Chimpomatic

Interview: No Age

I'd have to say that No Age's LP Nouns has really been the stand out record of this year for me and in more ways than one. Its infectious energy has made it hard to resist but has also encouraged me to delve deeper into the context in which it was created and as a result a whole new scene has opened up to me and introduced me to a wealth of new talent. It's a scene loosely centered around certain clubs in LA but by no means exclusive. It's a scene that revolves around creativity and encompasses all forms from punk to skateboarding to art to film making. Bands like Sic Alps, Abe Vigoda and Japanther have all come to my attention this year, but it's been No Age that seem to embody the very essence of this creativity. Taking their lead from similar collections of bands like those of the SST label Randy Randall and Dean Spunt are keen to promote the DIY element of their work and profoundly see themselves as just another link in the chain of creative inspiration that got them started. Joining me on the phone at the tail-end of a year long tour Randy discussed, with refreshing humility and honesty, the scene with which he is proudly affiliated and the influences that have paved the way to where he is now.

Photo: Jeremy Hogan

BC: Are you guys on tour at the moment?

RR: We're actually just finishing the tour. We've just finished an east coast tour of America and we're flying home today.

BC: I saw you in Camden recently at the Shred Ya Face tour, how did that go?

RR: Yeah that was a lot of fun. Times New Viking are good friends and Los Campesinos are all really awesome too.

BC: I understood the pairing of you and Times New Viking, but Los Campesinos seemed a little out of place, what did you think?

RR: Yea, they were the new kids on the block - and they're very different, but they appeal to a different audience, a more UK audience. And it was fun for us to get to play to people who might not already know about us, people who might not have come out to hear such noisy things, we flipped some kids out and turned some kids on to some noisier music.

BC: You play live quite effortlessly and have a lot of fun with it. Do you enjoy playing live and do you think it changes the songs?

RR: Yeah, we really love playing live, I mean, we've been touring so much and there are definitely songs that don't really translate live, like some of the slower or mellower jams, and we get so pumped from playing live that it's quite hard to come down sometimes.

BC: What's it like playing in the UK? How is it different to the US?

RR: The UK audience is really awesome, they get excited just like a US audience would but it's like they're opening up, like it's the first time that a lot of them really went nuts in an audience whereas I think in America the audience sort of knows what to do, like "oh yea, this is the part where I go crazy." In the UK it's like, "wait, is this ok, can I do this?"

BC: From an English point of view it looks like you're part of an exciting scene that revolves around certain clubs like The Smell and involves bands like Abe Vigoda, Sic Alps etc. Is this correct and what would you say unites you all?

RR: I think, it's not really the sound that unites these bands - there's some pretty diverse sounds and bands that come out of playing places like The Smell. I think there's more of a spirit, a spirit of really just wanting to make your own thing and not have to ask any ones permission, and really not waiting for anyone to give you the go-ahead, to be in a band or have fun playing music. It's a real DIY spirit and attitude that I think really unites all these bands.

BC: Is it true that the term 'shitgaze' used to describe all you guys...

RR: Shitgaze! You mean a kind of noisy shoegaze?

BC: I read that it was a British invention and if it was I must apologise. That's a shocking term.

RR: Yea, yea. This idea that we have a kind of noisier, blissed out shoegaze kind of thing, I don't know if it really applies particularly, but if someone used it I'd know what they meant.

BC: It sounds like someone’s need to catagorise you all.

RR: Yea, well it's not something I'm interested in, fitting into categories, we just do what we do.

BC: Do you think with the Internet making music so global that local scenes are getting rarer and rarer?

RR: I don't know, I think it's kind of hard for us because we've been touring so much and seeing so many real physical spaces and scenes. I definitely see that there's unique communities all over the globe really, but I think that the internet makes it easier to find out about those sort of things and it's not that they're duplicated any more but maybe there's some inspiration or jumping off points that can come from that. I think if you look at the bands that came out of Rhode Island, Lightning Bolt and Black Dice, you know Paper Rad and those kinds of artists, all kind of come from an influential aesthetic and the stuff that's going on in LA or San Francisco, so I think there still are local scenes and movements and it's just easier to find out about them now.

BC: You seem to owe a lot of inspiration to the SST music scene of the 80's, that's where the title of your band came from right?

RR: Yeah exactly.

BC: And you've got some links with Mike Watt who was in the High School Record movie with Dean.

