L.A. sons, No Age, return to their EP roots today with the release of the highly anticipated Losing Feeling EP. A week before the release, AD spoke via phone with Randy Randall, the duos co-founder and guitarist, about his love of VHS, photography, film-scoring, bandannas, Joshua Tree and a mutual affinity for unlikely soundtracks. (photo credit)
AD: In the Spring you said that the songs on the EP were a “little bit more left field” – do you feel that’s how they ended up?
RR: In writing, we just try to have fun with it, do what we want to do. Ultimately, for me, it sounds like the same songs that we always play. I don’t think it’s out of character for us. It sounds like us, if we have a sound. In the writing process we’re just trying to have fun writing it. I think that comment was more… we were just like, “let’s try to work on songs like this.” We had just barely enough time between tours to pull it all together.
AD: Can you talk a bit more about what the actual writing process for this EP was like?
RR: Dean (Spunt, drummer of No Age) and I sit down in lab coats and then start using big scientific calculators, plugging in numbers, equations with 80’s hardcore and shoe-gaze music and find the right ratio that expresses our deepest, darkest inner, secret emotions that never see the light of day but are disguised by thinly veiled homoerotic fiction.
AD: (laughs) So you also have a machine for interview answers?
RR: (laughs) Yeah!
AD: Why an EP now?
RR: (laughs) Well, you know, it’s October, and it’s one of my favorite months in the year. Halloween coming up. It didn’t seem like Halloween would be the same without an EP (laughs) I don’t know how kids would go trick-or-treating without Losing Feeling on their iPod.
AD: It would seem like the days of a band touring behind a record are over. Many bands, like yours, are on the road all the time. Do you feel you satisfy your desire to experiment or try to new music in a live setting, or, with the success you’ve had, do you feel a pressure to perform songs the way they are on the record?
RR: (laughs) This is a serious question, I was trying to be silly! I don’t know – I think Dean and I are on different sides of the fence with this. I like to really try to destroy songs live, I don’t really care what they… I don’t often go back and listen to the record. We played with Bob Mould recently for ATP, he played on some of our songs and was like, “Oh, I think the chord is this.” And I was like, “No, I’ve been playing it like this for the last two years!” I’m not even playing the song how I recorded it, somehow through touring I came up with an easier way to play it or something.
It’s funny hearing, “Oh, the record is so slow” and “you’re playing it out of time” – I think most bands probably go through that thing. I like to have fun playing live, and we play things way faster. I’m sure there’s people out there who like the slower songs on the record but see us live, going crazy playing at a million miles per hour and those people go “What the fuck did I just see? I thought this band was mellow.” We’re having too much fun to slow down. I’m sure at some point we’ll kind of work our way to a more relaxed live environment, but for right now it’s sort of where it comes from and it’s more fun to play.
AD: Do you think about the transition between playing for a few hundred people at local venues and 15,000 people at a festival? Are you in a different mental place?
RR: I think it’s more like when there’s a lot of people out there, you have to run out like “Alright! I’m doing this for the collective you.” Like, make up a big person, “I’m playing to this one big person right now.” And sometimes, at a smaller thing, you get to joke around and laugh at people in the front of the stage who are flopping around. Or someone says something to you and you’re like, “Wait!” It’s funny how you can play around with them.
It’s fun to get to do both, it’s just fun that people want to come see us. Fuck, we’re fortunate enough that anybody wants to see it. “They’re still standing there, they haven’t left yet!” I appreciate that they are there at all.
AD: Do you feel that live, or with the records and EP’s, your music is mischaracterized? A lot of people call it improvisational – but in previous interviews you’ve spoken about how your music is much more structured. Do the mischaracterizations frustrate you at all?
RR: No, I don’t really think about it. We might suck and people will write about it or think about it and say we suck. I’ll think, “fair enough.” I think we write songs we wanna hear and play songs the way we’d want to hear them. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I never assumed it would be. If people like it, that’s cool. I like it. I try to write… we’re just editors, we pay a lot of really dumb stuff in practice that’ll never see the light of day – but it’s just us goofing around and then put the editor hat on, “Hey! Did you listen to this? Is this something I did?” You know, hold on a second, this might be fun for the band to play – just musicians noodling on some part. But, if I were in the audience what would I want to hear? Cause Dean and I are both big music fans also… can I hear this and not be offended by it? Is this not the dumbest music I’ve ever heard?
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AD: By all accounts the scoring of The Bear was very successful – you’re going to be doing it in New York. What do you feel you learned from the experience? The film has a pretty stark sounds track on it’s own –
RR: It does!
AD: How do you feel the process went and what did you take away from it?
RR: Well, one, not to fuck with bears (laughs). Those are some mean motherfuckers. If you find a bear, don’t fuck with it. Don’t shoot a bear. From a music standpoint it was really fun. It’s ninety-four minutes of music that is a large, one-piece score.
For all intents and purposes, the majority of the music that No Age plays and performs live is, in my opinion, pop music. We’re sort of a pop band. There’s not much difference, in my mind between two minute, three minute pop songs and anything else you hear going on, and I like that. But it’s fun to switch gears and really get into a longer atmospheric piece and play these drone and longer things for ninety-four minutes.
