FADER 58: No Age Cover Story and Interview

Photographer Tierney Gearon
December 18, 2008

No Age may have been one of the unlikely successes of 2008, but really, was it that much of a surprise? The duo of Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have shown just how far a modest band can go on the strength of good music, good ideas and good vibes. We haven't been able to shut up about them since the first time we saw them in 2007. Since then we've featured them three times in the magazine, culminating in us putting them on the back cover of our 10th anniversary issue. After the jump read that story with an extended version of our interview with No Age only available on TheFADER.com.

Since their formation two years ago, No Age has been a band to believe in. Not just because of their music—cathartic pop thrashing inside of noise and gnarled fuzz—but because of the open-minded attitude and the approach of twenty-seven-year-olds Dean Spunt and Randy Randall. A guitar and drums duo indebted to the SST label and other forever van riders that came before them, they had already become veterans after their time in Wives, their previous group. And while Spunt and Randall could have remained key counseling figures in LA’s reinvigorated punk scene from those experiences alone, instead they decided to reconceive what being in a band meant to them. Each step they have made since the birth of No Age held its own fascinating thrills, from simultaneously releasing five vinyl singles on five different labels, to collecting them on Weirdo Rippers, to curating gallery shows and creating their own visual art projects, to signing to Sub Pop for this year’s Nouns, to takeover performances at Portland vegan grocery stores, to the omnipresence of their rainbow logo T-shirt to the point that Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood wore it during concerts, to Randall directing a skate video for Altamont Apparel, to Spunt championing other LA bands like Abe Vigoda through his Post Present Medium label, to appearing on MTV to talk to Pete Wentz about Hüsker Dü and debut their video for “Eraser.” No Age remains a group eager to embrace all the possibilities and all the promise of being a punk band during this strange moment in history.

You guys have always been upfront about what’s influenced you, musically or otherwise. As artists, where does that desire come from?

Dean Spunt: That was one of our intentions when we first started. I know we definitely had that talk about how if we’re going to do anything, we want to involve tons of people that we’re influenced by or we hang out with. If we’re going to go somewhere, they’re going to go somewhere too. We didn’t start from nowhere, we’ve come from the seeds of our past.

Randy Randall: We’re just us. The spotlight can get shined on a lot of places. What we do is interesting to us, but I’m such a big fan of what so many other people are doing or have done. If you’re into us, then you might be into them as well. But at the same time, it might help to understand what we’re doing if you know who we’re into. It’ll help you understand our music more. You can take our music at the surface level, but if you really get into what we’re doing, there’s a lot of other elements to it.

Do you feel like people are getting it?

DS: It seems like it.

RR: I think it’s hard to tell exactly what people are responding to. I at least feel like the places we play—like The Smell or other all ages, DIY spaces—it sets up the scenario. I love playing in places where you feel like anything could happen.

DS: We came from playing all ages spaces like that in our old band, and I think when we first started I was even more interested in trying to play weird places and even like bars and stuff, playing any place. Now I feel like bars are annoying again. At first it was challenging, I kind of like the uncomfortable feeling, but now we’re a little bit more popular, so I don’t want to play at bars and shit. I’d rather have people associate me with playing at a space that’s different, or at least all ages.

Do you guys do all ages shows exclusively now?

RR: Yes, except I think Canada’s got a weird sixteen plus thing. New York City’s got this sixteen plus thing that I don’t even know why it’s in existence.

DS: A lot of places we play two shows a night. We’ll play the show, and really that day or a couple of days before, we’ll set up another show at a super-DIY spot for like one in the morning. It’s kind of exhausting for us, but it’s so awesome. We try to do it for free.

RR: Going to shows is expensive, I can relate to that. At the same time, touring is expensive. Gas is expensive. You can work a little bit harder and you can be as inclusive as possible. It’s really important for us to be inclusive. I’m not into putting up more barriers than there already are, there are enough barriers in life. The stuff that’s put out in front of kids isn’t the most exciting music, art, lifestyle choices, whatever it is. To make ourselves and what we do as available to kids or to people who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to experience it is really important.

When you do those two shows, which one do you feel is more rewarding?

DS: They’re both rewarding. Our whole idea as a band, we do things our own way and question everything that comes in. You have to question everything, even how come bands play once a night. It’s like, Well fuck, we played a forty-five minute set, we can play another twenty minute set. There are all these little things that you don’t even think about because it’s what you do or bands do or what people do.

