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No Age - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 22 / 8 / 2008

No Age - Interview


At a gig in London, Mark Rowland speaks to one-time Wives member and drummer and guitarist Dean Spunt about his new band No Age, and their second album ' Nouns' which has just been released on Sub Pop

It's seven o'clock at the Scala and No Age have yet to arrive. Understandably, there's more than a hint of panic resonating in the venue, but it would be unfair to assume that this is rock star ambivalence which is responsible for their delay. The band have had to travel by Eurostar after a strike at all Belgian airports forced their flight to be cancelled. It is unfortunate, but there was nothing they could do about it. So no rock star antics to kick off this article, I'm afraid, but then No Age aren't really rock people. Their approach is much more based in the DIY ethic - getting to the venue by any means necessary, play as many gigs as possible, use your music to make a lasting impression. The band has its roots in a scene based around LA club the Smell, a strong and slightly incestuous community which has spawned bands such as Mika Miko, Health and Abe Vigoda. No Age, or Dean Spunt and Randy Randall to their mums (though their names are almost to good to be real ones), have been a part of the scene for some time now, through their previous incarnation as hardcore band Wives and through No Age's formative years. Now, the band have reached the ears of a wider audience with 'Nouns', their new album on Sub Pop. It is the follow-up to their debut album, 'Weirdo Rippers', which came out on Fat Cat Records last year, and compiled together five of their singles and EPs. Their sound, a sort of ADHD version of My Bloody Valentine, fuses punk and art rock with a surprisingly strong melodic sensibility. 'Nouns' has been getting attention on both sides of the Atlantic and the band have suddenly found themselves on MTV, meeting famous fans and playing bigger venues. It seems that No Age are merely the first of the Smell bands to emerge into a wider consciousness, with the others starting to appear in bigger magazines in the UK and the US. Drummer/vocalist Spunt meets us in the bar area above the main room in the venue. The band arrived and sound-checked just before the doors were set to open, and the music coming through the speakers around the room indicates that people are starting to file in. Spunt looks exhausted, which unsurprising considering his nightmare dash across Europe to be here tonight, but manages to wake himself up long enough to answer a few questions. PB : You signed with Sub Pop for your new album 'Nouns'. You seem very into your 80's indie music. How does it feel to be on such a prestigous label? DS : Awesome. I think it's like a dream come true. They're such as good label. They're really cool. I think the other labels to be on would be like Touch and Go and SST. We tried to get on SST but they don't really put out records any more. That would've been funny. Touch and Go are awesome. Actually, my label that I run, called PPM - Post-Present Medium - is distributed by Touch and Go now, so it's sort of like working with both of them. It's pretty cool. PB : The sound of the record is very dense in places. Did you spend a lot of time creating these songs in layers? DS : Randy did a few guitar tracks, though not on everything. I think our goal with the record was to make each song sound different, so each one had its own recording process and quality. So some things sound really layered and some things sound stripped down and basic. I think generally, if it's not intentionally one guitar track, it's like three - a low frequency, a mid-frequency and a high frequency to make sure everything's perfect on a tonal level. When he plays live he uses three amps; a bass amp, a normal half-stack and a little amp to get all of the right tones. We have a very particular sound. PB : How difficult was it to adapt these songs to the live setting ? DS : We wrote the songs before we entered the studio, so it wasn't that difficult a transition from the studio to the live show. Some things had two guitar parts going at the same time and we'd have to learn how to play both of them, but we had a sampler so it was easy. Some of the songs we wrote completely non-live, so we just wrote as we recorded and we had to learn how to play those live. I think it goes back to what I said before. We try to vary it so that everything's different and the quality of the sound is different. I think you can tell, like the drum sound varies, the vocals sound different on each song. PB : Your vocals are quite melodic, but low-down in the mix on a lot of your songs. Do you put a lot of thought into vocal melodies or are they incidental to the music ? DS : I think about melodies a lot, but in a way