It's been a while because No Age lost their mojo—their words, not ours—but said mojo has returned in the form of a new record and some weird ass sonic experimentation.
No Age: Randy Randall and Dean Spunt.
Remember not too long ago when No Age were on a real creative tear? An album here, a couple EPs there, another album, and so on? It was like being fed grapes and fanned by a couple of dudes who just so happened to be your favorite band. That was between 2007 and 2010. And then nothing for a few years.
Well Randy Randall and Dean Spunt finally came out of hibernation, releasing their fourth album, simply titled, An Object. It’s an record “meant to be grasped, not simply heard” (label speak), but also an attempt to break free from writing songs that sound the same (band speak). An Object sounds nothing like its predecessors, but at the same time it's unquestionably No Age. It’s punk rock with a zest of the avant-garde. Ever heard of a contact microphone? Me either. But they’ve got one on there.
Oh yeah, and if you thought maybe Randy and Dean were getting lazy with all that time off, think again. Known for their D.I.Y. work ethic, the guys literally assembled each and every copy of An Object with their own hands (and a few others belonging to friends). You think Kings of Leon do that kind of manual labour? Or any manual labour, for that matter?
Noisey unpunctually rang up Randy Randall to ask where they’ve been, why the new album sounds just like Einstürzende Neubauten, and how long it takes to package 10,000 albums.
Noisey: How is life in suburbia?
Randy: [Laughs] In LA it’s hard to tell the city from suburbia. There’s a small downtown area and then the rest is basically just suburbs. I did move about 20 minutes north of what is considered the city. It’s more, not to be offensive, but white trash. I think suburbia makes it sound nice, like everyone’s lawn is cut and the houses look the same. The place we moved to is a little more tucked into the hills, and there’s probably a meth lab at the end of the street. There aren’t any white picket fences.
You guys were extremely prolific between 2007 and 2010. What happened?
We just toured and didn’t sit down to write. We went to Eastern Europe and we were being asked to play places, whereas before, we’d be breaking into places to play. With Everything in Between there was an opportunity to tour endlessly, so we did that for a while, then we burned out and needed to stay at home. It wasn’t really until the beginning of 2012 that we began writing again. We were also challenging ourselves to write something different. From 2007 to 2010, it was whatever we thought of, we recorded. We weren’t being very critical. But we had a moment on that last tour to sit with those songs and discuss how we could keep advancing. We’d hit this critical mass where our stuff was starting to sound similar; we’d gotten into a groove or rut, depending on how you view it.
Is it more satisfying to challenge yourselves as opposed to writing a straight-up guitar jam like “Fever Dreaming”?
In terms of placing spaced out jams live or playing something like “Fever Dreaming,” I find the straight-ahead stuff really fun to play. I’m not big on jamming live. If there’s a moment of exploration, fine, maybe some transitions. But for the most part I want to play songs I know.
I hate when artists do impromptu jams or re-work their songs in front of you. I didn’t pay to hear a song dragged out over 10 minutes.
I guess it’s like anything: if it’s good, it’s good. I’ve seen it done really well, like the Boredoms playing an hour-long set of the same song I’ve never heard before, where I don’t know what’s rehearsed and what’s improv. I was totally engaged and entertained, but I’ve also seen bands try to jam and felt like I wanted to shoot myself in the head. For us, we sometimes throw in these transitions where we noodle our way into something and get cozy and then take off again. The records work more or less that way too. It’s hard though. I have a short attention span and just want to get to the next song.
What is this I read in the press release about using lumber and metal as instruments? Sounds like you were channeling your inner Einstürzende Neubauten…
Yeah, it’s funny how instruments and materials have connotations to them. It was not done with any hope of achieving any kind of industrial secret fantasy. It was more about breaking things down further into this deconstruction of noise and sound compositions that helped us rethink how we write songs. And not using terms like verses or choruses, although those things are all there in the songs. In the hopes of breaking that stuff down we thought, “What are the drums?” They’re really just wood and metal, so we thought of ways those things could be manipulated and played. It was really on Dean’s part to reimagine percussion and realize what he would be playing on the record. He wanted to challenge himself how to achieve this different type of percussion without sitting behind a drum kit and just jamming out. I think he felt his mojo behind the drums was starting to wane.
He lost his mojo like Austin Powers, you mean?
