With the release of their third LP, Everything in Between (Sub Pop Records), late last year, No Age’s Randy Randall and Dean Spunt let loose a sophisticated sound that placed the L.A. duo firmly in the realm of high-art rockers. Often mistakenly shuffled into the madness of copycatting indie musicians, No Age wears the D.I.Y. badge proudly. They tour the land as sonic surveyors, upping their game by combining an intrepid curiosity of noise and melody within a proper punk framework. It is no wonder that Bob Mould, the founding father of the punk-pop hybrid, has embraced No Age as the genre’s torchbearers.
Lucky for us, the duo seems to have a thing for Miami, and will play their third show here since March on Jan. 18th at Grand Central. I recently got the chance to chat with Randall over the phone about No Age’s Miami crush, its love for Disco Inferno and the late Don Van Vliet, and the making of Everything in Between single “Glitter”.
No Age is returning for a third Miami show in less than a year on Jan. 18th. What’s attracting you guys?
Oh my gosh! Miami’s a beautiful place and I don’t need to tell you that. For people that don’t live there like us, it’s a very attractive city. It’s a vibrant life and culture in a beautiful location and setting. It’s one of those places that after playing the first time we said, “Alright, whenever we get the opportunity to go back there, we gotta go back.”
Any similarities to L.A.?
I dunno, it’s interesting. It has the sunny locale and it’s centered around a beach community, but it’s a lot different than Los Angeles. Besides the great weather, it’s a very different culture. I know the one thing I said to myself after being down there was that it’s almost like you’re in another country. It feels like an insulated sort of community or just a city that’s part of America by politics. It’s very free and open and easy going, which are not always words used to describe American cities.
Do you guys have any favorite Miami spots?
We always wanna go back, cause we’re never there long enough. The last two times have just been very quickly for like a day or even just a night or a few hours to play and then we have to head back. The first time, we played at Sweat Records and that was incredible. That was such a fun show and such a great location. Such great people there – Lolo [Reskin] at Sweat Records is just really awesome. … She helps make the city very inviting. She really knows how to present such a great vibe and such a great spirit.
Somehow, since you were first here in March, South Florida’s music community has grown about 100-fold. I know you are one to appreciate a self-made community. Have you heard anything down here yet that’s caught your attention?
I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to hear enough, but I get the feeling that there is so much great stuff going on down there. Like I was saying, it’s such a cool, insulated community where you really just make stuff for your own community and that can be the best thing to develop and nurture art – a great location and great people making music for their friends. That’s something we can really relate to, coming out of Los Angeles, which was sort of not necessarily known at the time for great music. Before a few years back, we would say we’re from L.A. and people would say, “Why L.A.? There’s nothing going on in L.A.” We had something really cool things happening but it was just our little thing. Over the years, the more we got the chance to travel, people are like, “Oh yea, L.A. – there’s really something kinda cool going on.” We always sort of knew that anyway.
I feel like the Miami — the South Florida area — is in a similar kind of place with so many great things going on, so many cool bands and artists and communities. But I feel like people haven’t picked up on it yet in a big way. It seems like it’s reaching that going-over point. You can’t keep lightning in a bottle for too long before people start finding out about it.
I know they’re building studios down there and they have their own spaces. That’s what can be so cool about a place or an area of town like where Sweat Records is. There are a lot of abandoned buildings, a lot of space. A lot of times where art grows is where you have access to space
Your second album, Everything in Between, is an amazing accomplishment. There’s so much going on – it’s aggressive, it’s lush. And it’s not pretentious at all, which is my favorite thing. I read in your Filter interview with the legendary Mike Watt that Dean said it was a very exhausting process. Why is that?
I think it was taxing in the sense that we wanted to make a great record, and we had the luxury-slash-torture of having a lot of time to do it. We didn’t feel we were in a hurry, which is, you know, on the surface, a good thing. But too much time gives you just enough rope to hang yourself with. Too much time might not be the best thing for the creative process.
So we had a lot of time and were excited about writing it and trying out new stuff. We actually wanted to exhaust ourselves and exhaust our ideas to know that we made the best that we could make. I think that’s what led to this exhaustion. I think that’s what Dean was talking about.
What inspired that want for exhaustion and the innovations on Everything in Between? Were you listening to something in particular? Were you noodling around in the studio?
Yeah! One of the points of inspiration that we had going into writing songs for this record was this band from England in the 90s called Disco Inferno. They’re an incredible band, but they made these really cool songs, really interesting songs from this kind of lo-fi sampling technology. Like I said, this was the early 90s, but they used it to their advantage to make these kind of tactile-sounding samples and arranged them in a way that they could build the songs on. It was different than the stuff we had been looking to before, you know, where it was kind of just built around drums and guitars. They were using a sampler as an instrument, which was something we really wanted to explore more in writing songs for this record.
No Age — “Glitter”
A song like “Glitter” is a great example of building a song around a series of samples that were kind of started as the rhythm guitar part … or as this kind of palette to build this song around. So “Glitter” is built around five samples that we had collected in our writing process. What’ll happen a lot of times, when we begin to write songs, we’ll start with chords and notes and melodies and things, and then we’ll have some days where we just go in and make nothing but noise and just make these sounds and then wait for a moment until something starts to crystallize and sound really interesting. Then we’ll capture that on the sampler or on the computer and we’ll just hold on to these little nuggets of sound that we like for no other reason than we think it sounds interesting. We just hold on to these ideas, like “I don’t know what that’s gonna be, if it’s gonna turn into a song, or if that’s just a weird five-second blast of noise.” So we’ll sort of just collect them without any real knowledge of how it’ll turn up, and then we’ll go back several weeks or a month later and comb through the different ideas we have and see if they make a sequence when fit together or if they can be added to other songs in order to fill out the sound that’s otherwise pretty stripped down.
