No Age's Dean Spunt

No Age's Dean Spunt
What are you doing right now?
I’m downloading three fonts from the computer. Somebody sent them to me. I’m putting out a record on my label, and I have to send them to the person putting them out. The next thing I’m putting out is a seven-inch by a band called Partyfowl, and a DVD that has No Age, Mika Miko, and like 20 other bands on it.

Were you in other bands before Wives?
In ninth grade I was in a band called the Gromitts, I sang in that band. In the tenth grade I was in a straight edge band called Unit End, and in grade 11 I was in a band called Aspirin Kid, and that was an emo-ish band. I was in all sorts of shit. All different variations of punk and hardcore. I’ve been in a band since I was 13. I wasn’t in a band for like three years when I was between 18 to 20. I made art and stuff.

There’s no question that No Age are a punk band, but what is a punk band?
I believe it is in attitude and execution and how we do things. It’s DIY, and playing music that you want, and not really trying to play music for anything other than pure enjoyment. To me, that seems pretty punk. Experimenting is pretty punk too. The most punk dudes I know are experimenting in bands and music. In theory, it’s the mentality, but you could hear a jazz band that’s weird, and it’s the attitude. We have a friend’s band called Soiled Mattress and the Springs, that I think are punk. They have keyboard, saxophone and drums. They sort of sound like Herbie Hancock, like jazz-rock fusion, and I dunno, their attitudes, the way they do things, they’re in that network where they tour with punk bands and make their own posters and stuff. I mean, you could say you know what punk music is, it needs to be really fast or aggressive, but that’s not really the case I think.

A lot has been said about the bidding war that resulted in you signing with Sub Pop. Were there actually a number of labels fighting to sign you? How did you choose Sub Pop?
Yes. There were a lot of people that we thought were really great labels, a lot of people that we would have loved to have gone with, but it’s hard when there’s eight to ten people that you think are really cool that want you to be on their baseball team. It’s hard to choose from. Maybe SXSW last year, we went out to New York and someone wrote a review about us in the New York Times and I think it started there. It was a hard choice, but they have a great history and they were very open to a lot of the ideas we had – a lot of the non-musical ideas we had. They seemed really interested in us, and they liked us as fans and as business partners. And, I dunno man, fuckin’ Nirvana. They’re really nice people, and after we hung out with them we knew that.

Why not just release No Age records on your own label, PPM?
That was a thought we had. We could’ve done that but we feel like signing to a bigger label has allowed us now to put out other records on PPM that maybe more people will know about it, so we’re still releasing records on PPM like singles and 12-inches from No Age, and other bands. We just thought it would just help, which it has.

Are you at a point where you can do No Age for a living?
Yeah, but No Age is a lot of fucking stuff. No Age is the biggest full-time job I’ve ever had. It’s No Age, 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. There are all those things that we have to do. We just don’t have to also work 40-hour jobs every week. It’s a lot of fucking work, but we have people who help us. We don’t have a manager or anything, but in our typical fashion we’re a little different from most people. We have an intern for our band.

What were you doing prior to making No Age your full-time job?
I was a wardrobe stylist assistance on commercials, and Randy was a junior high teacher. Now he’s working on a documentary movie about music, punk music, how we know punk music and bands that we know. And right now as we speak he’s in Paris filming a skateboard video for a company called Altamont. It’s Andrew Reynolds’ new company, so Randy’s in Paris with him shooting a film.

Is skateboarding a big part of your lives?
It’s less of a big part of my life than it was when I was younger, but we have a lot of friends that skateboard, work for skateboard companies, run skateboard companies and shit. But I think the idea and the culture and stuff, definitely.

Even now, it seems like you could just as easily be featured in Maximum Rock’n’Roll or NME. I just recently ordered some of your vinyl from a distro that specializes in underground thrash and hardcore. Why is it that No Age is able to find acceptance in a broader audience without being shunned by the underground?
We can’t get interviewed in Maximum Rock’n’roll. We were gonna get interviewed, but then they found out that Sub Pop is part major label distribution or something. They were like, "Wait!” and I thought that was kinda lame. But it’s true, and I would say because people like the production. The production is pretty lo-fi still, there’s still the record-collecting kinda punk aspect, limited pressings and stuff, but I don’t know. I never meant to appeal to those kinds of kids but essentially I am one of those kids. I collect records and I listen to punk. Plus I think we’re referencing some obscure punk shit. Part would be, "Oh, that sounds like this old band.” The second thing would be, maybe it’s punk but it’s also art. There’s an art aspect, and I feel like a lot of punk music lacks that. But I’ve also read a lot of bad reviews, like "This is art bullshit.” That’s totally fine, I don’t care. But we play shows with bands like Sex Vid, and they’re our friends. I don’t know why we haven’t been called out more on being lame. Maybe it’s the spirit, we’re doing what we want to do. Sub Pop’s not owned by a major label. They’re distributed by ADA, which is the same distributor that Kill Rock Stars and Touch and Go go through, and they’re pretty punk, so I don’t know. I think just because they sell a shit-load of records that people think it’s weird.

