Meet Rat Fist, the DIY Garage Project from No Age's Randy Randall and Pissed Jeans' Sean McGuiness That's Here to Save Our Souls
Hear their new track "Sit Still," and read our extensive interview in which we learn that these guys might actually be the second coming of the Beatles (or something like that).
With noise-slobbering terrorizers No Age and Pissed Jeans, longtime buds, Sub Pop labelmates, and DIY diehards Randy Randall and Sean McGuinness have jammed their econo asses all over the warehouse spaces and dingy lofts littering the land, thus galvanizing the underground into a shitstorming fury.
Now, with No Age and Pissed Jeans as the toast of Sub Pop, music festival globe-trotters, and TV, video, and Pitchfork darlings, six-string fret-hopping crazy guy Randall and pummeling traps-man McGuinness have returned to their deepest DIY roots with the sick-named Rat Fist.
While Keith Morris’s monumental ape-shitters OFF! draw from early Black Flag, Randall and McGuinness’s Rat Fist conjure My War and Slip It In-era BF: a punk rock raw-as-fuck, bloody-throat barking, sludge-drunk, sleazoid, raging heaviness. And they are doing it the get in the van, no-fi old school way: no label, own record pressing, and 7-inchers sold at shows. In other words, Rat Fist are just winging it.
We phoned up Randall at his Cali home, where he was already making grandiose comparisons of Rat Fist to the Beatles and throwing around awesome alternate band names. Listen below to the Noisey premiere of their new track, "Sit Still."
Rat Fist on tour:
Tue 06/24/14 Bug Jar Rochester NY
Wed 06/25/14 Garfield Artworks Pittsburgh PA
Thu 06/26/14 Floristree Baltimore MD w/ Ed Schrader's Music Beat, Chain and the Gang
Fri 06/27/14 Space 1026 Philadelphia PA w/ The New Dreamz, Dark Blue
Sat 06/28/14 Death By Audio Brooklyn NY w/ Pampers, Francisco Franco, Tom Blacklung
Sun 06/29/14 Cake Shop New York NY
Noisey: Just recently, “Disrupt yr DNA” blew up the Internet. Now, we just premiered the even sicker track “Sit Still.” What inside info can you give us on that burner?
Randy Randall: That’s an awesome groover that Sean did the lyrics and vocals for.
All of a sudden you and Sean started a band, huh.
How did Rat Fist come about?
Sean and I have been friends for a long time. We first met when I was in a band called Wives, which was prior to No Age. This was probably about 2003 when Wives did their first U.S. tour. We played in Washington D.C. with one of Sean's early bands and he and I realized quickly we were kindred spirits. Probably 22, 21-years-old, something like that. I saw this guy’s awesome. You know, the glow of first travel, first tour, meeting other people that play in bands. You’re like “Wow!” It’s the equivalent to an early 20’s summer camp experience or something and “Well, there’s more weirdos like me out here, they play music, too, and we should totally jam!” Fast forward eleven years when we’ve gone on to different bands, on Sub Pop and on tour and it’s like “Oh, we should still do something!” like we kept in touch this whole time. Every couple years, or after records when there’s downtime (it’s like) “We could totally jam!”
I’m thinking No Age and Pissed Jeans probably played some shows and festivals together.
We definitely crossed paths. It’s one of those funny things that’s not as much as I was looking at it. My wife was asking me “Well, you guys probably played all the time. Did you guys tour together?” But no, we never did. We crossed paths but not as much as you’d think. But there were times where I went to Barcelona to the Primavera Festival where Pissed Jeans was playing but No Age wasn’t playing and I was just on vacation. And he was like “Oh, you should totally go!” and he gave us all crew passes and stuff. I think my wife was a lighting designer for Pissed Jeans for Primavera, and they were like “No, no. Just say you’re a lighting designer, they’ll give you a wristband.”
You’d think that you guys would play a ton together being you’re both on Sub Pop.
I think it’s just different because Pissed Jeans doesn’t tour quite as much as No Age does and you sort of get on different schedules sometimes. It’s funny, some bands are on certain schedules, some bands are on other ones. Depends where you’re at.
Is Rat Fist another duo like No Age?