It wasn’t assumed that people who like pop songs are going to like this, but I do. I like pop songs. I can listen to Elvis Costello and then pick a drone, some John Cale, Nick Lowe, Glenn Branca kind of stuff. On my iPod I’ll just put it on Shuffle and come to that kind of thing and be like, “ahhhhh” and melt back and then wait for The Ramones to come on. For me it makes sense, I just go on the assumption that somebody else would like to hear that. Terry O’Reilly to Bow Wow Wow.
AD: God, I love Bow Wow Wow.
RR: (laughs) It makes sense to me! It just doesn’t… live, if suddenly in the middle of the set we sat down and played a sixty minute drone we might lose a couple of people at festivals so we have to pick the right time and place to do it.
AD: A lot of people will want to see you do this again, the exact same way, or say “Oh man, it’d be so cool if No Age scored…” Has this inspired you think about a different, interesting project you’d like to try?
RR: Well, to the first part, we’re not so talented that we have sheet music written down. Every performances is slightly different and we’re trying to record it so we have a record of what the hell we did in the moment. There are rehearsed parts to it, but we’re still kind of figuring it out.
To the second part, like, I’ve been talking with Adrian from Cinefamily [location of the first screening], it’s so much fun to play at Cinefamily in L.A. – if anybody reading this hasn’t been there just go, hang out for a night – we were talking after the show and one thing we wanted to do was have a weekend desert show, a weekend festival. Well, not a festival, but take a bunch of your friends out camping, like to Joshua Tree, bring a generator, once the sun goes down a band will start playing and once it gets dark you’d show a film, have a film festival in the desert, bring your own screen and everyone sleeps under the stars. Bands play, watch movies, that’d be a lot of fun.
AD: To combine a little bit of music and a little bit of movie into this next question… a little quiz kind of. A couple of years ago, for VBS.tv, you said you used to rock the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II soundtrack.
RR: Hey, TMNT power! I had that on cassette!
AD: Exactly… so the question is… can you a name a track off that sound off that soundtrack other than the magnificent opus, Ninja Rap, by Vanilla Ice?
RR: Holy shit man, you know, I’m trying to think, I had it on tape, there was a big song… I don’t know, maybe Gloria Estefan? Do you have the track listing in front of you?
RR: (laughs) Yeah, I was thinking you’d make some shit up and win and I’d be like, “Does he even know what the fuck’s on it?” What else is on that damn thing? Is it all… I imagine it’s some rad, computer Kraftwork sounding stuff, but I know that’s not true.
AD: The last two tracks are by the Orchestra on a Half Shell.
RR: Ahh! That’s great. It’s a fairly impressive soundtrack as far as soundtracks go.
AD: It’s the benchmark of soundtracks.
RR: I want them to remake TMNT2, like, skip the first one, just remake the second one. I’d like Rob Zombie to make THAT one.
AD: I know that you’ve spoken about, and practiced, a lot of video and film projects. You directed a video for Mika Miko, and the aesthetic is that of a VHS recorded short. For your first venture, at least at this level, what was your motive for going with a very stylized video, at least in terms of technology?
RR: I was super psyched just with fucking around, really having fun just pushing and pulling ideas. Obviously, Mika Miko is an amazing band and I was just listening to songs thinking, wouldn’t it be awesome if the video came off the hook, just starting to break. I come from a world where VHS still exists – in my mind (laughs) – I still have a VCR. Nobody keeps those and I still do.
I like that thing, you start watching a movie and the video would get chewed, “Oh no! It’s eating it! Hold on!” You’d have to take the VCR apart, take your top-loader off. I really like videos that look like that. So I thought that would be fun, and talking with Jennifer [Clavin] from Mika Miko about ideas, she showed me this great video on YouTube by VOM, this awesome band from the 80’s and this funny video. She was talking about how much she liked that – I thought it was perfect. Let’s make something that looks like you’ve seen it before, 4th generation copies.
You know, Heavy Metal Parking Lot is now available on DVD, but before that it was the classic VHS, dubbed out kind of thing. And now that’s the great thing about DVD now, you can watch a 5th generation VHS copy of it also, like a built-in feature, you can watch this really degradated VHS, multi-generation thing, and I love that kind of stuff. That’s like viral culture before YouTube. I like the idea that mass communication hasn’t been invented – it’s been made easy.
AD: Nouns was nominated for a Grammy [for Best Recording Package]. Creating cool album artwork is still done, is still awesome, but it’s at an impasse where it’s still interesting to do something unique – but at the same time you have these one-and-a-half by one-and-a-half inch digital boxes that most people are going to see album artwork as, or the artwork next to a review. What made you want to create a unique package for Nouns, instead of just what you get out of a iTunes download or from a blog.
RR: I feel like my answer isn’t as interesting as the question is… it’s the obvious: if I wanted to buy something, I’d want to get something in return. It’s probably the reason I still love buying vinyl, because there’s a physical artifact you own. I still haven’t gotten used to being as proud of my digital download collection as I am my CD collection – it’s just fun cause you can look at it. Something from iTunes doesn’t have that same smell, or the visceral, textile feeling of perusing through all the dusty bins at Amoeba or Vacation.