RR: This next tour’s already booked, but in the future, I really want to do matinee shows where you could even do it in the same venue, just don’t serve the alcohol. You could have kids in there at noon. That’s a huge tradition in Boston and all over the country of punk matinees. We did the pancake breakfasts at The Smell and they were amazing because there are people of all ages who don’t want to stay out until one o’clock in the morning: your parents are going to pick you up or you’ve got to get back home or you’ve got kids or you’ve worked all week. That’s how life works.

DS: Growing up with skateboarding, people would make new tricks because they’d see someone do a new trick and they’d extend it, like, “If they would just move their foot like that, it’d be like this.”

RR: Mark Gonzales, he invented the most amazing things, like, Why wouldn’t you slide down the handrail of the stairs? Everything is up for grabs. That’s how we grew up. I think that’s the thing to do, just knowing the world you want to see. There’s a lot of things in the world that bum you out or just aren’t that inspiring, so if you were put in a position where someone asks you what you want to see, I can tell you what I want to see.

After you play a show, who comes to talk to you?

RR: Everybody. We played in Salt Lake City on the tour with Liars and it was a twenty-one and over show and this kid came with his dad and drove for three hours and couldn’t get in. We went over to talk to them, we gave them a CD and a shirt.

DS: They stood at the doorway for the whole show and we were fucking bummed.

RR: We gave them a little shout out from the stage like, “Hey everybody, you might not be aware of this because you got in, but this is an exclusive space.” And at the same time, kids come up, like, “What are your pedals? What do they do?”, and I bring them on stage, like, “Check it out, here’s what I got, here’s how it works.” Or moms, they’ll be like, “Oh, my kids told me about you.” In Boston, this guy in his fifties came by and was like, “My niece told me about you. I used to record SSD and Jerry’s Kids in the ’80s.” And we’re like fans of him.

DS: He goes to all our shows now. We talk to him all the time.

Do kids mainly want to know what your equipment does?

RR: No. It’s, “What’s Mika Miko like?”

DS: Yeah. “What was Pete Wentz like?” That’s the new one.

RR: When I was growing up, there was a certain mystique, like you had to be special, you had to be friends with Thurston Moore in order to be cool. You had to be somebody to be somebody. I still look as myself as a punk, as a kid. When people come talk to me, I want to bring the secrets back, “MTV is really just a room with some lights, and Rihanna won’t talk to you. What you kids are doing here is radder because you’re open and you’re expressive and you want to talk to people.” The idea is bringing back secrets from the cool kid party: it’s not that cool. Sometimes I feel like I’m an undercover spy for the rejects.

Were you the kids at shows that would talk to bands afterwards?

DS: I tried to. I was scared. I started at the PCH Club, punk clubs where the bands were selling merch too. It was usually hardcore bands, and stuff like Le Shok and Locust, but you were still starstruck. I was a fucking dork. I didn’t want them making fun of my hair.

RR: We just saw My Bloody Valentine and we tried to talk to Kevin Shields after show. It was like, “Aaaah!” I had nothing to say. He was nice, but I was just like... I had someone take a picture. I did that to Guy from Fugazi, and I was rambling, like, “Can I take a picture?”.

Some of the bands from the ’80s and ’90s that I know you admire, I understood their rules, but at times, it felt dogmatic. I think what’s important about what you guys do is that there’s fun and joy to it.

DS: That’s our one rule. We always said that we always have to be having fun. Things have to make us laugh. The music has to be fun and the space has to be fun. We’ve failed at that miserably at some shows.

RR: Some rooms have certain energies for a lot of different reasons. It could be the security, it could just the types of shows they have there. I’d like to say that we’re a bigger presence than that, but sometimes a dead room is a dead room. At the same time too, I think there are a lot of amazing independent, all ages DIY spaces that people run. We played Jackson, Mississippi in this house/art space [121 Millsaps]. I was just inspired by how they were living, They sublet this huge warehouse with all these lofts.

DS: They had a football field for a yard too. It was insane.

RR: It was this cool, inspiring place for us, so automatically the energy’s good when we walk in. DS: We need a No Age embassy in each city to tell us, “Hey, here’s the spot.” We try to call people we know. Bands do that to us too. We say, “This place is cool, this place is not cool, this space just opened up.”

Some of the bands I know you admire have previous decades, there was always this extreme distrust of corporations and I know you guys have played events for different companies. What about you is different where you’re fine with it?

