From the moment The Everly Brothers added close-knit country harmonies to the expanding palette of 1950s rock’n’roll, the two-piece has been one of pop’s most recognizable archetypes. From The Carpenters to The Chemical Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel to The Pet Shop Boys, the duo has come in many forms, each with its own distinctive take on this most compelling of line-ups.
More experimental than the likes of The Black Keys and The White Stripes, No Age are busy reinventing the two-piece for the modern age. Formed out of the ashes of California noise-pop outfit Wives, the band set out to produce music with no restrictions, no boundaries, and no looking back. Starting with an idealistic concept to make songs that sounded like they were recorded on top of each other, drummer Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall have repeatedly delivered explosive pysch-punk laden with avant-pop references. Latest album Everything In Between (Sub Pop, 2010) is an abstract blast of upfront noise-pop that is wonderfully attuned to the twin possibilities of punk and electronica.
Having grown up in shitty Los Angeles suburbs where music meant everything, No Age are eager to fully realize the artistic possibilities of their band. Keen to distill their music to its most potent form, Spunt and Randall revel in the freedom that being a two-piece allows. With a simple goal to communicate with their community, No Age are a band of the people for whom rock’n’roll is a lifestyle choice rather than a profession. Skyscraper recently caught up with Dean Spunt to discuss the band’s latest disc and the vision behind their music.
Skyscraper: Last fall you released your third album, Everything In Between. Tell me about writing and recording it.
Dean Spunt: We spent a lot of 2009 touring. We would write in between tours, in between shows. When we had breaks, we would have blocks of practice every day for a week and just write, make samples, record stuff, et cetera. We booked three small sessions at Infrasonic. This record was more about short spurts of time working over a long period. Then, in the end, we were able to sew it all together.
Skyscraper: How have the audiences been reacting to your new material?
DS: They have been reacting nicely. More like convulsing than moshing. Maybe the visuals and the third member [sample/effects controller William Kai Stangeland-Menchaca] are too much for their senses. It has been nice and loud.
Skyscraper: It was mostly written in LA. How do you think your hometown has shaped the sound of your music?
DS: Los Angeles really isn’t about a sound. It never has been about a sound. It is such a sparse place that things get tied together in an interesting way. SST didn’t put out bands that sounded like anything. But there was a spirit. Same with The Smell; when we started playing there in 2001 with Wives there was no sound, it was about not sounding like your friends’ bands. Being creative, looking outside for inspiration. If anything, the LA underground has been more about the way things are presented, the aesthetic rather than the sound.
DS: Our old band ended in disaster. We pulled the plug and continued in a new way. We got to start from scratch and fix the things that went too far. No Age was about trying new things. I had never played drums in a band really, besides one-off bands. I wanted to be the opposite of the Wives drumming style, and try my hand at singing. [Grant Hart of] Husker Du and Adam Stonehouse from The Hospitals were inspiring. It seemed like the thing you should not do, something that kinda made no sense. Randy had been experimenting with a single guitar style since the early days of Wives. Half the set I played bass and sang, the other half Randy would use a splitter and plug into the bass amp and I would just sing. We had a little jumping off point. We were just experimenting with everything in No Age. Recording, samples, noise. Trying to make mistakes, learn and create music that wasn’t there, but that we heard in our heads.
Skyscraper: Why did you decide to limit yourselves to drums, vocals, guitars, and effects/samples?
DS: There are only two of us, what else can we do? We only have four hands. We were both triggering samples with our feet when we would play live. We didn’t come from a conventional place you need to understand. In our heads, anything can be a band. The Smell taught us that simple rule. Solo guy, two-piece, pre-recorded sounds with dance… I mean, it never entered our head that we were doing anything out of the ordinary. Just making art. We wanted to strip it down to be more creative with sound, make up that low end with noise, and also to be more economical.
DS: Punk is in our DNA. Randy was getting more and more into power-pop guitar styling, for sure. I was also getting more into electronic and ambient music. I never listened to ambient music before; we always tried to create that sound without ever being aware of it. Instinctively, though, as I was leaning more towards pretty sounds than harsh noise, so were other LA friends that played straight up noise. There must have been something in the air. We were listening to diverse things like Nick Lowe, Disco Inferno, Gas, Infest. All over, finding the common thread, which most the time was DIY.
Skyscraper: You’ve said you wanted to make two-minute pop songs and give them eight minutes to breathe. Tell me more about that.
DS: When we started, the idea of the mangled pop songs climbing out of these soundscapes of noise and beautiful tones really got us going. That idea still gets us going. We are still working towards that, it seems like. Breathing room is awesome, helps you appreciate each other.
Skyscraper: How have you become attuned to broader realm of possibilities of making sounds with the equipment at your disposal?
DS: We use what we got. That is a general rule for our lives it seems.
Skyscraper: You like to juxtapose modern sampling equipment with vintage amps. Why is mixing the old and the new so important to you?
DS: It is more about sound. Old amps usually sound better. If new amps sounded like old ones, we would use those – they sure would be easier to fix. Same with drums. Most new drums don’t feel right. Sampling has always been interesting; it is not new by any means, though. We used sampling in Wives, too.
Skyscraper: You’ve added an extra member for live shows, William Kai Stangeland-Menchaca of Silver Daggers. Tell me about that decision.
DS: Third person to trigger samples so we don’t have to any more. Fill out the sound, et cetera. It has been awesome. Change feels good, even if it’s not what people want – especially if it is not what people want.
Skyscraper: What are your plans for the future?
DS: We don’t plan for the future. One day at a time. Live for now.
Photos: Todd ColeVisit: No Age | Sub Pop
Purchase: Insound | eMusic