Dec. 29 2010 10:44 AM

No Age came of age at the all-age Smell scene

Dean Spunt (left) and Randy Randall mellow out—kind of—on Everything in Between
Photo by Todd Cole
The two members of the Los Angeles band No Age have made a point of playing all-ages shows whenever they can, including an upcoming gig at the Che Café. Guitarist Randy Randall says it’s a no brainer.

“Why would you exclude anybody from seeing a show?” he wonders in a phone interview. “It seems odd that selling alcohol is the main moneymaking factor at venues. Music isn’t dictated to any age range.”

Randall, who grew up in the L.A. suburb of Walnut, says things might have turned out much differently for him without all-ages venues.

“I got into music at a very young age,” he explains.

“Those were some of the biggest life-changing moments for me—going to see shows and live music well before I was 21. So the idea of being a performer and limiting that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Randall and drummer / vocalist Dean Spunt used to be in the band Wives before trimming it down to two for No Age, a duo that manages to exploit gloriously entropic noise without forgoing catchy melodies and solid song structures. Their newest album, 2010’s Everything in Between, is a tad mellower than 2008’s explosive Nouns, which caught the ears of critics and fans, including Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood, who wore a No Age T-shirt in a widely viewed webcast.

Perhaps the biggest coup for No Age came pre- Nouns in the form of a major feature in The New Yorker, a story that centered on the scene at an all-ages L.A.

venue called The Smell, where the buzz band was working out its sound. Like the Che, The Smell is a dyed-inthe-wool institution for young music fans, and, no, that whiff of national fame didn’t change it.

“No matter how much attention is paid to it, you really can’t take the human feces out of the alley,” Randall laughs. “It’s part of its certain mystique. Shows are still all-ages, reasonably priced, no alcohol inside and run by volunteers, for the most part. It’s built on one premise: caring passionately about music.”

No Age’s music has proven difficult to define and tends to be described as “punk” with a modifier: artpunk, noise-punk, lo-fi punk. Randall says he finds the variety amusing.

“My favorite is the most vague, and I’m not sure that it’s even been applied to us, but I keep hoping it will be. It’s called ‘distortion rock,’ and it’s the most interesting way of saying something and nothing at the same time. I want that to stick. I also like ‘newgaze,’ because it has this sexually ambivalent connotation to it.”

Perhaps it should be called “pedal-punk.” No Age’s two-man setup requires some creativity of Spunt and Randall, who fill out the sound “like a five-person band would,” as Randall puts it. That means running extra amps and an incredible tangle of distortion and effects pedals—so many that Randall has lost count.

“It’s like a weird utility belt or something,” he says. “It’s not gluttonous. They all have a job to do. It’s like when you go into a mechanic or woodworker’s shop and see all those tools. When you work in a place long enough, you get to know all the different tools for the job.

“That said, I regret the mornings I wake up with a new idea. Once the idea gets tied into my head, I have to go search out a pedal or effect that will make it happen. The song gets written, and then I’m hauling around more equipment. If a pedal is only for one song, I try to find more uses for it. But it gets a little silly sometimes.”

As for as the punk label, Randall agrees it’s a convenient description. “You run into people and they ask what kind of music you play. Everyone in a band gets that. You try to describe the uniqueness of your sound, but what people really want to hear is ‘punk’ or ‘we sound like Tom Petty,’ which you don’t.”

But it’s also fitting, he adds. “To quote the Minutemen, punk is what you make it. It isn’t about maintaining the status quo. It’s about fucking shit up and keeping the world on its toes and doing something that’s exciting, engaging and energizing. That’s where we fit in the spectrum. Not punk in the sense of bondage belts and mohawks, but being rebellious and challenging.”

No Age play with Protect Me, Rene Hell and Heavy Hawaii at Che Café on Friday, Jan. 7.

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