RR: Yea, he's played The Smell a bunch of times, he's actually one of the first people I saw at The Smell when I was 18. I saw him play solo when The Smell had a previous location called Location. So I think the aesthetic of SST was also really diverse, they had bands on the label like The Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Black Flag, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, so it was a pretty inspirational and diverse scene and I don't know how you'd unite all those bands together, they were all over the country but there was a lot of punk spirit. But what a great bill that would be to see an SST showcase, you'd be able to watch Black Flag, Husker Du, Minutemen and Sonic Youth all on the same bill.

BC: And the scene that you're a part of today, do you think that's gonna have the same wide-reaching influence on future bands as the SST scene did?

RR: I don't know, I have a hard time predicting the future, we're just doing what we do now ‘cos we love doing it but I would love for younger people and even older people to find inspiration and start going out to shows again and making there own records and putting stuff out and making fanzines or blogs, I think there's just so many ways to communicate now and get your ideas out. If you have an idea about photography you can go out there and try it out, there's so many kinds of digital cameras out there that make it so easy to access a lot of different artwork. Or even film, anyone with an Apple computer can make a film or form a rock band. Anyone can get out there and do it and I hope that if they see us, not that we're particularly talented but I think we're just really excited about what we're doing and that's enough. That's all we needed to get going.

BC: I think it's really the energy that surrounds you guys that people would feed off.

RR: Yeah, well I hope that's infectious, like an STD we can spread.

BC: Nouns seems to have been a huge success getting you a lot more recognition. How would you say the album has been received?

RR: Well it's been crazy, I mean you kind of write things for our own pleasure and wonder if anyone else likes it. And we were writing songs that were quite different to what we wrote for Weirdo Rippers. So we were just taking chances and writing what we really liked and even if everybody said it was the worst record they'd ever heard I'd still really like it. I don't think it's the best record ever. When we turned it in we were like, well I could keep recording. We recorded the last bits of the record at home so the day we turned it in it was the best we could do. We kind off fought over it a bit and were like, we could make this better, so lets make it better, and we went on like that until we got to this point where we thought it was the best we could do right now.

BC: Do you ever feel like you could get the Chinese Democracy tendency to keep going and going?

RR: I think that would be tough for us, we write pretty fast. I think if anything I think this next record could be the longest we've waited between writing songs and recording, just because we've been gone so long we're both really anxious to get home and spend some time with our friends and family. This year we've been on the road so much we just need to slow down and live some life or the next record would just be written about airports and truck stops and gas stations.

BC: After a while some bands do start to only write songs about being in a band as that's all they seem to do.

RR: Yea, we just want to get back into the business of living life, with all its ups and downs, the celebrations and the disappointments, on the road you are definitely disjointed from that stuff, the real existence.

BC: You have always had a strong sense of community with your fans whether it's through blogs, websites or live shows. How do you see that changing as you get bigger?

RR: Well I hope it doesn't, I wouldn't want it to change. It's gonna be more challenging to make a connection with everybody out there, but for us its important. It's easier for me to look out there and see friends rather that see fans. I know that sounds kinda clichéd but I have to assume that they understand us a little bit to even come to the show, ‘cos it's not the most instantly catchy pop music. I don't think we're really pandering to too many fly-by-night people so if they come to the show I can assume they have some sort of link to what we're doing. So like anybody you meet you're probably into the same types of music or art. We don't host too many dinners any more, it's hard to get everybody round one big table.

BC: It's gonna be hard to hang out with your fans in the bar after playing Wembley in a few years time.

RR: I don't know, I wouldn't imagine so, I haven't been to a stadium show in long time. The other night in Boston I was laughing ‘cos, I was selling the t-shirts and CD's at the table and I was chatting to a few people, then when I went up to the bar to get a beer everybody just left me alone, so I drank my beer and then went back to the table and continued to chat, so people just thought, hey let him be for a moment. It was awesome, I'd never want to be in an area where I felt I had to ask people for space.

BC: It's cool when you go to see a band and then after they've finished you see them in the crowd watching the next band.

RR: Yea, recently we went to see My Bloody Valentine in Los Angeles on their US tour and I was up the front holding onto the hand rail, I was like instantly fourteen again, then after the show I was like, hey can I get the setlist and the guy next to me was like, "aren't you in No Age, I saw you the other night, that's awesome."

BC: I guess it's easy to forget that you're still fans of other bands and you still go along to gigs just like before.