It’s interesting, because a band like Against Me! were singled out as sell-outs long before they signed with Sire.
I don’t know, maybe Against Me! is not very good. They’re fucking cheesy. We’ve never said anything like, "We’re anarchists.” It’s one thing, like, you’re anarchists, why are you going to capitalise on music? Kids see through that bullshit. We’ve never made that claim. I really enjoy making money, and I really enjoy putting out limited vinyl, and I enjoy making obscure, weirder music. But I also like pop music and things like that. I think people just see the realness in it.

From a suburb in Canada, it’s easier to imagine something like the Smell thriving in a place like Gilman in Berkeley than a place like L.A. Can you describe L.A. from your perspective? How far is it from the Hollywood stereotypes we’ve heard?
There’s a lot of smog, and Hollywood is really annoying and shitty, and I think people had to create their only culture to exist here and be creative. It’s always been like that, punk in the late ’70s, bands like the Germs and the Screamers, even bands outside of the L.A. in the suburbs, like Black Flag and the Minutemen, those bands were reacting against the same shit that we are. Police, parents, shitty Hollywood, corporate bullshit. I think it’s easy for me to see those things and harder for people who live outside because you don’t really get to see the underground culture as much. I think it’s a special place. Not everyone can handle it. I like it that a lot of people don’t like it.

The Smell is a very unique place and it’s run completely by us and our friends. In Canada you have government funding for music, you don’t get money for anything here, not to mention running an all-ages venue that keeps a lot of kids out of trouble. Which is something that we all believe in and we’re also going to make sure something like that stays there until we can’t try anymore. It’s been shut down twice. Fire marshal, capacity issues, not regulated, but every time something happens, so many people show up to fix it. I used to live in this house, and the Smell got shut down and for three months all the shows got moved to my house. We went to the Smell every day and built fire exits and built another bathroom because it’s shit. Once it’s gone you’re like, "Fuck, that place is so special.” We got really scared and we were like, "We can’t let that shit happen again.”

People are talking about L.A. as if it’s the new hot city for amazing bands, and between you guys and Mika Miko, and Abe Vigoda, that doesn’t seem too far off. But if it gets too big, will what made your scene so special be compromised? Isn’t the beauty of something like the Smell that it’s so small?
All that stuff doesn’t really bother me, because I feel like if you go there and you like it then you’re down, and if you don’t like it you’re not going to go back. There’s not very much to do there if you’re not genuinely interested in the music. I guess you could call it hip, but you can’t buy alcohol there, it’s not safe to hang around there, so unless you’re really interested in the music and hang out inside, you’re not going to hang around. I know a lot of people who don’t go there because they can’t drink, so it’s really a place for music enthusiasts. I don’t think it’s threatened. I think it’s special, I’ve been going there for fucking ten years. I think other kids should hear about it and if it gets shut down hopefully someone will start one somewhere else. I think the more people know the better.

Have you found other places in the world that you can identify with as strongly as the Smell?
No. It’s just different. In New York or London you have promoters who do shows in the same sort of sense as the Smell, but they don’t have a fixed venue. The thing about the Smell is that it’s just there, we don’t have to keep changing the location. But I do think it’s a very special place. Every time I go back there I’m like, "This place is so cool.” It’s fun to hang out there, it’s fun to play music there. Most touring bands will find out that you don’t really get paid very much when you go on tour. The Smell does this thing where 70 percent of the door money goes to the bands and the other 30 percent goes to the club, which is unheard of. Usually you get maybe 15 percent. You’re getting more than half, and there’s no bar. It’s really cool.

It’s commonly known that you are both vegan. Are you straight edge as well? What happened to this sort of idealism that used to be a central focus of the DIY underground, and what makes you hang on when no one else seems to?
I’ve met a lot of people who care about being vegetarian, people who don’t drink, but I guess it’s not hip and people tend to do what’s hip. For us, it’s more how we eat and how we live. I don’t drink, we don’t do drugs, but I would never classify myself as straight edge because it’s pretty macho. That’s another thing, I don’t really want to be involved with something that’s pretty macho. Not everybody’s like that, but I don’t really want to have the conversation of, "So, you’re straight edge. I heard about some guys in Utah stabbing a guy. Is that what you’re about?” I’d rather drink a fucking beer than have that conversation. But veganism is something we care about strongly. 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.

How do you write lyrics? Is your music meant to be an outlet for your social and political beliefs, or are the two kept somewhat separate?
No, but that’s very intentional because I feel like, coming from a place growing up listening to Fugazi and Minor Threat and stuff, I feel like it’s a little overbearing. I’d rather show someone something by example then by telling them how to do something. And I believe it sort of loses the message when you’re a band singing about anarchy and selling records and driving a car. You can’t really escape being a hypocrite, so an easy way to avoid it is I kind of write personal, political prose. I write poetry. I basically write dumb fucking punk lyrics. It’s easy for someone to pinpoint you, and I don’t want to make it so easy for someone to call me an asshole. So I have a car, and I’m not always a good person. You can talk and have discussions and try to lead people in the right direction, but to spout off about messages that you’ve heard of or that you’ve read, it just doesn’t seem interesting to me or Randy. Come to our shows and you’ll see how we do it.

