No Age Grows Up

Post-punk role models of tomorrow

As L.A. post-punk/noise rock duo No Age was recording its third album, Everything in Between (released September 2010 on Sub Pop), drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt was going through a difficult stretch. “I was breaking up with my longtime girlfriend, I had family members that were sick, and I had a, I don’t even know what you’d call it, some sort of mental breakdown,” he says.

It was a heavy time that forced Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall (both approaching 30) to grow up faster than they wanted, but by the end of the recording process, they’d come out the other side, landing in a more peaceful place. The album follows a similar trajectory, swelling from chaotic walls of feedback to inviting melodies and spacious jams. The drums are still wildly unhinged and the guitars jacked up on distortion, but now there are more entry points revealing unique pop structures and vocals that have been cleaned up just enough to establish a few choruses you can almost sing-along to.

In order to achieve fresh results, the band approached Everything in Between in a new manner. “We challenged ourselves to write with samplers. We kind of felt a bit comfortable with the drums and guitar, and when we sat down to create new songs, there was a fear of it coming too easy. We were falling into traps and clichés,” explains Randall. “So we branched out into this idea of using a sampler as an arrangement tool more than just a color texturing devise.”

The result is No Age’s most nuanced, mature and fully realized album to date, an effort both band members call “more intentional” and “composed.” But it still builds off the duo’s foundation of catchy hooks scuzzed up until barely recognizable, an approach they’ve slowly been mastering since breaking free of hardcore group Wives to form No Age in 2005. “There was something early on that still sticks with us, which is this idea of creating a beautiful pop song out of these really horrific, acidic, discordant collages of sound,” says Randall. “Like a really perverse pop song constructed solely out of feedback and cymbal scrapes, but when you hear it, it sounds like the most beautiful thing ever.”

Life is messy, you can’t get around it. There are breakdowns, breakups and shit jobs. But if you can keep a bit of perspective, maybe even use your pain and frustration to fuel productivity, then the journey is amazing, full of interesting people, intense emotions and the simple joy of a good song or walking on a sunny boardwalk. Being alive is both of those things: it’s the beauty and the struggle, and that’s what we find buried in No Age’s music.

“The idea of a pop song can be nice on its own, but there was something that always resonated in me that it was just kind of false; this ‘I love you baby’ kind of thing. It’s like okay, I’m sure somebody feels that somewhere, but I’ve never felt that. I’ve never felt one singular emotion of ‘life is so beautiful right now end of story,’” says Randall. “In hopes of expressing something a little more honest with our music, it was putting it all in there; the good with the bad.”

Randall and Spunt aren’t your typical rising rock stars. Both strict vegans, as the band spoke to SOMA while touring through Europe, there was no mention of chicks, drugs or crazy nights. Instead they use words like “community” and “honesty” with complete sincerity, and they’re involved in all sorts of artistic endeavors from photography and scoring films to developing skateboard apparel. They were even nominated for a Grammy in 2008 for “Best Recording Package” with their breakout sophomore effort Nouns.

Their down to earth demeanor and dedication to all ages (and often free) shows played everywhere from grocery stores, vegetarian restaurants and community centers, to beaches and basements, has made No Age leaders of LA’s youthful, burgeoning art-punk scene. With schools shutting down music programs and clubs locking out anyone under 21, or if you’re lucky 18, Spunt and Randall realize bringing music to kids is more important than ever.

Raised in bland Southern California suburbs, if it wasn’t for bands like Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, Black Flag and the Minutemen, along with a healthy addiction to skateboarding, Spunt and Randall might never have found the courage or formed the confidence to escape their adolescent shackles. Now No Age is doing its part to inspire the next generation.

“It was important for us to discover music at a young age and we want to carry that on to people who are discovering music now,” says Randall. “They see us up onstage and see that we’re not rock stars cut from some higher royalty; we’re kids who grew up just like them and just believed in ourselves enough to make music. And the possibility is there for them too, even if it’s not through music, whether it’s visual arts or whatever their expressions are, because if we can do it, they certainly can.”

– Aaron Kayce