RR: Oh, yeah, especially our friends bands like Soft Circle who were on tour with us and we were out there every night watching them play.

BC: You were recently in the press for wearing an Obama t-shirt on a chat show that you were later asked to remove. What do you think of the election of Barak Obama and how much do you think popular culture, especially music, played in his victory?

RR; Well, I think it's a really exciting time for America and for the world, I don't think it's gonna be an overnight sea-change, if anything I think he could be a damn in the tide of fucked up American foreign policy and even domestic policy that's been really dragging everything down from the economy to the wars. So I hope he can be a damn and stop the direction things were going. And popular culture, Yeah I think Tina Fey has had a lot to do with it, with the mockery of Sarah Palin, she really played a big part. It's incredible how people communicate through things like YouTube ad blogs like it used to be in the Town Hall meetings, it was definitely shown in this election.

BC: Political bands or protest songs have become slightly contrived in this day and age and yet with this election art seemed to express its political views quite effortlessly and avoid the stigma and pretension that has always accompanied political music. Why do you think that is?

RR: I think it was a sort of collective outcry for this election to go the way that it did, I think in the last election that happened here, people still came together just as strong but things just didn't go that way. I think during the last 8 years there's been so many creative outlets that artists have really felt their responsibility and have really tried to make their voice heard and when it comes to these things there's no point in being quiet about it as every little bit helps and the only way for it to change is for one person at a time. I think it's not just musicians it's anybody who's a citizen of the world, they have to speak out because these policies do effect everybody in such a personal way like when it comes to health care here in America, I speak as an uninsured person so any reform of our nations health care would directly effect me personally. So I think it's everybody out there from the guys that work in the deli to the cab drivers, all of us are in this together so it's important that there's some kind of ballot going on. As a musician that's just how I spend my time but I'd hope that the guys pouring coffee were talking about it just as much as I am.

BC: I think an artist has a particular responsibility but many artists often shy away from this, but in this election it seems that artists of all types really stepped up and used their responsibility

RR: Yea, I can relate to that, I don't want to be a mouthpiece or preach to anybody, I just want to live my life how I choose to live it and if people see what I do and can relate to it, or are pushed and pulled one way or another, even if they don't like it, it's a response. It's just me living my life, I don't want to go out there and hit anybody over the head with it or speak out the side of my mouth then when I'm on stage do something else, d'ya know what I mean? I'm trying to live it all in the same way.

BC: Honesty and being real and true to yourselves seems to be very important to your music, would you say that is the route of most of your artistic decisions?

RR: Yea, I think it really is, it's something we strive for in our personal lives and it's just come out of living life, and playing music and trying to survive as a musician or an artist, we found the easiest way to do it was to just be honest with yourself and each other with being in the band and with the fans and it just stems from there. You try to do things as straight forward and honest as you can and as long as it makes sense to you it's easier to translate that to other people. There's no game playing or keeping a facade up, it's who we are ever day of the week, maybe more tired or hungover but it's us.

BC: Is being in a band and making music what is important to you or is the communication with people where your interest lies?

RR: I think it's a lot about communication but also the art of songwriting, it's all those things together. I love the whole craftsmanship of it but also to be able to communicate things. I've been inspired by so many different types of music that it's good to be a part of that...not legacy but to be a part of that storytelling, like passing the guitar round the campfire. All the spirit and energy I got from those other bands I get to pass that on to other people and keep the tradition of that energy alive.

BC: Do you make any other art apart from music?

RR: I do film making, I make short films, and I'm currently working on a documentary about All-Ages Spaces, sort of DIY alternative performing spaces, like The Smell but it's not just The Smell, there's a huge network of them all over America and the world. Organisations like Upset The Rhythm in London who we've been working with from the beginning are really awesome and inspiring. That's really the behind the scenes about keeping people excited about going to shows and hearing new music because it's being presented in cool new ways and personal ways.

BC: I recently saw the film you made following the Altamont Skate Team around Paris.

RR: Yea, that was a really fun opportunity because Dean and I both go skateboarding and to hang out with those guys was cool, and Altamont is a really awesome company. Skateboarding was such a great way to get into new music, you'd hear some really great punk music on skate videos, you'd hear a good song and you'd remember the part in the video and it would all tie in together so well.

BC: How did you and Dean meet?

RR: We met through mutual friends because we played in separate bands and just met though other friends when we were about 19.

BC: Did you go to art school?

