No Age Against the Machine
L.A. noise rockers go minimal
Published: September 4, 2013
There are plenty bands forging ahead as duos, but few can squeeze out as much noise and punk aggression as the Los Angeles group No Age. As their first compilation aptly put it, they dabble in “weirdo rippers,” rock songs with squalls of feedback and cacophonous textures that still chug along at a brisk two-and-a-half minutes.
On their latest album, An Object, they took a much more minimal approach, creating an album that is starkly spare while still exploring landscapes of sound.
In advance of the group’s Sept. 4 show at Floristree, we talked with percussionist, vocalist, and now-bassist (more on that in a bit) Dean Spunt about stripping down the songwriting process, the power of minimalism, and the band’s DIY approach to packaging 10,000 albums.
City Paper: You guys have said in previous interviews you started writing material for this record and then felt like your songwriting had fallen into a bit of a formula, and that’s how you decided to change the way you wrote the songs on An Object. Once you started playing around with methodology and form, did things come together quickly?
Dean Spunt: I don’t know if I’d call it a slump, but I think we were just writing in a similar way. And I think after a while it became clear that’s not how we wanted the next record to be, to sort of sound similar in a way. Because I think the process we went about it was the same. So it was pretty crucial for us to start messing with the structure of how to write a song.
CP: What were some of the things you did to mess with it?
DS: For myself, I was just thinking the easiest way to get from point A to point B and keeping things very minimal and trying to make as much impact with less. So those contact microphones I use on some of the percussion on the record, those are—it’s basically a microphone that picks up vibrations instead of sound, right? By hitting the drum, I would create sound that would be picked up by a microphone that would be recorded. But if I use a contact microphone, it would pick up the hit that I would make. So it kind of negates one of the processes of making the sound. It changes the cycle.
CP: No Age’s music has always experimented with sound and noise in a punk context. I think in a lot of ways this is your most experimental record in terms of the way you guys engage that approach. Would you agree?
DS: I don’t know. You say that, I’ve heard someone say it’s our most accessible record. For myself, it sounds like the most aggressive record. It is experimental, I guess, because we were trying to figure things out, but it also tightens up. The songs are very short and they’re song-oriented, they’re not just experiments in long, drawn-out sort of sound pieces. I get what you’re saying, but I don’t know if I see it as our most experimental one, you know?
CP: That was going to be my next thing. It’s not like you blew these out to six minutes or something like that. The songs are still very economical. Was it important to maintain that aspect of your writing style?
DS: Randy and I, we like making songs, even if these songs seem to be simpler, stripped down to one part or two parts, they’re still based in the rock song format—two-and-a-half minutes or something. We have done longer sound pieces live or recorded versions of some scores, but this is definitely clear we’re making a rock record.
I think I was just trying to figure out, on the rhythm end of things, how I could make it a little more interesting for myself and how I could distill down what I was doing. If I’m keeping time with my hands and just using my hands to keep rhythm, I could do that with a bass guitar or a contact mic and it would essentially be the same thing.
It’s interesting playing these songs live because I’m playing bass in some songs and stepping on this little contact microphone inside of two pieces of wood to keep time, and you can see it in the faces of the audiences—some of them are really excited and some are confused and some are trying to fill in the blanks in their head because something’s missing. That’s what I think is great about minimalism in general.
CP: I guess that’s a different reaction than some of your earlier, more aggressive songs have received.
DS: The attitude is still similar. It’s interesting, people still kinda jump around to these songs that are kinda—they’re not slower-paced, it just seems like they’re missing key elements that would make one mosh around. But they still do it. You’ll have to ask them about that [laughs].
CP: Much has been written about how you guys did the packaging for all 10,000 records yourselves. The title of the album An Object says a lot about the way the record is meant to be received by listeners and how you guys feel about the songs. Do you feel like you face an uphill battle with that message given online downloads, Spotify, YouTube, and so on?
DS: Not really. I’m all for music in any capacity. I think if someone’s going to download our songs or buy it on iTunes, that’s fine too. I think calling attention to these records as objects and as these kind of useless things now is interesting. I don’t know if it’s so much of an anti-digital sort of political message. [It’s] an experiment to see if the relationship would change if the people who bought the record know that an artist made it rather than it got made in a factory somewhere.
CP: What have you found being out on the road? Have you noticed anything?
DS: It’s only been a week, but I feel like people have been really cool and really positive. It’s funny to get them, when people bring them up after and they want us to sign them, we kind of inspect them. “Oh shit, look.” Maybe one of us already signed it or there’s a stamp in there from one of our friends or a smudge from one of our hands.
CP: So you guys are playing Floristree here in town.
CP: It seems like a lot of bands of your size graduate beyond that to a club. What is it about that space that you like and why is it important to come through to there?
DS: We’ve played there before. The people who run it are really great. Randy and I don’t really believe in the idea of graduating to a bigger venue. We just kind of play wherever it feels comfortable and whatever makes sense on a tour. I think we still like to keep things gritty and dirty and more extreme. Floristree, the scene around it, is very supportive and fun for us.
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