No Age's Dean Spunt: There's Things That Aren't Perfect, And They Can Be Really Beautiful
Dean Spunt (right)
No Age returns to Phoenix tomorrow night in support of the band's third full length album, An Object (fourth if you count compilation album Weirdo Rippers.) The band is all about reinvention, whether it's singer/drummer Dean Spunt learning how to play his drums while recording the band's first material, or Spunt pairing up with guitarist Randy Randall to hand package the first 10,000 copies of the new record.
"I wanted to see on a larger scale if a DIY print shop or manufacturing rig could sustain itself for a large label like Subpop," says Spunt.
We recently caught up with Dean Spunt to discuss An Object, unconventional drumming, and the Weirdo Rippers mural on The Smell in downtown Los Angeles.
What were some of the major inspirations for An Object? First of all, let me ask you about an object in a funny linguistic way. An object becomes part of your senses and really calls attention to our record as just an object amongst many objects in the sea of things that are being bought and sold.
An Object is... our record is very new to the world. It just came out a couple weeks ago, and it's been exciting to be on tour and see how it's being translated to our audiences.
And how is it being received? Very positively. People seem to interpret it their own way, which is what we were hoping for. Some people are completely ecstatic, some people are slightly confused, and others are just okay with it. Mainly people are ecstatic--at our shows, anyway.
And like you said, it's still very new. I feel like I'm still taking it all in. Yeah, I've noticed, too, that it takes a few listens to get into it completely. Maybe if you're a fan of ours, it's slightly different and it takes a few minutes to navigate. If you haven't heard us, well I don't know, if you haven't heard us I'm not sure what it sounds like. I think it does take a few listens because it's not completely up front. There's some stuff buried in there that will come out and it takes a little bit of time.
A couple songs that stood out as being sonically different were "An Impression" and "My Hands, Birch and Steel," which may surprise some fans that just see you as a punk/noise band. Yeah, I like "My Hands, Birch and Steel"; there's something really nice about having this. I was really interested in making it. It was one of the last songs we did. We already had "An Impression," we had a couple of other songs, but I kept thinking that we needed a song that didn't really follow any sort of format of a song, but it needed to be short to be basically a statement. It's a short little haiku-type song, and I think it stands on its own even though it's short.
Why did you guys decide to hand-package the first copies of the record? I was thinking about that a lot. I was kind of obsessing about if we're going to make a record, then we're going to physically make it because people kept asking "when are you going to make a record?" I really wanted to see what would happen if we did it. and if we could pull it off. I've been interested in the idea of manufacturing things for a while. I do my own label and I started off 11 or 12 years ago, and I do all the photocopying myself.
I had recently purchased equipment for my label to cut my own paper, and also things that go on with manufacturing, and I thought it was an interesting idea to keep pursuing. I wanted to see on a larger scale if a DIY print shop or manufacturing rig could sustain itself for a large label like Subpop. Essentially, Subpop hired two people who don't know what they're doing, really... we're learning as we go along, and we manufactured 10,000 records for a big label.
Learning as you go along seems to be a big part of No Age since you guys didn't really know how to play your instruments in the Weirdo Rippers era. We were learning, we were learning how to record the songs ourselves. I don't know how technical you are with gear, but on that first Weirdo Rippers stuff, there's so much digital distortion because we had this digital 12 track and I don't know how we ended up with it, but we figured out we could record with it. We were just turning everything up all the way so all the red lights were on, and there was so much digital distortion. We ended up liking the way it sounded--it sounded beautiful, but everyone else said "digital distortion, that's awful," and we were like "oh, we like it, it's cool, I don't know."
We did that with manufacturing too; we didn't really know what was going to happen, but it's part of how we make art. There's things that aren't perfect and things that maybe fail, and those things can be really beautiful. And I think... I don't know if we're championing those things, but we're not deleting those things from the final product. I think those things are just as important, if not more important, because most of the time, things happen and they're just subconscious things that happen inside.
Now that you guys are a bit more experienced in playing your instruments, did you lose any of novelty with songwriting? On the other hand, we also are getting better, so we are professional rock musicians, that's what we do. We can play our instruments, and I think when I was breaking down the idea of being in a band, all of my No Age experience essentially in rhythm and singing and playing drums, it began to get a little stagnant.
I enjoy playing drums, but I have an interesting relationship with drums. Sometimes I hate playing drums, sometimes I like playing drums, so I'm not really a natural drummer. The reason I started playing drums and singing was because I didn't know how to and I wanted to see what would happen. On this record, I've picked up playing bass, which I used to play in our previous band, and also different forms of rhythm and percussion for other non-organic drums. Not drum machines, but I used contact microphones and other various pieces of wood.
I definitely wanted to use my hands and put them inside different things. That's what that title is--my hands, birch, and steel. There's more beyond my hands, birch, the wood from the drums, and the steel, the plate around the drums. It's more than that. The lyrics also reflect that idea. They say something along the lines of, "There's a way for me to get out of this place," which relates to the drum component.
I was recently in LA and I passed a building that had "Weirdo Rippers" painted on it. I think it's The Smell... That is The Smell, yeah.
How is it that it's still up all the years later? When we painted that sign, we payed Jim $200,000 to--no, I'm just kidding. [laughs] The Smell's a very loose operation. in terms of what art goes on there. Jim runs The Smell. and we offered to repaint it, and he was like, "Oh, leave it up for a while." We thought someone would just paint over it or graffiti it or write "these guys or idiots" or something over it.
It stayed there for a while until the city needed to take it down, because I think there was lead paint behind it. One day, we got a text message from a friend of ours that said they're tearing down the sign. It disappeared for a few days and I was kind of saddened and I was kind of relieved that it was gone. And then the next day, it got repainted up there. Someone from the city maybe messed up, and they repainted it.
It's an adaptation of it; it doesn't look like the original. It was pretty ugly and now this ugly font still says "No Age Weirdo Rippers." If you look at the record cover, it has completely different text and colors, but they repainted it because... I don't know why. It's a mystery to us, we have no clue what happened, but it's up there again. I like that it's up there and somehow it's up there again. I like all the mystery about it. If you were to ask me if I would have picked those colors, I would have not picked those colors or the font. It's beautiful still.
If you look up the "Boy Void" music video, it's us painting it. It's kind of a landmark now, people will take pictures of it and send it to us. It's kind of like Grauman's Chinese Theatre for underground culture in LA. We didn't pay to have a billboard up or anything. It's funny because sometimes I'll mention, "Oh, I've seen that downtown, what is it? I thought it was a store or something."
Well, exactly. I wasn't sure if you took your namesake from the place or vice versa. Same thing when we first made t-shirts. It just said No Age in this cute rainbow font, so we'd be at the grocery store and the check out lady would be like "ooh, I like that, No Age, yeah!" not even realizing it was a band.
You guys have been good about performing in Phoenix in the past. What keeps bringing you back? We love Phoenix, so much it's our favorite city in America.
How so? What do you mean, you've got everything there. You've got Trunk Space, Modified Arts, what's that vegan restaurant, Green? It's in Tempe, isn't there one in Phoenix too? The museum, the contemporary art museum in Phoenix. It's one of those places--it's the same distance from LA to Phoenix as it is from LA to San Francisco.
We've been touring together for 10-11 years, and Phoenix and Tucson and Flagstaff and Tempe are easy stops for us. We have a lot of love. We come to the end of a tour and it's the bookend either way.
No Age is scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, September 21.
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