03rd Mar2009

No Age interview

by Todd

Since 2005 No Age has redefined what LA punk means.  Far from the self-destructive, beer drinking haze of the early eighties, guitarist Randy Randall and vocalist/drummer Dean Spunt’s vegan, politically aware, art embracing, DIY attitude has brought a different brand of punk to a city and a country desperately in need.  Randy was kind enough to spend most of one afternoon attempting to talk to us on the phone last week.  In a classic “lo-fi” moment, his phone cut out at least a dozen times during the interview.  We’re anxiously awaiting the No Age phone commercials to begin airing during the next Super Bowl.  In the meantime….

TDOA- Can you describe what your experience with Sub Pop has been?

RR- We loved our old label, Fat Cat Records from England, but Sub Pop offered us so many cool things. They’ve been incredibly supportive. The booklet that came with Nouns was really expensive to produce, but the only thing we had to compromise on was the weight of the paper. They were great. (Ed. Note; the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package)

TDOA: How shocked were you when CBS told you that you couldn’t wear an Obama shirt on the Craig Ferguson show? I know he said nice things about you on the show, but did he actually talk to you about the issue with CBS?

RR: This was a great example of how Sub Pop supported us. Kate Jackson from the label immediately got on the phone and had people pulling clips of people wearing politically motivated shirts as proof of the CBS double standard. At some point it just wasn’t worth fighting because the message of the music was more important, so I took the shirt off. Craig never said a word to us at any point in the process or after the show.

TDOA- I’d like you to comment on an interview Robert Smith of The Cure gave recently. He said he, “disagreed violently” with Radiohead’s pay what you want scheme: “You can’t allow other people to put a price on what you do, otherwise you don’t consider what you do to have any value at all and that’s nonsense. If I put a value on my music and no one’s prepared to pay that, then more fool me, but the idea that the value is created by the consumer is an idiot plan, it can’t work.”  Your thoughts?

RR- Wow, I can’t believe he said that about someone like Radiohead. Robert Smith made his money in a different time and he needs to realize that. I wonder how many houses he bought with sales from The Head On The Door. We’re playing with The Cure at Coachella, so I don’t want to say anything bad. It is scary to think about putting price on record based on value of the music. (Ed. Note; Randy’s phone hates me for several minutes while Randy goes on a classic stream of conscience monologue about how much he would have paid for different records.) How much for Sonic Youth’s Goo or Neil Young’s Harvest Moon?

TDOA- Let’s talk about the current LA art and music scene. I read an article that said you’ve spearheaded a movement that harkens back to the LA punk scenes of the early 80’s. I grew up during that time and my memory is of bands like Black Flag and The Germs that were more nihilistic than artistic. Do you feel a connection to those early 80’s punk bands?

RR- Dean and I are connected to that spirit and it’s exciting to see how it is now. They were breaking ground and we have a debt to them. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

TDOA- I get nauseous when I hear bands like Blink-182 refer to themselves as “punk” or My Chemical Romance who call themselves “pop punk”. (Randy: “Uck!) How do they get away with it, without being called out for the fakes that they are?

RR- Oh god. They sell millions, that’s how they do it. Rock is music of youth and they touch on it. The audience for that kind of music wasn’t there 20 years ago and now they are. When Nirvana released Nevermind it led people to that kind of music and now it’s huge. Hopefully it leads people to better music.

TDOA: I haven’t read any interviews where you talk about the Free Yr Radio compilation. Realistically, can we get back to a time without clear channel where dj’s make their own choices and pick who they want to play?

RR: The landscape has just changed. There are some good radio stations like WFMU, but podcasts are the future of radio, now. Then there’s blogs. Good blogs can reach more people then radio can now.

TDOA- Any bands at SXSW that you’re excited to see?

RR- Gun Outfit (Olympia, WA band on PPM), Mika Miko. There’s lots….

TDOA- I want to see the Circle Jerks, but I saw them 20 years ago and I’m afraid it’ll just be depressing. What do you think?

RR- Nah, I saw them in the last couple of years and they’re still pretty volatile. Keith can still bring it.

TDOA- What were your favorite albums of last year?

RR- The Nerves reissue, Fucked Up, Infinite Body…

TDOA- We always ask bands to pick one current band or artists that they would have “eliminated” if they could.  Who would you pick?

RR- I don’t wish anyone death, but if you mean “stop playing music!”… I think Miley Cyrus impresses for the absurd nature of her existence. The way she’s marketed, knowing that she’s just a young girl is so wrong. That’s darker and nihilistic than anything the darkest bands are doing right now.

In past weeks, I’ve done interviews that were like pulling teeth (and which may never be printed here.).  When Randy started having phone problems, he could have easily bailed on the interview.  To find a band that’s talented, articulate and patient when dealing with technology and a pain-in-the-ass journalist, is truly something special.

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