No, there’s gonna be four people up on stage. The idea was Sean and I always got along and anytime I was in Philly or he was in L.A., we’d talk and keep in touch, and he said we should play. I went out there last there last May and just jammed with him in his basement for a long weekend. We (then) were like “This totally works. We should do this!” Then No Age went out on tour for An Object and we toured for three months and then Sean came out in February. It’s one of those nice things where I’ve learned to schedule my life four months in advance. Like “Okay, it’s November. What day in February are you free?” Things like that I never would’ve imagined I would’ve been able to do. But that’s the miracle of booking shows and touring and he was like “That sounds reasonable. The third weekend in February works.” So, we were able to set that up last fall, Sean came out and we recorded ten songs in ten days.
All by yourselves or as a full band?
Just the two of us. I did the bass parts kinda badly, or at least simplistically.
The six songs you sent me are killer.
They were the six we felt were passable out of the ten. The other four had varying levels of embarrassment—or just better judgment prevailed and realized they weren’t quite done yet.
Who are the other two dudes in Rat Fist?
Mike Sabolick, his name’s on our Facebook page. He’s a buddy of Sean’s. After Sean left after those ten days, everything was done essentially and the vocals were all done. But I wanted to spend some time with guitar overdubs and work on melodies and things and solos. So, I sat with that for another week and Sean and I decided that he would bring in a bass player and I’d bring another guitar player. We’d kind of bring someone else into the equation to flesh out the sound. Sean brought in his buddy Mike and then I have a friend coming in from Europe. But due to immigration and visa things, we decided he’s going to be a mystery artist— guest artist—until he gets in the country. I think it’s probably better that way. He said he’s had trouble in the past with people looking up his name when he gets to the border: one of the things we kind of take for granted being American. A lot of people come to visit with a guitar on their back and they get questioned and they start Googling names. So he has to remain nameless until he’s landed.
Wow. Is it someone famous, this mystery guest?
Oh, no. He’s a friend from Belgium; I wish. If he was someone we’d know he’d probably have a harder time, but no, no big names. He’s big to me, one of my close friends from Belgium.
Have you signed on with a legit label?
No, nothing really to announce yet. We’re going to put out a 7” on our own and hopefully have for this tour a run of test presses—kind of limited edition. It’s fun; it’s really like starting from scratch. It’s been a while since I’ve had to order test presses and these kinds of things. I feel behind making all the same kind of early mistakes over again.
You’re winging it DIY style.
Yeah, it’s fun. These venues and stuff that we’ve been playing, No Age has kind of prided itself on playing all kinds of spaces and DIY spaces. We’re not unfamiliar to those things so it’s not like a return to form. But just from the record label side of things, it’s fun to start fresh again.
So is Rat Fist anti-label?
There’s talks and discussions and things but we gotta play a show! We gotta go on tour, we gotta do things in the proper order. I think it’s too early for label stuff. Hopefully, we’ll have fun. This is kind of a passion project of a thing, it’s just fun. It’s fun to play music. I think the business side is the business side but for Sean and I it’s just fun! It can be an element of music that can get lost when it becomes your day job at times when you’re doing these types of things, touring and cycles and even interviews and things. But for me it’s like this is something we get to do because it’s fun. 99% of everybody that plays music does it after hours; it’s not their main gig. This has been working for us: getting together in the basement and kind of jamming out songs.
Is Dean (Spunt), your bandmate in No Age, copacetic with you starting your own band?
Yes, I think he actually insisted. There was a moment when I said (to Dean), “I wanna play more, we should play more, we should come home from this three month tour and write this record” and he looks at me like I’m an asshole, and I’m like “Okay.” He’s like “I think you need to jam with more people.” And I’m just constantly writing and having fun. I’ve been doing a string of solo shows that are more improvisational that kind of push it out there. I’ve done a bunch this year. Nothing really to report on a solo record anything but it’s just fun going out and playing and stuff. It’s one of those things I just feel like for me, as I get older, I have more and more fun with it. I think some of the nerves and frightening crippling fear of getting in front of an audience has slowly washed over the years.
Are you over that feat? No Age has played so many gigs.
Yeah, but there’s still moments of it. I was just playing in Orange County here in California. There’s a skateboarder Leo Romero and he has a band called Travesura and he asked if I ever wanted to play and I was like “Dude, I’ll totally open for you.” He was shocked and said “No, we should open for you.” I’m like “No, no. It’s a solo thing I do. It’s kind of a guitar atmosphere, noise jam thing and I’ll totally open for you guys.” It was great and fun and I was totally scared.