[Laughs] Exactly. And when he found it, that allowed me to try and figure out different ways to play guitar along with his different rhythms and percussion. He was using contact mics, which I’m not sure if you know what those are…
Actually, I was going to ask you about that. Please explain what a contact mic is, in layman’s terms.
A contact mic is something like a Piezo microphone: it’s a flat disc on one side with wire soldered onto the other. It’s used for violins, cellos or wood instruments: you adhere the disc to the resonating body of that instrument so it picks up on that. They’re actually quite sensitive, picking up vibrations. Dean was using them in a way where he would take that disc, attach it to a cable and plug it into a loud amp, hit it against his knee, or cymbals, or rim as loud or hard as he could and try to break them, but play them as they were being destroyed. And we’d record that. Then I would play guitar to some of these sounds, or we’d play live to it. So, it’s really this microphone being slammed into various materials.
Where can you hear it on the record?
On the song “An Object” there’s all these percussion thumps and baps that are contact mics. Another song is “Circling with Dizzy,” which has a loud scrape that has a click oscillating sound that’s a contact mic on the cymbal.
So, will we get a No Age album that’s just made of contact mic noise?
No, if anything the record started to turn itself inside out, and that idea of using a microphone as an instrument, it’s like tofu—it doesn’t really have a taste of its own. It takes on something when it’s in broth or water. That’s like the taste of water: you’ve got to put something in it. These microphones don’t have a sound of their own, but Dean found a way of challenging that.
One of my favorite things about No Age is the packaging of your records. Nouns earned a Grammy nod and I loved what you did with the Everything in Between. What’s the deal with the packaging for An Object?
The vinyl and the CD will be very similar this time. In the past we’ve often had to choose one over the other because we’d max out the budget. This time they’re fairly uniform with each other. In a strange way the CD looks like a miniature version of the LP. It’s on this dyed card stock that we got from the printer and we folded them using these tabs, like a cereal box. There’s no glue holding them together, it’s all done by hands pushing in the tabs. We did 5000 CDs and 5000 LPs, in this process. Dean and I did it with a handful of friends, and we had these stamps that had the signatures of the people that weren’t Dean or me, which said who had inspected each copy. For the ones Dean and I did we wrote little individual messages, but not for the sake of being precious. They aren’t the rare ones. All of them are supposed to feel like they went through someone’s hands.
I don’t think you get to decide that though. I think it’s the collectors who decide if they’re precious or valuable.
I know, but 10,000! We were hoping to do a bunch and not this rare one-off. It’s a mass-produced thing done by people. It wasn’t just created by a computer. There is a physical intimacy: we touched it; then you touch it. We didn’t want it to be this elite shit, where people camp out for it or pay a lot for one on eBay. It was more like; this is the edition, that’s it.
How long did it take you to do all 10,000?
We actually did it in four days. And then from there, we’d exhausted all our volunteers, so Dean and I had to box them all up, shrink-wrap them, and load them into a U-Haul, which I drove three hours to a vinyl manufacturing plant. It was really fun seeing it through: getting it back from the printer, folding it, assembling it, dropping it off, and then the vinyl is pressed. Also, it’s not silk-screened; we didn’t put drops of blood in anything. It’s an industrial work of love. Maybe that should be the title of the album… or maybe the Rammstein story. Wait, Einstürzende Neubauten!
An Object is a pretty open title to interpret. What particular object were you guys staring at when you thought of that name? My imagination is running wild just wondering…
It wasn’t any particular object, but I like the idea of it being a mystery. There was a piece of paper with the words “An Object” written on it, but it came more from linguistic, grammatical syntax—this idea of this phrase meaning something. It was more wordplay inspiring it. Like you read “No Age released An Object.” And people would ask us about an object. In my mind it became this reinterpretation of something with no meaning to it. An Object feels like an empty vessel, a generic name similar to Nouns. It encompasses everything in a very general, boring, unflowery sort of way. It’s too big to really say anything.
Oh and did you ever get to the bottom of Kings of Leon ripping off your t-shirt color scheme? A lawsuit, perhaps?
[Laughs] No. That was something Dean came by doing some late-night internet trolling. I think it was a one-off comment, which seemed to get blown out of proportion. Like, he didn’t even know what a Kings of Leon was. It was just a funny observation that made it seem like we had beef with those guys. I wouldn’t even know how to get in touch with them. I don’t think they’d give a shit either.
‘An Object,’ encased in its lovingly created CD/LP packaging, is out now on Sub Pop.
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