A great deal transpired in the lives of Indie Noise Rock auteurs No Age in the five years between the elaborate and beautifully packaged (but largely underappreciated) An Object and the recently released Snares Like a Haircut. One big headline for the Los Angeles duo of Randy Randall (guitar) and Dean Allen Spunt (drums/vocals) was their label shift from Seattle’s Sub Pop to Chicago’s Drag City, but the sea change for both on a personal level has been fatherhood, once for Spunt and twice for Randall since 2013.
“That gave us a reason to stick around home and not travel too far for too long,” Randall says of parenthood. “We never really stopped playing. We did a bunch of touring those first couple years, then some one-off shows and festivals, and we were involved in a lot of different art projects with different visual and conceptual artists, like Doug Aitken, who we worked with on a few things.” (The duo also collaborated with Cincinnati’s We Have Become Vikings and Visionaries + Voices artist Dale Johnson for the design of a 2013 cassette, released to coincide with a Contemporary Arts Center performance.)
The seeds for Snares Like a Haircut were planted in 2016, when Randall and Spunt reconvened to work up songs for a 7-inch to market on a brief Norwegian tour. It was the first time since the creation of An Object that the pair had worked on new material, and they came together with no expectations about sound, philosophy or direction.
“We’ve never really worked backward, where we knew what we wanted the record to be and then plugged songs into that formula,” Randall says. “If anything, we were excited to write and play new songs. We were like, ‘Let’s write new songs we can put in the set even before we record them and let them evolve from there.’ A lot of the new songs on Snares Like a Haircut came out of that desire to play new songs live. We were writing stuff we knew we could play live that wasn’t a studio experiment.”
As a result, Snares Like a Haircut bristles and blusters with the best of No Age’s estimable decade-long catalog, veering methodically from compelling and relentless Noise Rock dynamics to aggressively ambient atmosphere, like a cross between Sonic Youth and Brian Eno. Randall notes that he and Spunt have followed a general rule of thumb throughout the subtle shifts that have characterized the duo’s musical journey.
“I think there was something early on that Dean and I always found perversely inspiring and that’s to try and write really hooky Pop songs, (but) in the way we saw a Pop song — like Devo writes a Pop song,” he says. “You’re singing along, you’re whistling, you’re clapping, you’re moving, it works as a Pop song, but… with the ugliest, most insane non-Pop sounds and elements that are almost unlistenable and become the hook you remember, the earworm that you’re whistling.
“Not every song has to fit that, but it’s kind of an insight into our creative process over the years. Somehow that rings a little truer to us creatively — not just so on-the-nose and exactly like a song you’ve heard before. We’ve been able to create something that’s uniquely honest to us and what we’re creatively trying to say.”
Randall and Spunt formed No Age in 2005 after the demise of their band Wives. In 2007, the duo released five vinyl EPs with five different labels within a short span of time (the songs were later released as the Weirdo Rippers “album”). Between the conceptual live presentations and off-kilter marketing strategies, No Age attracted the attention of Sub Pop, which signed the twosome in 2008. Nouns, their debut for the label, earned No Age and their longtime graphic design collaborator Brian Roettinger a Grammy nomination for packaging. Roettinger’s design work has been present on every No Age album except Weirdo Rippers, and he has since been tapped to provide graphics for Jay-Z, Mark Ronson, Florence + the Machine and Marilyn Manson, among others.
“Brian has gone on to become something of a superstar in album packaging — the real Rock star of the No Age organization,” Randall says with pride. “While we’re still slogging it out on the DIY scene, Brian has shifted seamlessly and gracefully into the major label world, which is great. He’s a super talented, really smart graphic designer and artist in his own right.”
The band’s label switch was no cause for drama. An Object fulfilled their contract, and the twosome elected to take a little time off after touring the album. When they began to assemble the pieces of what would become Snares Like a Haircut, they put the word out that they were heading toward a new album and Drag City co-founder Dan Koretzky, a longtime fan of the band, stepped up with an offer.
When the subjects of creative evolution and sonic maturation are broached, Randall admits that the band has grown and changed over the past dozen years but insists that they’ve never approached anything they’ve done with premeditation or deliberation. That may be why No Age still sounds vital and exciting.
“There’s no manifesto for this stuff,” Randall says with a laugh. “A lot of it is just instinct and what we’re feeling at the time. There wasn’t a thing where we set out to make this album different than other stuff. Dean and I have been friends and creative collaborators for a lot of years and there was never any big road map of what we wanted to do. The idea was to always make art that felt honest to who we were at that time, knowing that things change and evolve. We were hoping we’d grow older and get weirder, which I think we’ve definitely done.”
Randall admits that becoming a parent has altered his and Spunt’s outlook considerably, but even as they’ve accepted the responsibilities of fatherhood and the subsequent reordering of priorities, they remain committed to No Age and to their creative lives.
“We’re not millionaires, but we’re able to make a living from time to time on projects,” he says. “All the excitement and different things we’ve done and how young and dumb we were, that was fun. Hopefully, I’ll continue to look back and in 10 years think how young and dumb I was today.
“I hope I make all the right mistakes and have all the naïveté to get me to tomorrow. Through that paralysis of knowing too much or being too cynical or pretentious, you want to be naïve enough to keep doing it and think that it means something and makes a difference.”
No Age performs Tuesday (May 8) at Northside Yacht Club. Tickets/more show info: northsideyachtclub.com.