it's just another instrument. I mean, first of all my voice isn't like Beth Ditto's or anything like that. I'm not a really strong singer. I can definitely do my thing, but I don't think it would benefit from being super-high in the mix. I prefer the idea of it being another instrument. PB : You weren't a drummer in your previous band, Wives, but now you're drumming and singing at the same time. was that difficult initially? DP : Yeah, fucking really hard, but one of the things I really wanted to achieve was to be able to play drums and sing. I wanted a new challenge in the band; I didn't just want to play bass or whatever, or sing, because I'd already done that. I wanted to start the new band as a big challenge. It took a long time to get the hang of it though, because you have to use two separate brain spaces to get it right. I think when we first started out, I was concentrating more on singing and less on drumming and then it switched to where I concentrated on drumming and not singing, but now I'm pretty good at both. It's definitely harder to tear it up when I'm singing, but I don't really want to tear it up. I like simple drum beats. Also there's a mike stand in the way, so I couldn't really do like a Dave Grohl thing. I play drums in Mika Miko sometimes, when their drummer can't play with them, and I notice I'm doing a lot more stuff. PB : Were you a complete novice when you started out ? How long did it take you to pick up the basics of drumming? DS : When we started I could play the drums basically. In LA, we do a lot of like one-off bands, where you do three practices and play one show and that's it. I played drums in a few of those, so when we started out I knew the basics, but it was learning how to play drums for thirty minutes. That was hard. By the end of the set I'd be like - *gasps* - completely dead. It took me a while. I don't think I really felt comfortable playing drums until about six or seven months into the band, as we started recording. As we started playing more, I got more comfortable. I think a lot of times, out of my frustration or out of my...I can't think of the word, but we'd be practicing and I'd be like "I don't want to play drums on this one." I didn't want to have drum parts on the song. There are a few early songs with no drums. Even on the record, there are three songs with no drum parts. PB : Drumming is supposed to be one of the best work-outs you can do, so it isn't surprising that it was hard work. DS : It's good for your arms, not your belly. I thought sex was supposed to be the best workout, anyway. PB : You seem to be very much a band into the sense of community among bands. What advantages do you think that brings you ? DS : It gives us friends to hang out with, people we connect with, rather than just people in bands - it's like friends and artists. Chris and Claire at Upset the Rhythm are so the embodiment of the DIY community. We're all part of the same team. I don't know necessarily how we ended up on the same team, but we're all there. We come to London and Chris knows exactly what we're talking about. He gets it. When we go to New York and there are bands there and people who put shows on who know what we're talking about. They're on our team. It's like team DIY. PB : How do you think the DIY ethic has changed over the years? DS : I think it is even more important now. The idea behind DIY culture is that everyone does something for themselves and now everyone has their own blog, has their own website. To a certain point it's beneficial that everyone has their own opinion, but on the other hand it also sort of takes away the mystery of the record and the band sometimes. Everyone can comment and leave some feedback on their MySpace page or whatever. I remember when I was a kid and I'd go to a store and buy a cassette. There'd maybe be like one photo on the tape and that was all you had. So before the internet really took off, before everyone had their own comment and everyone was a critic, you just made sure that you heard it. You'd maybe play it to your friends. That was it. That was a beautiful time, I think. That's sort of why my label put out this No Age and Liars split 7". I just made 1200 of them, I didn't send them out for review or anything. I just wanted it to be this thing that exists. It's there and it's not blown out, it's not huge. Obviously, we don't mind that stuff. We're on Sub Pop and they're huge. We do a lot of press and stuff, but I think there are different avenues where you want something that exists only as this physical thing; no-one's going to review it or anything. PB : It also means that the people who buy it make the effort to seek it out. DS : Yeah, and you know by the time all those other people have heard of it, it's going to be sold out. It might make eBay people get to work though. eBay's crazy. I try to stop that shit