It seems like you write songs so quickly. How do you write songs?
Keep it really simple. A lot of times we’ll write a song that just has one part, and if it sounds done, it’s done. There have been songs that we’ve tried to finish, and if it takes too long then we scrap it. There’s been songs that we’ve not finished since we started. Usually it comes really quick. Usually, it’s just one or two parts. I think if it needs to be more than that then maybe it’s not that good of a song. If you can’t listen to one part for five minutes or two minutes then maybe it’s not that good. I’m not very musical, but I’ll maybe come up with a concept or an idea, and I’ll explain it to Randy and he’ll try to make music that sort of sounds like that. "We should have a song that reminds me of the Urinals, but it should sound like a flower growing out of the fucking dirt.” It gets dark sometimes, like "Let’s write a song that sounds like you’re about to die.” Randy will write parts, and I make a lot of samples, so we’ll sometimes build songs out of weird samples.

What is the defining sound of a No Age song? Have you ever thrown out a song because it didn’t fit as a No Age song?
We’ve gotten rid of songs because they weren’t good, but I don’t think we’ve ever gotten rid of songs because they weren’t No Age songs. The whole idea is that we started a band to write whatever kind of music we wanted to. That’s why it all kind of sounds different I think. We were like, "I love this band, this band and this band, I wonder what it would sound like if we put them on top of each other.” There’s stuff that we didn’t put on this new record that just didn’t work, but I wish it did. There’s just like weird acoustic guitar country stuff that could’ve been on there but just didn’t fit. We just want to play whatever we want. I don’t really think there’s a No Age sound, we just want to play whatever. The same with the songs, they should be recorded how they’re supposed to be, that’s why they’re all recorded differently.

Did Sub Pop have any notes or suggestions for Nouns?
Nope. I think that’s why we went with them. The first thing they said was, "We just want you to do exactly what you’re doing.” And we keep asking them for stuff and they keep saying yes, and it’s kind of cool. Like they let us put out a 78-page book with our CD. Photos, video stills, some black and white photocopy art Randy and I made, lyrics, and a lot of shit.

Releasing vinyl and putting out a book with your CD - is this a reaction to downloading?
I’m a fan of downloading, but I think vinyl’s already more popular than it was like a year ago. I think people are not sick of downloading, because it’s inevitable and sort of amazing that you can get anything, but I think it makes you appreciate vinyl more, like a giant. So, yeah I think it is a reaction to that. We could have just put it out digitally. We just wanted to make a book, but I don’t care about the fucking CD. We wanted to do the book with the vinyl, but it was too expensive.

Could there be more members?
Yeah totally, we just haven’t done it yet. There are really no rules in how we write. Really, if you listen to both of the records, but more in the new one, there’s a whole ambient song, there’s one that’s just a drum sample and piano and guitar, and then there’s one that’s an acoustic guitar with weird fucking bird sounds. To us we think it’s awesome. I’m glad we’re a band that can do that. I think that’s what we set out to do. Because sometimes, like I said, Randy wants to write a country song and I think that’s the No Age style too. Sometimes I just want to write a song that sounds like Screeching Weasel or something. Once you get to know us, it makes sense. 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.

How did you approach Nouns differently from the songs on Weirdo Rippers? Was it written with an entire album in mind or were the songs written separately?
It was different but we sort of liked the way that we did Weirdo Rippers so we actually wrote a shit-load of songs for Nouns and then took it down the same way. We probably wrote close to 18 songs and brought it down to 12. A lot of them didn’t get recorded. One of the songs, we literally recorded on our own the day before we mastered it. It’s one of the instrumental ones, "Impossible Bouquet.” "Things I Did When I Was Dead” was recorded right when we were done too.

Why is early ’80s hardcore, and especially Black Flag, so popular right now?
I think people are starting to realise how important they were. All these bands are citing them as an influence. I think This Band Could Be Your Life, that book, came out American Hardcore, We Jam Econo – people can get more media now, people are understanding this stuff more. There wouldn’t be touring bands without Black Flag. They were the first band to tour, them and D.O.A. Bands that reference those things are okay, I think it’s good. But I think the whole idea behind [the original L.A. punk bands] is that they weren’t referencing anything. They were playing music, they were trying to be like so fucking anti-parent, and they were trying to be so anti-music really. I always think they were trying to make aggressive noise music. Now MTV has made hardcore just like Disney, so now, to me, it’s a bunch of kids making actual noise music, like harsh noise – that is hardcore to me. It’s anti-parent, it’s anti-music, just trying to be as harsh as you can. That shit’s so rad. I love going to those shows because it’s just young kids with huge PAs playing harsh, harsh noise, and they’re so into it. To me that’s hardcore.

But those bands seem to be coming from a negative reaction to the world around them, and No Age seem to give off a more positive vibe, for lack of a better term. Where does this come from?
Yeah, I don’t think we’re a hardcore band. That’s what people got into it more. I think kids especially need something to relate to, and I think those bands were good for that, and in the Reagan era kids were being told they were nothing. 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. I think that would be amazing. The world would be fucking awesome if every kid was in a band.