No Age interview: “It’s just a gun.”

28.05.10 Words by: Charlie Jones

No Age are really amazing. Like Sonic Youth, the band they most closely resemble, NO AGE combine the energy and perfect honesty of Punk Rock with the dynamics of noise and avant garde music (their most recent work is the droning, ambient soundtrack to fashion house Rodarte’s short film). But while Sonic Youth’s sound is stamped by No Wave New York’s nihilism, vital to understanding No Age is the defiant proactivism of underground DIY LA. Setting up a place like the Smell (the heroic artspace in LA No Age were famously associated with) is not easy. Being vegan is not easy. Being in a world-famous band and existing without a manager is not easy. But neither is being honest. Neither is changing the world. No Age write pop songs, (listen You’re A Target, above) – they might be wrapped in feedback or looped into a haze, but they are definitely melodious, powerfully beautiful pop songs nonetheless.

This isn’t an accident. One interesting thing that came out when I spoke to guitarist Randy Randall was the importance of constraint to their work. He mentioned an unwillingness to make “masturbatory” music, a definite choice to edit themselves until the songs were perfect pop. There’s a certain hardness of spirit and economy of means that’s central to the band. One drummer. One guitarist. Make what you can with what you’ve got. Travel light and go anywhere.

Weirdo Rippers and Nouns are two of the best albums of the previous decade and their next record will probably be amazing, which is why I rang them to found out about what they’re up to at the moment.

Hi Randy! Charlie here from Dummy, how’s it going?

Yeah, great! Sorry I missed your call, I was just out of the house, when I got back I realised what a mistake I’d made. I always want to call back but with overseas calls the number never comes up on my phone.

Oh crikey, no worries. So, I hear you’re working on the new record. How’s it looking?

Right now it’s good, it’s just about done. It should be all set to turn over to the label anytime soon. It’s hard to describe but I think it’s sounding like now we’ve had a bit more time to sit with the songs, we’re maturing, not getting boring, just getting … richer. I don’t know, I can never describe my music, what do you say? I like it.

You could say “It’s brilliant.”

[Laughs] It’s amazing! It’s the best piece of audio anybody will hear in their entire life!

Seriously though, as featherweight as this may sound, you seem to really love playing your music. It’s very … heartfelt.

It would be torture to play something we didn’t like – we spend all this time and energy writing and recording and touring, if I didn’t like the songs, life would would be hellish! I sort of have to keep that in mind when I’m writing a little ditty in my room, y’know – “Could I play this for the next fve years?” We try to be our own editors as well. It’s strange for this record, we’ve never taken this much time to sit and write – it’s probably taken us about five months to put together, with is a long time for us, and when it came to mixing and sequencing, there’s quite a bit of stuff left over for really nice b-sides. We try to be our own bullshit meter – like, “Wait, is this song really that good?”

It’s strange – No Age seem to have two sides to them. One the one hand you music is very much pure, fast anthemic pop – then they’re this vast sense of sonic experimentalism.

Yeah, it seems like if you didn’t know the band, you might think we’re really schizophrenic – “Yeah we really want to play these two minute pop songs and we want to take eight minutes to let it breathe,” but it makes perfect sense in our minds – after these pure blasts of energy, you need space to enjoy the view once you get there. It reflects the music we listen to – I enjoy these long languid passages as well as fast pop songs.

You mention being your own editors, and a lot about your setup is very constrained, spare even. Drums. Vocals. Guitar. Effects. Bam.

Even working as a two-piece was a self-imposed constraint – we tried to strip things down as much as possible – OK, here’s your box of tools, here’s your material, what can you make? You can’t go out and get an oboe player, or a cellist – not that we wouldn’t, but the idea was to see what just the two of us could make. Sometimes there’s some inspiration that comes out of restraint, and over time you can get out and feel some room to breathe.

That has a parallel with your musical palette, I think. One of the things I’ve always liked about No Age is that way that you don’t feel the need to be jumping genres constantly. There’s no tropicalia segue on ‘Weirdo Rippers’, for example.

Yeah! I suppose we do draw different things together – from 80s hardcore to 70s power pop, but it is definitely a smaller pool. This idea of everybody wanting everything at the same time comes from the evil of a big buffet. With iTunes and the internet, all music is so accessible, and the buffet makes this all available, and you take the buffet and build your own palate, but part of our restrictions is that we take from a few select areas. It just comes from who we are, and the honestness of it. Ifv I tried to make a hip hop record, I could try it, but I couldn’t make a record as close to my heart as something in line with what we grew up with. Doing a rap song with an African folk beat wouldn’t be as close to me as a noisy punk song!

How did growing up in LA affect your music?

Being from LA is something that might explain our music in a way. It’s where we’re from so it might play an environmental aspect to our music. We grew up here, skateboarding in the suburbs and there’s always a group of punk kids in any small town, but there a certain beauty to it too, because out where we’re from, it’s kind of a wasteland – we’re living in the desert, we stole the water from a river and planted a city in the middle of the desert, and there’s a feeling when you get out to the nether-regions that it opens up again – so we spent a lot of time exploring the debris and detritus of the cityscape, and take both sides of it. It’s got no center, LA, and it’s a planned city that in some ways feels forced into existence, and people just plop down wherever. Because it didn’t exist before, it’s just been forced into existence by sheer bravardo. There’s a great book, City Of Quartz by Mike Davis, that look’s at LA through its architecture and its planning. It’s a pretty fascinating book, if anyone reading this is interested and what’s to read more.

Funny, I’m reading ‘Planet Of Slums’ at the moment.

Is that by Mike Davis too?

Yeah, it’s about slums. It’s very good!

Yeah, he’s a beautiful writer. He can really see the beauty in the facts, and the science of it all.