when I see it. I remember someone had made a vinyl bootleg of the 'Weirdo Rippers' album and they were selling it for $120, which I think is like 60 quid for you. It's quite a lot. PB : It could be worse for a collector's item, but it is quite a lot for something unofficial. DS : Yeah, it's a lot for a bootleg. PB : Aren't all the songs available on vinyl anyway? DS : Yeah, except one song, 'Sun Spots', which is like a 45 second song. The songs do sound good on vinyl. I have to say. PB : There are lots of disparate elements that make up your sound and there's a distinct My Bloody Valentine influence to some of your songs. How planned out was your sound ? Did it develop naturally or consciously ? DS : It just came out of playing. There's a lot of stuff that we're influenced by, but it's probably less than you think. Obviously My Bloody Valentine are like both of our favourite band, but other than that it's sort of our weird musical compatibility. One of the rules when we started the band was to not think about the songs, to just make music that sounds good. It can be any genre, anything. Any stupid idea that we have, it could be a country riff backed by me hitting a spring - that could be a song. I think 'Nouns' especially might be a bit more driving and more 90s sounding maybe. I think 'Weirdo Rippers' might be different in parts. 'Weirdo Rippers' is more like lo-fi. 'Nouns' is more full and more My Bloody Valentine-y, sort of full earthiness. But we have some songs that are completely different. PB : So are you aiming for a completely different sound for your next album? DS : Yeah totally. I would hope so, everything should be sort of similar. You mentioned in our sound and in our friend's bands, everything's different. I think if we made a record that sounded like 'Nouns' again, I.... I couldn't do that. I think part of what makes us excited is shaking things up, and making people think differently, even making people upset in a way, you know. Like "You're not supposed to do that." The whole record's cello and vocals and thats it. That was an idea I had. PB : You'd have to learn the cello for that. You obviously aren't averse to setting yourselves challenges. DS : Yeah. I think what happened with 'Nouns' too is that on 'Weirdo Rippers', which is 11 songs and a lot of them... When we play live we get so excited, and there are a lot of slow parts on those songs that aren't necessarily fun to play live, or they are fun to play but they're not fun to watch live. If a band's doing a soft ambient jam, I wouldn't want to watch that for more than five minutes. Maybe we could do it now that people want to see us. When we first started no-one cared, we had like 20 minutes to prove a point. You don't want to get up there and be like (makes an ambient feedback sound). So I think 'Nouns' came out of that - songs we wanted to play live more, because we knew we'd have to play them for a long time. I think now that we've grabbed people's attention, that we're going to make songs that aren't so heavy or straight-forward. PB : Is that why the songs on Nouns are so short? DS : Yeah, it's just one of the concepts of our band, I think, to keep things short and simple. All the best punk songs are under two minutes, all my favourite songs are under two minutes. We get bored easily. We want to keep changing what we're doing. An idea's only as good as it stretches. A lot of times for us, one part is enough; just one part in the song. We have to agree on the parts too, and we try not to have any shitty parts in the songs, or at least pointless parts. There's rarely like a bridge or a chorus. It's sort of like, if it's not good, then it shouldn't be in there. It's like the meat of the song. One part, maybe two parts. One part for a while, then maybe one change or something. PB : Your previous band, Wives, were very much an underground thing. No Age have been on MTV, you've been in high profile magazines, you're getting a lot of exposure. How does it feel to be in the middle of all of that? DS - It's definitely different from when we were in Wives, but when we were in Wives we were much less open to the idea of exposure, which was perfect for that band, I think. With No Age, we're not really afraid of that because I think we want people to hear our music, whereas Wives was much more our thing. But back then we were also beating ourselves up a lot more, it was like "why are we touring ?" It's funny. We're not used to all of this. Do I care about the NME ? No. That magazine sucks. Do I care about MTV ? No. They're nice people, but it's not why we got into a band or anything. Though at the same time, it's nice that people care. But like, it's more cool when someone we like cares, like a small website or magazine, or someone that we respect. ID magazine knows us. That's fucking cool, you know. More than MTV. Although, we all grew up watching