“I don’t know what kind of band people think we are,” says No Age’s Dean Spunt. The singer-drummer-bassist is genuinely curious, as people sometimes seem unprepared for the duo’s bristling, noisy, contemplative indie rock. “We played in Big Sur. The fucking owner came out, yelled ‘You suck!’ at us and turned the power off. We played for 15 minutes. Angry, angry, angry.”
It gets loud. There is moshing, pushing, shoving. At the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, fans ripped apart succulent plants in front of the stage. They also went nuts earlier this month at the Santa Monica Pier. And one time at a vegan grocery store, a jar of pasta sauce fell to the floor as singer-guitarist Randy Randall climbed on top of a cooler.
Angry, angry, angry.
“We play these shows and they see me wheeling in this giant amp, and they’re like, ‘Are you guys loud? This isn’t going to be loud, is it?'” Randall tells Rolling Stone. “It’s fun to get in there and mix it up. Maybe we need a disclaimer: Your ears may ring, you may be touched.”
There is no confusion about No Age where they’re sitting now, in their trailer backstage at the FYF Festival in L.A.’s Chinatown. No Age is practically the house band here, going back to the festival’s earliest days as a gathering of club shows and house parties put together by promoter Sean Carlson. No Age has played FYF for most of its decade-long history.
On the wall of their dressing room is a flyer with a helpful reminder to bands: “Don’t forget to settle! And get your money!”
During the band’s 40-minute set, No Age will mix eight years of critically acclaimed work with new songs from An Object, released this week on Sub Pop. The album represents another left turn for the band, stripping songs down to their barest elements.
“This was about trying to squeeze as much out of one note as much as we could – keeping it minimal,” says Spunt, wearing a wide-brimmed hat for his day in the sun. “There’s still a lot of care and thought put into the songs, but the arrangement is a little more direct.”
The band knew they were onto something different during the tracking of “An Impression,” a song No Age had written years before and performed occasionally in their original style. For An Object, the partners deconstructed the song and rebuilt it.
“It’s the same chord, the same timing, the same arrangement, the same movements. But instead of playing a big, blurry chord, I broke it down into individual notes and did this arpeggiated thing,” explains Randall, wearing a camouflage cap with the combined logos for Black Flag and the Grateful Dead. “It got a little music-nerdy, but really it was about how this idea could be reimagined. And as a band we can take ourselves apart and put ourselves back together. We don’t have only one way of working.
“Same parts, same people, same material, but a different design. I like a band that can change record by record. I don’t want the same record every time.”
As if to further bring that philosophy to life, Randall and Spunt took a hands-on approach to the initial release of An Object, down to personally designing and boxing up every one of its 10,000 vinyl and CD copies. That gives some literal art-world credibility to the title of No Age’s third fill-length album, but also reflects the ongoing DIY influence of heroes like Black Flag.
No Age inadvertently became part of that iconic hardcore act’s history when they invited former Black Flag members Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski to perform a 10-minute set with the band for a moshing, thrashing crowd in L.A.’s MacArthur Park in 2011. Billed that night as No Flag, it was the first time the former BF members had performed “Wasted,” “Fix Me” and “Nervous Breakdown” together in decades. By 2013, Morris and Dukowski formed FLAG with other ex-band members – singer-guitarist Dez Cadena and drummer Bill Stevenson – and Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton. FLAG played at this year’s FYF.
“It was like a dream come true to do that. We’ve done some Black Flag covers, but playing with those guys – Chuck has this insane energy that comes off him,” says Spunt of the bassist. “He is the epitome of what I thought Black Flag was. He added so much to that band. I can tell now that I’ve hung around him.”
Just as inspirational to No Age was the example of Black Flag’s indie label, SST Records, which at one time had an active roster that included Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Bad Brains, Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr. and the Screaming Trees.
“Completely different bands. I was trying to figure out, what is this thread?” says Spunt. “It was this ‘fuck everything else, DIY’ idea. That is what really spoke to me.”
Randall adds, “To me, punk was this strange, mixed-up bag of music. It didn’t have a one-style thing. When I started to discover that, it was ‘Oh, we’re all weirdos.’ It wasn’t a singularity. It wasn’t a store you could buy stuff at.”
While No Age now tours through established venues and large festival stages like FYF, the duo often still play little rooms with no stages at all. Randall is still squeezing in his full amplifier stacks into small garages. The variety of settings and crowd reactions keeps things unpredictable.
“It’s nice to not only do one thing. It’s like the difference between giving a speech to a lot of people or talking at a party with some friends,” says Randall. “The way you talk on a giant stage with a podium would feel very awkward talking amongst friends at a house. The idea is communication. It’s the same ideas, but it’s how you get them across.”