Noise pop rocks
Randy Randall is the guitarist of the critically acclaimed noise pop band No Age. The Los Angeles-based duo is on the legendary record label Sub Pop and the new record, An Object, will be released Aug. 19. No Age is set to return to Reno for the first time in five years with a show at the Holland Project, 140 Vesta St., with Protect Me, Surf Curse and Cat Jelly, on Aug. 26 at 8 p.m.
I know you’ve played in Reno at least once before. I saw you play here with Liars five or six years ago.
Yeah, that was our one and only time.
What do you remember about that show?
I remember it was awesome! That was right at the beginning of our tour. We were still getting to know the Liars guys. They were still getting to know us. And I remember the club was sort of like a youth sort of club?
It had a bar, but it was all ages. Club Underground. It’s not there anymore.
I remember the spot was cool. And it was the first time we ever Pricelined a hotel. There’s so many hotels in this town, where do we crash? We didn’t have WiFi or anything, so we had one of our girlfriends Priceline a hotel in Reno. We got a nice hotel for $40 or something. … It was one of the casinos. It was just exciting because you could book a hotel online. That technology had been around, but it was new to us. … I think it was the beginning of 2008. It was new to us even just staying in a hotel. Even being able to afford a $40 hotel was new to us. It was very new. The world was very new to us as a band and as people back then. Fast forward to 2013, and we’re road-weary old men.
One of the main things I remember about your set was you passing your guitar out into the crowd. Like building up to the climax of a song and passing the guitar out and the guitar kind of went crowd surfing. Do you remember that? Is that something you do a lot?
Yeah, especially then, I was doing that a lot. It was fun. I think since then, it’s met with negative consequences at times. We’ve caught guys trying to run out the door. Our sound guy would see someone heading toward the door or somebody just completely ripping the shit out of it and trying to break it. So at some point I realized that not everybody is as nice as the people in Reno. So I’ve got more cautious with it. But that night it was fine. Smaller places, where you can actually look people in the eye, it’s fine. The bigger places where you can’t see who’s back there, it’s not always a good idea.
This show is going to be at Holland Project, which is an all-ages, no-alcohol club. Do you like playing venues like that?
I definitely prefer playing the shows that are all ages and have a different sort of vibe. … What I like about it is that the majority of the time, these places are set up to see music. Not saying that bars can’t be like that or stadiums or whatever. But these kind of all ages show places, the one goal is for people to come in and see a band. It’s not about getting drinks. It’s not about riding the mechanical bull. It’s not about playing the slots, and you happen to get a band also. Really, these places are designed to see a band. It’s not like the biggest budget or the biggest PAs or anything, but really the spirit is right there. … And they’re usually independent. You don’t have Clear Channel taking a hand in all ages spaces. They could give a shit. So you feel like you’re off the corporate map. So, intentions are transparent. Sometimes it can get weird. Sometimes you’re attacked by a 14-year-old kid doing the door who doesn’t think your pants are the right kind of pants. It can feel corny a little bit, especially as you get older. I don’t want to get punked by a 14-year-old. But it depends. Every space has its own vibe. And I like the idea of it being some place different. Maybe not every band goes to these places. And if you’re interested in a band, maybe you have to go out of your comfort zone to see them, and I always like that.
You guys like to play a lot of unusual venues?
Yeah, and it’s not just for the kitsch value. It makes it interesting for us as a band to go set up and play. And hopefully it makes an interesting experience for the audience as well. Go out of your comfort zone and see something in a place you wouldn’t normally see it. We’ve played libraries, which you wouldn’t think would go over well with our loud music, but on a Saturday, while the librarians are sleeping. We’ve played a Ethiopian restaurant in Philadelphia. We played a vegan grocery store in Portland called Food Fight. We’ve played basements. We’ve played bowling alleys. … I like the variety of it. I like the feeling that it’s not the same place every night. I like something that’s different. Tour can start to feel like Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. It’s a different town, but it’s the same venue. Same posters, same kind of dudes working the bar, working the sound, these same kind of stark black rooms, with penises drawn in the dressing room. The beer smell everywhere. The same one slot machine that doesn’t work. The same one lightbulb. There’s a monontony to do this. And that’s not always the goal. Those kind of events will happen and you sort of roll with it. I’m not one to complain. I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining. But if you someone asks you if you want the same thing for dinner every day, I’d rather change it up. So playing different venues is its own reward. You get to see different cities, play a different type of place. It creates for chaos sometimes, like, why doesn’t this place have monitors? But really the audience doesn’t care. And we can usually roll with it. We’re fairly flexible.