To me, I can hear a certain something linking all music from LA together. Are there any LA bands or labels you particularly associate yourself with?

The label that springs to mind is SST, the punk label. And that also had no boundaries, from Sonic Youth to Black Flag to the Minutemen, all bands existing in the punk cosmos but very different. Maybe that openness is apparent that everything’s happening all at once, living here you have to take it all in.

Do you like touring?

It;‘s the dream, to be honest! It’s a lot of fun, and it’s just as important as recording, I’ve never felt like “It’s that time again, time to sell the record.” Even when it’s like “We haven’t been home in a few months” it’s still such a rush. It’s a shame that we don’t have three days in each city, because we normally don’t get a chance to see much of the town. Though because we’re vegan, we actually have to look a little closer to try and find places that offer a vegan option, so a lot of ways I get to know a city is through the food – “Oh, that place is great, you can great great falafel up this little road.” London’s great! There’s an amazing place, I’m not sure the location, but it’s call 222 – it’s a vegan buffet, and for hungry touring musicians desperate to eat all the time, it’s a great event to find an all vegan buffet!

How is it to play in London?

London is one of our favourite places to play, there’s this great organisation called Upset The Rhythm – they had us play, they let us sleep on their couch, and they put out an EP which later became part of Weirdo Rippers. They put on shows at great places like Barden’s Boudoir, this great, clandestine underground place, or the Trinity Centre. They do a great job of finding the nooks and crannies of the place.

Do you like playing festivals?

Festivals are kind of different – I like that you haven’t heard it and they get to experience it as new, and it’s nice to be one of many bands actually. In some ways like it’s a demonstration of music more than a concert – I don’t know if we’re a large “festival band”, big enough to pull people in, but it’s still nice. We like playing small shows more, where you can really see the people and feel their energy, and you’re not separated by those moat things for the photographers and the security poeple, but we still like it and still have fun playing festivals.

I saw a picture of you with some guns. You don’t strike me as a gun person, are you?

Yeah! That was a strange day. The guy in the studio had just bought a shotgun or something, and we just thought it was funny. I don’t own any, and i’m not a gun person at all. It was more for comedic value than anything else. I’ve had the experience of going to a gun range, which seems so weird to me – “Wait, you just have to pay and you go off and shoot a gun? That’s It?” You pay a couple of bucks and go and shoot a gun. It was an experience, and in AmericaWhere you can own guns and walk around with them all day long, it’s a little different to England, right? You can’t own a gun in London can you?

No, as a rule, guns frighten English people.

Yeah, there’s certainly something to be feared. That’s part of the reason I wanted to shoot one actually. I did it on a date, actually.

You went to a shooting range on a date? That’s amazing.

Yeah! “We should go and shoot guns!” It factored in that I was really nervous to be on this date, and instead of trying to counter act the nervousness, we decided to up it, like “We’re both so nervous, lket’s go and shoot some guns! We’ll be more nervous of the guns, so we won’t be nervous of the date.” Being unfamiliar made it more scary but at least I know what it’s like to have it in your hand and know that it’s just a gun – that’s all it is, it’s just a gun.

Wow. Was it an aphrodisiac?

And especially for her! It was a cool sharing of power, a fun strange fantasy – “I’d never do this, but then I’d never be on a date with you, let’s just go further with this!”

Tell me some more about the next record. The guy that plays samplers with you live, is he becoming more of an active part of the line-up?

We’ve been using a lot more samples and using them as an instrument in its own right, sampling and looping our own instruments, and using them to compose with, but it came ot the point when we had to work out how to play the songs live, because the samples had become so ingrained within the songs. From the begininng we’ve always used samples, but now they played a bigger part of the songs, so we need a member to come on board, but on the record it’s just us two – we haven’t gotten into any gueststar situations. Yet. Maybe we’ll get Jay-Z to come down for the next one.

Wow. No Age – our Linkin Park.

Ha! Who knows? Maybe we’ll scrap that idea. But yeah, it’s just the two of us.

I loved ‘Losing Feeling’ [last year’s EP] so much. Do it point the way to the album?

I think in some sense, yeah. We wrote a bunch of songs arund that time, but we wanted the EP to be short and sweet, so we held some over for album. There’s some melodic pop songs on there, but there’s also some deeper textures to things. There’s a couple of songs on the album that are like that, and some that are more straight forward punk songs. It’s not a ‘Nouns’ part 2, it’s not really a part 2 to anything. We’ve been listening to bands like the Go Betweens, and a lot of power pop. Also another band is Disco Inferno who are really worth checking out if you haven’t heard them, a nineties band I believe on Warp records that blr the lines between samples and played instruments, it’s just a beautiful noise choreographed together with great songs. Disco Inferno was a huge stepping off point for us. In fact, we got to know Ian from the band, he was actually at that Trinity Church show, so we gained a friend in him. The power of the internet! Dean just sent him an email and created a great dialogue with him. So Ian Krauss, he’s a more likely collaborator in the future than Jay Z. An amazing musician, totally has a new way of imagining what pop song can be.

No Age are terrific live. What live bands do you take after?

One live show I remember seeing was Ian Svenoniouls and the Make Up, this great band from Washington DC, they put on this great show that made me feel like I was part of the show, it wasn’t just a band on stage and us below clapping, it was a participatory thing – I was just there but I felt like I acknowledged by the band. Leaving the venue I felt like I could do anything, I could repaint the lines on the streets, that I could drive how I wanted to drive and to go where I wanted to go, and not be confined by anything, I was so inspired. So if someone comes to see us, the sense that they leave the show with a sense that they can do what they want to do, that there a no limits in life. We were never asked to do this, we do it because we want to do it, and hopefully the audience gets the feeling of like “Wow, if they can do it, I can do it!”

No Age will be playing Field Day in London on the 31st July

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