No Age’s Object Impermanence

Published August 12, 2013

ABOVE: NO AGE

Even from the very beginning of the Los Angeles duo’s career, No Age has never been afraid to get its hands dirty. In keeping with their roots in their home city’s DIY punk scene, drummer-vocalist Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall have never taken on the rock star pretensions often associated with bands of their stature. They were militant early on about all ages shows, and even as things got more hectic—with the boost of popularity that 2008’s Nouns and 2010’s Everything In Between afforded them—they stayed true to their origins, following up big age-restricted shows with gigs in dingy basements. They previewed songs from their upcoming album An Object on a tour of small college campuses, rather than sticking to the big name rock clubs that they now can comfortably fill. They gave big middle fingers to the same corporate interests that bankroll the work of their peers. There is an easy way to be a well-known indie rock band in 2013—No Age just isn’t interested in it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the process that spawned An Object was difficult one. A creative drought following the grueling tours for Everything In Between left the band frustrated with the creative architecture they’d set up for themselves, which Dean Spunt explained over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. Rather than craft another album of noise-punk bangers, or delve further into the electronics that Everything In Between introduced, An Object started from the desire to make something physical, something built from the band’s own hands. What results is a heavy dose of the more abstract elements of Weirdo Rippers interspersed with more grounded takes on the up-tempo numbers that the intervening years provided. This isn’t another unhinged No Age album—but from the way Spunt explains it was constructed, it never really could have been. We spoke with Spunt last month about how the drive to create an object led to the creation of An Object.

COLIN JOYCE: So set the scene for me: At what point after the last album did you decide that you needed to do something different for this one?

DEAN SPUNT: We toured pretty hard after that last record, and it took some time to get inspired to even make a record again. It’s always been our intention to do something differently for every record, but in mid-2012 I started to get asked a lot about making another record. I started thinking about that a lot and imagining a scenario where the band becomes the manufacturer and the roles flip. What does the artist become? If they’re the manufacturer, are they still the artist? These kinds of ideas led to us hand-making this record, and then from there I started to write—not that I had writer’s block, but I was excited about writing a record around this concept.

JOYCE: But this record sounds compositionally different as well. You’re picking up the bass again, and playing through prepared speakers. These are things you haven’t done before with No Age, right?

SPUNT: Yeah, I’ve never played bass on older No Age stuff. I play drums and sing because that’s what I initially wanted to do, but samplers and other sounds and field recordings made their way into our music. As things progressed for our band, as we signed to labels and put out records and had a touring schedule, it led me to be the singing drummer. It’s fun to do, but I always imagined trying different instruments and different sounds. Since we had time off from that last record, I was able to collect my thoughts and feelings better. Initially I didn’t want to play any drums on this record at all. I wanted to figure out how to create rhythm with my hands and not play drums. I like rhythms and I like drums, but I’m not interested in being super proficient at anything. I like learning things, and maybe with that I felt like I was at a point where I didn’t know where else to go but to strip it down and try older things.

JOYCE: You wanted to make sure you were still having fun.

SPUNT: I wanted to keep having fun, and I wanted to create a dialogue between the audience, Randy, and I that was different. When No Age plays a show, you generally know what to expect. I can appreciate that from the perspective of a fan. You think about the Ramones, and you can appreciate that Johnny Ramone had the same stance and the same guitar and the same haircut for the whole time that they were in existence. There’s something really beautiful about that, but that’s not who I am and that’s not what I was going for with No Age. And that’s what it felt like was happening with No Age.

JOYCE: How did you change that with An Object?

SPUNT: The first song, “No Ground,” has a hit that’s a contact mic between a hi-hat; and I think initially it sounds like a drum, but as you listen you realize it’s not. There’s no kick drum, just this one hit. It gives the illusion of this full rhythmic experience, but it’s really super minimal. “Defector/ed” is just bass and guitar and some field loops. Then “An Impression” has this drum beat with contact mics that sounds a little electronic and a little organic. There’s almost an absence of a beat, like it’s reversed.

JOYCE: It’s disorienting, in a way.

SPUNT: Yeah, especially that song or “Defector/ed,” there’s a pulse to it, but you’re not really sure what’s happening. Especially on “An Impression” when it first starts, you’re left guessing what it is that is creating this rhythm, but it feels like my hands.

JOYCE: What was the recording process like? There seems to be a greater focus on the sounds themselves, or a greater attention to detail.

SPUNT: We spent the most time recording this record that we ever have. We did it in the same building that we practice in with our friend Facundo Bermudez, who recorded maybe 40 percent of the Weirdo Rippers stuff. So yeah, we really spent a lot of time dissecting the sounds and making sure they were exactly what we wanted or close to what we wanted.

JOYCE: It’s funny that you mention Weirdo Rippers, because these songs seem to work similarly, structurally at least.

SPUNT: I wouldn’t say it was intentional to go backwards, but there is an essence in those early songs that became obscured or lost in translation as we went forward. There’s this sense of bringing it back, taking the approach of minimalism. I’ve been thinking about that a lot in both an art and musical context—stripping everything down. Those Weirdo Rippers sessions were super stripped down. We didn’t really know what we were doing. There’s something beautiful about that. Just like that was my first time playing drums, this was my first time playing bass in No Age and trying to make rhythm like this. It was like battling uphill, you know?

JOYCE: Was there any correlation from that musical uphill battle and your decision to do all the manufacturing and packaging yourself?

SPUNT: To me, there’s not a lot of correlation between the sounds and the packaging, but the packaging was a way to get to the destination of writing for me. I think it was more this idea of making an object. Making a thing that we’re going to go sell. This record that we’ve manufactured ourselves is nothing new. There’s kids making 100 records, 500 records, 1,000 records. There’s independent labels and people making stuff by hand. It’s nothing new. But on this level of making 10,000 objects and having these things distributed in a store like Best Buy, where 99% of the objects are not manufactured by hand. Maybe you can take the packaging as a “fuck you” to the world of music or the world of packaging. You can draw your own conclusions. It goes with the music too. The music feels like a similar kind of “fuck you,” too. I’m not concerned with musical form, besides being very aware that it is within the realm of rock music. We’re just fucking with that form, just as the package is within the context of album packaging.

NO AGE’S AN OBJECT IS OUT TOMORROW, AUGUST 20. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.