Sub Pop wasn’t going to not release the CD, we were talking about it like, “Can we just not put out a CD?” and they still think they can sell CD’s – which is great! I own a lot of CD’s and people still buy CD’s at Starbucks and Best Buy and stuff. So we felt that if we have to put out a CD let’s make it something that people would want to buy. The CD is the least amount of the packaging of that – it’s a thing that can come with a great book. I like it being our book, and by the way you get this CD.
AD: So now that we’re on the record about it, you are saying that you want No Age’s records sold in Starbucks, right?
RR: (laughs) I want them sold wherever people want to buy them, I don’t know where that is anymore. I don’t know where people buy CDs anymore. Where I buy CDs is on craiglist and bins. You can buy an assortment of things for like a dollar or at thrift stores. Also I buy CD-Rom, like Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of Lounge Lizards, old CD-ROM games – it takes me 14 hours to do it but it’s funny once he does something “naughty.” (laughs) I’m into CD-Rom culture.
AD: It’s one area that hasn’t made a comeback yet.
RR: (laughs) Yeah, people are gonna soup-up their old computers, like vintage motorcycles or cars. They’ll have the Commodore, or Atari, I’m talking early 90’s stuff – “Check this out… Dial Up!” [makes sounds of a 56k modem] It’s gonna be more and more interesting, all that stuff is out there, people will be collecting all these old, weird computers, it’s gonna be awesome.
AD: (laughs) I like to think that we’re only a few years away from photographers getting behind big black sheets and taking 10-minute exposures telling people to stand still. It’s gonna make a come-back.
RR: That’d be great! There’s a beautiful exhibit at the Getty that I just went to of a 50’s photographer [“Irvin Penn: Small Trades”] who shot for Vogue and it’s on silver gelatin print. What’s so great about the exhibit is that they go into his process, there’s one room about his process and how people had to stand still, what he was exposing to and how the prints were made.
Now, it’s just point and shoot and send to Flickr, but it’s an amazing, beautiful thing that has taken years to develop. It’s great, I love it, sometimes old is better, just for the sake of being old. It’s not technically better, it’s just that it doesn’t exist anymore, you can appreciate that.
AD: It was a harder process then. Maybe it wasn’t as crisp but…
RR: But that’s the thing too, it’s like saying, “Oh, I love fine gourmet dining, but there’s McDonalds.” Well, exactly, it’s two different things – there’s instant and cheap and then things that take long periods of time and cost a lot of money. Just calling one the other is not – like, “Oh! Photography these days!” or “Recording!” Music, movies, just because it can be done cheaper and easier and faster doesn’t mean that it’s the same thing. It’s a very different beast. But when it comes down to images or music, I had a friend who helped me back-up my MP3s, I had a hard-drive break down and my music takes up like four drives. He said, “well, just make them MP3s, why do you have all these WAV’s or AIFF’s.” Well, “Because they sound better.” I was like, “Are your photos all thumbnails? Or just on websites?” or do you want to see something that’s big. Music is still big, I’ll take up 4 Terabytes, I just don’t want to compress everything to MP3. It takes so long to record and then to squeeze it into a straw, it’s like… “I think there’s a kick-drum in there somewhere. I heard some bass, I don’t know.”
AD: I find it interesting that the live-music trading community has adapted to truly care about audio quality, like fans of the Grateful Dead and Phish. A show is almost a gigabyte but it doesn’t matter. It’s a group that embraced cassettes and now cares more than anyone else about the high-quality transfers and files.
RR: Yeah, it is interesting. I love the degradation of sound and noise, field recordings – those things are great and you’re happy to have the song recorded at all but you can almost hear the dust in the room when it’s badly recorded. We don’t want to hear crystal-clear recordings of Elizabeth Cotton. If she was in there with really bad Mariah Carey reverb and stuff it would sound horrible.
Like, one of my favorite Velvet Underground records is this live one from 1969, made up of two shows, one they did in Dallas and one in San Francisco and it’s an amazing record. It doesn’t sound right, and I go back and listen to the studio recordings, but there’s a lot of great live stuff.
I get embarrassed when people want to put out MP3s of our shows – “Can we put this out on our website?!” And I can’t handle it and, more often than not, Dean or I will just say no, or, if you’re gonna do it just do it, don’t ask us. I can’t approve… I can’t believe we sounded that bad. I’m sure somewhere Bob Dylan is saying that about all his great live recordings, too.
AD: What’s the worst question you’ve gotten about No Age?
RR: Well, I’ll tell you. When we were on tour with Mika Miko in Europe a couple of years back, we played a not-named city in Germany. People at the merch table coming up to us and being like (feigned German accent) “So, why do make a bandana?” “I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” “No, it is not.” (laughs) “Well, put it on your dog?” “No, I do not have a dog.” “Oh, ok.”
And the same night they’d come up and be like, “So, you try to grow a mustache, why do you do that?” “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it. I haven’t shaved and I thought I’d shave my ti… wait, what the fuck, why am I answering this?” words/ b. kramer
MP3: No Age :: You’re A Target