So is Randy Randall going the solo route?
Yeah, I’ve done this a few times around town. I’ve got kind of an open policy of (that) if someone asks, I usually just say yes because it’s fun to do.
Is it an improv noise type thing?
Yeah, I keep working stuff out. I’ve recorded a bunch of stuff and I kind of just throw it all out the window. Wherever the moment takes me.
The vocals in Rat Fist are awesome. Good ol’ fashioned yelling and shit.
Sean and I kind of split the duties in half. He was like “I’ve never sung in a band” and “Yeah, I’ve never sung in a band, either!” So, we were like “Let’s just see what happens.” I broke the ice by just singing badly on a song that isn’t part of those six songs but I just needed to get it out there. Once I mingled something together, it worked. It definitely broke the ice and we were both able to laugh at each other and then we traded song for song. I think it’s funny because our vocal style of singing is kind of similar so it’s hard to know who’s doing what.
Yeah! I could hardly tell the difference between you two.
(Laughing) We both sound like guys doing impressions of Dez from Black Flag, pre-Henry.
Yeah I was gonna mention that, the Black Flag sounding kind of thing going.
Yeah, yeah. I think it’s just kind of what came out. Hopefully, we’ll do this and see what evolution or progression comes out. But for opening up our mouths and seeing what came out, that was the first thing that came out.
Sean is now a drummer/singer and you’re used to that in No Age, huh.
Yeah, that doesn’t bother me. I don’t know if Sean’s used to drumming and singing at the same time, I think. We recorded all this stuff in February and now it’s July and we’ve each been kind of procrastinating or practicing on our own. So we won’t know until Tuesday when we get up there to Rochester and see what happened.
Rat Fist is super fun kind of music you can go nuts to so I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
Yeah, I’m not afraid of sounding bad; I hope it’s understood that it’s like “Hey these guys are just getting started.” It’s one of those things when you first start a band you’ve earned the right to suck for a while. I think it’s a little bit funnier now being “Sean and Randy from No Age and Pissed Jeans,” where people may have an expectation for it but I hope we’re afforded the same luxury of being bad for a while. And that’s part of the fun of starting a band, going out there and playing live: you don’t know until you get up onstage and do it. It’s a kernel of something that will have enough time to…blossom into something else. I don’t know how mixed I can make that metaphor. Eventually, the seed will be polished until it becomes a diamond.
Is Rat Fist easier or harder to do than No Age? Or you don’t really know because you haven’t hit the road yet.
Yeah, yeah, it’s still really early. So far it’s been really fun and getting back to the basics on some of the other levels for me. I’m having a great time, mistakes and all. To me, it’s a lot of fun and it’s always good to switch things up and keep things fresh. So going back to No Age stuff after this, that’ll feel fresh again. You do anything for too long and you start to get comfortable and that’s sometimes the death of creativity, is just being comfortable sometimes.
What the hell is a Rat Fist?
Shawn thought of it. That was one of the funnier elements of starting a band, too: coming up with a name. We’d text back and forth and not living on the same coast, it was funny because we’d have this long list of texts with random combinations of words. But I think “Rat Fist” sort of fits the right kind of vibe for what we’re feeling. And for him it came out of the idea of really something small, but scary, or small but kind of disgusting. We’re also having a good time with it and it’s a lot of fun too. So, I don’t think we’d call it like “ShitSword” or something, it might be too much.
ShitSword. That’s a good band name.
Yeah, Shitsword, or Anal Ax—that would be almost too much. I think this Rat Fist has the right amount of humor and disgustingness.
Were you and Sean listening to a lot of Black Flag when Rat Fist was coming together? It certainly reminds me of middle period Black Flag.
Yeah, My War, Slip It In (laughing). It’s funny, Dean and I covered “Drinking and Driving” (from 1985’s In Your Head) for this other thing. Yeah, that kind of stuff’s always on constant rotation for me and things I was listening to. There’s just certain things that are part of your DNA, that when you’re just jamming without thinking, it really means you just tap into some subconscious thing that gets you excited. I’ve often found when I’m just jamming and finding what comes to the top of my head first, it’s usually those types of things. It’s funny because Sean had some riffs ideas and it was a good way to get me out of patterns of writing and just playing and him just being a different drummer, as well. I think I tried on a guitar level, at least in the writing, just pulled back and let his drums direct the songs a little more. And once it was sort of put together, I could go in there and put in more of a flavor of guitar melodies and effective melodic things that maybe comes from something from No Age.
