Interview No Age: Not Just A Band

Not so long ago, we had a chat with Randy of No Age.

Not so long ago, we had a chat with Randy of No Age that ranges from their new album ‘Everything In Between’, to anarchist art collectives, to L.A., to skate parks. Luckily this interview was over the phone, or else we would have been shooed out the door halfway through…

So, what can you tell us about your new album? The process of recording, what you hoped to get from it, that sort of thing…
Well, it started back in 2009. Last year we were taking time in between tours to sit down and try to start writing stuff. It was starting to come together slowly, but since we were on the road for most of 2009 it came in fits and starts. We did an EP called ‘Losing Feeling’ [our review of which you can read here], taking some of the songs that fit more together. Then there were some that would fit better on the next LP. There was just like these kids hanging out in the corner forming this clique so that was the EP, and the rest of these guys are not fully done yet so we will save that for the record.

So yeah, we took a long time fitting the songs, listening to them, letting them come to maturity in their own way during the song writing process. Right at the end of the year we finally found some time and we just blasted out as many songs as we could. Gave ourselves writing assignments to keep writing songs so we ended up with I don’t know, close to maybe thirty songs. The idea being that we would write more than we needed and then we could pick out of that. Because we took so long writing, it was different periods of time that were reflected in the overall collection of songs. Songs from this sort of time, even though it was only a year, it was a busy year for us we were going through a bunch of stuff trying to balance being on the road and being home and trying to keep the train from going off the rails.

Sort of like a musical yearbook.
Yeah. It was different times reflected in the different songs, put them all together and it makes this collage aspect of all the stuff that happens while you are waiting for something else to happen. A funny thing happened on the way to the coliseum, you know? We are going this way but all these other things happened, and that’s where the title comes into play, everything that is between the stuff that you are waiting to do, or trying to do. Everything else is the glue that keeps it all together.

Where did you record the album?
It was mix of places because we were doing it at a bunch of different times. So it was at our own practice / studio space and then also into Infrasonic Sound in LA. We were looking around thinking we would go somewhere else, like that thing that some bands do, where they seclude themselves in a cabin somewhere in the woods, in a studio somewhere far away… but that didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do right now. We were going to try to be at home, work with the stuff and keep coming back. Recoding in a week would have been a very different record, we were able to reflect on it and come back to the various studios and recording environments over time. Slowly piece the whole thing together. We also have a live room in our studio space so we had Pete Lyman from Infrasonic sound come with a bunch of great mikes and mike up one of the rooms we had in our studio space as well. Sort of a lo-fi hi-fi somewhere in-between.

How do you feel about going from small DIY style venues like The Smell to large professional theatre style ones where everything is done for you?
Yeah, it’s a trip. I think our heart still lies in the small DIY venues, it’s obviously comfortable and a home away from home sort of atmosphere. It’s fun and great to be in that place, but it’s more of a challenge to take things to bigger stages and rooms and see how it all translates there. We kind of look at it like experiments. I don’t think we are adverse to larger places but I think in a perfect world, we would have our own space that we would take with us, like a travelling circus tent that was like The Smell but like could fit 4,000 people in it or something. We have something to build to; it’s always good to have goals. Until that point we are just kind of navigating the waters with caution, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, how does this make it a fun experience for the audience and us on stage.

When you’re in the bigger theatres do you miss being really twiddly with your sound?
Twiddly? [Laughs] In some respects these larger rooms have incredible sound systems… like a PA speaker in front of me that is more expensive than my car, you know, so in a certain aspect it can sound fairly amazing in these bigger venues when you have the speakers and acoustics that are engineered by some scientist to make everything sound great so, no, in that regard, if we are able to get a decent sound check and get everything balanced out it could be a rewarding and enriching experience. But yeah, I think what I have had to figure out for myself personally in the performance experience is that I’m not a great judge of how high the stages are. I jumped off a stage at a festival on the south side of Seattle, the Sasquatch Festival, and didn’t quite take into account what my landing pad was going to be and I ripped some muscle in my calf, twisting not even my ankle but my calf, not even the joint and that part is not supposed to rotate like that. I didn’t break any bones but I tore some muscles and ligaments in there. The idea being that I wanted to go out to the audience and interact and not have a large bubble to walk around in, without even looking I just jumped down there. My landing didn’t go as planned, so, it can be tough. I have to be cautious. I’m used to an environment where I can run into the audience and they can run up on stage and whatnot, security puts a damper on those efforts.

You guys seem to have your fingers in all sorts of pies, soundtracks to movies, art installations, Altamont Apparel…
Yeah, they [Altamont Apparel] came to shows and we got to be friends with them. Dean and I grew up as skateboarding kids in the 90s and it was sort of a weird dream come true, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory situation where we got to go there where they make things, they make skateboard shoes. I remember my Mom having to put a cap on the skateboard shoe budget so I would take shoe glue and duct tape and try to make my shoes last as long as they could, so to get the keys to the factory and be able to go make a shoe, it was kind of an adolescent fantasy come true and really fun to work on.