RR: I think it’s almost the same sort of mentality. To this day, I think Ian MacKaye plays shows the way he lives his life. I think we do the same thing. We take pictures with digital cameras, companies sell digital cameras. I have to look at my own life. If it’s a product I don’t use, like cigarettes, I won’t be affiliated with it. I have to be honest enough to practice what I preach.

DS: I don’t think I’d ever endorse something I don’t really love, but if someone’s asking us to play a free show, that’s awesome. I don’t care so much who’s putting money up to rent a PA because we’re still going to be there for free and have our friends there.

RR: I think audiences are savvy. They get it. Am I going to buy a Mini Cooper? No. Or are the ten kids that came down to see us for free going to buy one?

DS: More often than not, people are like, “Dude, that’s so awesome.” They think it’s funny. They know we’re not endorsing a car.

Does anyone call anyone sell outs anymore?

RR: Maybe they’re calling us that, we just don’t know.

DS: I think, for the most part, all of our friends are very happy for us.

RR: We want to present our music as people as we can.

DS: Sometimes we play a show that’s sponsored by some company and we have a handful of friends there, but most of the people have never ever heard of us and never would have seen us. That’s really exciting to us. Most times they’re going to plug their ears, but other times people come up to us wearing ties going, “Man, that was fucking great!” I don’t want to be exclusive in a “we only play for DIY punks” way, because we’ve done that and we can do that forever. There’s only a certain amount of people that are going to find out about it because, at the end of the day, it’s still exclusive.

RR: The idea of selling out is that the band changed. If you’re able to continue doing what you’ve always been doing, and your intentions are the same, to express yourself through your art, no matter wherever you play it or wherever it goes, it’s still you doing what you do.

DS: Sometimes the space is lame, but that’s cool, because some people are lame.

RR: Sometimes punk spaces are lame, but if we can do what we’re doing in many different settings, even to people who might not otherwise like us, I feel like it’s almost more punk to go in a corporate boardroom and play what you play. At the end of the day, if they asked us, they’re asking us. I remember hearing Henry Rollins talking about going on the USO tours and it’s like, “You better know who I am before you ask me to do this, because I’m gonna say exactly what I want to say.” It’s the same with us. If you’re gonna ask us, you’re getting us. The music is us and our message is us.

DS: Don’t tell us to turn it down and don’t tell us we can’t toss the amp around.

RR: Before the dance music DJs come on, they asked us to come on and make noise and we’re going to do that. We make noise in whatever way we want to make noise. We may never be asked back to play one of these things, next year this might not be an option, but for us to get a chance to go through those gates, it’s better for us to not censor ourselves and just go out there and do it.

The bands you’re associated with—Deerhunter, High Places, Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda—you guys don’t sound alike.

DS: No, not at all. But we’re all punks, I know what punk is. It’s not anything. Really, it’s a lot of things.

RR: It’s what you want it to be. It’s what you feel. It’s being independent and strong enough to say what you feel and stand up for what you think is right, and doing what you believe in and doing it through music or art. I think when you look at [Raymond] Pettibon, you can’t deny that that’s punk art. It’s the most fucked up, raw, personal, honest shit that’s not supposed to see the light of day. I think at the end of the day, finding a place that has that voice, the punk community can handle that. It can handle some truth.

Was 2008 what you guys expected it’d be like?

DS: No. Jesus.

RR: We thought we would tour, but I think I’ve been home maybe a total of two months out of this year if I were to add up all the days. I had no idea what that would do to my personal life. I no longer live at the same house anymore. I don’t have the same girlfriend as when I started.

DS: It’s been a crazy year. We’ve just been running and it feels good because this is what we’ve always wanted to do. We were trying to make music and make art that we like and I guess people are into it. Which is cool, and it’s surprising for us.
RR: We’re always trying to one up each other in terms of songs or shows or things to do. It was always constantly back and forth trying to make each other laugh like, “Well, now we got to do this” We couldn’t believe that we painted the front of The Smell [for the cover of Weirdo Rippers] and shot a video, which probably was the biggest thing thought we would do.

Did both of you guys move out of the place on Melrose?

RR: I had two days to move. My landlord got foreclosed on.

You’d been at that place for a long time.

RR: Yeah, nine years. Almost ten years. Almost as long as FADER’s been around. I had the first issue of FADER there. I read it in the bathroom toilet of that house. Now we’re going to be reading this one on a different toilet.

FADER 58: No Age Cover Story and Interview