So I’m sure in the end you have a treasure chest of samples that you didn’t use.
Yeah, there’s a bunch of stuff in there. … During the process of making this last record, our friend Todd Cole, who is a photographer, asked if we’d be interested in making a soundtrack for a short film he was doing for the designers Rodarte. He was making like an eight-minute short film for Rodarte’s fashion line, but it was inspired by science fiction and horror films – this kind of like lush, beautiful, scary, futuristic short film. It was a perfect outlet for us, for a lot of samples and ideas and these kind of eerie sort of soundscape things that we had. We weren’t sure even as we were writing them how they would fit into the record, but we found a moment to release them through [the short]. It was a nice outlet for us in the middle of making the record.
And you guys also just released “Wintry KK” on a split 7” with Infinite Body that sold out in less than a week.
Yeah [laughs]. I think they do a small run, so when you say sold out. But yeah it’s great.
Did any of those samples go into “Wintry KK”? Where’d that song come from?
In the beginning, where we had so much time that it was a blessing and a curse, I think we wrote close to 25 songs and maybe another five or six ideas that never became full songs. We pared it down to the 13 songs that made the record and that left us with another 17 sort of orphans that were hanging out there. So the song that was on the split is from that.
This song was sort of on the more relaxed, atmospheric side and when the opportunity came up to do a split with Kyle [Parker] of Infinite Body, we thought the songs would complement each other. We’re huge fans of his music, which if you don’t know it, is very intense, melodic, ambient noise, which sounds like a lot of contradictions, but he finds a way to really make them work.
So what happens to the other 16 ideas? Do they stay in the vault?
A couple of them have gone in as b-sides on the Glitter vinyl. We did a 12” extended mix of “Glitter” for Sub Pop and there are two songs on the flip side to that. Then we did a 7”, which is just the record version that has another song on there. So that’s four, so they’re all kind of finding their way out there in the world in one way or another.
In the Filter conversation with Watt, Dean said he always gets “nervous about learning too much.” You agreed, but said, “I don’t want to prevent myself from learning more.” Are you still grappling with that?
Yeah, I think the idea about learning more isn’t necessarily about losing what you have in the beginning, but maybe losing the innocence of it or the naïveté. It’s more a fear of getting stale. You know, getting so comfortable on an instrument or with a style of music or in anything in life. So sometimes the unlearning is the fun part of it. Stripping it down to what were some of the primary examples of that sound you just loved initially, just holding onto those kernels and stripping away the technique. To be creative for us is trying to progress and push forward to more fully realize the ideas we have, yet at the same time keeping ourselves on edge. You can’t really keep yourself in the dark, but doing it in a way where you still feel like you’re discovering and cracking open something new.
On the same note, there are just two of you. Are you ever afraid you’ll run out of ideas together or do you not think about it?
No, I think ideas – the hard part is just having too many and having to deal with the frustration of not being able to accomplish all of them. Because there are two of us, the ideas outgrow us quickly.
Like the Watt interview, you guys have had some out-of-the-box collaborations, including playing “Cortez the Killer” with Jim Jarmusch, Bob Mould, and Bradford Cox and having the chance to interview Mould for the L.A. Record. What other artists would you love to play with or just sit down and talk to?
Oh man, so many. You know, first and foremost, we’re fans and musicians after the fact. I dunno, I’m trying to think. The question comes up from time to time, “I wonder what that guy’s like?” So, keeping in the same vein as some of the bands, Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn are both people that I would love to just bend their ear a little bit or just kinda be a fly on the wall and hear some of their stories.
I’m a huge Captain Beefheart fan, so it was kind of a crushing blow to hear that Don Van Vliet had just passed away. In the back of my mind, I knew he wasn’t playing music, but I always kind of held out that maybe one day I’ll be somewhere on tour and you know, find him in a coffee shop or in a truck stop somewhere in the high desert. It was never meant to be.
Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley are two visual artists here in the Los Angeles that have influences on us, just conceptually and just as artists who are really fearless and create art that transcends boundaries and definitions. Those would be two people I’d love to sit down with and try to understand how to be so brave as an artist.
You guys are obviously huge music junkies. I know everybody asks, but what’s in your rotation?
Yeah! It gets hard sometimes when people ask about the new stuff that’s out because I find myself constantly going back. It’s tough keeping up with the newer stuff that comes out. One artist that I’ve been listening to is Exuma. He was a Caribbean-American sort of folk singer, but more of a psychedelic folk thing, not in the way of Devendra Banhart, but more akin to the Sun City Girls. He was mainly active in the 70s in New York. There’s a record called Snake that I’ve had on rotation for a while. Cool, kind of acid-fried folk music.
Anything Dean can’t shut up about?
Yeah, you know, he’s always going on about stuff. You know who he really loves is Wolfgang Voigt. [Voigt] has a label called Kompact, and he goes under another name as well. I forget the name. Oh my God, Dean would laugh at me. I should know by this time. It’s kind of like this ambient, electronic music. It’s really infectious, gets under your skin and into your brain.
[ed. note – Don’t feel bad about not knowing Voigt’s alias, Randy. He has many: All, Auftrieb, Brom, C.K. Decker, Centrifugal Force, Crocker, Dextro NRG, Dieter Gorny, Digital, Dom, Doppel, Filter, Freiland, Fuchsbau, Gelb, Grungerman, Love Inc., M:I:5, Mike Ink, Mint, Panthel, Popacid, Riss, RX7, Split Inc., Strass, Studio 1, Tal, Vinyl Countdown, W.V., Wassermann, and X-Lvis.]
Click HERE to learn more about No Age’s Jan. 18th Grand Central show.