeing No Age play is not rage or frustration. It is joy. Spunt wraps his lips around the microphone like they’re in a love affair and Randall often keeps a blissful smile on his face. The sensation of hurt is essential to No Age, but more important is the transformative powers of getting over it. The static, the long moments of simmering psychedelic texture, the shattering cymbals, the huge sustaining guitar that defines their sound—it all pushes for a rapturous release.
A few weeks after the brunch show I spoke to Cali DeWitt of LA indie label Teenage Teardrops. Since he was three, DeWitt has lived in LA on-and-off for 30 years and he has a long musical history with the city. He recalled seeing No Age live for the first time ten months earlier. “They were kind of just what I needed,” he said. “They felt like freedom to me.”
Spunt and Randall live in the two units of a neglected guest house off Melrose, where a spray-painted wooden halfpipe sits out front. It is their friendship that is the foundation of No Age. “There’s a lot of things that Dean does on the drums that make me laugh,” says Randall. “That’s the reason I play in No Age, because it really, genuinely makes me happy. I’ll be at a show that I really like and I’ll be laughing the whole time.”
Now in their mid-20s, Spunt and Randall grew up in the outlying areas of Los Angeles County, in the cities of Santa Clarita and Walnut respectively—the type of big nothing places known for amusement parks, emerging immigrant enclaves and dissatisfied kids. Randall became a budding experimental music enthusiast after he spent a summer stripping tar from his parents’ roof while Sonic Youth’s Goo played on his walkman. Spunt, the son of a chiropractor father and a mother who owns silk screen company, became a vegan at the age of 14 thanks to the teachings of skater Ed Templeton.
The pair met in 2001 after drummer Jeremy Villalobos brought them together to jam in the band that would become Wives, but each remembers noticing the other before they were even introduced. Villalobos had invited Randall to play bass during the dying breaths of his hardcore band, the Count, and though he had never really listened to that type of music, Randall was going through a dark period and was intrigued by the violent catharsis it offered. “My goal was to rip my hand up as many ways as I could,” he says. He bought the group’s 7-inch at Aron’s Records in Hollywood to learn what they sounded like. Spunt was the clerk behind the counter.
Spunt knew Villalobos from when they were both kids running around the Smell’s original North Hollywood location, and his first recollection of Randall was the Count’s second-to-last show. “The other guys were really sharp dressers or hip looking, but Randy did not look cool,” says Spunt. “Randy was playing the bass, but it sounded like noise and he was punching it and I just remember thinking, This dude’s fucking rad.”
In the early days of Wives the two knew each other as bandmates, but were far from close—partially because of what Spunt now admits was his teenage cockiness and self-righteous ability to make you feel like shit for something like eating sugar. When Spunt had a bad break up with his bummer of a live-in girlfriend, Randall empathetically invited him to come along on his trip to Oahu to see his mother. Randall was leaving the next day, so using loaned frequent flyer miles, Spunt took his first visit to Hawaii. During that escape, they built their bond. “That trip really changed my life. That was a big turning point. I was like, Wow, life’s cool, life’s fun.” says Spunt. “I made a conscious decision to be a nice dude, to be healthy and excited.”
Though they say the two of them probably could have started No Age together the day they returned to Los Angeles, instead they continued on as Wives. They created a following after doing the DIY roadshow for years, blasting out in basements and cruddy holes the world over. After Villalobos unexpectedly left the group on the brink of a hellish US and European tour in the summer of 2005, Spunt and Randall decided to end Wives once it was over and reconceive their idea of what a band could be.
Wives were confrontational, and their aggression erected a barrier between them and their audience. As No Age, Randall and Spunt instead look for ways to adapt their performances to the environments they find themselves in, whether that’s Baltimore art loft Wham City or an event for fashion designer Susan Ciancolo in New York or the front lawn of a house on tiny Lummi Island in the Pacific Northwest. The Wives once had a gig in Boston at a punk house called Bloodstains Over Somerville, but it was when the Red Sox were in the playoffs, so the audience only came down to catch glimpses of the bands between innings. Confused about why they were even there, they went ahead and performed to an empty room. “No Age would instead be like, Let’s hang out and watch baseball, fuck it,” says Spunt.
This past spring No Age released five vinyl EPs on five different indie labels, and in August, Fat Cat will domestically release Weirdo Rippers, a compilation of 11 of the 19 spread out tracks. With their name and music already being passed around for months, No Age has helped bring outside interest to the thrilling sense of possibility that’s been building in the Los Angeles’ cultural underworld. Cali DeWitt and friends have been calling this movement Evolution Summer, a reference to Washington DC’s Revolution Summer of 1985—the year when the progenitors of the local hardcore sound, having broken up their bands and left the scene to the skinheads, started new projects that took their vision even deeper.
Since creating No Age, Spunt and Randall have had the freedom to define the band however they chose. Now with the increased attention, they are realizing that maybe they shouldn’t play the Smell every week and are learning how to negotiate with professional sound guys who won’t even deal with them if they don’t ease up on the fucking volume. The week before they left for Europe, No Age spent their afternoons practicing at Family, a bookstore in West Hollywood stocked with Paper Rad books and William Eggleston photo retrospectives. They’d set up against the back wall where the exploitation novels usually are kept, using the space to publicly finish the musical ideas they’d been kicking around and to start some new ones. Randall was on his last days as a special education teacher in South Gate, though he would probably be subbing when school starts back up in the fall. Spunt hadn’t worked his day gig as a stylist assistant for over a month. Friends and the casually curious stopped in to check it out and stayed as long as their ears could handle it. No one asked them to turn it down.
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