Words by Jonathan Stout
California based experimental band No Age have made a lasting and fruitful career from their raw, unpretentious and intensively creative albums that blend punk melody and energy with swirling noise and ambient sojurns.
Although their sound has always maintained a DIY aesthetic, it wasn’t until the creation of their newest album, People Helping People (09/16 via Drag City), that guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt took on all recording responsibilities themselves. People Helping People was composed in their studio of ten years in the pre-pandemic days, then, following an eviction from that space, was finished at their new basecamp: Randy’s Garage. The result is perhaps their most uninhibited collection of compositions yet, encapsulating everything that they’ve always done well while also pushing the ambient and experimental envelopes even further.
Off Shelf: The recording of the newest album was completed in your garage after you lost the use of your previous rehearsal/recording space. What was the set up for that? Is it a converted/finished studio or a more typical garage situation?
Randy Randall: At the beginning of the pandemic our friends who owned a building in downtown LA, where we had rehearsed and built a small self recording set up, asked everyone to move out because they were gonna sell the building. We had been there for ten years. We had recorded most of our first record Weirdo Rippers there. We made a music video for Loosing Feeling there. We recorded parts of Everything in Between there as well as wrote all the music since Everything in Between there. It was kind of like our club house or home office. It was definitely a shock to move out of that space but we were ready for a change. Luckily my wife was super supportive and happy that I wouldn’t have to drive downtown all the time and stay late to finish mixes.
I was able to ask a few friends who were musicians, recording/ FOH engineers to help me convert our very normal 2-car garage into a semi sound proofed somewhat professional adjacent looking studio. It still has the concrete garage floor with some astro turf and rugs. I scrounged tons of materials from friends to put it together. It is a work in progress, but I am stoked to have finished two records that were recorded there.
OS: This is the first album completely recorded and completed by you both. How does that feel? Is there more of a sense of pride in the end result than normally?
RR: It’s a weird one. We always had a heavy hand in making all the records. We never really worked with a proper producer. Mostly we would work with friends that knew more about recording than we did and they usually had good ideas and good taste in music so we trusted they could help us execute the broad vision we had for those records.
This is the first time from demoing to mixing it was all us. Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Sound very graciously mastered the record. He is awesome. We have worked with Pete from the beginning. He helped us record Nouns, Everything In Between and the Losing Feeling EP.
As far as pride goes, I am not sure if it’s different from normal. It feels like this is the record we wanted to make, warts and all. I feel responsible. I can stand behind all the decisions that went into making this record. Don’t get me wrong, I love how it turned out. I think we captured something that is very different from what we have made in the past but still sounds familiar. I think of us as an experimental noise band at heart and I think that comes through in this record a lot.
OS: No Age could easily get lumped in the punk category for convenience sake, but your compositions, especially on the new album, warp and twist any preconceived notions that most listeners have of the genre. A lot of this comes from your unique approaches to the guitar. I’m curious as to who you would consider to be your major guitar influences? What inspires you to play and create the way that you do?
RR: Thanks man! I always tell strangers that I play in a punk band. Punk is a wide genre and it is easier to talk about Black Flag to a TSA security agent than listen about the time he saw Van Halen when he was a teenager. Walking through an airport with a guitar is a lighting rod for band conversations about heavy metal. We did stand behind Slayer on a flight to England once. Those guys didn’t look like they wanted to talk to anyone. I couldn’t believe Kerry King got through the metal detector with that giant chain belt.
Anyway, getting back to guitar influences: Bob Mould (Husker Du), Greg Sage (Wipers), Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks), Lee Renaldo (Sonic Youth), Henry Barnes (Amps for Christ), Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine).
That is a pretty good list to start off with of guitar players and songwriters that have seeped into my DNA that I don’t even think about but probably come out in every note I play. I don’t think about playing the guitar that much, I mostly just pick it up and do it. I didn’t know how much of my conscious mind even comes into the equation. Every once and a while I want to learn a song- CCR, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, ELO- and then I turn my brain on and sit and think about the guitar and how they play that part.
I think I am mostly inspired to get out of my own way and write something that sounds timeless and could be played by anyone. Finding something new and simple to play on the guitar is a lifelong goal.
OS: As I kind of mentioned previously, you’re known for unique uses of different guitar pedals and loopers. Are there any pedals that you’re currently obsessed with or that helped with the creation of the new album?
RR: I love Nathan Hilbish at Hilbish Amps. He has so many awesome and cool amps and pedals that he has created. I also love Daniel at Fjord Fuzz, he makes these amazing specific overdrive and pushed tones that sound incredible. John Quill at Quill Effects also is a rad boutique pedal builder in Ireland that makes rad small batch pedals. Not to mention Ollie at Death by Audio is a mad man who makes insane pedals.