You have a two-man band. You play guitar and Dean Spunt sings and plays drums. How does the songwriting work? Do you write together? And do you see it as an unusual setup?
It works all kinds of different ways. We’ve written songs where I’ve brought ideas in, and Dean has put lyrics over a song I’d written. Or I bring a piece in, and he helps finish the song. Or he comes up with the whole idea, or he has an idea for a part he plays. It’s kind of all kinds of configurations. For this record, we really went out of our comfort zone to break down some of our old habits in songwriting, a loose jamming idea and then something would get born out of that. But what we found this time out, writing songs for what would become An Object, we were kind of doing the same thing. The same writing process and, surprise, surprise, getting the same kind of songs. The same feel. We definitely wanted to break out of that, and that started with the writing process. We changed how we wrote. So for a lot of this, Dean would pick up the bass and start playing notes or a rhythm on the bass and that would be the seed or the genesis of a song idea. Even live now, he’s playing bass on three or four songs. It’s different. Then, there’s no big drum part. There’s no drums. It’s kind of cool. It creates a different sort of tension or atmosphere. … The second part of your question was, is it unusual? And most bands, even if there’s five or six people, if you look at the writing credit, it’s usually written by one or two people at most. It’s a four-person band, but most the songs are Lennon-McCartney. It’s usually one or two people writing most of the songs. Jagger-Richards. A lot of these songs are written by a duo and then performed and filled out onstage. So, for us, the writing process feels about right. If there were too many writing the song, that would be unusual or difficult. For us, two people writing feels natural.
I’ve only listened to the new album a couple of times, but the feel of it is a lot different than your previous stuff. It’s not more mellow, but it feels more patient, I think. It has a patient focus to it, where some of the older stuff has a frantic, punk rock energy, this feels more measured and patient. Would you agree with that?
Yeah! One of our desires going into this was for it to feel intimate. There was a record by Psychic TV called Pagan Day that the myth of it was that it was recorded all in one day, in the bedroom or a living room, all in one day, and that’s what was put out as an album. And there was something about that idea of just two or three guys in a bedroom on Christmas morning working sunup to sundown and creating this singular document. I don’t think this record really sounds like that record or there’s much of a relationship other than we were inspired by that idea of recording in a living room in one day. So the patience, I think, comes out of that. We’re here and it’s intimate. It’s a voyeuristic kind of thing. We wanted people to feel like they were spying on us rather than us going out and presenting something to the world. We’re inviting you to look through this peephole and seeing what we do when no one’s looking. It’s not exhibitionist. It’s voyeuristic.
That’s interesting because with rock music there’s a tendency to be exhibitionist.
And some of that’s OK, but there’s a weirdness—and I don’t know if I’m talking out of school or calling out a rock ’n’ roll beef with someone but a band like fun. with big group vocals, and we’re all so cute, and all sing along together, and we all have a great time at camp—what’s annoying about it is that it rings untrue. No, you guys take yourself a little too seriously and you’re a little too precious for my tastes. I like something that feels honest and honest to me has a little grime and a little dirt. Our goal is always to be honest to who we are as people. And stuff like that just doesn’t ring true to us as a band, if we were going to put on this big sing-along show.
When I think of you guys—people use the term “noise pop”—but I think it applies to you guys. I like it when there are opposing impulses in music. There’s guitar texture, noise and feedback, and within that is a catchy pop tune. Those two impulses are both there, contrasting in a way that makes me appreciate both. Do you agree with that?
Definitely. It’s that sweet and sour mix. The contrast is there. From early on it, it was a rough goal to make the catchiest pop song out of the most noisiest, most amelodic pieces. That challenge at an early point was to see if we could do that. Something that if you took it apart it would be the most horrific car crash cacophony, but when you put it all together it creates this poppy, beautiful symphony—if that doesn’t sound too cliché. Something that sounds like it shouldn’t work, with shoehorning it in, but finding the beauty in these noisy, discordant elements. It’s been a lifelong interest of mine. I remember being a kid and making four-track tapes and coming out and playing them for my mom. That sounds nice, but discordant is the word she would use.