MTV when we were kids. I grew up watching MTV, so it's cool when you think of it like that. PB : What do you make of other musicians that like your music? For example, Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead has been seen wearing your t-shirt. DS : The bass player from Radiohead? The guitarist? I've never met him, but it's cool he's into our band. That's really flattering. I don't know, I think people are more fans of our t-shirts than our band sometimes. It's kind of a cool t-shirt though. It's flattering that someone in Radiohead likes our band, but I don't listen to Radiohead though. PB : I expect it means more coming from a band or artist you really like. DS : I met Bob Mould from Husker Du. I introduced myself to him and he was like "Dude, I fucking love your band!" and I was blown away, I thought it was so cool. With people I'm into it's amazing. With Radiohead, I've met a few of them, they're really nice, and it's flattering, but it's not like...if you're into my band that's cool too. It doesn't like mean more than that. No offence, I meant that you and the guy from Radiohead are on the same page. It's a good page to be on. PB : None taken. It's great that Bob Mould is into your band. DS : Everyone says he's really rude, but he was really nice to me. PB : He seems fairly polite when he talks to the crowds at his live shows. DS : I heard he was like... I think he was rude before and everyone remembers that. PB : I think back in the 80's he was an angry man. DS - Yeah, anger man. He was very nice to me. PB : He looks a bit like Phil Collins these days. DS : He does. It's kind of cool. I have him on my cell phone as 'Bo-bo' - Bo-bo Mould. PB : As you have gained more recognition, have you been touring in comfort or are you still slumming it ? DS : Still slumming it. To be perfectly honest, the only thing that's different is that sometimes we get paid a little more. In the States, we still tour in a small mini-van.We drive ourselves. Like today, it's just me and Randy driving around. We were late as shit. I haven't slept all day, so I'm kind of out of it. I didn't eat for 24 hours - I had a sandwich before. I have one shirt the whole tour. PB : Wow, you must really smell by the end of it. DS : I actually have two - I have one that I play in. I've been doing this thing now where I shower every single day. I play in one shirt... actually I'll tell you the whole thing. I brought one shirt to play in and one shirt to wear, I bought a pack of underwear and a pack of socks, so every day I'd wear the underwear and socks and then I'd throw them away. And I shower every day, so I don't smell. Usually it gets pretty bad, people can usually smell me. PB : Well, the fact that you can take a shower now is a step up. DS -:I think we only play the whole rock 'n' roll band game to a certain degree. I think we're still punk people at heart. A lot of the shit we deal with is bullshit, a lot of big time managers and people that try to talk to us and stuff, they're just so funny to us, these people who are big time. I think it's easy for us to call bullshit on a lot of that because of our background in DIY and punk rock. You can smell them when they're in the room, they're like "Hey buddy!" and we're like "We're not on the same team, dude." I don't know. I think it's nice talking to you, a real human. I think a lot of times people are caught up in a whole world of shit. W just want to play, make people have fun. We smell funny, we were on the train today. Next time I think we might share a bus with Los Campesinos. But that's going to be the most extravagant we've ever been. That's only for six days and then we're back in a car. PB : When will that be ? DS : It's like November. It's us, Los Campesinos and Times New Viking. Cool kids, those Los Campesinos. PB : They're a bit like Bearsuit. They sound a bit like a cross between Belle and Sebastian and Sonic Youth. DS : Two great bands. Actually I'm not that big of a Sonic Youth fan. Randy's a huge fan, but me, not so much. I mean, I respect them a ton, but I don't really listen to them, though I do listen to the first 12" EP they played on. PB : Which is that? The one where they play the drill through a wah-wah pedal? DS : It's blue and white with a picture of the band on, that's really good. I have the three records on SST, that's as far as I go. PB : What kind of stuff do you listen to at the moment? DS : I listen to like... I'm always listening to old punk music, like the Wipers. I like the Wipers a lot. I listened to My Bloody Valentine yesterday, on the plane. Infinite Body, from LA, it's this kid making ambient noise music, it's so good, I listen to him on the plane when I'm asleep, then I wake up around track six during the noisiest part. Then I turn it down and go back to sleep. PB : Thank you.

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