OS: Were there any specific albums/movies/books/etc that you both were consuming during the creation of the album that helped motivate or inspire you?
RR: We didn’t really talk about any specific outside sources of media that served as a specific inspiration for this record. Dean and I are always talking about the latest things we have consumed but I can’t think of anything specific for this record. I think there are probably moments of Black Dice’s record Beaches and Canyons that I am sure are unconsciously pushing sounds through our brains constantly.
OS: You’ve been busy with a lot of ventures outside of No Age, including video production and solo music releases. You even helped back Scott Kannberg on the fantastic new Spiral Stairs album, Medley Attack. How did that collaboration come about?
RR: Yeah, you know, it’s fun to stay busy and work with friends on projects. We first met Scott back in 2009 when we played a series of festivals in Australia with him and then we played some of the Pavement reunion shows in 2010. I saw Scott was working on a record in LA and I hit him up to see if he wanted to grab a coffee and he asked if I would wanna play some guitar. I was super pumped, that record sounds so good. Hopefully I can play more shows with him in the future. I love the songs he writes.
OS: You were also involved in the shooting of a new video with the Linda Lindas. How was that connection made and what can you tell us about that?
RR: I am working with a friend on this series of videos to help get the word out about water conservation in Southern California. We are going through a gnarly drought here and there are no signs of things getting better in the future. I am friends with Martin Kendal Wong, Eloise’s father. I made a small cameo in the Linda Linda’s “Vote” video that came out a few years ago. I love the Linda Lindas and I am so stoked for their new record.
OS: You usually have a little bit more of a presence online- posting from the No Age socials, etc. I’m curious also, though, in what Dean has been up to over the past couple years. Is there anything you can share?
RR: Dean runs a rad record label, Post Present Medium or PPM. He puts out great records by super cool bands. Dean also has rad solo performance art pieces that he has been in practice of over the last few years as well as a cool solo musical project. He is always busy with a ton of very cool things.
OS: No Age has been around now for 16 years. Quite a long time! I’m sure you’ve seen many peers and fellow bands come and go. What do you think has given you staying power and what has motivated you to continue even through difficult times? Did you expect the band to last this long?
RR: That’s funny, I never think of it like that. Dean and I started playing music together around 2001, so we have been playing music for over 20 years. I never thought it would be something that would last this long. It’s almost like a lifelong musical conversation. Sort of like friends you grow up with and keep going to shows with. You will send them articles or links to bootlegs or new photos of the bands you like. We are constantly sending each other weird stuff or stuff that we know the other person would be into, including musical gear. It feels like Dean and I still have a lot to say to each other about music so we will probably keep talking about music and making new music in response to those conversations. We have learned to be pretty open communicators and very flexible with each other’s interests. We are not always going to be interested in the same things at the same times but that is probably for the best interest of the band continuing to make interesting music, hopefully. We work on our friendship just like any long lasting relationship, if it’s worth saving it’s worth working on. We are both fathers and husbands now. We have our hands full day to day doing normal boring dad stuff, so it makes it a bright spot when we get together and work on songs and either write or practice. We also give each other a lot of space to do our own things, that makes it more fun to come together and do fun stuff together.
OS: What’s rare about No Age is that you’ve been able to maintain a consistent, identifiable sound throughout your discography while also constantly experimenting and remaining creative. It’s hard for a lot of artists to experiment without completely changing their sound. How have you remained so authentic while also staying creatively adventurous?
RR: [laughs] That’s very nice of you to put it that way. Other people might just think that we are boring and always sound the same! Just kidding! For better or worse Dean and I are very limited with the skill set we have, but instead of letting that stop us we try to channel a punk spirit and do the most with the limited resources we have. We have always looked at being a 2 piece as an opportunity to do a lot with a little. I think the same could be said for our talent! We have always had a lot to say and a never-ending well of ideas or questions about music and creative pursuits. That equation of minimal means and big ideas eventually adds up to 7 albums that are hopefully different but coming from the same source.
OS: You have an upcoming tour for the new album, is there anything else exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share with fans?
RR: We are beyond excited to get back out on the road and start playing live shows again. The last proper show we played was in Jan of 2020. I can’t wait to get out there and play these new songs live. Keep an eye out for a tea towel, more music videos and our first ever “remix” ep of songs from this new record. We asked some friends to help us fuck up these songs in a good way and they have turned out amazing! It will be available as a CD-R that we will sell on tour hopefully.
I also have a bunch of solo shows hopefully coming up as well.