If there were ever a band that embodied the do-it-yourself ethos, it would be No Age. Even before the making of this year’s hand-packaged album, the Los Angeles duo was operating on a strict diet of DIY. It all (mostly) began in Downtown L.A.’s The Smell, a small, disheveled club known for its not-for-profit, all-ages credo. There, alongside acts like Abe Vigoda, Pocahaunted, and Mika Miko, guitarist Randy Randall and drummer Dean Spunt got their start and slowly amassed a fervent fan base behind their reverbed-out sound experiments and gloriously fuzzy rock anthems. In the years since, No Age has carried the torch for The Smell’s tight-knit scene, singing its praises — and instilling its ethics — even as they climbed to the majors.
Nowadays, No Age sits comfortably atop the roster of music’s biggest indie label: Sub Pop Records. They’ve been touted by Pitchfork, performed alongside actress Chloë Sevigny, and scored a film for haute couture fashion label Rodarte. Last month, No Age unveiled An Object, the band’s fourth studio album and first since 2010’s Everything in Between. For this go-round, Randall and Spunt started a record, scrapped a record, and ultimately switched up their instruments to make an album that pushes the boundaries of No Age’s back catalog. They also put the whole thing together themselves — all 10,000 copies of it. I recently caught up with Randall to discuss the process, the problems, and the conceptual idea behind An Object.
It’s been three years since the last record, but in a lot of ways you guys never really took a break. I don’t think Dean and I have really taken a break since we started playing music together in 2001. [Laughs.] It’s always kind of been go, go, go. We both have a clock-puncher sort of mentality; we go into our practice space or studio space and just kick ideas around. It’s nice that way. It keeps things fresh, instead of going in and operating on this idea of, “Okay, we have one week to write a whole record.” We’re collecting ideas on a constant basis. Up until it was time to record, it was basically just us sitting around and writing. Sometimes we’ll just stare at each other for hours at a time.
You guys scrapped a whole round of recordings in the process of making this record. What happened? We started writing in the beginning of 2012, and we were having conflicting feelings about some of the songs. They all kind of felt like older songs, and, despite our best effort to pull out of them what we did like, we sort of had to call bullshit on ourselves. We were kind of hesitant about it, but we drove out to Texas and started recording with Tim Kerr at this awesome studio in Austin. We weren’t 100 percent sold on the songs, but we had the time booked, and we really wanted to work with Tim, so we went in hoping he would help us in more of a producer type of role. That was our hope, but the whole thing ended up to be pretty ill-fated because our hearts weren’t in it. We were questioning everything every step of the way. So we came back and started recording songs in October/November 2012 and basically went for three months, and all that stuff became An Object.
How did you keep yourselves from going down that road again? We used the term “on the nose” a lot. There’s that feeling when something seems too obvious. I think we could almost run the risk of becoming jaded about stuff, but we were looking for a specific feeling. We’d play stuff and say to each other, “Yeah, but that’s what you’d expect us to do.” If anything, this record suffered from our ambition to be a different band in some ways, but at the end of the day, I think it really gets to the core and the meat of what we felt like was the best expression of what we’re feeling at the time. But we tortured ourselves a little bit. We didn’t let ourselves get too lazy or too happy with anything too quickly. We were challenging it.
Dean is using a bunch of new stuff on this record — bass guitar, contact mikes. How did not having him on the drums affect the way you approached the songs? It was a huge way of changing up the way we wrote. It kind of pulled my feet out from underneath me. I was so used to looking over at him on the kit; it took a head nod and a blink and a twitch, and the song would just come. Then it was different. He’d be on bass with these contact mikes, and I didn’t know what sound was going to come out. So I’d wait and hear. It was like changing dance partners; you kind of start knowing how to do it, but it’s slightly different in a way where you can’t trust your same instincts. It was good, though. It really kept me on my toes.
Can you talk a bit about putting the record together? The idea of manhandling 10,000 individual covers came from Dean. It was a part, I believe, of his inspiration for really attacking this record as a whole concept, meaning that it had to be constructed and seen through in a handmade way to the furthest extent possible. In the beginning, I was kind of resistant if not completely against this whole idea. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted less than to sit in a room and fold 10,000 record sleeves. But as we talked more and more, I understood where he was coming from. We did a lot of work, and it was fun. And Sub Pop kind of thought we were crazy, but when they found out it wasn’t going to cost them any more money and it was going to be a good marketing tool for them, then everyone was happy. It was a win-win situation. There’s something kind of perverse now that the record’s out and people have been bringing it to us to sign. It’s a funny feeling, like someone is bringing something from your yard sale back to you. You get to look at it and go, “Oh, I remember this one! It’s stamped here, and we did it on this day.” You sort of want to see them all and ask for them back, but you’re also really happy to let them go.
No Age plays the Ojai Rancho Inn (615 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai) on Wednesday, September 25, at 8 p.m. with Trashberries and Lucky Dragons. Doors open and preshow festivities start at 4 p.m. Call (805) 646-1434 or visit coolsummerpresents.com for tickets and info.