L.A.’s DIY music scene centres around the Smell, an all-ages venue in a converted Mexican grocery store that houses five-dollar noise, punk, and electronic shows almost nightly. With its vegan snack bar, art gallery, and library, the space has built a strong community dedicated to keeping it afloat. "The Smell got shut down for three months [in 2003], and all the shows got moved to my old house,” Dean explains. "We went to the Smell every day and built fire exits and another bathroom. Once it [was] gone, you’re like, ‘That place is so special! We can’t let that shit happen again!’”
At this time last year, the band released their first official material: five vinyl-only EPs on five different record labels. Limited at the time and now virtually impossible to find, highlights of the EPs were compiled as Weirdo Rippers, released in the summer of 2007 on Fat Cat Records (which previously launched the careers of Animal Collective and Sigur Rós).Weirdo Rippers quickly cemented the band’s status as a major contender in the world of indie hype, landing them spots in big-time rags like The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The L.A. Times. This was due to its functionality as a cohesive, structured album that emphasised the band’s otherworldly sound.
The resulting buzz of Weirdo Rippers led to a bidding war between major indies that ended with Sub Pop winning out. "It’s hard when there are eight to ten really cool people that want you to be on their baseball team.” Dean says. "But Sub Pop have a great history — fuckin’ Nirvana! The first thing they said was, ‘We just want you to do exactly what you’re doing.’”
To understand No Age’s sound is to understand that they don’t really have one. Avid record collectors and forward-thinking musicians, a No Age song can sound like obscure L.A. hardcore, heavy shoegaze, assaulting white noise, and hazy, burnt-out indie rock — sometimes simultaneously. "Randy wants to write a country song, and I think that’s the No Age style too,” Dean admits. "Sometimes I just want to write a song that sounds like Screeching Weasel. Once you get to know us, it makes sense.”Nouns, No Age’s Sub Pop debut, will help you get to know them. Larger, louder, heavier, and more varied than Weirdo Rippers, the record is a fitting introduction to the band and the next logical step in the No Age canon. Partially recorded at London’s Southern Studios, a facility that was built by Crass in the mid-’70s and responsible for classic records like the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, Nouns references classic punk and indie rock without aping it. This can be attributed to the pair’s endless stream of influences: "I have a huge record collection and I like pretty much all the stuff I have, so I don’t think we’re going to stop making interesting sounding music for a long time. There’s a lot of shit to reference still.”And reference they do. Opener "Miner” erupts with blistering post-rock and heavy loops, while "Teen Creeps” is a three-minute slacker anthem complete with a symphonic, ambient conclusion. Elsewhere, "Sleeper Hold” matches a true pop sensibility with Spunt’s positive lyrics and Randall’s daunting wall of guitars, like Kevin Shields writing a TV theme. "Here Should Be My Home” is a power-pop love song, while "Ripped Knees” takes some cues from messy garage-punk.
The true highlight of the album, however, avoids referencing altogether. "There’s some shit we’ve written where I’m like, ‘This does not sound like anything!’” Spunt recalls. "‘Things I Did When I Was Dead’ sounds like nothing. I don’t know what that was.” Tacked on at the end of their recording sessions, the song is the pinnacle of their creative achievements because it defies categorisation. Marrying a piercing siren loop with soft guitars and heartfelt lyrics, the song is the emotional centrepiece of Nouns.Though Randall had recently been working as an inner city junior high teacher, and Spunt was a fashion director for television commercials, No Age’s surge in popularity has allowed them to move on. "No Age is the biggest full time job I’ve ever had,” Spunt tells me. "It’s the band, and it’s managing ourselves, and tour managing ourselves, and printing our own t-shirts, and making our own stickers, and paying our own rent, and buying our own food, and running my own record label.”
Releasing limited vinyl from his own bands alongside friends in Mika Miko and Abe Vigoda, Post Present Medium is Spunt’s love letter to the L.A. scene and a tribute to early hardcore labels like Greg Ginn’s SST imprint. Mainly focused on art-punk and noise, the label still allowed No Age a large audience in the hardcore punk scene. "I never meant to appeal to those kind of kids, but essentially I am one of those kids,” Dean admits. "I collect records and I listen to punk. I really enjoy putting out limited vinyl and making obscure, weird music.”
Another parallel to the DIY punk movement is their idealistic view towards community living and veganism. But, unlike dogmatic hardcore kids, these views take a backseat in No Age’s lyrics. Spunt explains, "I would never tell anyone how to do anything, but we’re down to talk about it and show people how to cook if they want. I’d rather show someone something by example than tell them how to do something.” Instead, he’s found a way to avoid preaching through his lyrics. "I write poetry,” he admits. "I basically write dumb fucking punk lyrics.”
This self-directed piss-taking is a common strain with the band. Though they’ve just released one of the best albums of 2008, they keep a humble outlook on their purpose as a band. "Our whole thing is that we’re just positive in general. We play all ages shows, and we want kids to come. We want kids to start bands. The world would be fucking awesome if every kid was in a band.”