So my question is, what is it that makes you want to do all sorts of things with your music rather than just make albums and tour?
Right, well, I think Dean and I, from the beginning of No Age looked at it sort of like an art project rather than just a band. A way for us to express ourselves on many levels. The first release we did before any record labels or anything was just a DVD-R of four songs that we had recorded ourselves and went out with friends and shot video. Not music videos, but more like video art installation for the songs. We just put it out ourselves, we had a friend who worked at a place where he could make DVD-Rs for cheap and he made us a couple hundred of them and we sold them on our tour the first time around. So yeah, I think we kind of came into it looking to just do things a little differently and not just be slotted into the sort of band world. We always keep our eyes open for fun people to collaborate with and opportunities to come up to make things we want to see. At the end of the day No Age is sort of a strange weird design business, rather than just a band. The band comes first in a lot of ways, we spend the majority of our time working on new music but there are these things that we just don’t want to say no to.

So if you could work with anyone in the world, whom would you work with?
Oh my God, I don’t know. That’s an incredible, that’s a big question. Um, I think Frank Lloyd Wright, if this is a theoretical question. We would be able to design a building for all our purposes, for everything we wanted to do, have under one roof and create an amazing aesthetic piece of art. Architecturally, purpose-wise, I love the idea of simulacra but not an idea that we are presenting something fake but rather an experience and an environment. This is entering nerd territory but hotel design, ya know, just different building designs and how things work, how you create an experience for people as they go through it, everything you need under one roof. To get stuff done like that is always a fascinating challenge that people face when they are trying to figure out how to make it work, what kind of purpose this is for. Then bringing something fun into it as well. On the road we get to see cheap hotels and nicer hotels and it’s not so much just about the money but also the experience of being there, you know. It’s fun to see how people create that because as a person you are really just engulfed in that environment. I think, I don’t know, maybe some kind of No Age Bed and Breakfast/skate park/recording studio I think would be amazing. A commune, something like that…

Like a live/work space?
Yeah, but one that is also open to the public to come and live and work as well. One experience we had when we were in London this last time was that we took the tube all the way out to the end of the line in Essex and we visited the Dial House which is essentially exactly what we are talking about but they have been doing this since 1967. Gee and Penny from Crass have this incredible live/work/art commune anarchist open house that has been running for more years than I have been alive and it’s just so inspiring. We sat down and had tea with them and it was incredible, we just left there with our minds totally melted.

That is amazing! On a different note, there seems to be quite a few bands coming up from LA at the moment, what do you think that’s about?
I don’t know, LA has been a home for me for my entire life, I grew up in the suburbs and it’s always been home for me so it’s really hard to see the forest for the trees I think. My take on LA is that it’s big, it’s this kind of nebulous collection of small communities that all get put under this umbrella of Los Angeles and realistically there is probably 80 or 90 Los Angeles’ depending on who you ask. Different L.A.’s that people make in their own world and it’s big enough to accommodate all of those. There isn’t really one identity and in terms of music I think the fact that there is space you know, there are a lot of different people and you can find an audience for whatever weird way out music you want to make. It’s not really centralized. I think LA is nurturing in that way that it is big enough so you have space to make your art, make your music and the pool of people who may or may not be interested is large so you knock on enough doors and you might find support. The size makes it a magical place for that reason, you can get lost in your own world, get focused on your own art and you look up from the guitar, from the canvas and suddenly there are people there noticing what you are doing. LA is a cool weird place. It’s kind of fun, on the road we run into a lot of people who are like ‘you live in LA’ with this like shit smell on their face and we are like, well have you ever been there? ‘Well yeah, I went to Disney World when I was five.’ That’s not really LA and in all honesty there are a lot of aspects that I don’t even like about it but it is so big that I can just step out of the way of the machinery of the media complex and all that blood sucking vampire culture that exists here to make it big and to be part of some mass consumer culture but I can live my life, not even in the periphery, in some way I feel like those guys are the periphery. They don’t really have very much to do with the greater population of Los Angeles. Most people go to work at 9-5 jobs and enjoy the beach and the mountains and live their lives. I don’t think you feel like you are an outsider, it’s almost like you are the majority and they are the outsiders who live in this glass tower somewhere. Unfortunately the elements that people don’t like are the ones that people see on TV.

Last question… what are you up to next?
Up to next? Right now we are really just in practice, getting all the songs up to speed to go out on tour. We leave on September 10th to play a festival in North Carolina then we meet up with Pavement to open up four shows in the Midwest and then come back and we are going to play The Hollywood Bowl with Pavement and Sonic Youth open for that. That’s a crazy thing, it’s one of those times where you are telling your parent or extended family what you do, and they’re like ‘oh that’s nice you play music, what do you really do?’ And you’re like no, I just play music. You play the Hollywood Bowl however and even though they have no idea who Pavement or Sonic Youth are they go ‘oh The Hollywood Bowl!’ Their ears prick up and they want tickets and all of the sudden you’ve become successful. It’s very weird how that pops up on different generations’ radar. We are getting ready for that, the record comes out on September 28th and then we head out on tour over to Europe at the beginning of October and into November so we are just getting everything together for the live shows. I think like half the songs on the record we wrote in a different way, and this gets back to your first question to wrap it up but we approached the record writing it not just with guitars and drums but how to write songs in different ways using samples that is more of an arranging tool. We arranged songs and wrote songs with a sampler and put guitars and drums where they would accompany these arrangements we made. Because we did that, we are left with the challenge of how to perform it live. We brought in a friend Will who is going to be doing the samples live on stage with us. It’s all stuff we have written but he is there to realise it in the live setting, so just been working with him, sitting down with the songs and going ok, how do we get this thing to translate live. It’s a really fun challenge.

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