Noise Rock Duo No Age Pushes Its Own Limits
You probably knew a kid like Randy Randall in high school — a skateboarder and crate-digger with his own sense of fashion, generally seen plugged into a Walkman. (These were pre-iPod days.) One day, a girl at school asked him what he was jamming out to, and Rogers answered, "Scratch Acid" ('80s noise rock precursor to Jesus Lizard). She thought this was high hilarity.
"It became my nickname to her," says Randall. "Every time she saw me she was, 'Oh, Scratch Acid.' I was that kind of kid."
Now Randall is the guitarist for hip L.A. noise duo No Age, but not much has changed. Indeed, this interview took place during a road break to buy some coffee and records. Only musical fashion's caught up with these DIY trailblazers, giving lift to their noisy but catchy minimalist rock.
No Age formed in 2005 out of the ashes of Randall's prior project, Wives. When a conflict in London with drummer Jeremy Villalobos broke up the band, vocalist Dean Spunt switched from bass to drums, and Spunt and Randall forged on as No Age. They debuted in March 2007 with five 7-inch and 12-inch singles on different labels, later collected as their full-length debut, Weirdo Rippers. It earned them ample buzz and a record deal from Sub Pop.
From the beginning, they've been driven by a less-is-more aesthetic, turning their limitations into a virtue. "Being a two-piece definitely inspired us to come up with quirky, different ideas of sound and ways of conveying those ideas," he says.
They found a way to blend droning ambient passages with violent swells of churning, distortion-drenched guitar, an aesthetic Randall admits owes a large debt to My Bloody Valentine. Both bands disguise durable foot-tapping melodies within a bustling roar. On No Age's third album, 2010's Everything in Between, they further downplay the squalls of distortion for greater texture and more nuanced attack.
"Every record, we just try to figure out how to challenge ourselves. The last time, it was this idea of arranging with samples," says Randall. Many tracks were written with loops from revisited practice-space recordings. "Sort of taking things out of context and arranging them next to each other and juxtaposing sounds."
Another factor in Everything's more layered approach was time. They spent nearly a year on the album. Their beard of lo-fi fuzz gets trimmed, mediating the adrenaline rush and frenetic cacophony.
"We wanted to be able to go big with the sound. What would we do if we didn't have some of these restraints — let's just write a song and not think about how it was going to be performed live," he says. "It was an interesting experience to let ourselves breathe and roam and see what we could come up with."
It meant bringing along a friend to trigger all the samples. Now after nearly 18 months of touring that way, they've returned as a duo and learned how to trigger enough of those songs' samples themselves to make them work.
They'll return to the studio after this tour and begin recording their fourth album. Randall expects it will swing back toward something rawer and more direct. Mostly, it's learning to be comfortably uncomfortable.
"We find [that] for us, the most creative elements are where we push ourselves into an uncomfortable position," he says. "We're kind of learning not necessarily where our place is, but where our place isn't. Playing bigger venues or collaborating with big artists, that's not really our game. I think the power of music is that it can be very universal, but at the same time, we're interested in things that are more on the fringe. That's what's always appealed to us personally."
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