RR: No, I went to college wanting to study film but ended up studying cognitive science, like linguistics. I thought the way they talked about film was too much about commercial filmmaking. They were just churning out Steven Spielbergs or Robert Zemeckis' and it wasn't what I was into, I was more into communication and human processing and information, the science of it.

BC: Tell me about Cockpit? Is it true that the band started from a No Age tribute band?

RR: Yeah it did. Our two good friends, Josh and Kyle had a band called New No Age, I think they were just, as you'd say in England, taking the piss. In LA we were getting quite popular and people were hearing about us pretty fast and it was their way of deflating our bubble a little bit. So when they asked me to join the band I thought it was really funny. But then when we started to play music, they played their version of the song and then I'd play my version and I was like, "you know what, there already is a No Age so why don't we become a different band."

BC: So are you going to record under Cockpit?

RR: I don't know, not yet, it's a mysterious project.

BC: Your ideals relating to music, from your limited edition vinyl-only releases and free in-store gigs, hark back to a golden age where kids saved up for a new record and the record shop was hallowed ground. What do you think about the demise of the record store and the record itself due to downloads?

RR: I don't know if there really is a demise, I think definitely the popularity isn't what it was in say the 70's o 80's but, like in LA there's a store called Amoeba Music which really focuses on a lot of vinyl and I worked there for a time and spent most of my money there, and still do. And Dean runs a record label called PPM, Post Present Media, and he prints vinyl all the time and one thing he's been discussing with the distributer, even 2 years ago they would try and shy their labels away from producing vinyl as the profit margins were too small and no one's buying it, but he was saying in the last year that they've been selling more albums than they ever have. So he's coming up with these limited edition 7" for the bands he's working with and the distributer is happy to help manufacture it. So I think it's a small community but it's strong. There's something great about downloading, the way you can just hear any song you want to hear but, I don't know if it's just people form our generation, we're 27 and 28 and I remember going down to the record store and you just couldn't wait to get it home and peel it open and put it on there for the first time, so it's just a part of where we come from and we see the fans that come out to our shows and they're just as excited about the different colours of the 7" or the different packaging. So there's a physicality about it that you can't get on a hard drive, that's why the 12" has always worked because it's such a large piece of art.

BC: I suppose CD's are becoming more redundant than vinyl.

RR: Yea, they're becoming like the 8 track. One thing I’ve seen is the cassettes. There's a big trading community in tape labels and mix tapes, real physical tapes. I think that's something more people are getting into. We pushed Sub Pop to make a cassette for Nouns but they were a little less enthusiastic about that but I think with this next record if they don't do it we'll put up some money for it. They're fun to have and we're from that generation, the walkman generation, pre iPod, I had my walkman on my waist belt at all times.

BC: It's interesting to hear you say that you used to work for Amoeba because the more I read about the Anticon hip hop label the more it turned out that many of them had all met while working for the store in San Francisco and I like the idea of the record store as a centre of a community, a hub, and I'm fearful that that is in danger of disappearing.

RR: I think those centers of community are definitely shifting more on-line, which is in some ways better as you can access people from all over the world, but yea, there's still something special about the physical space, but maybe that's going to be more of a show space. I think there's still a handful of great places in America like Other Music in New York and Amoeba on the west coast, so I think they're still around.

BC: And over here Rough Trade is still a place to hang out.

RR: Oh yea, Rough Trade is awesome. I love their new store on Brick Lane.

BC: What's been the highlight of this year for you?

RR: Highlight of the year...gosh...I don't know. I think this year we played some pretty amazing festivals and got to meet some heroes. We got to hang out with Bob Mould back stage, hung out with Kevin Shields, I've got a very awkward looking picture of me and him and if I went back and showed that to my 14 year old self he wouldn't believe it. We got to meet Thurston Moore and hang out with him so I guess that's something we never thought would happen, and it did this year.

BC: And what's your all-time favorite record?

RR: That's always a question that definitely changes from day to day. I think Harvest would definitely be up there next to ...gosh...I don't know. It would be a tie between Loveless (My Bloody Valentine) and Airplane Over The Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel).

BC: And what about Dean?

DS: It's tossup of my favorite records ever. Either Walk Among Us by The Misfits, Jerry's Kids - Is This My World or Isn't Anything by My Bloody Valentine.

 


Links

No Age
Myspace
Sub Pop
Chimpomatic Review: Nouns
Chimpomatic Review: Shred Yr Face
Chimpomatic Review: Scala, London

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