It’s definitely catchy.
I like that, I think there’s a pop element to it. Maybe not pop but something hummable. Even if the lyrics aren’t really understandable, I think there’s something familiar about it. There’s a lot of misheard lyrics, it’s fun. We sit down and write separately and then we wouldn’t know what the other one was saying until when we started playing and singing we were like “Did you say garden equipment? A new shipment of garden equipment?” And that was like the furthest thing from what I was talking about.
Do you think you’re going to have to compete with Matt Korvette from Pissed Jeans and outdo him?
I don’t think it’s possible! (laughs) I don’t think so. I think it’s one of the fun things, we’re able to get away with just being our own separate entity to some degree but I think fans in some ways will bring in their own sort of interpretations of stuff, But there was never a conscious idea of outdoing the other bands we play in. We’re both love and appreciate our other band members, you know, and I think this is something that we see as completely separate and not a “We’re gonna outdo you, or be a better band, or challenge in any way!” I look at music as more as art than less team sport. You can’t say like “Picasso kicked Monet’s ass!” (laughs). They’re different things, you know? Pollack isn’t better than Warhol…they are different and it comes down to taste.
“Sit Still” is Sean’s tune. What about “Disrupt Your DNA?”
That’s a Randy penned number. I always thought that was funny too, and maybe I’m the only one and it’s one of those things you're ashamed to say, but listening to The Beatles, especially when I was a kid, I couldn’t tell who was singing what. And then later people say “Oh, that was a Lennon song, that was a Paul song.” But how the fuck do you know? Both of their voices were so high and (then) I read somewhere they would record at a slower speed and play it at regular speed so their voices would go up a few notes.
So…since you and Sean both are singer/songwriters in Rat Fist, you’re placing yourselves on the same wavelength as The Beatles, right?
Yeah! (laughs) First thing we’re gonna do is make grandiose comparisons!
That’s gonna be the headline of the interview: “Randy Randall Compares Rat Fist to The Beatles.”
(Laughing) “Randall/ McGuinness to rival Lennon/McCartney. Breaking news!” Far from that, but in of the sense of the vocal takes, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t tell the difference of who was singing what and with these Rat Fist songs, I can’t tell who’s doing what and it’ll be interesting to see, as new songwriters, if we ever come up with a more unique style for those kinds of things. I actually think Sean is actually a better writer and a singer than I am.
So you’re not leaving No Age or Sean’s not leaving Pissed Jeans anytime soon to focus on Rat Fist full time.
No, I don’t think so, no. This is a thing that’s gonna happen: we are gonna squeeze Rat Fist in between other gigs. I think that’s part of the fun of it, you get to play music, and write stuff that doesn’t always fit in the same project. At some point in the life of the project, it becomes known what that thing is, and what the workings of certain things are. It’s like if you were at a job for a bunch of years and finally decided “Hey I want to go from being the copywriter to doing accounting,” or coming up with all the photos, they’re like “Oh, we have someone who does that already.” So with Rat Fist, it’s like “Oh, yeah, you can do something on the side.” And I appreciate that most of the bands I played with prior to No Age, it was the only music I did was something on the side, there was always another job. There’s something fun and precious about playing something creative in the few hours you have, you can’t be so hard on yourself. You can’t have this expectation it’s going to be something it being the most brilliant thing you’ve ever done, it’s more like “Hey, this is a thing I got done after work, or on that long weekend or vacation day I cashed in, I went to go play this show, gonna do this tour or write this record.” There’s a lot of great things that come out of those limitations of time and money.
What do you have going on after the Rat Fist trek?
We’re working on putting together some west coast dates in August. We’ll do some more Rat Fist dates. Dean and I, No Age, we’ve got some stuff coming up. We’re taking over the Getty Center, a big art museum up on the hill in Los Angeles. We’re taking over July 18th where we’ll be curating a night of art and music and film there, so that’ll be really fun. So right after this tour, Dean and I will get into the Getty Center invasion. Then we’re gonna do some Rat Fist shows and then Dean I are going to Japan to play the Nara Film Festival, which is this provincial town outside of Osaka where there’s deer and ancient temples and we’re gonna score some films live and stuff.
Brad Cohan is so D.I.Y. he doesn't even have Twitter.